Verlander has Tigers one win from World Series

916995.jpg

Verlander has Tigers one win from World Series

From Comcast SportsNetDETROIT (AP) -- Justin Verlander and Detroit's stellar starters are on quite a roll -- no matter who is in the opposing lineup.Verlander took a shutout into the ninth inning and the Tigers held on to beat New York 2-1 Tuesday night for a 3-0 lead in the AL championship series. Yankees manager Joe Girardi changed his batting order again, benching Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher in an effort to snap his team out of an untimely hitting funk.No such luck."I have seen a lot of teams shuffle around a lot of lineups when I am out there, so it doesn't really faze me one way or the other if those guys are in there or not," Verlander said. "I just need to come up with the game plan to face the certain guys that I am going to face. I can't say I was surprised, but that's Girardi's decision, not mine."Phil Coke gave up consecutive singles with two outs in the ninth before striking out postseason star Raul Ibanez for his second save in two games. Detroit can complete a sweep and earn its second pennant in seven years Wednesday night when Max Scherzer pitches against Yankees ace CC Sabathia."We put ourselves in a decent position, but that's all we have done," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.Verlander allowed only a pair of singles by Ichiro Suzuki and a leadoff homer by Eduardo Nunez in the ninth. Delmon Young hit a solo home run for the Tigers, and Miguel Cabrera had an RBI double.Yankees starter Phil Hughes was lifted in the fourth because of a stiff back, but right now it's the Yankees' hitting that has them on the brink of elimination. New York is batting .182 for the series and .200 during the postseason."There were some good at-bats tonight. The ball was not carrying tremendously well tonight, we know that," Girardi said. "But I think he ended up with three strikeouts. So our guys put the ball in play and tried to get on base, but, you know, when you face Verlander, you know what you're up against."Seeking their first World Series title since 1984, the Tigers were on a historic pitching run even before their ace took the mound Tuesday. With the exception of a four-run ninth inning against Detroit closer Jose Valverde in Game 1, New York had been shut out for the entire series.Nunez's homer snapped a scoreless streak by Detroit starters of 30 1-3 innings. That's a record for a single postseason, according to STATS LLC. The previous mark of 29 innings was set by Oakland in 1974.Verlander fell just short of a second straight shutout after stopping the Athletics in the decisive fifth game of the division series. He struck out only three but kept New York off the scoreboard until the homer to left field by Nunez, the first run allowed by the powerful right-hander since he gave up a leadoff homer to Coco Crisp in Game 1 of the ALDS.Nunez was at shortstop because Derek Jeter broke his ankle in Game 1 and will miss the rest of the season.Verlander got Brett Gardner on a tapper before he was lifted after 132 pitches, one shy of his career high set in Game 5 of last year's ALCS against Texas."Normally I guess you don't take Secretariat out in the final furlong, but that was pretty much it for him," Leyland said.Coke came in and allowed two-out hits to Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano, with the latter snapping a drought of 29 at-bats without a hit.An anxious Verlander paced in the dugout and rubbed the bald head of a teammate before Ibanez, who hit tying and winning homers in the same game in the ALDS against Baltimore and tied Game 1 of this series with a homer in the ninth, struck out swinging at a breaking ball to end it."I've got faith in our bullpen. Coke did a great job in New York. He's done a great job for us all year, so I was OK with it," Verlander said. "And I was up around 130 pitches or so, so I don't think they're just going to leave me out there and sacrifice the rest of the postseason just for this game, especially when Coke's been throwing the ball extremely well."The game ended with Nick Swisher on deck to pinch-hit, not Rodriguez. Girardi said he let Ibanez bat because he has been coming through with big hits and he figured the Tigers could replace Coke with right-hander Joaquin Benoit if a pinch-hitter came up.Rodriguez also was benched for Game 5 against Baltimore after he was pulled for pinch-hitters in the previous two games. A-Rod is 3 for 23 (.130) without an RBI or extra-base hit this postseason, his latest October flop. The numbers are especially ugly against right-handers: 0 for 18 with 12 strikeouts.The three-time AL MVP was not available to reporters before or after the game.Verlander, the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner, nearly became the first pitcher in 24 years to throw consecutive shutouts in the postseason, according to STATS LLC. Orel Hershiser did it for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988, blanking the New York Mets in Game 7 of the NL championship series and the Oakland Athletics in Game 2 of the World Series.Valverde's meltdown nearly cost Detroit the first game of this series, but the Tigers were able to win 6-4 in 12 innings. Coke closed out a 3-0 victory in Game 2 and was able to hold on Tuesday in a tense final inning.Hughes matched Verlander in a scoreless duel until Young led off the Detroit fourth with a line drive over the wall in left field. It was his seventh homer in the last two postseasons -- he's already the Tigers' career leader in that department."I knew I hit it hard enough, but we weren't in Yankee Stadium, so I had to wait an extra 30 feet for it to land," Young said.Andy Dirks followed with a walk, and Hughes was pulled with an 0-2 count on Jhonny Peralta. David Phelps came on and got out of the inning, but the Yankees now have a pitching injury to go along with all their hitting problems."We will see how he is tomorrow and we'll see what we have tomorrow, which will determine what we do," Girardi said.Hughes allowed a run and three hits in three-plus innings. He walked three and struck out one."It started to tighten up on me in the third. It wasn't too bad and I was trying to stay in the game but they decided with the way things were going to go to the bullpen," Hughes said. "I wanted to stay in. It wasn't so bad that I couldn't pitch. Joe didn't want to take any chances."The Yankees kept it close, dodging several Detroit rallies. The Tigers added an unearned run in the fifth when Eric Chavez -- Rodriguez's replacement at third -- misplayed a grounder. Cabrera, the AL Triple Crown winner, followed with an RBI double.Cabrera has a 16-game hitting streak in LCS play, breaking a tie for that record with Manny Ramirez and Pete Rose, according to STATS.Cabrera hit into a double play with the bases loaded in the sixth, preventing the Tigers from adding more runs.NOTES:The Tigers sent RHP Marcelo Carreno and cash to the Cubs to complete an Aug. 5 trade in which Detroit acquired utility man Jeff Baker from Chicago. ... Cabrera moved from his usual third base spot to where the shortstop would normally play as part of a defensive shift against Teixeira in the fourth -- then had to run all the way back to catch a popup in foul ground. ... Nunez's homer snapped a streak of 37 innings by Detroit starters without allowing an earned run, the longest in a single postseason in the live-ball era. The starters for the 1905 New York Giants threw 44 straight innings without allowing an earned run for the postseason record, according to STATS.

Giants Notes: Blach shows resiliency; Another option in center?

blach_cubs.jpg
USATSI

Giants Notes: Blach shows resiliency; Another option in center?

CHICAGO — John Lackey's night started with a leadoff homer. Ty Blach's night started with a 13-pitch battle. Neither one is a positive for a pitcher, but Blach didn't view it that way. He actually appreciated Ben Zobrist stretching him out.

"It's good to have a battle like that and get you locked in," Blach said. "It gets you focused and you'll be like, I can execute and get guys out. It's good. It's a good battle."

There, in a nutshell, is so much of what Bruce Bochy loves about his young left-hander. The Giants have found Blach's arm and resolve to be remarkably resilient. He wasn't bothered when they moved him to the bullpen and he didn't get too high when they moved him back to the rotation. He is the same after seven shutout innings or three poor ones. Bochy smiled when asked about the Zobrist at-bat, which ended in a strikeout looking. 

"How 'bout that?" the manager said. "He won that at-bat. It seems like the advantage goes to the hitter, seeing all those pitches. He kept his focus and got a called strikeout and here he is pitching in the eighth inning."

After needing 13 pitches for one out, Blach got the next 23 on 81 pitches. Bochy thought Blach tired a bit in the eighth, but the deep effort allowed Bochy to mix and match in the bullpen, and ultimately he found the right mix. Hunter Strickland and Mark Melancon closed it out and got Blach his second win.

--- From last night, Joe Panik's huge night helped give Blach an early lead. With the help of Ron Wotus and his shift charts, he also put on a show defensively.

--- We're trying something new right after the final pitch: Here are five quick takeaways from the 6-4 win.

--- The options game sent Kelby Tomlinson back to Triple-A on Wednesday when the Giants activated Melancon, but his latest stint in Sacramento comes with a twist. Tomlinson started his third consecutive game in center field on Monday. The Giants are getting a bit more serious about their longtime plan to make Tomlinson a super-utility player. 

“Tommy is a valuable guy in the majors and if we can give him some experience in the outfield, it gives you more flexibility and versatility,” manager Bruce Bochy said. 

This is not Tomlinson’s first foray into the outfield. He did work there in the offseason after the 2015 season and he has played 25 big league innings in left field the last two seasons. This is Tomlinson’s first real experience with center field, and while in the past he has said that the transition isn’t as easy as some might think, Bochy is confident Tomlinson can figure it out. He certainly has the speed to be a semi-regular in the outfield, and the Giants aren’t exactly brimming with quality center field options behind Denard Span, who is dealing with his second injury of the season. 

“It’s a little different now,” Bochy said when asked about Tomlinson’s past experiences in the outfield. “He’s in Sacramento doing it, and knowing there’s a possibility we could need help in the outfield.”

If the switch doesn’t come in handy this season, it could in 2018. Bochy compared Tomlinson’s infield-outfield ability to Eduardo Nuñez, who has found regular playing time in left but is a free agent after the year. 

--- Hunter Pence did some light running in the outfield before Monday’s game. Bochy said Pence is still about a week away from being an option.

--- Bochy has said it a few times now when asked about the standings, so it’s officially a new motto for a team that got off to a brutal start: “We’ve put ourselves in a great situation for a great story.”

--- They're starting to get a little grumpy around here with their team hovering around .500. Perhaps the Cubs thought they could fool a few on the way out of Wrigley.

Agony still present, Kerr uncertain if he can coach Warriors in NBA Finals

Agony still present, Kerr uncertain if he can coach Warriors in NBA Finals

SAN ANTONIO -- Those following the Warriors and their effort to rage through the playoffs should put away those thoughts and hopes that Steve Kerr will return to full-time coaching later this week or sometime before the NBA Finals.

Forget about it, unless you know something he doesn’t.

And if you do, he wants to hear what you have to say.

Don’t get it wrong: Kerr wants to coach, would love to coach. That’s why, even as he feels like hell, he’s hanging around the team like a languid groupie. He wants to be with the Warriors in the heat of battle because they’re his team, within the culture he instilled, and he would like nothing more to get another chance to win The Finals.

But because the procedure he underwent more than two weeks ago at Duke Spine Center did not deliver the relief he’d hoped for, Kerr knows he’s not up to the task and, therefore, continues to operate as sort of a associate head coach to acting head coach Mike Brown.

“Mike is doing great,” Kerr told NBCSportsBayArea.com late Monday night, after the Warriors clinched a third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals with a 129-115 Game 4 win over the Spurs. “He’s such a wonderful human being. He’s so unselfish and team-oriented. I’m proud of him and the job he’s doing, along with the rest of the staff. I wish I could be out there with them. And maybe I will. I don’t know. We’ll see.

“He’s a great partner. And we’re in this together, obviously, but he’s got to make decisions with the staff without me. He’s done a great job of navigating the games. We’re undefeated, so he’s doing something right.”

Kerr can only help from the perimeter. The demands of the job require the coach be able to function at near-peak levels, particularly before and during a game, and he simply can’t. He knows there will be times, all too often, when the discomfort becomes unbearable to such a degree he hardly can think straight.

The agony is visible. The players see it. The staff sees it. Brown sees it, feels it and hears it. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is one of Kerr’s best friends -- as well as a good friend of Brown -- was able to see it during the Western Conference Finals.

“I've spoken with Steve and Mike; we're friends,” Popovich said two hours before Game 4. “We've known each other a long time. But as far as Steve's concerned, it's just a crap situation.

“You know, he's done a phenomenal job. And when you're going through that pain every day and that frustration of not being able to do what you want to do, it's hard to enjoy it at the fullest level. So I feel badly for him all the time but hopeful that stuff will get figured out.”

Nobody wants that more than Kerr, who has tried nearly everything any respectable specialist has recommended. So far, there has been no miracle.

So Kerr forges ahead, getting his Warriors fix by being around the group. By meeting with coaches and players. By meeting with general manager Bob Myers. Kerr was with the Warriors throughout their stay in San Antonio. He was at practices and shootarounds, sometimes on the floor and sometimes sitting in the stands observing from afar.

“I need to be around the guys,” he said. “I don’t want to miss this. Just being in the locker room, being able to talk to the guys means a lot to me. I’m thrilled for them. It’s fun to see how happy they are with three straight trips to The Finals. It’s pretty incredible.”

Kerr has been with the team for at least a few hours every day since May 10, less than a week after his procedure at Duke.

Kerr’s presence has been invaluable, both physically and psychologically, according to staff and players.

“Coach just empowers everybody,” Kevin Durant said. “His message is still the same. Even when he wasn't there in the Utah series, you could still feel his presence. That's what great leaders do.”

Participation, making himself feel useful, is one form of therapy that gives Kerr a semi-satisfying break from the misery.

“He watches film, and he watches the game,” Brown said. “So he gives his perspective from where he is. He gives insight on what we should be doing going forward, what he felt we could have done better, what we did that was good. So he just gives his input, mainly. He addresses the team every once in a while. He doesn't always do that, but he'll address the team from time to time.”

There was some belief that Kerr could return to full-time coaching within a week or so after the procedure, for which he declined to provide details. Warriors CEO Joe Lacob expressed hope Kerr might return “sooner rather than later.” Had it been as successful as Kerr and the doctors hoped, he would have.

That was May 5. Kerr announced he was stepping aside on April 23. As of Wednesday, he was been on leave for a full month.

Asked if he plans to travel during the NBA Finals, Kerr said he hopes so: “It’s like a month away,” he said, exaggerating the nine-day layoff.

He’d rather say with certainty that, yes, he will be accompanying the team because, after all, he’s the head coach.

And he will say that, the moment his body tells him it’s OK to do so.