The first two teams to clinch playoff berths...

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The first two teams to clinch playoff berths...

From Comcast SportsNetCHICAGO (AP) -- Dusty Baker was missing when the Cincinnati Reds became the first team in the majors to clinch a playoff spot. The main man in the dugout was sidelined Thursday for a second straight game after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat."Obviously we won the last two games for him. We have him in our thoughts, but we got good news on his update," reliever Sean Marshall said after a 5-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs."Hopefully he'll be back with us tomorrow and when it really matters, when we clinch (the division). Hopefully we get to celebrate this weekend with him," he said.Ace Johnny Cueto and the NL Central leaders ensured themselves of at least a wild-card spot. Cincinnati cut its magic number to two for winning the division for the second time in three years.The Reds said Baker would remain in a Chicago hospital for an additional day so doctors could monitor his progress. The manager left Wrigley Field before Wednesday night's game and underwent another test Thursday.Baker is expected to return to Cincinnati on Friday. Bench coach Chris Speier ran the team for a second straight game."He looked good. Very good. He'll be there tomorrow," said general manager Walt Jocketty, who visited Baker on Thursday morning. Jocketty said he didn't know if Baker would be able to manage when the Reds open a series at home against the Dodgers.""Chris Speier did an excellent job, but I think he's (Dusty) missed and we're looking forward to having him back, and more importantly, we're hoping for the best with his health," star first baseman Joey Votto said."I know he's excited and happy, just wish that he was here to partake in it, but he'll be back soon," Speier said.Cueto (18-9) pitched six shutout innings as the Red completed a three-game sweep.The Reds broke a scoreless tie by getting five straight singles off reliever Manuel Corpas (0-2) in the seventh during a five-run rally capped by Henry Rodriguez's two-run double.Chicago starter Jason Berken allowed just two hits in six innings against a lineup missing most of the Reds' regulars."I was able to get a couple of jams, great defense behind me, stayed on the same page the whole game," Berken said.Cueto gave up five hits with four walks and broke a three-game losing streak."I don't think that was the best stuff he's ever had. You can tell he might be getting a little tired at the end of the year or whatever, but I've seen him with a lot better stuff," Chicago manager Dale Sveum said.The Cubs scored in the seventh on Anthony Rizzo's RBI single and in the eighth on Welington Castillo's fifth homer again. Rizzo had an RBI grounder in the ninth against Alfredo Simon, who pitched the final 1 1-3 innings for his first save in as many chances.The Reds secured their second playoff appearance in three years despite having the back of their bullpen wiped out by injuries during spring training and losing their best hitter -- 2010 National League MVP Votto -- for nearly two months.Baker did some of his best managing to pull them through.His first challenge was cobbling together a bullpen after closer Ryan Madson tore an elbow ligament in spring training, ending his season. Setup men Nick Masset and Bill Bray also got hurt before the season opened.Baker eased Aroldis Chapman into the closer's role, and the hard-throwing left-hander set a franchise record with 27 consecutive saves.Baker also had to juggle his batting order and lineup after Votto tore knee cartilage and was sidelined on July 16. The Reds went on their best tear of the season without their top hitter, going 32-16 and taking control of the NL Central.There was some good fortune, too. All five starters have made it through the season without injury, a franchise record. The Reds had to use a sixth starter only because of a doubleheader.By the time September started, the Reds were firmly in control and counting down the days until they'd clinch."This is the first step," Jocketty said.""We've played very successful baseball this year, and we've competed with the best teams at a very high level," Votto added."We've done a lot of winning this year, but I think anything but setting the World Series as our standard, I think anything less would be selling ourselves short. ... That's our goal."NOTES:Cueto's two strikeouts gave him a career-best 159. ... Reds 2B Rodriguez and CF Denis Phipps made their first career starts and SS Didi Gregorius started for just the fourth time. ... The Cubs stay home to play the wild card-contending Cardinals with Chris Carpenter (0-0) set to make his season debut against Chris Volstad (3-10). ... The Reds will start Bronson Arroyo (12-8) at home against the Dodgers' Joe Blanton (9-13) on Friday night. ... Berken, picked up on waivers from Baltimore earlier this month, struck out four batters in one inning -- the fifth Cubs pitcher to ever do that -- when Ryan Hanigan reached on a third strike wild pitch in the second.Nationals 4, Dodgers 1WASHINGTON (AP) -- As Davey Johnson walked into the interview room to talk about Washington's return to postseason baseball for the first time since 1933, fans gathered in an adjoining restaurant began to applaud."What's the big deal?" Johnson joked.The Nationals used Ross Detwiler's six strong innings and Ryan Zimmerman's RBI double to lock up a playoff spot Thursday night with a 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers."Nats Clinch" flashed on the scoreboard as Washington ensured at least an NL wild-card spot, delighting the crowd of 30,359."That was fun, but it's not what I had my eye on," Johnson said. "I don't want this."The fans stood and cheered in the ninth inning, then got even louder when Drew Storen struck out Hanley Ramirez to end it. Johnson saluted the crowd as he left the field and the team wore caps and T-shirts acknowledging the playoff berth."I noticed like in the fifth or sixth, some signs, some different things that kind of keyed me into that this wasn't going to be an ordinary evening," Jayson Werth said."That was not an ordinary win."Nineteen-year-old center fielder Bryce Harper claimed ignorance of the team's situation."Everyone's going crazy. I looked at the fireworks and I go: I guess we just did something.' Then somebody handed me the playoff shirt and playoff hat and I said, Well, I guess we're going to the playoffs,'" Harper said.Washington's magic number to win the NL East was reduced to eight. The Nationals lead idle Atlanta by 5 games."We've been through a lot and a lot of us in here have been through a lot of not-good times and these are the beginning of hope for a lot of good times," Zimmerman said.Zimmerman is the only Nationals player to appear in each of the team's eight seasons."It's a first step, and it's a long ways to go," he said.The Nationals became the second team in the majors to clinch a playoff spot this year. Cincinnati sealed its slot earlier in the day.They celebrated with a private champagne toast. No spraying and no protective plastic over their lockers."I think there was some talk about not celebrating at all, but I kind of talked them out of that," Werth said."The next one would not be as subdued, I would imagine," Zimmerman said.Washington was last in the postseason 79 years ago, when player-manager Joe Cronin and the Senators lost to the New York Giants in five games in the World Series."I can't remember that year," Johnson said with a laugh.Until this year, the Nationals had never had a winning season -- nor finished above third place -- since moving from Montreal for the 2005 season. It will be just the franchise's second postseason berth and its first since the Expos came within a game of the World Series in 1981.The Nationals lost more than 100 games in both 2008 and 2009, allowing them to draft pitcher Stephen Strasburg and Harper.The loss dropped the Dodgers three games behind St. Louis for the NL's second wild-card spot. Milwaukee moved ahead of Los Angeles with its win over Pittsburgh.Manager Don Mattingly agreed the team's playoff chances dimmed after the Dodgers' 10th loss in 14 games."You know, honestly, it does. It feels like it is a little bit, and I don't think there's any way for us to look at it other than that," he said. "I mean, it's, yeah, we're going the wrong direction."For us at this point, we're going to have to put a run together that's going to be more than just win a series."Detwiler (10-6) allowed just Mark Ellis' fourth-inning home run and two singles. Storen pitched the ninth for his third save.Zimmerman's third-inning double scored Harper with Washington's first run. Zimmerman then took third on an infield out and scored on a wild pitch by Chris Capuano (11-11).The Nationals added two runs in the fourth on a walk to Ian Desmond, an RBI double by Danny Espinosa and a sacrifice fly by Kurt Suzuki.Werth, who signed a 126 million, seven-year deal with the Nationals before the 2011 season, is most eager for the postseason to begin."I've got a lot to prove. I've got a lot of people to prove wrong, and I can't wait," Werth said.NOTES:Mattingly said that LHP Clayton Kershaw was continuing with his throwing program. Kershaw will have to demonstrate he's free from pain in his right hip before he'll be able to pitch again, the manager said. ... Johnson said RHP Chien-Ming Wang will start on Sunday. Wang hasn't started since June 19. He missed nearly two months with a right hip injury.

Giants spring training Day 40: Belt continues domination of Rockies' home park

Giants spring training Day 40: Belt continues domination of Rockies' home park

BELT RIVER FIELDS, Ariz. — Earlier this spring, Brandon Belt moved his schedule around so he could get additional at-bats. That led to some random trips across the desert, but there was never any doubt Belt would be in Friday’s road lineup.

Belt demolishes the ball at Salt River Fields, spring home of the Rockies and Diamondbacks. After coming out of Friday’s win, he shook his head in mock disgust when talking about the day’s stats.

“One for four, you’ve gotta be kidding me,” Belt said. “That’s terrible.”

That one happened to be a homer, a three-run shot off Jon Gray, the likely opening day starter for the Rockies. Belt thought he crushed the ball but it ended up pretty high, so it simply dropped onto the berm in right. 

“It squeaked out,” Belt said. “Good mojo, I guess.”

The mojo kept his remarkable run going at Salt River. His updated career stats here: 22 for 35, with eight homers, four doubles, one triple and 18 RBI. Belt said he’s not quite sure why he turns into the flames emoji every time he steps onto this field. 

“I don’t know what it is, but I like hitting here,” he said. “Maybe it’s the batter’s eye?”

Salt River has a dark green batter’s eye with no distractions on either side, and the Giants certainly saw the ball well Friday. They had seven straight hits in the third before Gray was pulled with a sore foot. Belt hit second, and manager Bruce Bochy said that wasn’t simply because Joe Panik had the day off. Bochy will look at several different lineup permutations over the next week, and a Span/Belt/Pence/Posey/Crawford one-through-five is one option. 

“I like (that spot) a lot,” Belt said. “I feel good getting started and knowing I’ll get to bat in the first inning. It’s a good spot. I don’t think my approach changes that much: Get a pitch to hit and try to hit it hard.”

GAME RECAP: Jeff Samardzija was sharp in four innings, allowing just two hits and striking out three. He threw about 45 pitches on the field and then went down to the bullpen for 45 more. Samardzija certainly benefited from having Buster Posey back in the lineup. He said Posey noticed during warmups that Samardzija’s delivery was a little flat and his arm was dragging too low. 

“That doesn’t happen often,” Samardzija said of having a guy like Posey back there. “You have a lot of catchers who are afraid to say something.”

The rest of this one was a laugher until the ninth, when the Rockies rallied and brought the winning run to the plate. It hasn’t been a great spring for the bullpen.

STOCK WATCH: Chris Marrero hit a deep homer, his seventh of the spring. He also made a nice pick at first, where he looks much more comfortable. At this point, it appears it’s either Marrero or Kelby Tomlinson for that final bench spot.

TRAINER’S ROOM: The news on Will Smith was as expected. He will have Tommy John surgery next week. 

There is good news for Trevor Brown: The catcher, who has a sore ankle, took some swings and he’s feeling much better. Brown did not, as first reported, get hurt hiking on an off day. It happened during a game. Brown won’t be ready in time to return to Cactus League action, so he’ll likely stay here during the Bay Bridge Series and then travel home with Triple-A Sacramento. 

ICYMI: Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey and Mark Melancon are back in camp. Here’s a story on Posey’s WBC experience, with the catcher saying he’d like to play again in four years. Here’s Crawford on his month, which ended with him giving an NL West rival a slump-busting bat. 

ROSTER UPDATE: The Giants released David Hernandez, at his request. They have started to tell others that they’re not making the opening day roster, so there should be a series of minor transactions this weekend. (You know where to go.)

QUOTABLE: "I swung at a heater and a slider went right into my bat. I was happy to be able to track (pitches), and happy that the next time the bunt didn't go off my beautiful face." -- Samardzija, when asked about his double off the wall. 

Former 49ers OL/DE Clay Matthews Sr dies at 88 years old

Former 49ers OL/DE Clay Matthews Sr dies at 88 years old

Former San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman/defensive end Clay Matthews Sr. passed away on Thursday, March 23rd at the age of 88. 

Matthews originally entered the NFL as a 25th round (247th overall) draft choice by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1949 NFL Draft. He spent four seasons with San Francisco (1950, 1953-55), appearing in 45 games and registering one interception. After spending his rookie season of 1950 with the 49ers, he went on to spend two years (1951-52) in the United States Army where he served in the Korean War.

A native of Charleston, SC, Matthews attended Georgia Tech where he played guard, tackle and end while earning All-Southeastern Conference honors in 1948. In 1949, Matthews was the All-Southeastern Conference heavyweight wrestling and boxing champion at Georgia Tech.

Matthews was the first of three generations to play in the National Football League. His two oldest sons, Bruce and Clay Jr., each spent 19 seasons in the NFL. Originally selected by the Houston Oilers in the first round (9th overall) of the 1983 NFL Draft, Bruce was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007 after 14 Pro Bowl and seven First-Team All-Pro selections. Clay Jr. was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the 1st round (12th overall) in the 1978 draft and was a four-time Pro Bowl selection.

Three of Bruce’s sons, Jake, Kevin and Mike, and two of Clay Jr.’s sons, Clay III and Casey, either have spent time or currently play in the NFL. Clay III is currently a member of the Green Bay Packers and a six-time Pro Bowl selection at linebacker while Jake is currently an offensive lineman for the Atlanta Falcons after being selected in the first round (6th overall) by the team in 2014. 

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