SAN FRANCISCO Gregor Blanco signed with the Giants lastoffseason in the hopes that he could crack the roster as a fourth outfielder.Now hes starting in the World Series and making spectacular catches lookroutine.Blanco might never top the catch he made in Triples Alley to save Matt Cainsperfect game on June 13, 2012, but he added two more highlight plays onbaseballs biggest stage in the Giants 8-3 win to open the World SeriesWednesday.With the speedy Austin Jackson on first base and two outs, Blanco was playingdeep with Miguel Cabrera at the plate and had to hustle straight in and make adiving catch.Then in the sixth inning, after the Tigers finally plated their first runagainst Barry Zito, Blanco stopped the bleeding with a momentum-killing divingcatch of Prince Fielders opposite-field line drive. It was pretty much the same ball, Blanco said.Although the second catch prompted some dj vu, the degree of difficulty wasno different.You have to have a good jump, Blanco said. You have tohave a good read on the baseball. And I just committed. Go for it, dont eventhink about it and thats why I made those catches.With all do respect to Zito, it could have been a completely different outingwithout Blancos heroics. Blanco said his starter paid his respects during thegame.Im always trying to be there for my pitchers and everytime they make a mistake I try to support them, Blanco said. Barry, he wasreally happy about it and that gave him confidence.Zito made sure to share his appreciation for Blanco in hispostgame press conference.I mean, it's just incredible, Zito said. I've been a bit spoiled this yearwith the defense That second one that Prince hit, it had some funky spin onit, and that was so impressive because not only did he dive, but he had to staywith the path of that ball.Blanco is just he's such a huge part of thisteam in every way.Outside of one early season hot streak, Blanco has been inconsistent at the plate.But his glove makes him valuable, no matter what hes doing with the bat.You can help win a ballgame without getting a base hit,Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. Blanco is one of those players with thedefense that he gives you. Were more athletic and faster in the outfield, andthose guys do a great job of covering ground. Hes one of the best.Its hard to imagine such high praise from Bochy coming justsix month after Blanco was fighting for a roster spot in spring training. WhileBochy praised Blanco after many stellar Cactus League performances, his rosterspot was in doubt for the majority of the time the team spent in Scottsdale.Now, between the perfect game catch and the two in Game 1 of the World Series,Blanco has made a name for himself in franchise lore.The one catch he made in Cains perfect game well alwaysremember, Bochy said. But hes done that all year. Hes made great plays outthere. He gets a good jump and the ball, and he throws well. Hes just a giftedoutfielder.Blanco would not be in the position to make the two spectacular catchesWednesday if not for Melky Cabreras suspension, which created a jobopportunity for a new starting left-fielder. Did Blanco ever think, way back inspring training, that he could be a starting outfielder in the World Series?No. But this is baseball and thats why you work reallyhard for it. And thats what I did. I was waiting for this opportunity and Imjust having a great time right now and enjoying it the most I can.Hunter Pence, who was acquired before Cabreras suspensionto play right-field because Blanco and Nate Schierholtz werent producing, isthoroughly impressed with his teammate.Blancos been incredible all year, Pence said. Hes just sogood with the glove and always seems to be in the right place. Everything wason the line, so it gives you a charge. Those big plays are just reallyrefreshing.While Blanco certainly enjoyed the larger-than-usual scrum of media membersanxiously waiting to talk to him about his heroics, like Zito, he deflectedsome of the praise.I think I have to give some credit to Angel Pagan and Roberto Kelly, Blancosaid. They move me and we talk about it before every game how weplay every single guy so Im always in the right spot.San Francisco is clearly the right spot for Blanco, who originally signed withthe Giants as a non-roster invitee. He feels at home playing alongside some ofhis fellow countrymen, such as Pablo Sandoval and Marco Scutaro, and is nowgetting the chance to play in his first postseason.Ive been thinking about it a lot, Blanco said. Its a dream come true forme. Being part of this team, being a part of a World Series lineup and all thestuff that just happened. Every single night, every single swing, every singlepitch has just been unbelievable.After a few more nights in San Francisco and Detroit and afew more quality swings, Blanco and his teammates could be celebrating a WorldSeries title. After shocking Justin Verlander and the Tigers in Game 1, Blancois all about staying the course.I think we do all the little things to be in the positionthat we are right now. And we just have to keep doing it.
SAN JOSE – The Sharks continued their hot streak with a 2-1 win over the Canadiens in a classic goaltender’s duel Friday night. The three takeaways from the game…
1 – Price, Jones similarities
Martin Jones was the standout star with his 31 saves, but the Sharks had to beat Carey Price on the other end to reward their own goalie. Price entered the night as the NHL leader in save percentage (.947), and third in goals-against average (1.68) and is probably on his way to another Vezina Trophy at the end of the season.
That the game came down to a battle in net was no surprise, as a prescient Pete DeBoer said Friday morning “we have to be prepared to win 2-1.”
There was talk after the game that there are some similarities between the Sharks emerging goaltender and the Canadiens superstar.
“Actually, we spoke to [Sharks assistant/goaltending coach] Johan Hedberg about that, and he does see a lot of similarities between the two of them,” assistant coach Steve Spott said. “Their mannerisms in the net – they're both very, very calm. Both very quick. And both hockey clubs believe in their goaltenders. It was a great duo on that ice tonight. I think for any fan to see those two goaltenders was pretty special tonight."
Brent Burns, who won the World Cup with Price in September, said: “Very similar. … [Jones is] unflappable. They’re both big, very calm and great positioning. Very similar.”
2 – Strong start
The Sharks knew they were getting the weekend off from practice after the game, with no chance of any late changes as DeBoer and Hedberg were seen quickly departing for getaway flights after the final horn (that’s why Spott handled the postgame media duties).
At this point in DeBoer’s second season, there seems to be a real trust factor between the coaching staff and the veteran team that no one will start their mini-break early. The Sharks were flying in the first period, jumping all over the Canadiens and seizing a 2-0 lead that Jones helped preserve over the final two frames.
Spott said: “It was good to come out like that and establish that momentum. We know how fast Montreal is and how deep they are up front, and obviously we know Carey Price. It was a good start. We were able to hold onto that."
“Whether you get the days off, you want to play hard,” Joe Pavelski said. “You want to come out [quickly], especially at home, at the starts.”
3 – Escaping injury
Injuries are always a concern with so many games in so few days, and there were a few scary moments for San Jose.
The Sharks lost Kevin Labanc for a stretch in the first period after the rookie went hard into the boards on a hit by Alexei Emelin, but he came back in the second after he apparently went through some concussion tests.
Spott said: “He took a good hit. He came back. He went in and had to obviously do some [head injury] protocol.”
David Schlemko’s situation looked much worse, as the defenseman limped off of the ice and up the tunnel in the second period with what looked like a right leg or ankle problem. He returned midway through the third, though.
“It didn't look good when we saw it on video, but thankfully I think we dodged a bullet there,” Spott said.
Houston's offseason shopping spree got a little richer on Saturday.
More than 12 years after going to the Astros in a trade deadline deal, Carlos Beltran has reportedly agreed to return to Houston.
According to multiple national reports, the pact is a one-year, $16 million deal.
News of an agreement was first reported by ESPN. Terms were first reported by Fox Sports.
Beltran joins outfielder Josh Reddick and catcher Brian McCann as new Astros this offseason.
More to come...