MLB team clinches 1st playoff berth since '97

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MLB team clinches 1st playoff berth since '97

From Comcast SportsNetBALTIMORE (AP) -- The champagne was on ice, plastic shields were in place above the cubicles in the Baltimore clubhouse and couches were removed to accommodate a celebration 15 years in the making.The party never happened -- at least not at the ballpark after the Orioles beat Boston 6-3 Sunday.Baltimore ultimately clinched its first playoff berth since 1997, but not until late Sunday when the Texas Rangers beat the Los Angeles Angels 8-7 in the finale of a day-night doubleheader.The Orioles are assured a wild-card berth, but they're looking to get into the postseason as AL East champions. Upon arriving in Tampa area, where the Orioles open a season-ending series at the Rays on Monday night, manager Buck Showalter said, "I think everybody knows where the finish line is, and we're not there."He added, "There are steps to it. One is assuring yourself of getting a chair at the dance. And then we'd like to figure out a way to play some games at our park in front of our fans. It's in our court."The Orioles remained tied atop the division standings with the New York Yankees, who rallied to beat Toronto 9-6 and also clinched no worse than a wild-card berth.Both contenders have three games left. New York begins a season-ending series against visiting Boston on Monday night, and the Orioles face the Rays."We'll see where the next three games take us," Showalter said.After the final out of their win over the Red Sox, around two dozen players and coaches took scoreboard watching to a new level by staying on the field at Camden Yards and rooting for the Rangers to win the opener,Orioles players exchanged high-fives and fist-bumps following their fourth straight victory, then gathered along the first-base line to watch the scoreboard telecast of the ninth inning, which began with Texas winning 4-3.Many in the crowd of 41,257 stood and watched, too.But a two-out, two-run double by Torii Hunter put the Angels in front and ruined the fun. As the Orioles walked off the field, Showalter waved to the crowd and offered a fist-pump of encouragement.Sitting in front of his locker with a beer in his hand, first baseman Mark Reynolds said, "It would have definitely been cool to celebrate with our fans. They've been supporting us all year. To be able to celebrate out there with them and take in the moment, it would have been pretty neat."Baltimore held out hope of cracking open a few cases of champagne in Florida."I take particular enjoyment in ruining someone else's clubhouse," reliever Darren O'Day said.Shortstop J.J. Hardy added, "I'm not going to say there's no disappointment, but we all understand we need to keep playing good baseball to get where we want to be. We'll just worry about ourselves and win the next three games."Who'd have thought the Orioles would be talking about division titles, playoff berths and champagne after 14 consecutive losing seasons and four straight last-place finishes? The Orioles (92-67) already have 23 more wins than a year ago."Our goal now is try to figure out a way to play some more baseball games here at Camden," Showalter said. "Hopefully, it's see you later."Hardy, Nate McLouth and Chris Davis hit solo homers, and Jim Thome drove in two runs for Baltimore. The Orioles completed a sweep and went 13-5 against Boston, their most wins in a single season versus the Red Sox since 1970 (13-5).Joe Saunders (3-3) allowed three runs, eight hits and no walks in 7 1-3 innings for Baltimore. Obtained in a late-August trade with Arizona, Saunders has yielded a total of 12 earned runs in his last six starts.Jim Johnson worked the ninth for his 50th save.Cody Ross and Daniel Nava homered for the last-place Red Sox, who have dropped five straight and 16 of 22. Boston (69-90) last lost 90 games in 1966."We haven't had a good season," manager Bobby Valentine acknowledged.Zach Stewart (0-2) gave up five runs and seven hits, including two homers, in 2 2-3 innings. In three starts this season he's surrendered eight home runs.After being beaten and bashed by the Orioles, who hit seven homers in the three-game series, the Red Sox now head to Yankee Stadium.A sunny, breezy fall afternoon couldn't have started much better for the Orioles. After the video board showed the Yankees and Angels losing early, McLouth hit the fourth pitch from Stewart over the left-field wall."After that just trying to do damage control," Stewart said. "Try to keep it at that score. Obviously I didn't do that."Hardy and Davis followed with singles before Stewart hit Jones with a pitch to load the bases. After Matt Wieters bounced into a run-scoring 4-6-3 double play, Thome followed with grounder up the middle that beat the shift and rolled into the outfield, scoring Davis for a 3-0 lead.Boston wasted doubles in the second and third innings before Hardy led off the bottom of the third with his 22nd home run. Jones singled with one out, and Thome chased Stewart with an RBI single.Ross homered in the fourth to get the Red Sox to 5-1. Davis connected off Clayton Mortensen in the fifth, his 31st homer of the season and fourth in four games.Nava homered in the seventh with a man on.NOTES:Jones was chosen Orioles MVP in a vote among media covering the team, the second straight year he's won the award. "It is given to me, but I think the whole team deserves it," he said. ... Boston hit three doubles and now has a major-league leading 214 for the season. ... Red Sox RHP Clay Buchholz, who's 2-4 with a 5.84 ERA lifetime against the Yankees, starts Monday night against CC Sabathia. Rookie Wei-Yin Chen (12-10) starts for Baltimore in Tampa Bay against Alex Cobb (10-9). ... The top three players in the Baltimore lineup -- McLouth, Hardy and Davis -- combined to go 6 for 10 with three HRs and five runs.

Notes: Sharks resume practice after rare weekend off

Notes: Sharks resume practice after rare weekend off

SAN JOSE – It was a spirited, if fairly unstructured practice for the Sharks on Monday as they got back to work following a full weekend off.

Assistant coaches Steve Spott and Johan Hedberg appeared to keep the mood light, as head coach Pete DeBoer was not yet back in the area. The Sharks took Saturday and Sunday off after Friday’s win over Montreal, and host the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday.

“The pace was high, guys were excited to be back on the ice, and we’ll have a more structured practice tomorrow – some system play, and we’ll get ready for Ottawa,” Spott said.

The Sharks coaching staff opted for a two-day break from the rink after San Jose completed a stretch of 10 games in 18 days. The busy schedule resumes with three games in four days starting with Ottawa, and a four-game road trip follows next week, beginning in Toronto on Dec. 13.

The players took advantage of the down time, with several of them catching the Raiders-Bills game in Oakland on Sunday. More importantly, though, they presumably refilled their energy tanks after playing so much hockey and taking so many flights through the first seven-and-a-half weeks of the season.

Spott said: “We thought about a few different scenarios, but we thought having them shut down for two full days and then coming in to have two days of practice would be best for us. I think the players appreciated that.

"One thing we’ve all learned here as a staff, being relatively new to the Western Conference, is the importance of rest and player maintenance. We can’t underestimate how important that is for our hockey club, to make sure they get the maintenance and the rest that they need.”

Sharks forward Logan Couture and defenseman David Schlemko took maintenance days. Schlemko missed a portion of Friday’s game with what looked to be a leg or ankle injury, but he returned in the third period.

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The Sharks reassigned forwards Kevin Labanc and Ryan Carpenter to the Barracuda over the weekend.

Sending Labanc down was a bit of a surprise in that the 20-year-old has averaged 11:58 of ice time in 12 games, with two goals and two assists. In two games with the Barracuda over the weekend in San Antonio, he posted three assists.

Spott was asked what the message was to the Staten Island, NY native.

“Do the same things there that you’ve done here, and that’s compete at both ends of the rink,” Spott said. 

“He’s going to get more offensive opportunities, being on the power play with the Barracuda, but [he has to not lose sight] of how good he has to be defensively, as well. That was our message.”

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Sharks goalie Martin Jones was named as the NHL’s Third Star of the Week, going 3-0 with a 1.01 goals-against average and .962 save percentage.

It’s the second time in two weeks that the Sharks have had a player earn third star, as Brent Burns was honored last week.

Kevin Durant explains why Paul George is his favorite player in NBA

Kevin Durant explains why Paul George is his favorite player in NBA

OAKLAND – Like all elite athletes, Kevin Durant brings a fierce pride to his work. He takes the court each night to make a statement, and some nights are reserved for a very special statement.

Such is the case Monday night.

That’s when Durant and the Warriors face Indiana at Oracle Arena. Though Pacers All-Star Paul George is one of Durant’s good friends, that relationship turns salty when they share the court on opposite sides.

“He’s my favorite player in the league. I’ve been saying that for a while,” Durant said after shootaround Monday morning. “He’s just so smooth, man, and can do it all: can pass, can rebound, can defend, can shoot the J, can post up, handle the ball. He’s my favorite player.

“Just getting to know him over the last few years, it makes the competition even better when we play against each other. I‘ve got nothing but respect for Paul. It’s a mutual respect. We always have battles when we play against each other, so I’m looking forward to it tonight.”

The players, longtime USA teammates in international competition, are similar in some regards. Both are listed at 6-foot-9, though Durant is closer to 7 feet. Both play “small forward,” but also can slide to power forward. Both are excellent scorers but also very capable defenders. And both seem to have found the perfect symmetry between confidence and humility.

“We want the same things on the basketball court,” Durant said. “He’s low-maintenance. He’s a superstar, but he’s a low-maintenance guy, doesn’t need much. It’s the same type of attitude that I bring. Just loves to play the game. Loves to work, too, so we kind of clicked.”

Durant, 28, is averaging 27.3 points per game, which leads the Warriors and ranks seventh in the NBA. He’s also averaging 8.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists.

George, 26, is averaging 20.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He has missed seven games due to injuries but played 34 minutes Sunday night in a win over the Clippers in Los Angeles.

Durant recalled practicing with George, and also with Rockets star James Harden, during offseason sessions in LA. Three of the NBA’s best, on different teams, coming together to get better.

Which helps explain why Durant is happy for George, and pleased to see his friend back in action – not that it will be visible Monday night.

“When you’re on the court, you act like you don’t really know those guys,” Durant said. “And then, after the game is over, it’s all love. It brings a different level of competition to the game of basketball, and it’s been fun.”