Miracle run continues for St. Louis Cardinals

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Miracle run continues for St. Louis Cardinals

From Comcast SportsNetMILWAUKEE (AP) -- An afterthought in early September, the St. Louis Cardinals needed every last win just to reach the postseason. Now, this wild ride is headed to the World Series. "We believe," third baseman David Freese said. "I think that's what you've got to do in this game. We've got a group of guys with some talent, desire, and just a ton of heart." Freese hit a three-run homer in the first and manager Tony La Russa turned again to his brilliant bullpen for seven sturdy innings as St. Louis captured its 18th pennant with a 12-6 victory over the bumbling Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday night. Albert Pujols and the wild-card Cardinals took out the heavily favored Phillies in the first round, then dispatched the division-rival Brewers on their own turf in Game 6 of the NL championship series. "I mean, you could have never known," Pujols said. Freese, often overlooked in a lineup anchored by All-Stars, batted .545 with three homers and nine RBIs to earn series MVP honors. Looking for its second title in six seasons, St. Louis opens the World Series at home Wednesday night with ace Chris Carpenter on the mound against the AL champion Texas Rangers. "Your goal is to win it," Pujols said. "Nobody talks about second place. Everybody talks about who wins it. That's our main goal." Trailing by 10 games in the wild-card race on Aug. 25, the Cardinals surged down the stretch and took advantage of a monumental collapse by Atlanta to win a playoff spot on the final night of the regular season. In a twist of fate, it was Philadelphia that helped them into the postseason by completing a three-game sweep of the Braves. "Improbable, incredible, overwhelming," La Russa said. "This one here has its own mark, because coming from that far back is historic I think. That's what they tell me. And having to win on the road, Philadelphia, these guys." Now, bolstered by a group of no-name relievers who keep answering La Russa's call, the Cardinals are back in the World Series for the first time since beating Detroit in 2006. What a relief! "Well, it was crazy," outfielder Matt Holliday said. "We had a lot of adversity, but we found a way." It was a disappointing end to a scintillating season for Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and the NL Central champion Brewers, who finished with a franchise-record 96 wins, six games ahead of St. Louis. Baseball's best home team collapsed in the NLCS, though, losing twice at Miller Park in an error-filled flop. It was likely Fielder's final game with the Brewers, too. He can become a free agent after the season. "I had to clear the throat once, but it was all right. I love these guys," said Fielder, a first-round draft pick in 2002. "I've been playing with most of them since I was 18. So this organization has been great to me." Rafael Furcal and Pujols hit solo homers off Chris Narveson and St. Louis built a 9-4 lead by the time the bullpen took over for Edwin Jackson in the third inning. The group of Fernando Salas, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, Lance Lynn and Jason Motte allowed two runs the rest of the way. For the series, St. Louis relievers finished 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA over 28 2-3 innings. The biggest scare came when Pujols was shaken up after tagging out Braun in the fifth inning when he fell hard on his right forearm on a close play at first base. The three-time MVP was slow to get up, but stayed in the game. "I got spiked, and then (Rzepczynski) kind of stepped on my right knee, but it was a do-or-die play," Pujols said. "I'm glad, you know, we got the out." The Cardinals needed a shutout from Carpenter to beat the Phillies 1-0 in Game 5 of the NLDS, but took control of this series beginning in Game 2 by jumping out to early leads and letting the bullpen lead the way. La Russa called on his relievers 28 times in the NLCS and Jackson's start was the shortest of the postseason for the Cardinals rotation, which finished the NLCS with a 7.66 ERA. St. Louis became the first team to win a postseason series without a starter reaching the sixth inning, according to STATS LLC. Freese gave his teammates credit while accepting the MVP award. "I wish we could make eight or nine of these and give them to our bullpen. They're the reason why we won this series," he said. Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks and Jonathan Lucroy all homered for the Brewers, who won a major league-most 57 times at Miller Park this season and four straight in the postseason before losing Game 2 to the Cardinals. It was the two ugly defensive performances that will likely linger for Milwaukee, which committed four errors in a 7-1 loss in Game 5 and added three more in Game 6. "You can't get away with mistakes to them and we made way too many mistakes," manager Ron Roenicke said. The Brewers' biggest hitters -- Braun, Fielder and Weeks -- finished 1 for 12 in Game 6. Fielder, the All-Star game MVP and the reason St. Louis will start at home on Wednesday, received a standing ovation in his final at-bat in the eighth. He grounded out and slowly walked back to the dugout with his head down. Struggling starter Shaun Marcum never really gave Milwaukee a chance and was hurt by defensive plays that weren't ruled errors. In the first, Jon Jay singled with one out and stole second when Weeks couldn't hold onto Lucroy's low throw. Marcum believed he had strike three on Pujols, who ended up walking. Lance Berkman singled for the second time in 18 career at-bats against Marcum to drive in the first run, and center fielder Nyjer Morgan made an ill-advised throw to third that let Berkman reach second. Marcum saved a run by grabbing Holliday's dribbler and flipping it out of his glove to Lucroy to get Pujols at the plate, but Freese homered on the next pitch to make it 4-0 and extend his postseason hitting streak to 10 games. Marcum was finished after the first, ending his postseason 0-3 with a 14.90 ERA. "They were some kind of team in that first inning. We couldn't get away with anything," Roenicke said. "We didn't make good pitches. But we just never had a chance to get into our comfort zone." Furcal homered off Chris Narveson in the second and Pujols hit a drive to left in the third to give St. Louis a 6-4 lead. Holliday then singled, Freese doubled and the Brewers intentionally walked Yadier Molina with one out. Nick Punto hit a sacrifice fly and pinch-hitter Allen Craig singled in two more runs off LaTroy Hawkins to make it 9-4. Yuniesky Betancourt's RBI double in the fourth cut the lead to 9-5, but Milwaukee fell apart in the fifth with three errors in a span of two plays. First, Hart bobbled Freese's single in right field, allowing Holliday to reach third. Holliday scored on the next play when third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. committed two errors. He booted Molina's grounder and then flipped the ball out of his glove through Weeks' legs at second. "They outplayed us," Roenicke said. "They're a good team and they outplayed us." Pinch-hitter Adron Chambers' sacrifice fly gave St. Louis an 11-5 lead in the fifth. In the bottom of the inning, Braun's groundout cut the lead to 11-6, but the focus was on Pujols when he was slow to get up. La Russa came out to check on his star, who gripped his right forearm and had a brief limp, but stayed in the game. He looked better later, contributing a two-out RBI single in the eighth for the final margin. Jackson allowed Hart and Weeks to lead off the first two innings with homers and Lucroy added a two-run shot to cut the lead to 5-4 in the second. St. Louis answered back with four more runs, keyed when Jackson was pulled for Craig, who delivered his two-run single. Salas caught a break in the third when Jay made a leaping catch of Fielder's drive at the wall in right-center. Jay added another spectacular grab, crashing into the padding in the ninth with Motte on the mound. One out later, the celebration was on. "It's kind of surreal that we're here," Freese said. "But this team deserves what we've been rewarded." NOTES: St. Louis joins the Dodgers and Giants with 18 World Series appearances, second only to the Yankees (40). ... It was Milwaukee's 26th loss at Miller Park this season. Marcum started 13 of those games. ... Furcal has hit six of his nine homers this season against the Brewers. ... Marcum gave up 34 runs over his final 34 innings dating to Sept. 9. ... The Miller Park roof was closed with the game-time temperature 55 degrees and a strong autumn wind blowing throughout the day. Inside, it was 67 degrees.

Archie Miller a good hire at Indiana, but his promotion to the big time comes with big-time expectations

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USA TODAY

Archie Miller a good hire at Indiana, but his promotion to the big time comes with big-time expectations

Archie Miller is the new Indiana head basketball coach, and while that gives Indiana the big splash it wanted for Tom Crean's successor, it remains to be seen whether it will please the Indiana fan base and its monster-sized expectations.

Miller is a great get for the Hoosiers, a guy who's taken the Dayton Flyers to four straight NCAA tournaments, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2014, a round the Hoosiers themselves haven't reached in 15 years. Miller has Big Ten experience, a former Thad Matta assistant at Ohio State, and he has experience recruiting in Big Ten Country.

He's been in line for a promotion from the A-10 to a major-conference program for a couple years now, and he was one of the biggest names at that level that Indiana or any other major-conference program looking for a new coach could have snagged.

But weren't Indiana fans expecting Steve Alford to come back to Bloomington?

Keeping in line with the enormous expectations this fan base always seems to have for this program, the internet was hoping athletics director Fred Glass could woo the former Indiana star back to his alma mater, pry him away from the most tradition-rich program in the country to spearhead a rebuilding effort for the team that finished tied for 10th in the Big Ten standings this season.

Those hopes seemed pretty unrealistic from the beginning — though it is difficult to argue with the immense financial attractiveness any Big Ten program has — but a perfect example of the kind of expectations that await Miller.

Marquette is plenty of distance up the college-basketball ladder from Dayton, but it was Crean, too, who made a career leap to the Hoosiers almost a decade ago. Crean's nine-year tenure featured some program-saving digging out from the horrendous spot Kelvin Sampson left things in. It also featured two outright Big Ten championships and three seasons of 27 or more wins. But all that couldn't keep the crushing expectations off Crean's shoulders, and one season after he won a conference title in one of the toughest conference's in college hoops, he was out.

Crean's kind of success wasn't good enough at Indiana. Will Miller's be?

Of course there was inconsistency that accompanied Crean's winning. The Hoosiers were just two wins above .500 this season, the same thing that was true a season after Indiana earned a No. 1 seed in the 2013 NCAA tournament. The two winningest seasons during Crean's tenure were followed by years in which Indiana didn't make the NCAA tournament. Not the kind of trajectory a program expecting a national championship wants to see, hence his firing.

But that goes to show how tough the task is in Bloomington, not necessarily when it comes to building a winner but when it comes to pleasing the folks in this basketball-loving state.

That's Miller's job now, and there likely won't be too long of a honeymoon period. Miller won at the lower levels of college basketball, winning 102 games over the past four seasons, but the Big Ten is a different animal. Another former Matta assistant, John Groce, found that out over his five seasons at Illinois. After getting hired off a Sweet Sixteen run at Ohio, Groce made the NCAA tournament just once in his five seasons in Champaign, the reason for the Big Ten's other coaching change this offseason.

Miller comes to Indiana with a better resume than Groce brought to Illinois — the A-10 is a much better league on an annual basis than the MAC, and Miller did more consistent winning over a longer stretch — but with a similar challenge ahead of him. Illini fans soured on Groce relatively quick, with questions about his job status lingering for a couple of years before he was fired earlier this month. Certainly Crean was never free from questions about his job status during his time in Bloomington, not even getting them to go away with a Big Ten championship last season. Will Hoosier fans treat Miller any differently if a deep tournament run doesn't come in one of Miller's first few seasons?

Of course, that all comes with the territory of being a college basketball coach, and Miller knows that well from his time as a major-conference assistant and with his brother the head coach at Arizona. But now he has to live it every day.

Miller is a great hire by Glass. It's time to find out if Indiana and its sky-high expectations make for a great landing spot for Miller.

2017 NFL Draft Profile: Texas A&M DL Myles Garrett

2017 NFL Draft Profile: Texas A&M DL Myles Garrett

As part of our coverage leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft we will provide profiles of more than 100 prospects, including a scouting report and video interviews with each player.

Myles Garrett, DL, Texas A&M

6'4" | 272 lbs.

2016 stats:

33 tackles, 15 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 2 PD, 2 FF

Projection:

First round

Scouting Report:

"Elite edge rusher who possesses rare explosiveness and the fluid-movement skills and agility of an NBA shooting guard. Good size, but he's never likely going to be a hold-your-ground run defender, and might be best suited as an outside linebacker. However, his ability to explode into the backfield through a gap or around the edge gives him disruptive potential on every snap. Garrett still needs to fine-tune his pass-rush strategy and could stand to give more consistent effort from the start of the snap until the whistle. But his pass-rush production and athletic traits point toward an all-pro career." — Lance Zierlein, NFL.com

Video analysis provided by Rotoworld and NBC Sports NFL Draft expert Josh Norris.

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