Athletics

Heat's Miller is perfect in return

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Heat's Miller is perfect in return

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- Every part of Mike Miller's game was on display. A perfect night from 3-point range. Diving for loose balls. Coming up limping and in obvious pain after he dove for those loose balls. As a season debut goes, it certainly was memorable. "Fun!" Miller tweeted afterward. That's one way to describe his night. Miller was 6 for 6 from the field, all those shots coming from beyond the arc, and scored 18 points in 15 minutes. Still not fully recovered from offseason surgery to repair a hernia problem, Miller helped spark a huge second-half comeback by the Miami Heat, as they rallied from down 17 points late in the first half to run away from the San Antonio Spurs 120-98 on Tuesday night. "Every once in a while you get going when you're a shooter," Miller said. "I just happened to do that. First game back, it felt good." His teammates were more succinct. "You couldn't even script that any better," said Heat forward LeBron James, who led Miami with 33 points. Miller was able to leave the arena without any visible limps or icepacks, which these days represents a major victory for the veteran swingman. Since signing with the Heat in the summer of 2010, Miller has missed more than half the team's regular-season games and undergone four surgeries. His run of bad luck started after snapping his thumb when it got tangled in James' practice jersey during a training-camp workout last season, and he also dealt with shoulder and ankle problems over the remainder of the year. This season, it was the hernia issue that popped up shortly before training camp, and he sat out Miami's first 12 games even though he regularly pleaded with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra that he was ready to return. On Tuesday, Spoelstra was convinced -- to a point, anyway. He planned to play Miller for no more than six minutes. Making six 3-pointers led to a change in that plan. "I've played with this guy for four years, so this is old hat for me," Heat forward Shane Battier said. "I've seen him do this time and time again. He's one of the special shooters in the league. ... He gives us a lot more options. In a game like tonight when we needed a spark, he can give you that spark." He can also give coaches angst. Undeterred by his near-constant state of injury since joining the Heat, it took Miller -- who got a huge roar from the sellout crowd after checking into a game for the first time this season -- about two minutes before his first dive to the court on Tuesday night. By the second or third, he was limping away with some sort of lower-leg problem. "That's who he is," Spoelstra said. "At this point, I can't cringe any more than I already do. You can't tell him to play to a different personality than what he is. That's what he's always been. You go back to his days at Florida, he played with reckless abandon. That's why you love that guy, for the hustle, the effort plays. He's relentless." It was the 22nd time in Miller's career that he hit at least six 3-pointers, and the first time he took at least six without missing any. He was 5 for 5 from 3-point range on Feb. 17, 2010, for Washington against Minnesota. The six 3-pointers matched his most in a Heat uniform. Chris Bosh scored 30 points and the Heat used a historic third-quarter turnaround to erase the big deficit. Miami outscored San Antonio 39-12 in the third quarter -- matching the second-largest differential for any quarter in Heat history, and matching the second-worst differential for a period in Spurs history, according to STATS LLC. Even after a night like that, the most popular topic in the Heat locker room was Miller's return. "The fans, from Day 1, have been amazing to me," Miller said. "Last year when I came back, it was the same thing." He said he and the Heat have worked out an arrangement. If they don't ask him about any injuries, he won't tell them. "I'm not going to do another X-ray," Miller said. "Anything that comes in an X-ray is bad news. So they know my stance right now and I'm going to continue to play."

A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

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USATSI

A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

OAKLAND — Matt Olson is aware of the company he’s keeping in the A’s record books.

His reaction is a mix of reverence and a shrug-of-the-shoulders type humbleness.

That’s the personality of the A’s rookie first baseman. Even as the conversation about him and his awe-inspiring home run pace grows louder, he remains the same steady, grounded presence.

“I’m happy for him,” A’s hitting coach Darren Bush said. “The guy’s worked his butt off. He’s the same today as was when he first got called up.”

Olson cleared the fences once again Friday night, his two-run homer off Nick Martinez in the second inning helping the A’s to a 4-1 victory over the Texas Rangers. At this point, it’s much more newsworthy when Olson doesn’t homer than when he does.

He’s crammed 24 homers into just 57 games this season. Taking into account his first call-up last September, and Olson’s 24 homers over the first 68 games of his career are the second-most in the history of major league baseball over that span to open a career. The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger also hit 24 and only the White Sox’s Jose Abreu, with 25, hit more over his first 68.

Olson’s 13 homers in September are the most by any rookie in major league history for the month, and there’s still eight games left in it. But Olson’s hot streak dates back to Aug. 27. He’s hit a major league-best 16 homers in 23 games since then.

Among rookies in A’s history, only Mark McGwire (49) in 1987 and Jose Canseco (33) in 1986 have hit more than Olson’s 24. But neither Bash Brother, nor any other player in Oakland history, ever hit 15 homers in a 21-game span as Olson recently did.

“It’s definitely an honor,” Olson said before Friday’s game. “I grew up with a Mark McGwire poster on my wall. It’s a little surreal.”

Who saw this coming?

Olson went 2-for-21 without a single RBI in his first taste of the bigs last September. Then he shuttled five times between Triple-A and the majors this season before getting called up once again Aug. 8 and being told he’d get a shot as the A’s regular first baseman with Yonder Alonso having been traded. The constant shuttling took its toll, though Olson never let on about that publicly to reporters.

“You could see (the frustration),” said Ryan Christenson, his manager at Triple-A. “When he walks in and you tell him ‘You’re getting sent up,’ and he’s like, ‘Well, how many days is it for this time?’ He wouldn’t voice it necessarily, but you could sense it.”

Olson, with help from Bush and others, made an adjustment coming into this season. He began holding his hands out farther away from his body to begin his swing. With his 6-foot-5 frame, Olson had found himself getting jammed inside. Then in trying to adjust to that, he couldn’t square up pitches on the outer half.

“Now, his hands are firing from where he wants them to,” Bush said. “He doesn’t have to fight. You want your hands to have a clean path. Now he can stay in there, stay behind the ball, let his hands work for him.”

Olson, a 23-year-old from Lilburn, Ga., takes this sudden burst of success — and attention — in stride.

“I’ve been hit with so many stats here in the past week, I can’t even keep track of who’s done what, and honestly what I’ve done,” he said. “I kind of try to ignore all that.”

That’s OK. Others are taking plenty of notice.

 

As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent

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As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent

LOS ANGELES — The Giants left their dugout quickly after Friday’s loss, escaping a celebration on the mound and a fireworks show in the sky. As Dodger Stadium shook with cheers, Bruce Bochy sat in the visiting clubhouse and smiled. He nodded at his laptop, which earlier had been used to pull up highlights of Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani. 

“He’s good,” Bochy said, laughing. “I absolutely would play him every day.”

Earlier in the week, when it became known that Bobby Evans and Jeremy Shelley were headed to Japan to scout Otani, Bochy said he couldn’t imagine a player pitching and then moving to the outfield between starts. What changed? 

Perhaps it was the tape Bochy saw. Otani throws 100 mph and hits homers with ease. Or perhaps it was the game he watched Friday. The Giants lost for the 94th time, with the big blow coming from a 22-year-old Dodgers star. Cody Bellinger’s blast was the difference in a 4-2 win, and the Giants don’t have a Bellinger, or anything close. Otani, 23, is a long shot for a team that very well could finish with the worst record in baseball. Still, he’s the kind of talent that could help pull the Giants closer in a hurry. He’s the  kind of talent they haven’t developed in years, and Bochy certainly sounded a bit wistful as he talked of the power Bellinger has put on display. 

“You call up a guy and he does that — that just doesn’t happen,” he said. “It’s a rare deal.”

The ninth inning of the Dodgers’ clincher reinforced that point for the Giants. They got a homer from Pablo Sandoval, but he’s playing only because Christian Arroyo — the Giants’ best prospect bet this year — is hurt. Ryder Jones, their 23-year-old prospect, struck out to end the night, dropping his average to .180. 

That set off a celebration for Bellinger and the Dodgers. They have won five straight NL West titles, with three of the last four clinched against the Giants. 

“Congrats to them,” Bochy said. “They’ve had a tremendous year across the board, and they’ve played great baseball. They brought some guys up that really did a great job for them. It’s well deserved.”

Bochy said it was not difficult to watch this one. The division has been wrapped up for months, with only a September slide keeping the Dodgers from clinching earlier. 

“We knew what we were facing here,” Bochy said. 

The Giants have two more against the Dodgers and then six more before a long winter. The Dodgers, on the other hand, will host an NLDS series here at Dodger Stadium. Both Bochy and starter Jeff Samardzija made the same observation, that the Dodgers will have a hard time cutting their deep roster down to 25 postseason players. 

That’s a nice problem to have. It’s a foreign one right now for the Giants, who have a serious talent gap and no clear solutions internally. It’s no wonder, then, that Bochy has all of a sudden become so intrigued by a wondrous talent overseas.