Chicago White Sox

Spurs lose for the first time in, well, forever

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Spurs lose for the first time in, well, forever

From Comcast SportsNet
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The streak is over. The series may only be beginning. Kevin Durant scored 22 points, Thabo Sefolosha set playoff career-bests with 19 points and six steals, and the Oklahoma City Thunder snapped San Antonio's 20-game winning streak by beating the Spurs 102-82 in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals on Thursday night. Oklahoma City closed its series deficit to 2-1 and will host Game 4 on Saturday night. "We never thought these guys had an advantage over us even though we had lost a few," Durant said. "It was just good that we took it to 2-1. We didn't want to go down 0-3." Sefolosha threw a wrench in the Spurs' well-oiled offense at the start, getting four steals in the first 3 minutes. The Spurs ended up committing a postseason-worst 21 turnovers and scoring their least points all season. San Antonio had been averaging 109.4 points during its month-and-a-half winning streak and had been held to double digits only twice. "We just played a good basketball game," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "We played with a lot of force, we played with good energy, but we played defensive-minded basketball. "That's who we are. That's how we win." Tony Parker and Stephen Jackson led the Spurs with 16 points apiece. Tim Duncan had 11 points on 5-for-15 shooting, taking 11 of San Antonio's first 25 shots as the offense went through the All-Star center instead of Parker. "They played like it was a closeout game, both offensively and defensively," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "They were very active, physical, they moved the ball well on offense. They did all those things better than we did. They beat us good." The Spurs, who already set an NBA record for the longest winning streak carried over from the regular season into the playoffs, were trying to match the league mark for most wins to start the postseason. The Lakers won 11 straight to start the 1989 and 2001 playoffs, getting swept in the NBA finals the first time and winning it all the second. The Spurs hadn't lost since April 11 against the Lakers at home. "We are a prideful team. It's no fun being down 0-2. It's no fun," Brooks said. "But we weren't looking at the game thinking, Oh my gosh, we have a chance to be down 0-3.' We were looking at the game that we have a chance to be 1-2 after this game, and I give our guys a lot of credit. They believe in each other and they always play hard for each other." Parker and Duncan didn't play in the final 15 minutes, and Popovich pulled the plug after a series of three straight turnovers allowed the deficit to reach 23 points early in the fourth quarter. Sefolosha had a right-handed dunk off a lob pass from Russell Westbrook, who followed with his own two-handed jam on an alley-oop pass and Sefolosha followed with a reverse layup on another turnover-fueled fast-break chance to push the lead to 86-63 with 9:48 left. The Thunder put together another 9-0 run coinciding with Manu Ginobili coming out of the game, and featuring Serge Ibaka sticking his tongue out after nailing a jumper from the top of the key. Brooks soon followed suit and pulled his own front-line players with the game well in hand. "You're not going to beat this team by playing one-effort basketball," Brooks said. "You're going to have to have two, three, four, even five. And they make you do that because they pass the ball so well, they spread the floor so well." Popovich said the Thunder played harder and smarter than the Spurs. "They did definitely play with a lot more energy, a lot more passion than us tonight," said Parker, who committed five turnovers. The Spurs wiped out a 24-point deficit in Game 3 against the Clippers in Los Angeles in the last round, but they weren't recovering in this one. San Antonio managed only 24 points in the paint after averaging 46 through the first two games of the series and 47.8 through the playoffs. Oklahoma City already held a 28-8 scoring edge in the paint while taking a 54-41 halftime lead and it never got better for San Antonio, which couldn't get any closer than 11 points in the second half. "We wanted to bounce back after two losses like that. We had to play better and we did that tonight," Sefolosha said. "We played with energy, we played with passion in front of our home crowd. They did a great job giving us a lift." The Thunder scored the game's first eight points, feeding off Sefolosha's steals, but San Antonio recovered in time to take the lead with more than 5 minutes left in the opening period. Oklahoma City took the lead early in the second quarter and there was no looking back. Sefolosha set up Ibaka's two-handed dunk and hit a 3-pointer during a 13-1 run, with San Antonio's only point coming on a free throw by Ginobili after Durant was called for a technical foul while arguing a call from the bench. Oklahoma City's lead ballooned to 15 when Kendrick Perkins grabbed Westbrook's airball and dunked it with two hands. Notes: Duncan did have five blocks to surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's NBA playoff record of 476 by one. ... Rapper Lil Wayne tweeted before the game that he planned to attend but "was denied by the team to be in their arena." Thunder spokesman Dan Mahoney said the rapper's representatives demanded front-row seats but none were available. "We'd love to have him at a game, but like anyone else, he needs a ticket," Mahoney said. ... Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin presented TNT analyst and former NBA All-Star Charles Barkley with a pair of boots, a steak and an order of lamb fries -- a dish that leaves out the otherwise undesirable part of the anatomy out of its name -- during the pregame show.

Lucas Giolito puts together another strong outing in White Sox loss to Astros

Lucas Giolito puts together another strong outing in White Sox loss to Astros

HOUSTON — He didn’t have his best stuff against baseball’s top offense on Tuesday night, but Lucas Giolito had his changeup.

The young White Sox pitcher showed once again that when he has confidence in an offspeed pitch he’s able to overcome situations where his fastball might not be as good as he’d prefer. Trust in the changeup and a good command of the fastball were more than enough to put together another strong performance.

While Giolito took the decision in a 3-1 White Sox loss to the Houston Astros, he once again earned plaudits for his pitching.

“He was really good,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “His changeup's very good. He obviously can spin a couple different breaking balls. It looks like a heavy fastball. So, a really impressive young starter to be able to navigate the lineup in different ways and get guys out in different ways and really compete.”

Perhaps no one hitter better demonstrated Giolito’s ability to compete than his sixth-inning showdown with Astros No. 5 hitter Marwin Gonzalez. Having just issued his first walk down 2-1 with two outs and a man on second, Giolito threw both his two- and four-seam fastball, changeup and curveball during a lengthy at-bat. With the count full, Gonzalez fouled off six consecutive fastballs before Giolito threw a changeup in the dirt for the whiff on the 12th pitch of the at-bat.

It was one of 18 changeups Giolito threw, with 11 going for strikes.

“The changeup was a good pitch for me aside from a few I left up in the zone,” Giolito said. “I had a lot of confidence in it and that was probably the offspeed pitch I was most comfortable going to in situations.”

Given his fastball velo was an average of 92.2 mph, confidence and comfort were critical. Houston entered the game with a team slash line of .282/.345/.479 and averaging 5.47 runs per contest. The American League West champions offer few easy outs and were clearly the sternest test to date for Giolito, who has never pitched more innings in a season than his current 167 between Triple-A Charlotte and the majors.

Even though the velo isn’t where he’s wanted it in the past two outings, Giolito has pitched well enough. Giolito produced his fourth quality start in six outings in the big leagues as he limited the Astros to two earned runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings. He walked one and struck out three.

“Felt pretty good about it,” Giolito said. “It was one of those days where I didn’t have my best stuff working. Had a lot of trouble getting the ball to the extension side. That’s something to work on this week going into the next start. But I felt good about how I pitched tonight for sure.”

The White Sox feel pretty good about the production they’ve received from Giolito, who struggled with consistency earlier this season at Triple-A and dropped down in the prospect rankings as a result. The right-hander said he’s pleased with how he’s learned to be more composed on the mound this season. He’s also clearly gained confidence and trust in his stuff.

“Based on everything we saw, the skill set that he would be able to manage his ability on the mound to attack the strike zone,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s throwing his breaking ball more effectively now, the changeup as well.”

“All in all he’s doing what he needs to do. He’s kept hitters off balance. His ball has some life. He has angle. We’re happy with how he’s continued to develop.”

Giolito’s offense didn’t do what it needed to earn him a victory despite another big night from Yoan Moncada. Moncada went 3-for-4 with three singles and shortstop Tim Anderson extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a ninth-inning single.

Joe Maddon finally sees Cubs playing with the right 'mental energy'

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon finally sees Cubs playing with the right 'mental energy'

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Joe Maddon looked back on the perfect baseball storm that hit the Tampa Bay Rays and played all the greatest hits for local reporters, waxing poetic about the banners hanging inside Tropicana Field, stumping for a new stadium on the other side of the Gandy Bridge, telling Don Zimmer stories, namedropping Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and riffing on sabermetrics and information buckets.

But the moment of clarity came in the middle of a media session that lasted 20-plus minutes, Maddon sitting up on stage in what felt like the locker room at an old CYO gym: “We only got really good because the players got really good.”

There’s no doubt the Cubs have the talent to go along with all the other big-market advantages the Rays could only dream about as the have-nots in the American League East. Now it looks like the defending champs have finally got rid of the World Series hangover, playing with the urgency and pitch-to-pitch focus that had been lacking at times and will be needed again in October.    

Maddon essentially admitted it after Tuesday’s 2-1 victory, watching his team beat Chris Archer and work together on a one-hitter that extended the winning streak to seven games and kept the Milwaukee Brewers 3.5 games back in the National League Central.

“You’re really seeing them try to execute in moments,” Maddon said. “When they come back and they don’t get it done, it’s not like they’re angry. But you can just see they’re disappointed in themselves.

“Their mental energy is probably at an all-season-high right now.”

Six days after the Cubs moved him to the bullpen, lefty swingman Mike Montgomery took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, when Tampa Bay’s No. 9 hitter (Brad Miller) drove a ball over the center-field wall. Maddon then went to the relievers he will trust in October – Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Wade Davis – with the All-Star closer striking out the side in the ninth inning and remaining perfect in save opportunities (32-for-32) as a Cub.       

“We want to go out there and prove every day that we’re the best team in baseball,” said Kyle Schwarber, the designated hitter who launched Archer’s 96-mph fastball into the right-center field seats for his 28th home run in the second inning. “The way our guys are just going out there and competing, it’s really good to see, especially this time of year. It’s getting to crunch time, and we just got to keep this same pace that we’re going at.

“Don’t worry about things around us. Just keep our heads down, keep worrying about the game and go from there.”     

In what’s been a season-long victory lap, Maddon couldn’t help looking back when the sound system started playing The Beach Boys and “Good Vibrations” echoed throughout the domed stadium, a tribute running on the video board and a crowd of 25,046 giving him a standing ovation.

“It was cool,” Maddon said. “I forgot about the bird, the cockatoo, I can’t remember the name. Really a cool bird. I told (my wife) Jaye I wanted one of those for a while. But then again, she gets stuck taking care of them.

“I was just thinking about all the things we did. You forget sometimes that snake. I think her name was Francine, like a 19-year-old, 20-footer. And then the penguin on my chair. You forget all the goofy stuff you did. But you can see how much fun everybody had.

“I appreciated it. They showed all my pertinent highlights. There’s none actually as a player. It’s primarily as a zookeeper.”

But within the last week, you can see the Cubs getting more serious, concentrating on their at-bats and nailing their pitches. There is internal competition for roster spots and playing time in the postseason, when Maddon becomes ruthless and doesn’t care at all about making friends. This just might be another perfect storm.

Montgomery – who notched the final out in the 10th inning of last year’s World Series Game 7 – put it this way: “I feel ready for anything after how this year’s gone.”