Sharks look to start new win streak in Florida

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Sharks look to start new win streak in Florida

Feb. 13, 2011
SHARKS (30-20-6) vs.FLORIDA (23-24-7)
Coverage starts at 1:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California

(AP) -- The San Jose Sharks have gotten into the thick of the Pacific Division title race on their longest road trip of the season. Visiting the Florida Panthers could help that pursuit.San Jose looks to rebound from its first regulation loss in nearly a month Sunday when it faces a Panthers team trying to snap its longest home losing streak since 2008.Faced with a double-digit deficit in the Pacific in mid-January, San Jose (30-20-6) caught Dallas atop the standings thanks to a 9-0-1 stretch. The Sharks, though, fell two points back Friday night when they lost 2-1 at New Jersey while Dallas beat Chicago in a shootout."You don't want to see the streak end, that's for sure," said Patrick Marleau, whose 21st goal of the season gave the Sharks to a 1-0 third-period lead. "I think we carried the play a lot of the game and didn't find the back of the net. It's something we wanted to keep going. Now we have to start a new one."With its season-high five-game winning streak gone, San Jose will continue its seven-game trip with its first visit to BankAtlantic Center since a 4-3 loss Oct. 24, 2008. The Sharks outscored the Panthers 15-6 while winning their previous three visits.Florida (23-24-7) has dropped five straight at home - four after regulation - for its longest home losing streak since an 0-4-2 skid Dec. 22, 2007-Jan. 13, 2008.The Panthers' 3-2 overtime loss to Buffalo on Thursday was their ninth defeat in 11 games overall and their seventh consecutive one-goal contest. They're 8-7-7 during a stretch of 19 of 22 decided by one score."We found a way to lose that point again," former Sharks first-round pick Steve Bernier said Thursday after scoring his fifth goal of the season. "It's frustrating but the last thing we want to do is to put our heads down. When you win, you get confident and go up in the standings."There's a good chance Tomas Vokoun will be in net to help Florida try to bounce back. The veteran netminder, who has surrendered three or fewer goals in each of his last nine starts, is 9-0-1 with a 2.15 goals-against average in his last 10 games against San Jose.He turned away 84 of 89 shots to help Florida win the last two matchups, including a 3-2 overtime victory at San Jose on March 13, after losing the previous six.Antti Niemi should get his first look at the Panthers in a Sharks jersey. A season after helping Chicago hoist the Stanley Cup, Niemi has cemented himself as San Jose's No. 1 goaltender, going 8-1-1 with a 1.88 GAA while starting 11 straight games during Antero Niittymaki's absence (lower-body injury).Niemi made 23 saves and posted his first career shutout in his only appearance versus Florida, a 4-0 Blackhawks victory in Sunrise on Oct. 3, 2009.Sharks captain Joe Thornton, one goal shy of 300, has scored in San Jose's last two games at Florida.Marleau has five goals and 12 points in the last eight versus the Panthers.San Jose is 0 for 6 on the power play over the last three games. Florida has killed all 15 penalties in its last four.

Williamson stuns Davis in ninth, but earlier mistakes haunt Giants

Williamson stuns Davis in ninth, but earlier mistakes haunt Giants

CHICAGO — Had a half-dozen other things gone differently Wednesday night, the Giants might have spent the hour after the game shrugging off a blowout loss or celebrating one of the best at-bats of the year. 

Three innings after the game was nearly lost for good, Mac Williamson saw 12 pitches from Wade Davis, who entered with a perfect ERA in 19 appearances, fouling eight of them off before slamming a two-run homer to right. The play came with some comedic value, as Williamson nearly passed Eduardo Nuñez on the bases. It also came with some historic value, as it snapped a streak of 19 consecutive solo shots that was two shy of the MLB record. 

The homer was not, however, the talking point after the game. A few minutes after Williamson went deep, Joe Panik was tossing his bat into the grass in frustration over a called third strike that ended the game and clinched a 5-4 win for the Cubs. Ten minutes after that, Bruce Bochy watched the highlight and tossed his phone onto his desk. 

“It’s a shame to end on that call, it really is,” Bochy said. “We had him on fumes and that’s not a strike. But they got the call and that’s it.”

The Giants were left with their third loss in four games, a run that has halted their momentum. They again are 11 games back in the National League West, with so many nights like this one: A comeback seemed real, but the mistakes were too much to overcome. 

Williamson, in talking about his homer, pivoted and pointed to a blunder of his own. In a tied game in the fifth, Miguel Montero hit a single to right with Addison Russell on first. The speedy shortstop watched Williamson as the ball rolled into the outfield, and when Williamson didn’t charge as hard as he otherwise might, Russell took off for third. The throw was perfect, but late. Russell scored on a fly ball. 

“The home run is really cool but it would have been a lot cooler if I hadn’t have made the mistake earlier in the game and given them the extra run,” Williamson said, explaining that he has tried to focus on being smooth to the ball and not rushing on fast outfields. In the past, rushing has led to bobbles and extra bases. 

Another costly sequence came in the eighth. After the Giants left the bases loaded in the top of the inning, Steven Okert gave up a triple to Jason Heyward, who scored on a sacrifice fly. Okert, so good when he was first called up, has been less effective of late. 

“We’ve got to get our lefties going,” Bochy said. “We gave them a run there and that put it at three and that’s just enough to cover it for them.”

Truth be told, the Giants were probably lucky to even have worries at that point. The wind blew a three-run Heyward homer inches foul in the sixth, and while the Giants grumbled about the final call of the game, an earlier call on Heyward for running inside the base path took a Cubs run off the board and killed a rally. It was correct by the letter of the law, but one you rarely see. The Giants escaped, but they wouldn’t come all the way back, despite Williamson’s late push. 

The young outfielder has been looking to make an impact since coming back up on the last homestand. He knew how tough Davis has been. 

“He’s been the best in the game this year and the numbers speak for themselves,” Williamson said. “He has phenomenal stuff. You get in the box and figure you’ve got nothing to lose, battle as tough as you can.”

Williamson fouled off good strikes and tantalizing balls. When he lofted a 2-2 pitch toward right, he took off out of the box. The ball carried just over the wall, and Williamson didn’t look up until he rounded third. That’s when Phil Nevin started yelling at him to slow down. Nuñez, who had a tight hamstring, turned and told Williamson to slow down.

“I kinda blacked out for a second there,” Williamson said. 

“I was like, ‘Bro, it’s a homer — just jog,’” Nunez said.

The moment temporarily sent a rush through the dugout. Minutes later, the Giants were left livid over a game that probably shouldn’t have been so close, but nonetheless was right there for them to steal. 

Instant Analysis: Giants' rally falls short in 5-4 loss to Cubs

Instant Analysis: Giants' rally falls short in 5-4 loss to Cubs

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — The Giants will need a win on getaway day to clinch their first winning road trip.

Wednesday's comeback attempt fell just short, as the Giants scored two in the ninth but lost to the Cubs 5-4. Since taking the first two games in St. Louis, they have dropped three of four, falling 11 games back of the Rockies in the division.

Here are five things to know from the coldest Giants game of the year … 

— Mac Williamson fouled off eight pitches before going the opposite way against Wade Davis, who entered with a 0.00 ERA in 19 appearances. The two-run homer ended a run of 19 consecutive solo shots by the Giants, two short of their own MLB record. It was the first homer off Davis in two years. 

— The sixth inning was one of the stranger escapes we’ve seen from a pitcher this season. With two on and one out, Jason Heyward blasted a Matt Moore pitch right down the line and it looked like it would give the Cubs a 6-2 lead. The wind blew the ball a couple of feet foul. Heyward then topped one down the line and Moore’s throw bounced away from first, allowing a run to score. But the umpires called — correctly — Heyward out for running inside the line. It’s a call you rarely see. Moore then struck out Addison Russell to keep what could have easily been a 6-2 or 4-2 game at 3-2. 

— Before the first game of this series, a Giant asked in the dugout, “I wonder what some of the Cubs’ numbers would look like at our place?” Anthony Rizzo is a .159 hitter with no homers in 18 career games at AT&T Park, but he had no issues on a night when conditions were worse than they are most nights in San Francisco. Rizzo homered off Moore in his first two at-bats. 

— Rizzo will occasionally put a bunt down to beat the shift — he had an accidental bunt in his third at-bat — which the Giants have long wanted Brandon Belt to do. Belt pushed one away from the shift in the sixth, and even though it was too close to pitcher Kyle Hendricks, the throw was off and Belt reached second. One of those a week would open up a few more holes. 

— This lineup has made a habit of making mediocre and downright bad pitchers look good, and the actual good ones are taking advantage, too. A night after Jon Lester recorded his first complete game of the year, Hendricks threw seven innings for the first time.