Gutierrez: Explaining my Polamalu Player of Year vote


Gutierrez: Explaining my Polamalu Player of Year vote


Paul Gutierrez

He did not have the most interceptions in the league. Didnt come close to boasting the most tackles.

But no player in the NFL made more game-changing plays and disrupted more opposing gameplans this past season than did Pittsburgh free safety Troy Polamalu. Which is why I was one of the 17 voters on the Associated Press nationwide panel of 50 selectors to cast a ballot for Polamalu as the leagues defensive player of the year.

That he won the award by two votes over Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews is somewhat serendipitous, what with Polamalus Steelers set to face Matthews Packers Sunday in Super Bowl XLV.

Both were first-team All-Pros on my ballot and, really, it came down to these two long-haired game-changers for defensive player of the year for me.

What swung it in Polamalus favor was his ability to make big plays at incredibly clutch times, none bigger than his sack of Baltimores Joe Flacco in which the Ravens quarterback fumbled late in the game on Dec. 5. Pittsburgh recovered, the Steelers scored with 2:51 to play to win, 13-10, took control of the AFC North division and never looked back en route to Arlington, Texas for the Super Bowl.

Polamalu also had a career high-tying seven interceptions -- he had four picks in a season-solidifying four-game winning streak for the Steelers -- returned the one off Cincinnatis Carson Palmer 45 yards for a touchdown, and stuck his nose in for 49 tackles. All in 14 games (he missed two games with ankle and Achilles tendon injuries).

Against the Raiders on Nov. 21, Polamalu doused Bruce Gradkowskis comeback hopes with a diving pick at the Steelers 8-yard line, returning it to the Pittsburgh 46, on the penultimate play of the third quarter. The Steelers led at the time, 21-3.

I never saw Polamalu, Gradkowski said the next day. I kind of thought (the ball) was just going to go into the ground right there. That sucker comes out of nowhere and takes it.

Polamalu, though, did not sneak up on anyone in being named the NFLs defensive player of the year award on Monday; he simply took it.

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from A's loss despite five home runs

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from A's loss despite five home runs


Hit five home runs, and a team has to like its chances of winning.

The A’s simply couldn’t keep up with the Houston Astros’ bats, however, in an 11-8 loss Wednesday night that snapped Oakland’s four-game winning streak. Khris Davis went deep twice, and Ryon Healy, Jed Lowrie and Matt Olson all went deep as the A’s set their season high for home runs.

But Houston racked up 17 hits against Jesse Hahn (3-6) and four relievers and evened this three-game series at a game apiece. It was the second time Hahn has gotten knocked around by Houston inside of a week.

The A’s took an early lead, 5-4, in the third on the second of Davis’ two homers, part of a four-run rally for Oakland. But the Astros answered right back with five runs in the bottom half, and the A’s never recovered from that momentum swing.

Hahn’s struggles continue: Hahn was trying to rebound after the Astros hung nine earned runs on him last Thursday at the Coliseum. Things didn’t improve Wednesday at Minute Maid Park, as the right-hander lasted just two-plus innings and allowed six runs on nine hits. Is this a case of one team simply having Hahn’s number or do the A’s make a move and try someone else in the rotation? It bears watching.

Krush Davis x 2: It was apparent early this would be a slugfest, with Khris Davis homering twice within the first three innings as the A’s tried to keep pace. He led off the second with a shot to left field, then came back with a three-run blast to left in the third that put Oakland up 5-4. The homers were his team-leading 20th and 21st.

Reddick-ulous night: Josh Reddick filled up the stat sheet against his old team in every way imaginable. He went 3-for-4 with three RBI and two runs, and twice caught the A’s by surprise by stealing third base. For good measure, he turned in an excellent running catch in right field to rob Yonder Alonso.

Strange offensive night: What to make of this night offensively for the A’s? They hit a season-high five homers but also struck out a whopping 17 times. No matter … you can’t hang this one on the offense, because …

The pitching staff just couldn’t hold things down: Josh Smith was called upon to hold down the fort after Hahn departed in the third, but Smith was tagged for three runs on four hits. Daniel Coulombe and John Axford also got touched for runs. Rookie Michael Brady did turn in 1 1/3 scoreless innings.

Cubs outfielder vows he didn't give Trump the middle finger at White House

Cubs outfielder vows he didn't give Trump the middle finger at White House

WASHINGTON – Albert Almora Jr. didn’t use Wednesday’s Oval Office photo op as a subtle form of political protest, but it did sort of look like the Cubs outfielder gave President Donald Trump the middle finger, at least from that angle in an image that went viral on Twitter.    

“There was two fingers! Look closely, there was two fingers!” a veteran player yelled across the room as reporters gathered around Almora’s locker inside the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park. 

“Guys were giving me a hard time about it,” Almora said, “but I pointed out the second finger. We’re all good.”

In another White House visit that didn’t look nearly as unofficial or informal as the Cubs said it would be, one snapshot became Almora with part of his left hand in his pocket. Almora stood near Kris Bryant – who held a 45 Wrigley Field scoreboard panel – and Trump at his desk with the World Series trophy.

“Obviously, it’s unfortunate,” Almora said with a laugh. “I’m getting ready to take a picture and I’m posing there. But you guys know that I would never do that to the president of the United States. 

“I respect everybody. It is what it is. We laugh about it now, but there’s definitely two fingers out there.”