Ichiro, Mariners win MLB opener in Japan

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Ichiro, Mariners win MLB opener in Japan

From Comcast SportsNet
TOKYO (AP) -- Ichiro Suzuki gave his fans in Japan a performance to cheer about. Suzuki had four hits in his return home, Dustin Ackley homered and singled in the go-ahead run in the 11th inning, and the Seattle Mariners beat the Oakland Athletics 3-1 Wednesday night in baseball's season opener. "It was very special to open in Japan," said Suzuki, who spent nine seasons in Osaka with the Orix Blue Wave. "I wanted to have fun and give the fans something at this special time and wanted to share a special moment with them." Major League Baseball and the players' association are using the series to assist rebuilding in Japan following last year's earthquake and tsunami. A group of players and coaches traveled to the disaster zone on Tuesday to conduct a baseball clinic. Felix Hernandez combined with two relievers on a six-hitter as MLB opened its season in Tokyo for the fourth time. The continent switch didn't help the A's, who became the first team to lose eight straight openers since Philadelphia from 1985-92, according to STATS LLC. Seattle and Oakland complete their two-game series Thursday. The rest of the big league teams start to get going April 4, when the renamed Miami Marlins open their new ballpark against the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. A capacity crowd of 44,227 at Tokyo Dome was a sea of flashbulbs every time Suzuki came to bat. He got a standing ovation when he took his position in right field in the final inning. Dropped from leadoff to third in the batting order as he started his 12th big league season, Suzuki singled in the first when be beat shortstop Cliff Pennington's throw after his grounder over the mound was deflected by Oakland starter Brandon McCarthy. Suzuki singled on a grounder to shortstop in the fourth, singled to center in the sixth and had an RBI single to center in the 11th. "We're trying to stretch out the lineup and have the guys feed off each other," Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. "I think Ichiro hitting in the third spot is the right place. We're going to be a very offensive ballclub this year." The 38-year-old Suzuki set a big league record with 10 consecutive 200-hit seasons before falling short last year. "He's a hitting machine," said Oakland manager Bob Melvin, who managed Suzuki with the Mariners in 2003 and 2004. "It doesn't matter where he bats in the lineup. That's what he does -- hit." Ackley homered in the fourth off McCarthy, and Oakland's Kurt Suzuki doubled in a run in the bottom half. The score remained 1-1 until the 11th, when Brendan Ryan doubled against Andrew Carignan (0-1), Chone Figgins sacrificed and Ackley singled to center. "I was able to put a good swing on that one," Ackley said. "Our team is off to a good start, and that's all that matters." Jerry Blevins relieved, Ackley stole second and Ichiro Suzuki singled for a two-run lead. Brandon League closed it out for the save. Tom Wilhelmsen (1-0) got the win with two hitless innings. Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, who signed a 36 million, four-year contract with Oakland, was 1 for 3 with a seventh-inning double and two strikeouts in his major league debut. Hernandez, coming off a 14-14 season, allowed five hits in eight innings, struck out six and walked none, throwing 104 pitches. McCarthy gave up one run and six hits in seven innings with three strikeouts and no walks. While Oakland threatened repeatedly, the A's were 1 for 14 with runners in scoring position. "They got bigger hits than we did at the end," Melvin said. "We hit some balls hard, but they just didn't get in." NOTES: It was 3:09 a.m. PDT when the game began. It was not televised live in the U.S. outside the markets of the teams involved, and was shown on a delayed basis by the MLB Network. ... Bartolo Colon starts Thursday the A's, opposed by Jason Vargas. ... The New York Mets and Chicago Cubs opened in Tokyo in 2000, followed by the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay (2004), and Boston and Oakland (2008). Seattle and Oakland had been scheduled to play at the Tokyo Dome in March 2003, but the series was scrapped because of the threat of war in Iraq. ... A pregame video presentation honored victims and survivors of the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami. The video was narrated by Derek Jeter, Bobby Valentine and Cal Ripken Jr. ... The eight straight losses in openers is an A's record, one shy of the major league mark shared by the New York Giants (1893-1901) and Atlanta (1972-80).

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After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

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USA TODAY

After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

Does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

The Golden Gophers went on the road and defeated a ranked group of Maryland Terrapins on Wednesday night, and they did so in impressive fashion, scoring an 89-75 victory in College Park.

Team this win with the win at Purdue back on New Year's Day, and there's no better pair of league victories to be found.

More importantly though, the Gophers, at 9-6, are now the No. 4 team in the Big Ten standings.

It's all a part of a quality NCAA tournament resume for the Gophers, who are closer to lock status after Wednesday's win than they are to being on any sort of bubble. With mediocrity running rampant through the Big Ten this season, Richard Pitino's 21-win squad should be well on its way to an appearance in next month's Madness, which would be the program's first since he took over as head coach.

The resume looks pretty strong at this point, especially after Wednesday. Minnesota can now claim wins over Purdue, Maryland and Northwestern — all three of those conference victories coming on the road. In the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Gophers beat Arkansas, the Razorbacks seemingly heading to the tournament themselves. The only loss from the non-conference portion came on the road at Florida State, one of the highest-ranked teams in the country.

So it's safe to say Minnesota will go dancing.

Wednesday's 14-point beatdown of the Terps saw the Gophers shoot 50 percent from the field on the night and 54.5 percent from the field in the second half. Five players scored in double figures: Dupree McBrayer with 18, Nate Mason with 17, Akeem Springs with 16, Jordan Murphy with 15 and Amir Coffey with 13. Minnesota didn't win the rebounding battle but scored 15 points off 10 Maryland turnovers and marched to the free-throw line, going 17-for-20 from the charity stripe while Maryland was just 8-for-13 there.

The second half was a rout, the Gophers outscoring the Terps 55-40 over the final 20 minutes and rattling off two separate 9-0 runs to burst away from the No. 24 team in the country.

The overtime win at Purdue on the first day of 2017 might go down as a bigger win considering the Boilermakers are closing in on the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. That win, too, came by an impressive-enough margin, 91-82. But Minnesota dominated Maryland over the final nine minutes or so and turned in a double-digit victory on the road against a team that lost to that same Purdue team on that same court by just a point two and a half weeks ago.

The Gophers are now on a six-game winning streak and are piling up wins in a fashion that's making them look like one of the Big Ten's finest. A 3-1 start to conference play that extended its overall record to 15-2 was dampened by Minnesota's five-game losing streak that featured losses to higher-echelon teams like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Maryland, plus road losses at Penn State and Ohio State. But since have come six straight wins. While the caliber of opponent hadn't been terribly impressive until Wednesday, the Gophers can now boast nine conference wins. Only three teams have more.

It's now worth watching how high Minnesota can climb in the Big Ten standings before the conference tournament just two weeks from now. If the season ended today, the Gophers would already be in possession of one of those highly coveted two-day byes. But Minnesota is just a game back of Maryland and just two games back of Wisconsin, who the Gophers play in the regular-season finale.

Like Pitino told his team after Wednesday's win: "No more talk about (just making) the NCAA tournament. We're talking about seeds in the NCAA tournament."