Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hughes keeps dealing against Tribe


NEW YORK (AP) — Phil Hughes bounced back from a rough outing to pitch eight scoreless innings and Alex Rodriguez hit a long home run Tuesday night, leading the New York Yankees to a 6-4 victory over the Cleveland Indians.

Hughes (8-6) gave up six hits and a walk to win for the fifth time in six decisions. He worked with runners on base in five innings. He lasted only 4 1-3 innings in his previous outing.

Curtis Granderson had a two-run single and Chris Stewart added an RBI hit as several bounces went New York's way against Justin Masterson (4-7) in the second inning.

The Yankees got a break in the seventh, too, when Yankees left fielder Dewayne Wise fooled third base umpire Mike DiMuro into thinking he made a stupendous catch flipping into the stands in foul territory down the left field line with two outs and a runner on third base.

After a wait of several seconds for Wise to emerge from the stands, DiMuro called it a catch and birthday boy Derek Jeter was the first to greet Wise. Jeter, of course, made one of his most famous catches diving head first into the stands in left. Replays, though, showed the ball hitting off Wise's glove as he fell to the ground and out of view.

Little is going right for the Indians, losers of four straight. In their previous four games Cleveland scored just five runs. They scored four runs against Cory Wade in the ninth on Johnny Damon's RBI single and Jose Lopez's three-run homer. Lopez was in for third baseman Jack Hannahan, who was ejected in the eighth.

Rafael Soriano got one out for his 16th save.

On the flip side, the Yankees can do little wrong these past few weeks. Rodriguez's monster shot in the seventh off Tony Sipp into the second deck in left field was No. 642 of his career and helped the Yankees to their fourth straight win and 14th in 17 games.

Entering Tuesday, New York had scored 16 of their last 21 runs by the long ball. But Masterson had never allowed a homer to the Yankees in eight outings and that held true. So the Yankees played small-ball against the pitcher with a 1.24 ERA in June and a streak of having not given up an earned run in 20 1-3 innings coming in.

Mark Teixeira walked leading off the second inning but was taken out at second base on Nick Swisher's fielder's choice. After out No. 2, Wise, starting a second straight game after homering Monday night, singled. Stewart hit a hot shot down the third base line that hit off a diving Hannahan's glove for a run-scoring single.

Jeter then hit a bouncer that deflected off Masterson's lower leg and he reached safely to load the bases. Granderson followed with a two-run opposite-field single to left-center to make it 3-0.

Granderson walked leading off the fifth and advanced to third on Robinson Cano's broken-bat blooper to short center field. Teixeira drove him in with a fly to center.

The Bleacher Creatures chanted "Hap-py Birth-day!" for Jeter instead of his name during roll call. Fans gave a big cheer when the newly 38-year-old captain gave a wave.

NOTES: Indians DH Travis Hafner (minor right knee surgery) will begin a rehabilitation assignment Wednesday at Triple-A Columbus. There is no set amount of games scheduled yet, manager Manny Acta said. ... RHP Carlos Carrasco (elbow reconstruction surgery last September) threw from a mound. "It's encouraging to see him throw the bullpen the way the ball was coming out of his hand today," Acta said, adding Carrasco is on track to return next season. ... The Yankees claimed RHP Danny Farquhar off waivers from Oakland and optioned him to Double-A Trenton. To make room on the 40-man roster, they transferred OF Brett Gardner to the 60-day DL. Manager Joe Girardi says there is little chance Gardner (elbow) will return before the All-Star break.

Schwimer's effort powers Phillies

PHILADELPHIA – Each time Charlie Manuel is asked if he thinks he could use some help filling his bullpen via trade, the manager answers diplomatically, knowing the hand he’s been dealt.
“What we have is what we have,” is one version of his response. What the Phillies have are a majority of arms that should be continuing to develop in the minor leagues, not learning on the job in the major leagues.
But the 2012 season has been defined by injuries and the bullpen has not been immune, with three right-handers having undergone surgeries (Jose Contreras, David Herndon and Mike Stutes) and another dealing with an elbow injury since January (Justin De Fratus).
The trial and error bullpen is tested on a nightly basis. On Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates, one member of the green team passed the test in a critical spot to help the Phillies take a 5-4 win.
Michael Schwimer took over for starter Vance Worley with the Phils up 4-3, no one out and runners on second and third in the seventh.
The 26-year-old Schwimer, who has struggled as badly as any of the rookies relievers this season, induced a comebacker from Jose Tabata to record the first out. Three pitches later, he was out of the inning unscathed.
Neil Walker flew out to left and John Mayberry Jr. fired a one-hop strike to Carlos Ruiz at the plate to cut down the would-be, game-tying run as the Phils held onto the one-run lead. As he walked back to the dugout, Schwimer let loose on a rebel’s yell, knowing it may have been the biggest outs of his young big league career.
Schwimer had an 8.48 ERA in his first stint with the Phillies this season, allowing at least one run in four of his five appearances. But since being recalled earlier this month, he hasn’t allowed a run in eight of 10 appearances.
Schwimer has a 1.86 ERA and opponents are hitting .129 (4-for-31) in June.
After Schwimer exited, the two veterans in the bullpen finished the Bucs off. Antonio Bastardo allowed a leadoff double and then set down three straight in the eighth before Jonathan Papelbon flirted with trouble, giving up a one-out solo home run, before rebounding from his first blown save of the season to nail down the Phils’ second straight win.
Worley pitched the first six to collect his first victory in more than six weeks. He allowed three runs on six hits while striking out five and walking two.
Worley entered the night without a win since May 11, his last start before a three-week stint on the disabled list with elbow pain. He has a 2.70 ERA in five starts since returning from the DL and a 2.92 ERA overall in 12 starts this season.
The offense, which had scored a total of eight runs in Worley’s previous four starts, gave the pitchers help early and often Tuesday night. Everyone in the starting eight had at least one hit, save Mayberry, who did his part by cutting down the aforementioned runner at the plate in the seventh.
Ruiz, who applied the tag on that play, was once again at ignition switch at the plate. Ruiz collected his second straight, three-hit game, including a two-out, run-scoring single in the first inning that accounted for the game’s first run.
Ruiz also supplied the Phils with their last run, which proved to be as important as any run they would score all night. With the Phils holding a 4-3 lead, Ruiz led off the eighth by ripping an 0-2 cutter from Juan Cruz into the left field seats.
The home run was the 10th of the season for Ruiz, a career high. Although he is in third place in National League All-Star voting for catchers – almost one million votes behind leader Buster Posey of San Francisco, Ruiz leads all of baseball, regardless of position, with a .361 batting average.
Ty Wigginton also homered for the Phillies

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cano's homer lifts Yanks to series win over Mets

NEW YORK (AP) — Robinson Cano hit a tiebreaking homer in the eighth inning and the  Yankees touched up R.A. Dickey for five runs in a 6-5 victory over the Mets on Sunday night.

Nick Swisher had an early three-run shot against Dickey, who was coming off consecutive one-hitters — making him the first major league pitcher in 24 years to accomplish that feat. But in a much-anticipated matchup at sold-out Citi Field, both he and Yankees ace CC Sabathia were missing their best stuff.

Leading off the eighth, Cano drove a 2-0 delivery from Miguel Batista (1-2) over the home run apple in straightaway center for his 16th homer and fifth in seven games. Taking advantage of a shaky Mets bullpen again, the Yankees won the final two games of the weekend by one run to finish 5-1 against their crosstown rivals this season.
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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Ibanez lifts Yankees past Mets

NEW YORK — Raul Ibanez tied the game with a three-run homer, pinch-hitter Eric Chavez came through with a go-ahead shot moments later and the Yankees rallied past the Mets 4-3 Saturday night to stop a three-game skid.

Raul Ibanez's pinch-hit home run powered the Yankees
Riding the long ball again, the Yankees won for the fourth time in five Subway Series matchups this season. The finale is quite an attraction, too, with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey coming off consecutive one-hitters when he faces Yankees ace CC Sabathia in a much-anticipated duel Sunday night.

Daniel Murphy, who hasn’t homered all season, nearly won this one for the Mets in the ninth inning. With a runner aboard, he hit a deep drive into the right-field corner that was caught just in front of the fence for the final out. 

The seventh-inning homers by Ibanez and Chavez helped the Yankees overcome a three-run deficit against Chris Young. They also bailed out right-hander Ivan Nova, who won his previous five starts but left down 3-0 in the sixth.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis homered for the Mets, who had won seven straight interleague games and four in a row overall. He also struck out his last three times up to strand five runners — three in scoring position.

Lucas Duda had a key miscue in right field and then squandered two chances at the plate to get the Mets back in the game. They left 11 runners on overall, six in scoring position, before a sellout crowd of 42,122 — the largest in the four-year history of Citi Field.

Clay Rapada (2-0) fanned Nieuwenhuis with two on in the sixth, and Boone Logan pitched out of trouble in the seventh. David Robertson worked around a pair of one-out walks in the eighth, fanning Nieuwenhuis to end the inning, and Rafael Soriano got three outs for his 14th save in 15 chances. 

Making his fourth major league start since returning from shoulder surgery, Young cruised into the seventh with a 3-0 lead. But it all unraveled in a span of nine pitches. 

Mark Teixeira, who is 0 for 8 against the right-hander, worked out a leadoff walk, and Nick Swisher took a hefty cut that produced only a soft fly to medium right field. Duda, still learning the intricacies of outfield play, broke back on the ball and then charged in. He came up short on a diving attempt, and the ball bounced past him for a double, Swisher’s 1,000th career hit.

Ibanez lined the next pitch barely over the fence in the right-field corner for his 11th homer, tying the score at 3.

That was it for Young, who had an RBI single in the sixth. One out later, Chavez sliced an 0-2 pitch from Jon Rauch (3-7) into the left-field corner for his first career pinch-hit homer and the Yankees’ second of the season.

Struggling with runners in scoring position all season, the homer-happy Yankees have beaten the Mets with the long ball. They have 13 home runs against their crosstown rivals this season, accounting for 20 of their 26 runs. The Bronx Bombers lead the majors with 110 homers in 70 games, including 32 in the last 18 games.

The Mets had a great chance to tie it in the seventh. But with a runner on third, Logan whiffed Duda on three pitches and made another left-handed hitter, Murphy, look bad on an inning-ending strikeout.  

Nova, who is 12-0 in his last 16 road starts, allowed three runs — two earned — and five hits in 5 2-3 innings. He gave up two runs in his previous three starts covering 22 2-3 innings.

NOTES: Mets LF Jason Bay (concussion) was in the clubhouse before the game and said he hopes to be back after the All-Star break, though there is no timetable for his return. “He’s still got some discomfort in his shoulders and some other things that are still feeling the brunt of the collision with the wall, but the fact that his head feels better, that the headaches and the dizziness are going away — those are great signs,” manager Terry Collins said. “I know our medical team will take this slow and hopefully get him back as soon as we possibly can.” ... Mets 1B Ike Davis was scratched from the lineup about 90 minutes before the first pitch because of possible food poisoning. ... Collins wants SS Ruben Tejada (strained right quadriceps) to play a few more rehab games at Triple-A Buffalo before returning. “I want to make sure his legs get in really good shape before he’s back here,” the manager said. Tejada has been on the DL since May 7. ... Yankees manager Joe Girardi said the team has no plans to bring in a knuckleballer to throw batting practice Sunday in preparation for Dickey. ... Yankees C Russell Martin was pulled in the ninth with a stiff back. ... The Yankees and Indians are the only teams that haven’t lost four straight games this season.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Mets top 'chicken' Yankees

NEW YORK (AP) — Ike Davis received a bit of help from the New York Yankees on his three-run homer and Frank Francisco closed out the Mets' 6-4 victory Friday night after calling their crosstown rivals "chickens."

Justin Turner had a two-run single and the Mets scored five runs in the first inning with two outs. Andy Pettitte looked flat after waiting out a rainstorm that set back the start of the season's second Subway Series by 53 minutes.

Davis followed Turner's hit with a fly to right that a leaping Nick Swisher got his glove on. But when he hit the wall, the ball was nudged off the top of the fence and over for a 5-0 lead.

Still, the homer-happy Yankees rallied with three late drives to set up a chance to see Francisco.

Alex Rodriguez hit his 641st homer and Andruw Jones also connected for the Yankees against Jonathon Niese. Robinson Cano added a two-run shot off Miguel Batista in the eighth to cut the lead to 6-4 after David Wright had an RBI single in the seventh.

David Wright hit a two-run homer on Friday
Francisco made headlines in New York this week by saying "I can't wait to face those chickens" and expressing his desire to strike out the side against them.

He explained Friday afternoon what he meant by his strange comment, saying he thinks the Yankees often complain about umpires' calls.

In a heavy drizzle, Francisco made his first appearance against the Yankees for the Mets and — you got it — played chicken with a powerful lineup. Andres Torres made a stumbling catch in deep center field for the first out. The right-hander walked pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez before Derek Jeter singled. Francisco then struck out Curtis Granderson and got Mark Teixeira to pop out for his 18th save in 21 opportunities.

The Yankees lost their third in a row following a 10-game winning streak that began against the Mets. They had not lost three in a row since May 19-21.

The afternoon rain didn't deter a crowd of 40,191 from filling Citi Field. It did help alleviate the sizzling heat of the last few days that even inspired a Mets ticket offer. The Mets sold a limited number of choice seats for $94, the price of the temperature at the start of Wednesday night's game against Baltimore.

The Mets totaled seven runs when they were swept in three games in the Bronx in early June. In the finale at Yankee Stadium, Niese (5-3) carried a 3-0 lead into the seventh but he was betrayed by his defense and gave up two unearned runs.

This time, he gave up the two homers and eight hits in 6 1-3 innings to help the Mets win their seventh straight interleague game.

Pettitte (3-3) gave up five runs for the second time this season and for the first time in an inning since Sept. 4, 2001, against Toronto.

Torres walked in the first and Ronny Cedeno, activated from the disabled list before the game, singled. Wright hit into a fielder's choice and Lucas Duda flied out. But the Mets lead the majors in two-out runs (155), and they soon cashed in.

Turner hit a two-run single to center. Davis then hit his eighth homer of the year.

Batting just .162 entering the game on June 10, Davis didn't even start with Pettitte on the mound. But the left-handed hitter had a pinch-hit double that tied the score in the ninth that day and has played well enough recently to earn a place in manager Terry Collins' lineup Friday against the crafty lefty.

As has often been the case this season, the Yankees had trouble with runners on base. Leading the majors with 105 homers coming in but hitting only .218 with runners in scoring position, the Yankees put two on in the first and second and had a runner on in the third, fourth and seventh without scoring.

Rodriguez homered with one out in the sixth, his drive landing in the container that holds the big apple in straightaway center. Jones homered to left in the seventh. Cano hit a two-run shot in the eighth.

NOTES: Mets LHP Johan Santana was given the key to the city by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in honor of his no-hitter June 1, the first in franchise history. ... To make room for Cedeno, the Mets sent reliever Elvin Ramirez to Triple-A Buffalo. ... Rodriguez was thrilled for the Miami Heat, NBA champions. He said he understood what LeBron James had gone through. ... Michigan QB Denard Robinson was on the field before the game.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

LeBron James gets his title for Miami

MIAMI (AP) — The decision is final: LeBron James made the right call coming to Miami.
Finally an NBA champion, it's all worth it now.
James had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists, and got the kind of help that was worth leaving home for, leading the Heat in a 121-106 rout of the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night to win the NBA Finals in five games.
Best player in the game, best team in the league.
James has found it all since taking his talents to South Beach.

"It means everything," James said moments after the win. "I made a difficult decision to leave Cleveland but I understood what my future was about ... I knew we had a bright future (in Miami). This is a dream come true for me. This is definitely when it pays off."
He left the game along with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for good with 3:01 remaining for a round of hugs and the start for a celebration he's been waiting for since arriving in the NBA out of high school as the No. 1 pick of the 2003 draft.
James hopped up and down in the final minutes, shared a long hug with opponent Kevin Durant, and watched the confetti rain down from the rafters.
The Heat took control in the second quarter, briefly lost it and blew it open again in the third behind their role players, James content to pass to wide-open 3-point shooters while the Thunder focused all their attention on him.
Bosh and Wade, the other members of the Big Three who sat alongside James as he promised titles at his Miami welcoming party two summers ago, both had strong games. Bosh, who broke down in tears as the Heat left their own court after losing Game 6 last year, finished with 24 points and Wade scored 20. The Heat also got a huge boost from Mike Miller, who made seven 3-pointers and scored 23 points.
The disappointment of losing to Dallas in six games last year vanished in a blowout of the demoralized Thunder, who got 32 points and 11 rebounds from Durant.
That made it easier for James, the most heavily scrutinized player in the league since his departure from Cleveland, when he announced he was "taking his talents to South Beach" on a TV special called "The Decision" that was criticized everywhere from talk shows and water coolers straight to the commissioner's office. James has said he wishes he handled things differently, but few who watched the Cavaliers fail to assemble championship talent around him could have argued with his desire to depart.
He found in Miami a team where he never had to do it alone — though he reminded everyone during his sensational postseason run that he still could when necessary. He got support whenever he needed it in this series, from Shane Battier's 17 points in Game 2 to Mario Chalmers' 25 in Game 4.
In the clincher it was Miller, banged-up from so many recent injuries that he practically limps from the bench to scorer's table when he checks in. He made his fourth 3-pointer of the half right before James' fast-break basket capped a 15-2 run that extended Miami's lead to 53-36 with 4:42 remaining in the first half. James had 15 points, five rebounds and five assists at halftime, with the Heat ahead 59-49.
Durant added 11 rebounds for the Thunder, who made a remarkably early trip to the NBA Finals just three years after starting 3-29. With Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden all 23 or younger, the Thunder have the pieces in place for a lengthy stay atop the Western Conference.
But their inexperience showed in this series, a few questionable decisions, possessions and outright mistakes costing them in their franchise's first playoff appearance since Seattle lost to Chicago in 1996. Westbrook scored 19 but shot only 4 of 20, unable to come up with anything close to his 43-point outing in Game 4, and Harden finished a miserable series with 19.
Nothing they done could have stopped James, anyway.
Appearing fully over the cramps that forced him to sit out the end of Game 4, he was back to his dominant self, a combination of strength and speed that is practically unmatched in the game — and rarely seen in the history of it.
Wade skipped to each side of the court before the opening tip with arms up to pump up the fans, then James showed them nothing wrong with his legs, throwing down an emphatic fast-break dunk to open the scoring. He made consecutive baskets while being fouled, showing no expression after the second, as if he'd hardly even known he was hit. Drawing so much attention from the Thunder, he started finding his wide-open shooters, and the Heat built a nine-point lead before going to the second up 31-26.
Oklahoma City got back within five early in the third before consecutive 3-pointers by Chalmers and Battier triggered a 27-7 burst that made it 88-63 on another 3-pointer by Miller. James didn't even score in the run until it was almost over, hitting a pair of free throws after he was flagrantly fouled by Derek Fisher while powering toward the basket.
Gone was the tentative player who was mocked for shrinking on the big stage last year, too willing to defer to others who didn't possess half his talents. This time, he was at peace off the court and on attack on it, vowing to have no regrets and playing in such a way they wouldn't be necessary.
James promised multiple titles at his welcoming party, and the Heat have three pieces to build around. Pat Riley will have to fill some holes on the roster, but will likely find some players eager to come to Miami for the good weather and great chance to win.
Miller was one of them last year, and though injuries have ruined his effectiveness, his shooting turned this into the only blowout of the series after Miami had outscored Oklahoma City by just 389-384 over the first four games.
Notes: Miami became the third team to sweep the middle three games at home in the 2-3-2 format. The Detroit Pistons took all three from the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004 before the Heat did it against Dallas in 2006. ... Coach Erik Spoelstra tied Riley for the Heat franchise record with his 34th postseason win. He is 34-22, while Riley was just 34-36. ... The four-game losing streak that Oklahoma City finished the season with was its longest of the season. The Thunder had dropped three straight games to Memphis, Miami and Indiana from April 2-6.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Phillies rally for walk-off win over Rox

PHILADELPHIA – On an uncomfortably sultry afternoon at the ballpark, a herd of reporters surrounded Phillies manager Charlie Manuel for his daily pregame press availability.
“Big crowd,” Manuel said with a chuckle before Wednesday’s game.
“Win two in a row and it’ll get even bigger,” a reporter responded.
For just the second time this month, the Phillies have won two in a row. Placido Polanco finished off a two-out, ninth-inning by reaching on what looked like a routine ground out to shortstop as the Phils collected a walk-off, 7-6 win over the Colorado Rockies Wednesday night.

Two batters after Hunter Pence ripped a game-tying double to left, Polanco stepped to the plate with the bases loaded against Colorado closer Rafael Betancourt. Polanco hit a ground ball up the middle where shortstop Marco Scutaro scooped it up and threw to first, but Todd Helton came off the bag at first and Pence crossed the plate at the game-ending run.
“As I was getting close, I thought he was off the bag and that I had a chance,” said Polanco, whose lead foot wedged between Helton’s and the bag on the play.
The Phillies entered the night 1-9 in games that they were tied in after eight innings. But Polanco’s walk-off ground ball, which was preceded by Shane Victorino legging out an infield single, showed the Phils late-inning offense might have a pulse after all.
“Two outs, last inning – we kept taking tough at-bats and it paid off,” Polanco said.
“That was a big finish for us,” Manuel said. “Just hustling at the end got us a win. That’s why you hustle.”
When the Phils take the field Thursday night, they’ll have a chance to sweep the Rockies and win more than two games in a row for what would be just the third time this season. The Phillies, 14-19 at Citizens Bank Park this year, haven’t won three straight at home since May 15.
“These are the kind of games that can raise your spirits… it’s good that we came back at home, too,” said Manuel, whose team plays 11 of its last 14 games before the All-Star break at home. “We need to start playing better. We need to have a big homestand.”
Wednesday’s win kept the Phils eight back of the Washington Nationals in the NL East. The come-from-behind win was only made possible with a shaky performance from Jonathan Papelbon.
Papelbon entered in a tie game for the third time this season and exited having given up the lead in his third straight tie game.
After recording the first two outs of the ninth, Papelbon gave up a double to Willin Rosario and a go-ahead single to Dexter Fowler. Papelbon, the highest paid reliever in baseball history, has watched opponents hit .545 (6-for-11) with four extra-base hits against him in ties games this season.
Joe Blanton’s wobbly performance before the $50 million closer entered didn’t get the Phils off to a productive start Wednesday.
Blanton allowed at least five runs for the sixth time in his last seven starts. Six days removed from giving up one run in his second complete game of the season, Blanton yielded three home runs in the first four innings against the Rockies.
The first put the Phils in a 3-1 hole, the second tied the game at 4-4 after Michael Martinez launched a three-run home run and the third gave Colorado a 5-4 lead.
But Blanton’s night surprisingly ended well – he retired the last 11 batters he faced and needed only 83 pitches to get through seven innings. His strong finish, however, couldn’t erase the fact that he lost leads twice during his seesaw start.
“I felt in control the whole game,” said Blanton, who has given up 15 home runs in his last seven starts. “It was just one of those games where you throw pitches to a spot and they get hit.”
Blanton exited a 5-5 game after seven. The offense still had a chance to lead the Phils to their second straight win.
But, curiously, Manuel left one of his hottest bats on the bench when the situation called for a run producer at the plate.
After Antonio Bastardo skated his way out of trouble in the top half of the eighth, Carlos Ruiz got hit with a pitch to begin the eighth. Two batters later, after Shane Victorino bunted Ruiz over and Colorado chose to walk Placido Polanco, the Phils had two on and one out.
But nine pitches later, the rally went bust. John Mayberry Jr. struck out before Martinez grounded out to second to end the inning. Jim Thome, who hit four home runs and drove in 14 runs on the recently completed nine-game road trip, remained on the bench.
Making the managerial decision all the more curious: Manuel brought Ty Wigginton in to play first and moved Mayberry to left when Bastardo entered, but he didn’t double switch. The failure to double switch meant Bastardo – and not Wigginton – was in the ninth spot in the order.
Instead of having the ability to hit Thome for Martinez, and then using Mike Fontenot to play second base in place of Martinez, Manuel was holding Thome back for Bastardo. But Bastardo’s spot never came up.
“(Thome) is going to get a lefty there,” Manuel explained of not hitting Thome for Martinez. “At home, in a tie game, I want to keep my defense on the field.”
Thome eventually hit in the ninth, grounding out to first to begin an inning that ended with the Phils erasing a two-run deficit.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thome, Blanton give Phils a series win

MINNEAPOLIS – Two Sundays ago at Citizens Bank Park, Joe Blanton was tagged with his third loss in a span of four starts.
It was the fourth straight start in which he allowed at least five runs. Blanton would make it five straight five days later/
But after that start against the Marlins in South Philly 12 days ago, Blanton felt he turned the corner. He wasn’t leaving as many pitches up in the zone, he said he had better command and his pitchers were “crisper.”
The results just weren’t there, Blanton said.

For the first time in a month, Blanton found both comfort on the mound and results on the scoreboard Thursday night at Target Field. Following back-to-back nights of slugfests between the Phillies and Twins, Blanton held the home team to a solo home run in nine sharp innings en route to a 6-1 win.
The complete game was the second of the season for Blanton. Entering the year, Blanton hadn’t thrown two complete games in a season since 2007, when he was with the Oakland Athletics.
“He threw strikes all night and made good pitches when he had to,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “He did a good job.”
“I felt like the last two (starts) I was getting close but not quite there, and kind of the same today,” Blanton said. “It’s not one of those where it was a quick fix and everything suddenly got better. It’s been kind of a trying a few different things and gradually getting a little more comfortable and more comfortable.”
Thursday’s victory marked the first time the Phils had won back-to-back games since May 30-June 1, a span of two weeks.
The Phillies (31-34) are nine games back of the first-place Washington Nationals on the National League East. The Phillies, who have been in last place for 40 of the last 41 days, are two games behind fourth-place Miami.
“Sometimes a little bit goes a long way,” Blanton said. “Win a couple in a row and the next thing you know you win another one and another one, and you’ve put together a good streak of wins.”
For the second straight night, Jim Thome fueled the offense. Thome slugged a three-run home run to break a 1-1 tie in the third inning.
Thome is providing the Phils with the middle-of-the-order power they’ve lacked without Ryan Howard in the season’s first two months. Not bad for a guy who turns 42-years-old in August.
“There's always going to be people who doubt the age,” Thome said. “That's part of it. To know you can work hard and have some success does mean a lot, no doubt.”
In six games as the Phillies cleanup hitter and designated hitter, Thome is hitting .458 (11-for-24) with three home runs, two doubles, 13 RBIs and three walks. Thome’s nine RBIs against the Twins were the most he’s had in a three-game series in his 22-year career.
“Thome had a big series to say the least,” Manuel said of Thome, who has homered in back-to-back games.
Ty Wigginton also homered for the Phillies while Jimmy Rollins kept his hot bat in tune, too, going 3-for-5 with a double. The Phils scored just two more runs after Thome’s home run – the 607th of his career – but they wouldn’t need an onslaught of offense with Blanton blanking the Twins lineup for most of the night.
Blanton’s lone mistake was a one-out home run from Trevor Plouffe in the second inning. Plouffe homered in each of the three games in the series.
After Plouffe’s latest long ball, Blanton allowed just one more runner to advance past first base. After Alexi Casilla’s two-out double in the second, Blanton retired five straight and 12 of 13 as he cruised into the sixth inning.
Blanton needed only 88 pitches to get through seven innings Thursday.
“I finally made some pitches with my fastball,” Blanton said.
“He has to be consistent on his fastball; he pitches off his fastball,” Manuel said. “When he's locating good, his secondary stuff plays up big. He was getting some curveballs over tonight. He was selling them on them and they were swinging at them.”
With Phillies starting pitchers struggling this month – they came into Thursday’s game with a 5.97 ERA in their last 15 games – Blanton got them back on track.
Blanton, who had a 9.91 ERA in his previous five starts, looked a lot more like the durable veteran who tossed his first shutout in a Phillies uniform on May 3 in Atlanta during a seven-start stretch to begin the season when he sported a 2.81 ERA.
From the third inning through the seventh, Blanton didn’t allow a runner beyond first base. When Joe Mauer ended that in the eighth, legging out an infield single before stealing second, Blanton struck out Twins’ cleanup hitter Josh Willingham for the third time in four at-bats.
Blanton struck out seven and walked zero. He was the first Phillies starting pitcher to go at least eight innings since Cole Hamels did so on Memorial Day in New York – over two weeks ago.
“It was real good,” Manuel said. “Tonight's game should be a real big confidence builder for Joe because he did a tremendous job. When you get a pitching performance like that, that's really good to see.”

Utley's 1-for-13, but feeling good

For The Trentonian
CLEARWATER, Fla. – Chase Utley went 0-for-3 with two walks in his third rehab start with the Class A Threshers on Thursday night.
The bad news is that Utley is 1-for-13 in his rehab stint so far. The good news is he’s now played in three straight games, and he’s seeing more pitches and running the bases with relative ease.
"It was a step in the right direction," Utley said after the game. "I got a few walks, saw a bunch of pitches, felt fairly comfortable. Again, it’s a work in progress, trying to create as much comfort and timing at the plate as we can at this point."

Utley flew out to center in his first at-bat on a 1-2 pitch in the bottom of the first inning. He rolled over to second base in the third inning before drawing a full-count walk in the fifth inning – his first walk of the season. His knees were tested when Cody Asche singled down the right field line, running from first to third before Asche was gunned down at second to end the inning.
Utley said his knees "felt good."
"No issues whatsoever around the bases, so that, to me, is definitely a positive," said Utley, whose chronic knee problems landed him on the disabled list last season and shut him down in spring training.
He came up with the bases loaded and one out during a wild five-run rally in the sixth inning. With the count at 0-2, a wild pitch scored a run to tie the game, leaving first base open and giving Utley the chance to work another full-count walk. In the eighth inning, Utley put a charge into a 1-0 pitch but flew out to deep right center.
For now, Utley said he isn't too concerned with his lack of results at the plate and is more concerned with seeing live pitching in game situations.
"Obviously you want results, but I think you have to look at it as trying to create some timing, seeing some pitches, being able to recognize them and trying to put some good swings on the ball," Utley said. "Results aren’t as important right now when they will be in the future."
It’s still unclear when Utley will play his first game in the field, but he will field ground balls in extended spring games during the Florida State League’s All-Star break.
After Thursday's game the second baseman said "it's a possibility" he will play his first game in the field next week.
The Threshers will resume play on Monday when they host the Dunedin Blue Jays for a three-game series.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Thome, Phillies finally find a win

MINNEAPOLIS – Charlie Manuel and Jim Thome had an important conversation Wednesday afternoon at Target Field.
Before playing their second of three games against the Minnesota Twins – the exact midway point of a nine-game stretch of road games against American League teams, where the designated hitter is used – the Phillies manager and the home run hitting slugger talked about the possibility of rekindling the first base experiment.
Thome, who spent the majority of his last six seasons as a DH in the American League, made one start in the field in the last five years and none since 2007. When the Phils rebooted the future Hall of Famer at first base this spring, it lasted just over a month.

Thome spent most of May on the disabled list recovering from a lower back injury.
But after Thome’s re-awakening at the plate in the last week – thanks to regular, every day at-bats as a DH – it’s as good of a time as any to revisit the topic of getting Thome’s bat in the lineup when interleague play ends, too. The Phillies pitching staff needs it.
Thome drove in four runs – including two on his second home run in his last four games – as the Phillies out-slugged the Twins in a 9-8 win.
“We’ll deal with that when that happens,” Thome said of the inevitable turn next week, when the Phillies will no longer have a designated hitter in their lineup. “Right now, I think the big thing is we’re trying to win games. Me personally I’m getting an opportunity to play every day and it’s been a lot of fun.”
If Thome was the offensive star, the backend of the Phillies bullpen was a close runner-up.
Chad Qualls stepped into a one-run game in the eighth and struck out all three batters he faced. Qualls hasn’t allowed a run in seven of his last eight appearances.
“He was sharp,” Manuel said.
When Qualls’ third straight strikeout put a runner on base due to a wild pitch on the third strike, Jonathan Papelbon came in and recorded his second, four-out save in his last four games. Papelbon retired all four batters he faced en route to his 17th save in 17 chances.
“Our bullpen came in and did a good job,” Thome said. “To get that win was big, no doubt.”
The victory snapped a three-game losing streak for the last place Phils, who entered the game a season-high 10 games behind the Washington Nationals in the NL East standings. Despite banging out 14 hits, flirting with double-digit runs and holding two separate six-run leads Wednesday night, the Phillies were in danger of losing for the 10th time in their last 11 games thanks to their suddenly shaking starting pitching.
Thanks in part to a two-run single from Thome in the first, Cole Hamels was given a 6-0 lead before he stepped on the mound at Target Field. But he managed to give all six of those runs back in his worst start of the season.
Hamels gave up three runs in his first three innings. When Thome launched a mammoth, two-run home run in the fourth, the Phils were up 9-3 and Hamels had his six-run lead back.
But he served up his second home run of the game – and eighth in his last six starts – to begin the sixth and he was lifted when the first three batters reached base in the seventh. Hamels was charged with seven runs (six earned) on eight hits in six-plus innings.
The seven runs tied a career-high for Hamels, who has a 6.07 ERA in his last four starts.
“I feel like it comes and goes,” said Hamels, who was 7-1 with a 2.17 ERA in his first nine starts. “I feel like I have innings where things are working well and I’m hitting my spots. Then all of a sudden, I can’t hit a spot to save my life. Sometimes, you can get away with it unscathed. Unfortunately, I’m not getting away with it at all and it definitely hurts.”
Hamels, however, isn’t alone in his slump. Since Roy Halladay suffered a right shoulder injury on May 27, Phillies starting pitchers have a 5.97 ERA in the last 15 games. Before Tuesday, the Phils had lost 10 of 14 games in that span.
The Phils avoided another defeat thanks to their bats, namely Thome and Carlos Ruiz.
Ruiz, who is among the top three in the National League in hitting but still trailing two catchers in All-Star voting, went 3-for-4 with two doubles, an RBI and a walk. Thome (2-for-4 with a walk) collected his fourth multi-hit game in five games as the Phillies designated hitter.
If his bat stays hot throughout the rest of the road trip, it would be difficult not to consider starting Thome at first base next week in Philadelphia, wouldn’t it? Thome is hitting .476 (10-for-21) with two home runs, two doubles and 10 RBIs in his last five games.
“I don't think we can play him,” Manuel said. “We'd take a chance on his back stiffening up again.”
“I just know when I was in Florida where I was at; I think I’ve been pretty honest and open with that,” Thome said. “We’ll see. We’ll see. … I know what it’s done. What it’s done to my back. That’s where it’s at.”

Yankees keep dominating NL East

AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA — Joe Girardi said Hiroki Kuroda is finally becoming comfortable in his first season with the Yankees.
The Yankees seem to always feel comfortable in Atlanta.
Curtis Granderson hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the sixth inning and the streaking Yankees beat the Braves 3-2 on Wednesday night to complete their second straight three-game sweep.
The Yankees, now 9-2 at Turner Field, have won all four regular-season series in Atlanta. Including the 1996 and 1999 World Series championships over the Braves, New York has won 14 of its last 16 games in Atlanta.

Kuroda (6-6) gave up two runs in six innings. He stranded runners in scoring position in the second, third and fourth innings before giving up Brian McCann's two-run shot in the fifth. Granderson answered an inning later with his 19th homer.
Kuroda has won three straight decisions, giving up a combined four runs in four starts in that span after he won only three of his first nine decisions.
Girardi said the 37-year-old Kuroda, who signed a one-year deal with New York following four seasons with the Dodgers, needed time to adjust to his new baseball home.
"I think getting comfortable in New York sometimes can take a while," Girardi said. "I've seen it happen to some great pitchers. It can take a while."
Kuroda wasn't so sure his success was a matter of adjusting to New York.
"I don't know if I'm getting comfortable in New York," Kuroda said through a translator. "I think it's one win at a time, one game at a time."
Girardi said the Kuroda he saw beat the Braves is the pitcher the Yankees expected.
"This is what we saw in spring training," Girardi said. "This is what we saw last year and the scouts all saw. It's just consistency. You're starting to see the consistent velocity. You're starting to see the consistent slider, a better curveball. That leads me to believe that he'll continue."
Alex Rodriguez had an RBI single in the first inning for the Yankees, who have surged into first place in the AL East with sweeps of the Mets and Braves.
Rafael Soriano gave up a single to Chipper Jones with two outs in the ninth before capping his 11th save by getting Jason Heyward to hit a popup to second base.
The Braves, who outhit the Yankees 12-7, wasted repeated scoring chances.
With runners on first and third in the eighth, Martin Prado hit into an inning-ending double play against Cody Eppley. It was the Braves' sixth inning with runners in scoring position — they went 2 for 13 in that situation.
"We just couldn't get anybody in from third base," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I think we left a guy on base every inning. It's tough to pitch that way."
The Braves also left runners in scoring position in the second, third, fourth and seventh innings. They broke through against Kuroda only in the fifth.
Prado led off with a single. McCann, the next hitter, pulled a 2-2 pitch from Kuroda about 15 rows deep into the right field seats for his eighth homer, giving Atlanta a 2-1 lead.
Tim Hudson (4-3) gave up the lead before he could record an out in the sixth. Derek Jeter led off with a single. Granderson followed with his homer, a high flyball that stayed fair as it landed inside the right field pole and well beyond the reach of a leaping Jason Heyward, giving the Yankees a 3-2 lead.
Hudson said the pitch Granderson hit for a homer was "a cutter that didn't cut."
"It was frustrating, this series," Hudson said, referring to Tuesday night's loss when the Braves blew a 4-0 lead in losing 6-4.
"Last night I thought we were on the verge of breaking it open big all night and that didn't happen. And tonight, we got the big homer from McCann and then I let them get back in it with a homer."
Jeter led off the game with a double to center. He scored on a one-out single up the middle by Rodriguez.
Kuroda gave up nine hits and two walks. He set a season high with eight strikeouts.
Hudson gave up three runs on six hits with no walks and eight strikeouts in six innings.
The Braves' frustrations with runners in scoring position continued when left-hander Boone Logan ended the seventh by getting Eric Hinske to fly out to center field, leaving runners stranded on first and third.
Hinske, who spent part of the 2009 season with the Yankees, started at first base. Freddie Freeman is still bothered by a bruised his left index finger. He was injured on June 6.
Freeman had three hits against Toronto on Sunday but was 0 for 7 in the first two games against the Yankees.
Atlanta's Michael Bourn had two hits to give him a 13-game hitting streak, matching his career best in 2011. Bourn grounded out with the bases loaded to end the second and struck out with runners on second and third to end the fourth.
NOTES: The Braves optioned RHP Cory Gearrin to Triple-A Gwinnett and recalled RHP Anthony Varvaro from Gwinnett. Gearrin gave up Nick Swisher's tiebreaking, two-run homer Tuesday night. ... Yankees LHP Andy Pettitte threw in the bullpen and reported no problems after snagging a grounder with his bare left hand on Sunday. Pettitte is scheduled to start Sunday at Washington. ... Attendance was 48,938, a sellout. ... Braves LHP Eric O'Flaherty was not available in the bullpen for the second straight day due to stiffness in his left elbow. He said he plans to throw in the bullpen on Friday and hopes to be ready Friday or Saturday. ... 2B Dan Uggla played his 1,000th game. ... Former President Jimmy Carter wore a Braves cap as he watched the game from a seat near the Braves dugout. There was rain through much of the game but no delay. ... Each team is off on Thursday. The Braves open a home series against Baltimore on Friday night and the Yankees continue their tour through the NL East when they open a series at Washington.

Utley goes 2-for-5 in second game as A-ball DH

For The Trentonian
TAMPA, Fla. — After a hitless performance in his first rehab start with the Clearwater Threshers, Chase Utley went 2-for-5 with a double, an RBI and two runs scored in his second rehab start Wednesday night.
In his first at-bat in the top of the first inning, the five-time All-Star came up with no outs and runners at the corners. He drove in the first run of the game on a 4-6 fielder’s choice ground ball, scoring Albert Cartwright from third.

Utley picked up his first hit of his rehab in his second at-bat in the third inning with a line drive single up the middle on a 2-2 pitch. His knees weren’t exactly tested during the Threshers’ three-run rally, as he went from station to station, eventually scoring from third on a Zach Collier single.
He popped up to shortstop in his third at-bat in the fourth and flied out to center in his fourth at-bat in the seventh inning.
Utley doubled in his final at-bat in the ninth inning on a ball that dropped between the Yankees’ center fielder and right fielder. He came around to score on a James Murphy single.
So through his first two rehab games, Utley is 2-for-10 with an RBI and two runs scored.
Utley will likely play again Thursday when the Threshers and Yankees close out their three-game series in Clearwater. He is expected to play in simulated games during the Florida State League’s All-Star break this weekend.
The Phillies’ second baseman wasn’t available to talk to the media Wednesday, but told reporters Tuesday that his body will dictate when he will play his first game in the field.
“If I wake up in the morning feeling like I did the day before, then we’ll continue to move forward,” Utley said. “So far, the past three or four weeks have been, in my mind, very positive, so I’m excited to keep it going.”

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Utley rusty in return, will DH Wednesday

For The Trentonian
CLEARWATER, Fla. — Chase Utley went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts in his first rehab start with the Clearwater Threshers on Tuesday night, but his mere presence in the lineup was promising news for a frustrated Phillies fan base.
The game went to extra innings, and Utley’s third strikeout came with a runner on in the bottom of the 10th. He heard a few boos from the folks in Clearwater, something he rarely - if ever - hears in Philadelphia. Utley laughed it off after the game.
"I guess they didn't appreciate the strikeout, but it's a work in progress," he said.
Utley popped out into foul territory on a 1-2 pitch in his first at-bat in the first inning and flew out to deep left center on a 2-2 pitch in his second at-bat in the fourth inning.

The 33-year-old struck out in his final three at-bats. He was caught looking on a full count in the sixth inning, and went down swinging after working the count full again in the eighth inning before whiffing on a 2-2 pitch to end the 10th inning.
"It is what is is," he went on to say about his performance. "It was day one. It was just good to be out there playing at night, so it will be fun to continue this."
Utley said he plans to DH again Wednesday night when the Threshers travel to Tampa to play the second of a three-game set with the Yankees. He hopes to play in the field soon, but emphasized the need to "be better safe than sorry" at this point and get a feel for how his body responds. So far, so good, he said.
"I want to be able to play at 100 percent, and we’re almost there," Utley said. "Taking ground balls this past week, I started out slow and progressed, made it a little harder, started going after them close to full strength, and I want to be able to do that on back-to-back days until I get out in a game situation."
It was nearly 13 months ago to the day that Chase Utley made his first rehab start with the Threshers, batting third as the designated hitter as he worked his way back from chronic knee soreness in a season in which he hit .259 with only 11 homers and 44 RBIs in 103 games.
"At this point, it's very familiar," Utley said of the rehab process. "I'm not necessarily proud of it, but it is what it is and I'm definitely improving."
Utley’s knees have prevented him from seeing any big league game action in 2012 after being shelved during spring training. Ryan Howard’s Achilles injury has kept the slugger on the shelf all year as well, which hasn’t helped matters for the flailing Phillies.
The Phillies have struggled mightily without Utley and Howard, leaving them in the cellar of the National League East, entering Tuesday’s action against the Twins 8 ½ games back of the NL East leading Nationals.
To make matters worse, Utley’s replacement at second base, rookie Freddy Galvis, went on the disabled list with a pars fracture in his back on June 7.
But from the outside looking in on his team, Utley said he isn't too worried.
"We have some scrappers on that team," he said. "I know with Ryan and Roy (Halladay) and (me) out it's a little bit more difficult, but we have guys who can do a good job."
"I think the pieces are there. We have the guys to win and we've done it before. We just have to kind of put it together."

Reeling Phillies outslugged by Twins

MINNEAPOLIS – Perhaps it was a tribute to former Minnesota Twins slugger, current Phillies designater hitter and future Hall of Famer Jim Thome.
Maybe it was a personal moment of swag from fashionista shortstop Jimmy Rollins that caught on with everyone else. Or it could have simply been a free-falling team trying something to change their losing ways.
Whatever it was for, the Phillies took Target Field Tuesday night with a uniformed look: they complemented their road grays with an extra touch of red. All of the positions players wore high socks.
The pitchers, however, were not with the program.

Kyle Kendrick put his team in a big deficit early and Joe Savery couldn’t stop the bleeding when his offense roared back into the game as the Twins outlasted the Phils 11-7. Kendrick and Savery, like the rest of the Phils pitchers, did not flaunt the high-sock look Tuesday.
The loss was the third straight for the Phillies and their ninth in the last 10 games. The Phils have also reached a new low-water mark in a season that doesn’t appear to have a rock bottom.
Coupled with another win from the first-place Washington Nationals, the Phils’ loss sunk them to 9 1/2 games back of the National League East lead. They haven’t been that far back since the end of the 2006 season.
It’s also the first time the Phils (29-34) have been five games under .500 after June 1 of any season since Aug. 1, 2006.
In the run that’s seen the Phils win five straight division titles, the summer of ’06 is often viewed as a turning point – former general manager Pat Gillick unloaded players before the trade deadline, including All-Star Bobby Abreu, to light a fire under a slumping, stale team. Perhaps the current Phils team needs a similar shakeup, something more than a minor alteration to the uniform.
Coming off back-to-back walk-off losses in Baltimore over the weekend, the Phils found themselves down 5-0 before the sun went down in Minneapolis on Tuesday night. Kendrick served up a leadoff home run to Denard Span in the first and then gave up four more runs on five hits in the second, when the Twins batted around.
Kendrick, who had a 1.88 ERA in a six-start spanning April 29 to June 1, has taken a turn for the worse in his last two starts. After giving up six runs on eight hits in four innings Tuesday, Kendrick 0-2 with a 10.24 ERA in his last two starts.
But Kendrick hasn’t been alone in his struggles. The Phillies starting rotation – Kendrick, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton and Vance Worley – have a 5.77 ERA in 11 games this month.
Not surprisingly, the Phillies are 2-9 in June.
On a night when they looked primed for a comeback – the Phils scored four times in the fourth to turn a 5-0 deficit into 5-4 – Charlie Manuel didn’t get any relief when he turned to his bullpen Tuesday.
With the Phils trailing 6-4, Savery gave up a two-out, two-run double to Minnesota nine-hole hitter Jamey Carroll in the fifth, his first inning in relief of Kendrick. The Phils appeared to get unlucky on the play though, too – a televised replay showed that Trevor Plouffe, the second base runner to score on Carroll’s double, missed the bag while rounding third base en route to the plate.
The extra run would loom large in the sixth, when Minnesota starter Nick Blackburn handled the ball over to his bullpen. Three of the first four batters reached against Brian Duensing and after Hunter Pence worked a four-pitch walk against Alex Burnett, red-hit designated hitter Jim Thome ripped a two-out, two-run double to cut the deficit to 8-7.
But again, the Phils turned around and gave the runs right back.
Savery served up a solo home run to Josh Willingham in the sixth. In the seventh, the Twins added two more off rookies B.J. Rosenberg and Jake Diekman.
The Phillies entered play Saturday having won 25 of 33 games this season when they score more than three runs in a game. They’ve scored more than three in each of their last three games, however, and have lost all three.

A-Rod ties Gehrig for slams in win over Braves

AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA — Alex Rodriguez hit his 23rd career grand slam, matching Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig's record, and the Yankees scored six runs in the eighth inning to rally for a 6-4 win over the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday night.
Nick Swisher hit a tiebreaking two-run homer off Cory Gearrin two batters after Rodriguez connected against Jonny Venters.
CC Sabathia (8-3) left trailing 4-0 after seven innings but was the beneficiary of the rally. The big lefty gave up four runs on a season-high 10 hits with two walks and six strikeouts.

The Yankees matched their season high with a fifth straight win and moved into sole possession of first in the AL East when Tampa Bay lost to the Mets. The Yankees have won 10 of 12.
Rafael Soriano, who pitched in Atlanta from 2007-09, retired the Braves in order in the ninth for his 10th save of the season and the 100th of his career.
The Braves, who wasted a strong start by Mike Minor, have lost three straight.
Rodriguez had been 1 for 10 this season with the bases loaded before he lined the full-count pitch from Venters over the left field wall. Braves left fielder Martin Prado barely moved as he watched the homer clear the wall.
Rodriguez's homer was his 10th of the season and first grand slam.
Minor gave up five hits and one run in 7 1-3 innings. He was pulled after giving up a one-out single to Derek Jeter in the eighth.
Venters (3-3) loaded the bases, allowing up a single to Curtis Granderson before walking Mark Teixeira to set up the tying grand slam by Rodriguez.
Venters, who did not record an out, gave up a single to Robinson Cano. Swisher followed with his 10th homer for a 6-4 lead.
Matt Diaz hit a three-run double in the first to give the Braves the lead they kept until the eighth.
Diaz started ahead of Jason Heyward in right field for the second time in three days when the team faced a left-hander. Diaz had two hits off Toronto's Ricky Romero on Sunday.
Michael Bourn led off the first with a single and moved to third on the first of two doubles by Brian McCann. Sabathia walked Dan Uggla to load the bases.
Sabathia faced a similar jam in the seventh. With one out, Prado hit a soft single to right field and moved to third on McCann's double. Sabathia issued an intentional walk to Uggla, loading the bases for Heyward, who replaced Diaz in the seventh. Heyward drove in Prado with a groundout to second base.
NOTES: Yankees closer Mariano Rivera said Tuesday's surgery to repair his torn right ACL "went perfectly." Manager Joe Girardi said "I think we're all expecting to see Mo pitch next year."... Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez said RHP Brandon Beachy will be given extra rest, with his next start pushed back to Saturday, due to soreness in his right elbow. Beachy said "I feel fine" after throwing in the bullpen before the game. RHP Tim Hudson, who had his last start skipped due to bone spurs in his left ankle, is returning to start Wednesday's final game of the series against the Yankees. Following an off day on Thursday, RHP Tommy Hanson will pitch on Friday against Baltimore, followed by Beachy. ... Hiroki Kuroda, who is 1-4 with a 2.10 ERA in five career starts against the Braves, will face Hudson on Wednesday night.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Kings thrash Devils, raise first Stanley Cup

AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings' 45-year Stanley Cup quest ended in a triumphant flurry of blood, sweat and power-play goals. After missing two chances to claim the title last week, the long-suffering Kings are NHL champions for the first time.
Hooray for Hockeywood.
Jeff Carter and Trevor Lewis scored two goals apiece, playoff MVP Jonathan Quick made 17 saves in his latest stellar performance, and the Kings beat the New Jersey Devils 6-1 Monday night in Game 6 of the finals, becoming the first eighth-seeded playoff team to win the league title.

Captain Dustin Brown had a goal and two assists for Los Angeles, which ended its dominant postseason run before a frenzied bunch of its heartiest fans incessantly waving towels and glowsticks. The crowd included several dozen Kings faithful who have been at rinkside since the team's birth as an expansion franchise in 1967, waiting for one glimpse of the Stanley Cup.
After taking a 3-0 series lead and then losing two potential clinching games last week, the Kings finished ferociously at Staples Center just when the sixth-seeded Devils appeared to have a chance for one of the biggest comebacks in finals history.
One penalty abruptly changed the tone of the series. Brown, Carter and Lewis scored during a five-minute power play in the first period after Steve Bernier was ejected for boarding Rob Scuderi, leaving the veteran defenseman in a pool of blood. Quick took it from there, finishing a star-making two months by allowing just seven goals in six finals games.
"You never know. You get to the dance, you never know what's going to happen," Brown said. "We calmed down after losing two. It was the first time we had done that all playoffs, and we finally got off to a good start."
Martin Brodeur stopped 19 shots for the Eastern Conference champion Devils, just the third team to force a Game 6 in the finals after falling into an 0-3 hole. Rookie Adam Henrique ended Quick's shutout bid late in the second period after the Kings had built a 4-0 lead, but Lewis and Matt Greene added late goals for the Kings.
"We never lost our confidence," Quick said. "We had to take it on the chin to keep moving, losing two, and we looked at it as, 'Hey, we still have to win one game to win a championship. And we have two chances.' Finally, we were able to do it at home."
The Kings went 16-4 after barely making the playoffs, eliminating the top three seeds in the Western Conference in overwhelming fashion as they matched the second-fastest run to a title in modern NHL history. Although the Devils gave them a little trouble, the Kings took down every opponent in their path after an inconsistent regular season.
"Every single guy worked so hard for us this season," said defenseman Drew Doughty, who began the year as a contract holdout and finished with six points in the finals, including two assists in the clincher. "Everyone deserves this. We got used to each other, we developed a chemistry, and we just went sailing from there."
Los Angeles boasted a talented, balanced roster that peaked at the absolute perfect time under midseason coaching hire Darryl Sutter. Brown, just the second American-born captain to raise the Cup, accomplished what even Wayne Gretzky couldn't do in eight years in Los Angeles.
Quick added one more dominant game to his run, setting NHL records for save percentage (.946) and goals-against average (1.41) among goalies who played at least 15 postseason games. Brown capped his own impressive playoff work by finishing with 20 points, tied for the postseason scoring lead with linemate Anze Kopitar.
Brown accepted the Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and skated straight to center ice with it, triumphantly thrusting it skyward and kissing the silver. Brown handed it off first to Willie Mitchell, the 35-year-old defenseman who had never won the Cup, and he gave it to long-injured and recently returned forward Simon Gagne, who nearly tripped before raising the Cup for the first time.
The stone-faced Sutter smiled broadly at his first chance to raise the Cup, and general manager Dean Lombardi even took a turn after declining it twice. Later, Justin Williams sat his crying daughter in the Cup, and Kopitar raised it while wearing a gold crown on his head.
After a dominant 12-2 tear to the Western Conference title, the Kings won the first two games of the finals in overtime by identical 2-1 scores in New Jersey, leading many to assume another one-sided series victory was upcoming. Los Angeles then flattened the Devils 4-0 in Game 3, but missed its first chance to clinch on home ice when Henrique scored the tiebreaking goal with 4½ minutes left in New Jersey's 3-1 win in Game 4.
The Devils then beat Los Angeles 2-1 in Game 5, earning another cross-country trip after becoming the third team in NHL history, and the first since 1945, to win twice after falling behind 0-3 in the finals.
"You don't give yourself a lot of room for error, finding yourselves in a pretty deep hole," Devils captain Zach Parise said. "It's hard, but we really felt like could get back in this and force a Game 7. We did give our best, but we just came up a bit short, unfortunately."
The Kings were the West's bottom seed after failing to clinch a playoff berth until right before their 81st game, but only because they underachieved for much of the season. Their talent finally came together under Sutter, who replaced the fired Terry Murray shortly before Christmas and turned Los Angeles into a contender by late February.
Five years after the Anaheim Ducks won California's first Stanley Cup, the Golden State's oldest team raised the second. The Kings also are the first team to win the Cup at home since those Ducks, and their fans appreciated the Hollywood touch.
Despite coming off their first back-to-back losses of the playoffs, the Kings started with impressive energy in Game 6, getting most of the good early scoring chances — and then they got the break they needed when Bernier pushed Scuderi headfirst into the boards behind Quick's net. Scuderi stayed motionless for quite a while, eventually heading to the dressing room after leaving plenty of blood from his lacerated nose.
Bernier, a 27-year-old journeyman and depth forward with two goals in 24 playoff games this season, went to the locker room. The Devils complained Jarret Stoll received no penalty for checking Stephen Gionta into the boards between the benches a moment earlier.
"I wish I could take that play back," said Bernier. "I didn't want to hurt my team. I wanted to help them. This is extremely hard. It's been a long playoff run for us. To finish on that note, it's not fun for sure. But there's nothing I can do now."
The Kings then went to work on a power play that nearly measured up to the Miracle on Manchester — the famed 1982 playoff game in which Los Angeles rallied from a 5-0 deficit in the third period against Edmonton with a dynamic power play.
Brown scored 53 seconds in, slickly redirecting Drew Doughty's low pass in front for his first goal since the Western Conference finals opener. Brown's physical play and goal-scoring in the first-round series against Vancouver set a tone for the entire playoffs, but New Jersey had effectively shut him down until Game 6.
Carter then scored his seventh goal of the postseason after Brown walked the puck out of the corner and fired a shot at Brodeur's glove side while skating away from the net. The midseason acquisition has been a dependable scorer ever since he was reunited with longtime Philadelphia teammate Mike Richards on the Kings' second line.
With the Los Angeles crowd on its feet, the Kings added another as rookie Dwight King ferociously drove the net and left a rebound for Lewis, who tucked it home for his first goal in 18 games. Staples Center was deafening for the rest of the first period, and Los Angeles went up 4-0 just 90 seconds into the second when Brown found Carter unchecked in the slot for a one-timer.
NOTES: The Kings are the first team to clinch the Stanley Cup on their home ice since the Anaheim Ducks did it five years ago. They're also just the second No. 8 seed ever to make the finals. Edmonton lost in seven games in 2006. ... Only four Kings had previously won the Stanley Cup — Dustin Penner, Scuderi, Justin Williams and Colin Fraser, who didn't contribute much to Chicago's 2010 run. ... David Beckham, Matthew Perry, James Gandolfini, Alyssa Milano and My Chemical Romance attended the game. My Chemical Romance's "Welcome to the Black Parade" has become the black-jerseyed Kings' unofficial anthem after its incorporation into a clever pregame video featuring photos of several Kings as kids.

Devils-Kings Game 6 LIVE CHAT

The Devils are on a roll, but can they keep it going and tie the Stanley Cup Finals tonight?

We'll be chatting live for the sixth straight game as the Devils take on the Kings in Los Angeles for a shot at tying the series at 3-3 and forcing a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday. We'll be chatting live with Trentonian hockey writer Mike Ashmore - who made the trek to Los Angeles for Game 6 - and reporters from the Los Angeles Daily News as well.

The Kings will take a third shot at hoisting the Stanley Cup for the first time in team history.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Devils hold the line, force Game 6

AP Sports Writer
NEWARK — Bryce Salvador scored on a deflection off a defenseman and the New Jersey Devils derailed Los Angeles' Stanley Cup coronation for a second time, beating the Kings 2-1 in Game 5 of the finals Saturday night.
Zach Parise ended a five-game goal drought on a rare mistake by goalie Jonathan Quick, and Martin Brodeur stopped 25 shots to help the Devils end the Kings' 10-game postseason winning streak on the road and 12-game run over the past two years, both NHL records.
"That's how a goalie wins the game for you," Parise said about Brodeur.

Justin Williams scored for the Kings, whose once seemingly insurmountable 3-0 series lead has been cut to 3-2. Game 6 is Monday night in Los Angeles.
"We survived out there," Brodeur said. "I don't think we played our greatest game, but we found a way to win. These are important games to win, especially at home knowing these guys play really well on the road.
More importantly, the Devils have the Kings wondering what's going on for the first time in the postseason.
This marks the first time they have lost consecutive games this postseason, and the Devils are halfway up a mountain that only one other NHL team has climbed in the finals after losing the first three games.
Only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs came back in a best-of-seven finals and won. Three years later, the Detroit Red Wings rallied from a 3-0 deficit to tie the series, but they lost Game 7 to Toronto. Those were the only other two teams to come back from 0-3 to force a Game 6 until the Devils.
"It's a difficult thing to get yourself ready for games like that," Brodeur said. "Now it's been two (must-win) in a row. It takes a lot out of you but it is worth it. I think that's what the guys have been concentrating on all day, leaving nothing out there.
"... Now we are going to LA again to try to ruin the party again," the 40-year-old three-time Cup winner said. "They are so close to winning the Stanley Cup that I am sure it is getting to them a little bit, having all these chances and not being able to capitalize a little bit. We're looking just to stay alive."
The Kings haven't played terribly in losing the last two games, but the Devils have made the plays when it counted or gotten the breaks when they needed them.
Take Salvador's winner, his first goal in seven games. His shot from the left point was deflected right in front of Quick, hit off the chest of Kings defenseman Slava Voynov and rebounded into the net at 9:05 of the second period. It was the second time in this series that a point shot by a Devils defenseman hit off Voynov and caromed past his goaltender.
This one turned out to be a winner because Brodeur stood tall the rest of the way and had one shot hit off the goalpost and had a goal by Jarret Stoll on a second-period power play waved off because he hit the rebound with his stick too high.
Brodeur's biggest save might have been with 7.6 seconds to go in regulation when he stopped a slap shot by Mike Richards from the right circle.
The Kings, overtime winners in the first two games in the series in New Jersey, never got another shot and Brodeur took a patented victory swig of the Gatorade bottle on top of his net, as he has done for 18 years.
However, there was no overwhelming celebration from the home team. Slaps on the pads, a few head nods, then it was off to the locker room.
The Kings meanwhile, heads down, made a bee line for their locker room.
Quick said the losing streak hasn't changed the way the team feels. It's the same as it was after winning three in a row.
"It's the time of the year, you're going to lose games, you're going to win games," Quick said. "It's the same as after we swept St. Louis, same as after we beat them three in a row. You stay right here, you don't get here, you don't get there."
As the crowd filed out, again to the 1984 Bruce Springsteen hit, "Glory Days," the chants of "Mar-tee! Mar-tee! were loud and long.
The Kings seemingly had the territorial advantage in the opening period but they also made the biggest mistake.
And it came from a guy who has been almost flawless in the postseason — Quick.
With Willie Mitchell serving the final 20 seconds of a penalty for interference, Quick played a puck in front of his net and tried to send it around the net into the corner. The puck slid off his stick, went around the net and barely made it to the right edge of the crease.
Parise, who had not scored in five games, darted to the edge of the net and stuffed it home a split second before Quick could cover the corner of the net.
"I didn't put the puck where I wanted to," Quick said. "Parise got it and put it in the net."
Earlier in the penalty, Quick made a stop on a point-blank blast by Travis Zajac. The puck momentarily got through his pads and lay in the crease, but Drew Doughty quickly cleared it.
While Quick made the bad play that led to the goal, he also made a big stop on a point-blank shot by Zajac in the opening seconds of the power play that kept the Devils off the scoreboard.
The Kings were unlucky not to have the lead in the opening minutes. Williams picked up a loose puck in the Devils' zone and hit the right goalpost dead on with a blast that could be heard throughout the sold-out Prudential Center.
Williams tied it early in the second period, with a great individual effort. He avoided a check skating into the Devils' zone, cut to the center of the ice and ripped a 30-foot shot into the upper corner of the net past a screened Brodeur.
Minutes later, Brodeur stopped Stoll with a sliding save on a breakaway.
Quick, who was outstanding making 17 saves, stopped Zajac on a backhander in close before Salvador gave the Devils the lead with his fluky goal.
NOTES: Devils veteran C Patrik Elias took a hard fall into the end boards in the first period and lay on the ice for several minutes. He returned to action, but looked slow most of the game. ... Devils D Anton Volchenkov was cut late in the second period after being hit in the face by a stick as Richards followed through on a shot.

Thunder pounded by B-Mets

By GEORGE O’GORMAN gogorman@trentonian.com
TRENTON – Tony Franklin says he has no idea what his record is on games he has managed on his birthday.
That’s good because last night’s loss he suffered on his 62nd birthday is one he would just as soon forget.
On a night when a crowd of 7,433 came to Waterfront Park, mostly to see the post-game fireworks show, the Binghamton Mets provided some early fireworks of their own.

They unloaded four home runs – two by Eric Campbell – and coasted to a 12-0 win, the worst dubbing of the year Trenton has suffered as it dropped its second in a row Saturday night.
“I don’t know what my record is on my birthday. It’s probably lousy,” said Franklin. “I never tell anybody it’s my birthday, so nobody makes a big deal about it.”
The B-Mets were the only ones celebrating this night.
In its last four games with the B-Mets, Trenton is 0-4 and has been outscored 32-10. Binghamton plays its final game of the season here at Waterfront Park today at 1:05 p.m. with Brett Marshall (6-3) hoping to stop the bleeding and keep Trenton from being blanked in its first series of the season.
For the second night in a row the middle of the B-Mets lineup pounded Trenton pitching.
Josh Rodriguez, the No.2 hitter in the lineup went 5-for-5 and drove in two runs. Matt den Dekker, who went 5-for-5 in Friday’s win made it seven straight hits and 8-for-10 in the series. His RBI single in the first followed a Rodriguez triple off starter and loser Shaeffer Hall and launched what would soon become a rout.
Campbell had three hits and drove in five runs, slamming a 2-run homer of Ryan Pope in the seventh and a solo homer off Kelvin Perez in the eighth. Leadoff batter Reese Havens hit a solo homer – also off Pope – in the sixth.  
Hall kept it from getting even worse in the early going when he escaped bigger damage by retiring three straight Mets after giving up singles to Reese, Rodriguez and den Dekker to start the third.
For Franklin, who says he’s never thought about managing on his birthday and wasn’t even going to mention the occasion until he got a pregame cake from his players and a birthday call from his son in California, it was one birthday he wishes had a happier ending for his first place Thunder.