McCarthy strong, Matsui goes yard in A's win

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McCarthy strong, Matsui goes yard in A's win

April 10, 2011BOXSCORE A'SVIDEOMLBPAGE MLBSCOREBOARD
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Hideki Matsui wasn't the only one getting a little anxious for his first home run in an Athletics uniform.The Oakland pitching staff was just as excited to see the veteran send one soaring into the Target Field stands.Matsui homered to help the Athletics break out of a season-long offensive slump and Brandon McCarthy pitched into the eighth inning in Oakland's 5-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday."I'm just happy to get one," Matsui said through an interpreter. "And we won the game, as well." GUTIERREZ: Matsui holds the key to A's offense
Matsui was signed in the offseason to provide another veteran bat to complement a young, talented pitching corps. But he entered the game Sunday hitting just .160 with no homers and three RBIs.He led off the fourth inning with a solo shot that bounced off a scoreboard in deep right-center field to get the A's on the board. Josh Willingham added another one in a four-run sixth inning."You know it's going to come," A's manager Bob Geren said of Matsui, who also had a single and two runs scored. "To see that performance, that ball jumped out of here in a hurry. He got the whole bench really excited."McCarthy (1-0) allowed two runs and nine hits with five strikeouts in 7 1-3 innings for his first win since 2009 after not pitching in the majors last year because of shoulder problems. Brian Fuentes earned his third save.Justin Morneau had three hits and an RBI for the Twins, and Jim Thome hit his first homer of the season. But their three-run eighth was too little, too late on another slow day for the offense.Scott Baker (0-2) gave up four runs and seven hits with two walks and five strikeouts in five innings.Landon Powell had two hits and an RBI, and the A's scored four runs in the sixth inning - they scored four total in their previous four games - to take a 5-0 lead. Oakland has given McCarthy five runs of support in both starts, but is averaging just 2.7 runs in its other seven games."I think they like me more than the other guys," McCarthy joked. "I think it's because I have a better personality."The way the Twins had been swinging the bats, that lead seemed insurmountable. But McCarthy gave up a single to Denard Span and a double to Joe Mauer to start the eighth. After Morneau drove in Span with a groundout, Thome launched his two-run homer off lefty Jeremy Blevins over the 36-foot high wall behind the center-field fence to make it 5-3.Fuentes, who hasn't allowed a run to the Twins in seven career appearances, slammed the door in the ninth to close it out.Oakland entered the game with just 24 runs in eight games, the third-fewest in the American League. Yet even they were ahead of the Twins, who had 21.Twins manager Ron Gardenhire pulled out all the stops to try to jump-start his struggling lineup, moving Michael Cuddyer from right field to second base and giving Mauer a rare day game behind the plate."We just got to get swinging better," Gardenhire said. "It's frustrating for the guys, but at least we kept battling."On paper it looked quite formidable with Mauer hitting second followed by Morneau, Thome, Delmon Young, Jason Kubel and Cuddyer against a right-handed pitcher, ideal for Minnesota's lefty-heavy lineup.But McCarthy chewed them up all game, pounding the strike zone and recording 11 groundouts.The series featured good pitching and anemic offenses, with the teams combining to score 12 runs in the three games. Runs were at such a premium that when Matsui's homer slammed off the scoreboard on the facing of the second deck in right-center, the hometown fans let out a groan as if the game had ended right there.Willingham led off the sixth with a towering home run to left field that traveled an estimated 427 feet. Kevin Kouzmanoff and Cliff Pennington added sacrifice flies, and Powell had an RBI double to make it 5-0."It was good that the offense came together," Matsui said. "The starting pitching has been pitching well, but they weren't quite getting the offensive support."NOTES: Thome's two RBIs gave him 1,629, moving him past Harold Baines for 29th on the career list. ... Mauer received his 2010 Gold Glove before the game. ... The Twins also honored the University of Minnesota-Duluth men's hockey team, which won the national championship Saturday night with an overtime victory against Michigan. ... Ryan Sweeney got his first start of the season for the A's in right field, going 1 for 3 with a double.

Stanford star McCaffrey boosts NFL Draft stock with special teams skills

Stanford star McCaffrey boosts NFL Draft stock with special teams skills

INDIANAPOLIS -- More and more college coaches are putting their starters and even their stars on special teams as they seek to pile up every possible point in an era of pedal-to-the-metal shootouts and never-safe leads.

Fading fast are the days when superstars would catch their breath on the sideline when the kicker or punter trotted onto the field with the scrubs.

NFL teams love it.

Watching how players handle themselves as a blocker, gunner or returner provides a glimpse into a prospect's range, selflessness and versatility. It also delivers a sneak peek into how coachable he'll be, says Phil Savage, the SiriusXM NFL Radio host who spent two decades as an NFL coach, scout and executive and now oversees the Senior Bowl.

"I think because of the landscape of college football where scoring is at a premium, you've got to figure out a way to put points on the board not only on offense but through your special teams and defensively, as well," Savage says. "These coaches want to get these young players on the field as soon as possible, and a way to do that is utilize them on special teams."

These tapes provide a bonus to pro scouts.

"Now you have a vision of what that player might forecast to in the NFL as a young player and, specifically, as a rookie," Savage said.

Offensive and defensive coaches have a better idea of the types of players they're integrating into their schemes, and special teams coaches no longer get blank stares and blank canvases from the rookie class.

"Not only do you like the fact that they come in and have experience doing it, but you love the mentality if you're a coach and a decision maker that this guy isn't a diva, he's got no ego about it, he understands the team and puts team before self," says ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay.

"And he comes in with the mindset of 'What can I do to help the team and how can I contribute?' Those are the guys that seem to make it and last longer in the league because they're just willing to do different things and whatever it takes."

The prime example in this year's draft class is Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey , a "dynamic player than can do it all," according to Broncos GM John Elway.

McCaffrey gained more than 5,000 yards from scrimmage in his college career and added almost 2,000 more as a returner.

"There's just a lot of big plays open in the return game," McCaffrey says. "You see special teams have such an impact on the game today. Any time I can have the ball in my hands, I feel like I can do something dangerous, and that's really why I love the return game."

Other highly touted draft prospects who polished their resumes on special teams include Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, LSU safety Jamal Adams, Washington wide receiver John Ross, and USC cornerback Adroee' Jackson, all of whom are projected as high selections.

McShay says "we're seeing more and more programs put an emphasis on special teams and having their key players contribute in one or more areas on special teams."

He pointed to Ohio State, where Urban Myers coaches special teams himself.

"It's a major emphasis there, and so you'll see some more guys typically lined up and contributing that are starters and stars," McShay says. "It's an honor to be on special teams."

Not a burden.

"It is not uncommon now to see people that are going to be picked in the first round having 100-plus special teams plays," suggests NFL draft consultant and former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt.

He pointed to the University of Florida, where Gators defensive backs cover kickoffs as well as they do receivers.

"Everyone's always trying to get their best guys on the field," Brandt says.

That's a change from years past when coaches feared exposing their star players to the extra hits.

The added value benefits the players, whose multiple talents allow NFL general managers to address many needs.

"We're seeing more emphasis on it in college, and I think NFL teams love to see it because if just means you're getting a bit more for your buck," McShay says.

Top talents who bolstered their value by playing special teams:

CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY , RB, STANFORD: He shined at the combine working out with the running backs and was as impressive running routes. Asked if there was anything he couldn't do, the son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey said then: "I can't sing."

JABRILL PEPPERS , S, MICHIGAN: He worked out with safeties and linebackers at the combine, where teams talked of him playing RB and WR in addition to returning kicks. "The bottom line is I'm a ballplayer and I'm a hell of a ballplayer," Peppers said.

JOHN ROSS , WR, WASHINGTON: He caught 81 passes with 17 TDs last season but actually posted more return yards (2,069) than scrimmage yards (1,924) in his college career.

ADOREE' JACKSON , CB, USC: One of the best special teams coverage players in the NCAA, Jackson also scored eight TDs on punt and kick returns in college. His punt return averages rose from 6.0 yards to 10.5 and 15.8.

JAMAL ADAMS , S, LSU: Another star in coverage, Adams' defensive mentality extends to special teams. "I love being on the field and just playing football," said Adams, whose father, George, was a first-round pick by the Giants in 1985.

ALVIN KAMARA , RB, TENNESSEE: In a deep running back group, Kamara separates himself with his special teams acumen. "A lot of teams have been bringing up special teams," Kamara said.

DESMOND KING , CB, IOWA: He had eight interceptions as a junior and three as a senior. "I had a really good special teams season," King said. "Not being targeted as much, I still went out there and competed the best I could and was still making plays."

CHRIS WORMLEY , DE, MICHIGAN: Wormley touts playing for Jim Harbaugh as one of his attributes. "Coach Harbaugh came in and ran our program like an NFL program, like he had with the 49ers," said Wormley, who blocked three kicks his senior season.

ZAY JONES , WR, EAST CAROLINA: Like McCaffrey, he has good NFL bloodlines (son of Robert Jones, brother of Cayleb Jones). He caught 158 passes as a senior, but spent his first two seasons in college also making his mark as a returner.

Whether Brown or Kerr coach, Warriors sticking to same blueprint

Whether Brown or Kerr coach, Warriors sticking to same blueprint

OAKLAND -- For the first time since he joined the coaching staff last summer, Mike Brown on Wednesday morning arrived at the Warriors facility a man in charge.

As acting head coach, he would decide when practice started and when it ended, and conduct proceedings in between.

The general activity was not much different for anyone else, though, as it continues to become evident that everything the Warriors do for the foreseeable future will be a Brown-Kerr, or Kerr-Brown, production.

“Steve is going to be a part of this process the whole time,” Brown said after practice. “Almost before I do anything, I’m going to consult with him. The only time I won’t consult with him is probably during a game.”

Since Kerr’s announcement last Sunday that he was taking an indefinite leave to attend to personal health issues, Brown has been wielding the clipboard. He actually coached Game 3 against Portland last Saturday, in Kerr’s absence, before knowing in advance he’d also coach Game 4 Monday night.

Brown is 2-0, with the Game 4 win clinching a Warriors sweep of the Trail Blazers. Yet Brown is quick to remind anyone that he is following the plan laid out by Kerr. The two exchanged texts Tuesday and, according to Brown, “spoke at length” after the game between the Jazz and the Clippers -- one of which will face the Warriors in the next round.

Though the Warriors are operating under a different head coach, all indications are the atmosphere around the team remains stable and relatively unchanged.

“Obviously it’s different personalities, but when you make it about the players, when you make it about winning, all that other stuff really doesn’t matter,” Kevin Durant said. “He coaches us. He coaches the game of basketball and he does it very well. Our whole coaching staff does the same thing.

“When it’s about basketball, it’s not about trying to have authority over us. He’s just coaching us. He’s just coaching us up. He’s just telling us the proper way to do things on the basketball court. It’s pretty simple when you try to do that. Then it’s on us to try to execute.”

Execution has gone well, particularly over the last six quarters of the series against Portland. The Warriors wiped out a 16-point deficit in the second half to win Game 3, and then rolled to a 35-9 start in Game 4 before coasting to the closeout victory.

Brown was on the sideline in Game 4, with Kerr watching the game from the locker room.

It’s fairly apparent, though, that everyone involved feels a heightened sense of accountability and ownership.

“Mike has had a pretty big voice throughout the whole season,” Durant said. “He’s been a head coach before, understands what it takes to be a head coach. And the coaching staff is just so smart, and they empower each other.

“Anybody, if you’re around us on a day-to-day basis, anybody can tell that they work well as a group. Coach Kerr does a great job. He spearheads it all by empowering everybody, from the coaches to the players.”