Chicago Cubs

Notre Dame facing a daunting task at Oklahoma

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Notre Dame facing a daunting task at Oklahoma

Bob Stoops has coached 83 games at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in his 14-year tenure in Norman. His teams have only lost four times.

Thats a fairly daunting number for the No. 5 Irish to face this weekend, with plenty of BCS implications on the line against the No. 8 Sooners. But Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday he doesnt think his team is frightened by that 79-4 mark.

We've got so many other things our guys have to worry about, whether they're stepping with their right foot or left foot, Kelly said. Those numbers are really not something we bring up. But clearly we know how good they are.

If Notre Dame does pull off the win, itll be with a quarterback whos only started five collegiate games. But Everett Golson wouldnt be the first inexperienced signal-caller to beat Stoops in Norman.

In 2001, freshman Josh Fields -- who went on to play third base for the White Sox -- replaced junior Aso Pogi early and piloted Les Miles' Oklahoma State squad to a 16-13 win. Pogi threw two interceptions in his first nine passes and was yanked for Fields, who only threw one interception the rest of the way.

Texas Tech's Seth Doege, in his first year as a full-time starter, went into Norman and threw for 441 yards in a shocking win over then-No. 3 Oklahoma last year -- but he at least had some game experience dating back to 2009. TCU's Tye Gunn was a senior when the Horned Frogs became the second team to defeat Stoops at Owen Field in 2005. And K-State senior Collin Klein, who led the No. 3 Wildcats to a 24-19 win in September, is arguably the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy this year.

While Stoops' 79-4 home record certainly appears intimidating, half of those losses have come in the last two years, and it's important to note the Red River Shootout is annually played in Dallas -- so OU doesn't have to play Texas in Norman.

In fact, Saturday's game will mark just the fourth time Stoops has faced a team ranked in the top 10 at home:

Oct. 28, 2000: 31-14 win vs. No. 1 Nebraska
Oct. 19, 2002: 49-3 win vs. No. 9 Iowa State
Nov. 22, 2008: 65-21 win vs. No. 2 Texas Tech

Still, four losses in 83 home games is just one way the strength of Oklahomas program has materialized. Stoops has taken OU to a bowl game in each of his 14 years, including two BCS bowl wins and a national championship in 2000. Make no mistake, its Oklahoma -- not Texas -- thats been the class of the Big 12 for the last decade and a half. Few schools can boast the success Oklahoma has enjoyed under Stoops, and its something Kelly and Notre Dame are shooting for.

That's where we want to be, Kelly said. We want that consistency. Year in and year out you know Oklahoma is going to be part of the conversation. And that's where we want to get our football program. We're nowhere near that yet. We think we're moving in the right direction. We're trending the right way.

But I think the hallmark of great programs is that consistency, the consistency that we saw here for a number of years that we haven't seen, we want to be able to bring that back. And that takes time. And that takes a lot of winning, and that's why there's so much pride and tradition in their program as well.

Kris Bryant knocks out Brewers and knows what big-game experience means for Cubs

Kris Bryant knocks out Brewers and knows what big-game experience means for Cubs

MILWAUKEE – Teammates swarmed Kris Bryant in Miller Park’s visiting dugout late Thursday night, flinging sunflower seeds and forming a mosh pit around the National League’s reigning MVP.

Are you not entertained? The Cubs haven’t always played with this urgency or made it easy while nursing a World Series hangover. But they can feel it now, how close they are to October and how much they learned last year while making history.

It’s too early to pop champagne bottles, but the Cubs won a huge swing game in the NL Central race, beating the Milwaukee Brewers in the 10th inning when Bryant blasted Oliver Drake’s 92-mph fastball off a beam underneath the gigantic video board.

The Cubs watched it ricochet back onto the right-center field grass for a go-ahead two-run homer, bumping up the division lead to 4.5 games while cutting the magic number to clinch the division down to six.

After a head-spinning 5-3 victory that lasted 3 hours and 57 minutes and ended at 11:08 p.m., Bryant didn’t sound surprised or overexcited, the same way he didn’t overreact when the Cubs struggled to gain traction before the All-Star break and the Brewers swept the defending World Series champs two weekends ago at Wrigley Field.       

“We’ve done that so many times,” Bryant said. “We’ve had a nice run with that. I guess it is experience. The heartbeats aren’t going too fast when the game’s on the line there. It kind of plays to our advantage.”

So did the Brewers pushing their bullpen so hard this week trying to catch up that Cubs manager Joe Maddon would have to admit “their A-listers were not available,” meaning Corey Knebel, Anthony Swarzak and Josh Hader. Classic response from Bryant, who has 28 homers and likes to think of pitchers as nameless, faceless opponents: “I didn’t find out their top three guys were down until after the game was over.”

Maybe that changes the ninth-inning rally against Jeremy Jeffress where Ian Happ sprinted for a “Respect 90” single and scored the game-tying run when Javier Baez delivered a two-out, two-strike single up the middle. But the Cubs are in their element now, playing games that matter, not what-if.

“I just think we like loud,” Maddon said. “I think we’re a little bit like adrenaline junkies with the fact we’re used to 40,000 people a night.”

Just look at the stone face Wade Davis made in the ninth inning, escaping a bases-loaded jam by striking out Domingo Santana swinging at an elevated 95-mph fastball and forcing Orlando Arcia to chop a 3-2 pitch back to the mound. The All-Star closer who’s 32-for-32 in save chances went back out for the 10th inning and struck out the side to notch the win. That is a five-out playbook Maddon can use in October.

“You definitely feel it,” Davis said of the playoff atmosphere in a road stadium filled with Cubs fans. “It’s a lot easier to get up for the moment itself instead of having to create it yourself. You feel that.”

As Cubs move closer to division title, Jake Arrieta looks ready for October

As Cubs move closer to division title, Jake Arrieta looks ready for October

MILWAUKEE – This was the type of game Jake Arrieta visualizes, a loud atmosphere with 35,114 fans on their feet and an opponent that really doesn’t like the Cubs at all.

This one would ultimately be out of his hands, lasting 10 innings and almost 4 hours on Thursday night at Miller Park, but Arrieta looked like a Game 1 starter as the Cubs roared back for a 5-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Those playoff plans are coming into focus, the magic number to win the National League Central title down to six and Arrieta managing the Grade 1 right hamstring strain that has been one of the biggest question marks hanging over the defending World Series champs.

“It’s just good to be back out there,” Arrieta said. “These are big games, and I want to be a part of as many as I can, especially to try and clinch the division as quick as possible and then kind of line things up for us in October. But we got to get there first.”

Arrieta threw his first real pitch in 18 days at 7:16 p.m., firing a 92-mph fastball toward Brewers leadoff guy Eric Sogard and giving the Cubs a shot of adrenaline. That always wears off, but the Cubs are a different team when Arrieta sticks his chest out and triggers his perfect posture into a crossfire delivery.

Arrieta looked sharp in his first real action since Labor Day, even as his five-inning, 71-pitch limit exposed how fragile this pitching staff might be right now. If it’s not Jon Lester laboring at the top of the rotation, it’s the softer spots in the middle of the bullpen, or questions about how much wear and tear the Cubs can take after a deep playoff run in 2015 and last year’s World Series madness stretched into early November. 

But Arrieta basically picked up where he left off as the NL pitcher of the month for August, realigning his unique mechanics and generating enough power from his right leg, restarting the momentum in a second half where he’s shown the flashes of dominance you saw during his 2015 Cy Young Award season. 

Arrieta exited this game with a 2-1 lead – before it spun out of control – and passed one test by hustling to cover first base to complete an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play in the fifth. He walked just one of the 20 hitters he faced and could really only regret one pitch in the fourth inning, the 92-mph fastball Domingo Santana drilled off the batter’s eye in center field.

“I felt OK,” Arrieta said. “I can tell that something happened. I think it’s just the residual feeling of something like a hamstring strain. But no pain, really no discomfort. That’s a good sign.

“Tomorrow is the biggest indicator moving forward of how we’ll be able to approach this. I don’t see any reason that I won’t feel good tomorrow.”

Arrieta is scheduled to make two more regular-season starts, but this dramatic comeback means the Cubs might be able to treat those as controlled experiments instead of must-win situations.

“Just an incredible baseball game,” Arrieta said. “This is a really awesome time to be in an organization like this, in a division like the NL Central, where there’s a couple teams that have playoff aspirations in mind. If we take care of business here over the next few days, we get a couple steps closer.”