Athletics

15-year-old with cancer inspires Giants to rout

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15-year-old with cancer inspires Giants to rout

From Comcast SportsNetEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- Adam Merchant had a wish and a command for the New York Giants.The 15-year-old fan from Barre, Vt., attended practice and then Sunday's game with the Packers thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He wanted the Giants to snap their two-game slide and get out of their offensive funk.So he ordered the Giants to "play like world champions," and they delivered a 38-10 rout of the Green Bay Packers."That was the theme of our meetings," coach Tom Coughlin said.Eli Manning came back from the bye week with a rested arm, and that offensive slump was tossed aside. The Giants (7-4) said they turned things around for themselves, and for Merchant, who has cancer."They have one wish," Manning said after throwing for three scores to set a team record with 200 TD passes for his career. "It is sad when you think about it -- they have one wish, what you want to do, and he wanted to come to Giants practice ... and to a game."He said, Go show everybody you are the world champions and why you are the world champions and play that way.' Everybody got fired up and played the way we know we can."The Packers (7-4) certainly did not. The showcase game was decided early as the Giants outscored the Packers 31-10 in the opening half to end Green Bay's five-game winning streak. While New York took a two-game lead in the NFC East, Green Bay fell out of a tie with Chicago atop the NFC North.The Packers were missing such key starters as linebacker Clay Matthews, defensive back Charles Woodson and receiver Greg Jennings, and it showed. After being manhandled in last season's playoffs by the Giants, who went on to win the Super Bowl, the Packers weren't much more competitive this time. Aaron Rodgers was sacked five times, including twice by Mathias Kiwanuka, who spent much of the game at defensive tackle rather than in his usual linebacker spot."When your quarterback is under pressure like that, it affected me tonight," coach Mike McCarthy said of his play-calling. "I probably didn't call the best game I've called. You have to protect your quarterback. It's your No. 1 responsibility. That's not what we're looking for."New York's balanced attack was guided by Manning, who had his first strong game in a month with 249 yards passing."I never thought my arm was tired, never felt like it," Manning said. "After a week off, you come back to practice, it felt good, alive, balls coming out with a little pop on it."After 10 weeks, it definitely needed a little rest."Coughlin knew Manning would return with some extra verve."There was no doubt he was going to come back and play well," Coughlin said. "I think the rest really helped him. ... Eli said he felt as if he was coming back for the start of the season. I was very confident he would come back and be Eli."Ahmad Bradshaw gained a combined 119 yards and scored a touchdown. He had the first big play of the night to begin the offensive onslaught.New York struck early with a brilliantly conceived screen pass to Bradshaw off a fake reverse to Victor Cruz. Bradshaw sped down the field before being caught at the Green Bay 2, a 59-yard pickup that led to Andre Brown's scoring run.Brown later broke his leg; Coughlin did not say which leg after the game."It will be a tough loss, he is an important player," Manning said.Green Bay didn't flinch, with Jordy Nelson getting behind Corey Webster in single coverage down the right sideline for a 61-yard TD reception from Rodgers.The scoring flurry went back in the Giants' favor -- and pretty much stayed there -- when Manning hit Rueben Randle in the back of the end zone for a 16-yard TD. It was the first score for the rookie and Manning's first touchdown throw in four games, and he set it up with, of all things, a scramble in which he laid his shoulder into Packers cornerback Tramon Williams for a 13-yard gain."It sparked our sideline," Coughlin said. "It would not be the recommended way. To see him do that kind of sent the message to the rest of our team: Whatever you have to do to succeed, do it."Webster's interception led to Lawrence Tynes' 43-yard field goal late in the first quarter for a 17-7 lead, and the Giants weren't nearly done. Manning's 9-yard connection with Cruz tied him for the club record with 199 TD passes, and after Osi Umenyiora's strip-sack of Rodgers was recovered by Jason Pierre-Paul at the Green Bay 23, Bradshaw scored from the 13.The 31 points were the most New York scored in a half all season and nearly equaled the 33 it scored in its two losses before the bye.And the Giants had more offense in them. Manning threw his 200th TD pass to move ahead of Phil Simms, a 13-yarder over the middle to Hakeem Nicks, who stretched the ball over the goal line as he was tackled."There was a different enthusiasm in practices," Manning said, "and I think that paid off in the game."It paid off for the Giants, and for their young fan."It kind of hit home," Justin Tuck said. "You got this kid that don't know us from James and watches us on TV every Sunday and it's so profound."NOTES; The Giants lost safety Kenny Phillips with a knee injury in the third quarter. He was making his first appearance since Week 4, when he was sidelined with a knee problem. ... Giants right tackle David Diehl sustained a stinger in the first half. ... Green Bay lost safety M.D. Jennings (rib), DE C.J. Wilson (knee), and RB Johnny White (concussion). ... Rodgers was 14 of 25 for 219 yards, one TD, one interception and one lost fumble.

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.