Meet the majors' first two 9-game winners

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Meet the majors' first two 9-game winners

From Comcast SportsNet
WASHINGTON (AP) -- On a bright, sunny afternoon, R.A. Dickey had the Washington hitters swinging at shadows. The knuckleballer baffled the Nationals, limiting them to four singles over 7 1-3 scoreless innings and leading the New York Mets to a 3-1 win Thursday. Dickey (9-1) extended the longest shutout string of his career to 24 2-3 innings -- a span that began against Pittsburgh and continued against San Diego, St. Louis and the Nats. "Literally, when I go out there, the only streak I care about is getting that hitter out," he said. "It doesn't change the mentality because there's a run of scoreless innings." Dickey became the first pitcher in the majors to reach nine wins this season, backed by Lucas Duda's fifth homer in eight games. Dickey also exceeded his victory total from last year, when he often was the victim of poor run support. "I'm getting more swings and misses. Other than that, I'm not doing anything differently," Dickey said. "I'm trying to induce them into hitting pieces of the ball, not getting solid contact," he said. Nationals teen Bryce Harper fanned twice. He awkwardly chased strike three in the first inning, then casually flipped his bat. No luck today, rookie. "He throws it hard, throws it soft. Sometimes, it starts at your face and goes down through the strike zone. He's a pretty unbelievable pitcher. It was pretty fun to face him, but going 0 for 4 is not fun," he said. "You're just trying to look for something up in the zone or just trying to swing as hard as you can or something. I don't even know. This is my first time really facing a knuckeball guy like that," he said. Duda hit his 10th homer, a two-run shot in the fifth against Chien-Ming Wang (1-2). Daniel Murphy, who earlier bounced into an inning-ending double play that left him in a 0-for-19 rut, later added an RBI single. The way Dickey has been pitching lately, those three runs were more than enough. He struck out eight and walked two, and most of the outs were soft ones. When Adam LaRoche worked out an 11-pitch walk, it was a major accomplishment. Mets manager Terry Collins said nice weather has been a factor in Dickey's good fortune, allowing him a better grip and therefore better command. "When you get in that batter's box, you better be ready to hit something that's fluttering," he said. Dickey credited a harder knuckleball -- thrown in the low 80s mph, up from the mid-70s -- with giving him a later, better break on the pitch. "I feel comfortable with where I am with the pitch," he said. "And look: It's a knuckleball. It can be fickle." Washington never got a runner past second base when Dickey was on the mound. He worked out of a two-on, no-out jam in the seventh and left after Jhonatan Solano's one-out single in the eighth. Reliever Bobby Parnell walked Rick Ankiel and after the runners moved up on a grounder, Harper grounded out to end the threat. Frank Francisco gave up Ryan Zimmerman's leadoff home run in the ninth before closing for his 15th save in 18 chances. The win stopped the Mets' three-game losing streak heading into the Subway Series that begins Friday night at Yankee Stadium. The Mets had lost the first two at Nationals Park in the series. Wang allowed eight hits in 5 1-3 innings in his second start of the season. The Mets won for just the second time in 10 meetings with Washington since last September. There wasn't a whole lot for Nationals fans to cheer about on a bright afternoon until Zimmerman's third homer. Midway through the game, however, there was a ripple of applause throughout the crowd of 32,096 when clouds briefly blocked the glare.

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HOUSTON (AP) -- David Freese struck out three times in the first six innings Thursday night. He more than made up for it over the last three. Freese hit his first career grand slam and a two-run homer and rookie Lance Lynn struck out a career-high 11 in earning his ninth win as the St. Louis Cardinals cruised past the Houston Astros 14-2. It was the first career multi-homer game for Freese and his six RBIs tied a career-high. "A typical night. Start slow and finish fast," Freese said with a laugh. Freese's slam in the seventh inning was the third homer of the game for St. Louis. He added a two-run shot in the ninth as the Cardinals scored a season-high. Carlos Beltran connected on his National League-leading 16th homer in the fifth and Shane Robinson added a two-run shot in the seventh to help the Cardinals take the series. Lynn's nine victories are tied with R.A. Dickey of the Mets for most in the NL. Lynn (9-2) allowed six hits and two runs to continue his mastery of the NL Central. He is 7-0 with 60 strikeouts in 15 career appearances in the division. "You could tell he felt really good today," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "The ball was jumping out of his hand he was blowing fastballs pretty good." Houston starter J.A. Happ (4-6) allowed five hits and four runs with five walks in 4 2-3 innings. The Cardinals were up 5-2 before piling on seven runs in the seventh. St. Louis batted around in that inning with 11 Cardinals coming to the plate. Rafael Furcal singled with two outs in the seventh before consecutive walks to Beltran and Matt Holliday. Allen Craig hit an RBI single before Freese's shot to the Crawford Boxes in left field cleared the bases. Jed Lowrie gave Houston a 1-0 lead with a homer to the first row of the Crawford Boxes in the first inning. Brett Wallace doubled in the second on a ball that sailed over a leaping Craig and into the far corner of right field. Chris Johnson followed with an RBI double down the right field line to make it 2-0. Chris Snyder hit a one-out single and Jordan Schafer drew a walk to load the bases with two outs. Lynn limited the damage by striking out Jose Altuve to end the inning. The Astros couldn't get much going offensively after that while the Cardinals heated up. Tyler Greene got the Cardinals' first hit -- a single to start the third inning. Happ then battled Robinson to a 12-pitch at-bat before walking him. Greene and Robinson both advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Lynn before Greene scored on a bunt by Furcal to cut the lead to 2-1. "When as a team you're fighting at the dish and he goes up there and has a 10-plus pitch AB, you feed off that," Freese said of Robinson's at-bat. "I think every team feeds off that. "The good teams that end up winning the division and getting in the playoffs, one through nine, they battle in the box. The goal as an offense is to not let the pitcher have an easy inning." A sacrifice fly by Beltran tied it at 2-2, before Holliday walked. Craig's broken-bat RBI single to shallow right put St. Louis up 3-2. Happ finally got out of the inning when he struck out Freese on his 40th pitch of the frame. Beltran's first-pitch homer to left center came with one out in the fifth to push the lead to 4-2. Robinson singled in the sixth and scored on a single by Furcal with one out. Houston manager Brad Mills made some strange changes in the ninth inning when he put outfielder Brian Bogusevic in to pitch and moved Johnson, the third baseman, to right field. Bogusevic was drafted as a pitcher, but had never pitched in a major league game and it was Johnson's first career appearance in the outfield. "It's something that is probably the last thing that a manager likes to have to go through, but to put that together to get through it, that's what we had to do," Mills said of the ninth-inning changes. Bogusevic allowed three hits and the home run to Freese in one inning. "It felt kind of strange, but once I knew I could throw strikes, I was more comfortable," Bogusevic said. Freese felt like hitting the homer off him was payback for one he took from him with a leaping catch in the stands on the Cardinals' last trip to Houston. "I don't like it. It's weird," Freese said of facing him. "But Bogusevic robbed me the last time we were here, so I'm going to count that one."

Miguel Gonzalez can't stop two-out rallies as White Sox fall to Oakland

Miguel Gonzalez can't stop two-out rallies as White Sox fall to Oakland

GLENDALE, Ariz. — His split-fingered fastball could use a little work, but Miguel Gonzalez is ready for the regular season.

The White Sox pitcher allowed four earned runs, all with two outs, in his penultimate Cactus League start on Wednesday. Gonzalez also gave up nine hits as the White Sox lost to the Oakland A’s 5-3 at Camelback Ranch.

"I'm pretty excited for (the regular season)," Gonzalez said. "We all know that spring can be a little long sometimes. But we are here, we are here to work and keep doing what we are doing. We are going to be OK."

Gonzalez allowed two runs each in the first and second innings. Both rallies came with two outs and were a bit of a surprise to the right-hander, who left after 4 1/3 innings. Gonzalez wonders if his split-fingered fastball might not be as sharp as normal because of the dry desert air in Arizona that affects many pitchers.

"It wasn't there today," Gonzalez said. "Not quite as good as I thought it would be. Bullpen I felt really good. Falling behind hitters first two innings. That doesn't really help you, especially a team like this that's very aggressive.

"I'm working on (the splitter). It's fine. I mean it's a little different then it is in Florida. It's not as humid. But you can't think that way. You have to go out there and keep working."

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Melky Cabrera went 1-for-3 with two RBIs for the White Sox. Yolmer Sanchez tripled and homered in the loss. Former White Sox farmhand Frankie Montas struck out four over two scoreless innings to earn the save for Oakland.

The White Sox sent four more players to minor league camp before the game, including reliever Tommy Kahnle. The team sent five players to the minors on Tuesday, including pitcher Carson Fulmer. While Fulmer would love to start the season in the majors, he said it won't hinder him from taking advantage of his time at Triple-A Charlotte.

"Obviously last year getting a taste, it's that dream you've had since you were a kid," Fulmer said. "You want more of it. It's not an addiction in a way. But once you get a taste of it you want more of it. All of us young guys are trying to get back to where we've been. I think time will tell, but I think we'll get a chance here soon and get a chance to create something special."

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks go for season sweep vs. Stars tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks go for season sweep vs. Stars tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Dallas Stars tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Patrick Sharp returns to Chicago.

For the first time this season, Sharp will lace up the skates in the building and city he spent 10 seasons and won three Stanley Cups. He missed the first three meetings of the year due to a concussion, but played in the fourth on Feb. 4 that turned out to be a 5-3 loss for Dallas. The former Blackhawks winger revealed last month that he's been dealing with an undisclosed injury for quite a while that has worsened over time, and will eventually need season-ending surgery, which will likely come when the Stars are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.

2. Johnny Oduya faces former team.

Sharp won't be the only one facing his former club tonight. Oduya will face off against the Stars for the first time since being re-acquired by the Blackhawks on Feb. 28 from Dallas, where he spent the last year and a half after signing a two-year contract in the summer of 2015. He was a key part of the team's blue line that won their first division title since 2005-06 last year.

3. Jamie Benn scoring drought.

After scoring 12 goals in his previous 16 games, including three in two games to start March, Benn hasn't scored in six straight, his second-longest drought of the season; his first stretched to nine games from Oct. 20-Nov. 10. It's been a tough season in Dallas, and Benn only recently started looking like the player that finished last season ranked third with 41 goals and second with 89 points. But he's still one of the best players in the league, so don't think a down year makes him any less dangerous on the ice.  

4. Ryan Hartman with a hot stick.

Hartman had been quiet for a little bit, failing to find the back of the net in nine consecutive games. He's been lights out in the last three, where he registered a season-high six shots on goal and scored the game-winning overtime goal in Toronto, and scored two more in Tuesday's 5-4 overtime loss to Vancouver. He's now up to 18 goals on the season, which ranks fifth among all rookies, and all but one have come at even strength. Two more would put him at 20 goals, and would make him the seventh Blackhawks player this season to reach that total.

5. Another successful night coming for the power play?

The Blackhawks took advantage of their six power-play opportunities on Tuesday against Vancouver by cashing in on two of those. They were only 1-for-13 (7.7 percent) in their previous seven games. They're welcoming a Stars team that ranks dead last in the penalty kill department with a 74.0 percentage, and the Blackhawks will look to build off last game's success and keep it rolling.

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