Not so much for Justin Verlander

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Not so much for Justin Verlander

From Comcast SportsNet
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Justin Verlander wanted to give the fans an All-Star show. The Tigers' ace certainly did that Tuesday night, though not in the way he intended. The reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner offered a steady series of 100 mph fastballs that National League hitters sent soaring all over picturesque Kauffman Stadium. Verlander was hammered for five runs in the first inning as the National League cruised to an 8-0 victory. "I was able to laugh at it right away," Verlander said after leaving the game. "Obviously, you don't want to go out like that, but I had fun. That's why I don't try to throw 100 (mph) in the first inning, but this is for the fans. It doesn't usually work out too well for me." Verlander was picked to start the All-Star game by AL manager Ron Washington, who no doubt knows the value of home-field advantage in the World Series awarded to the winning side. Nobody questioned his choice, either. The hard-throwing Verlander came within two outs of his third career no-hitter against Pittsburgh in May. He was coming off two complete games in his last three starts, and had allowed only seven runs in the first inning of 18 starts all season. The NL nearly tallied that much during the biggest first inning since the 2004 game. "I know this game means something and you don't want to give up runs, but we're here for the fans," Verlander said. "I know the fans don't want to see me throw 90 and try to hit the corners." Washington was careful in his assessment of Verlander, dancing around questions about whether he was happy with the approach taken by the Tigers' top starter. "Well, it's very disappointing, because we're competitors and we want to win," Washington said. "You've got to tip your hat to the National League again. They came out, swung the bats, and once they got the lead, started bringing those arms in their hand, and they got the job done." Even though Washington might have preferred Verlander take the start a little more seriously, there were plenty of guys on the AL squad who wanted to see him ramp up the heat. "Hitting 100 in the first inning? Normally you see the guy throw 93, 94 in the first and then hit 100 in the eighth. We saw him hit 101," Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano said. "The funniest part was (Prince) Fielder said to him, Hit 101' and the next pitch he hit 101. Is it that easy?" Evidently, it's easier than getting guys out. Verlander ran into trouble almost immediately, giving up a one-out single to Melky Cabrera and Ryan Braun's RBI double. He recovered to strike out Joey Votto, but walked Carlos Beltran and Buster Posey -- the latter on four pitches, a couple tickling triple digits on the radar gun. That's when Pablo Sandoval stepped to the plate. The portly Giants slugger ripped his first triple of 2012 off the right-field wall, clearing the bases and leaving Verlander to wander around the mound in a stupor. "I don't get many triples," Sandoval said. "We had some fun with that in the dugout." At one point during the first inning, Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux made his way to the mound -- a rarity any time Verlander starts, and downright unheard of in an All-Star game. "I knew why he was coming out, to tell me to slow down," Verlander said. "Before he hit the mound, I was like, Hey, I can't slow down now.'" Verlander eventually got through the inning and was replaced by Joe Nathan, an altogether embarrassing way to leave his fifth All-Star game. He'd allowed five earned runs in a start once all season, and hadn't given up five in any inning since April 11, 2010, against the Indians. "It is surprising, because he's one of the best pitchers in the league. He proved that last year by winning the MVP and the Cy Young," Cardinals slugger Carlos Beltran said. "Normally when you face him during the season, you kind of get 90 or 91 early in the game. He came out firing 97 or 98. I guess he was missing his spots. We were able to capitalize."

Curry bounces back in blowout, wins point guard battle with Irving

Curry bounces back in blowout, wins point guard battle with Irving

OAKLAND -- No one among the Warriors had a deeper desire to beat the Cavaliers than Stephen Curry, and his performance Monday gave every indication that he wanted it as badly as he needed it.

And after losing the point-guard battle to Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving in four successive games, all Warriors losses, it was past time for Curry as the back-to-back MVP to stand up and make a statement.

His response was impressive: 20 points (7-of-20 shooting), 11 assists, four steals and a 126-91 rout by the Warriors. He was plus-23 over 31 minutes.

“He was making shots, it’s as simple as that,” Irving said. “In transition, off pick-and-rolls, doing what he does and that makes him a great player.”

Irving’s response: 17 points (6-of-19 shooting), two assists and a game-high-tying (with teammate LeBron James) six turnovers. Irving was minus-12 over 29 minutes.

“Steph was great,” coach Steve Kerr said. “A phenomenal first half, I think he had 10 assists. His energy was great and he set the tone. He put a lot of pressure on the defense.”

Curry has been playing with renewed vigor lately, his mentality changing shortly after the Warriors on Christmas Day in Cleveland blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, taking a 109-108 loss. Curry took only 11 shots, scoring 15 points.

He was particularly good in the first half, scoring 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting, with 10 assists and three steals. Curry clearly came to destroy.

“It was a great way to start, just a foot on the gas pedal,” Curry said.

Curry’s game, along with the victory, may silence some of the narrative suggesting the Cavaliers have his number. Though he was displeased with one aspect of his game, Curry happily accepted the outcome. Or that Irving hadn't caught up to him.

“I obviously wanted to play well; I didn’t want to walk off the floor with anything more than what I think is a solid, aggressive game,” he said. “I didn’t shoot the ball as well as I wanted to. Some shots I normally make didn’t go down.

But I can live with that knowing I took care of the other stuff I was supposed to do on the floor. Really, what was all in my head was that I definitely wanted to leave this arena tonight with a solid performance and obviously get the win.”

Durant gets personal with stuffing of LeBron, stops any momentum for Cavs

Durant gets personal with stuffing of LeBron, stops any momentum for Cavs

OAKLAND -- There was a single play Monday night that delighted Warriors fans more than any other in a 126-91 win over the Cavaliers, and it was not any of five 3-point bombs dropped by Oracle Arena favorite Stephen Curry.

Nor was it the high-velocity collision between Draymond Green and LeBron James, which resulted in Green being assessed with a Flagrant Foul 1 and the Warriors cranking up their intensity to another level.

No, the most satisfying play of all was on defense, and it was made by offensive wizard Kevin Durant, who sent a resounding message to the Cavaliers and, moreover, to James, Cleveland’s superstar forward.

With 9:48 left in the third quarter and James driving in for a dunk, Durant responded by rising up and cleanly stuffing the shot, sending James sprawling helplessly to the floor as the Warriors gained possession and raced the other way.

“That block at the rim was definitely great,” Draymond Green said. “If LeBron dunks on him right there, the momentum swings, he’s excited and everything can possibly swing. Yeah, he made a stand. Got a big block for us and we got off to the races. That puts momentum completely in our favor.”

With the crowd pumping up the volume, the Warriors, already in control, finished the job. And don’t think Durant isn’t aware of the effect such a play has.

“Yeah, especially when you’re at home, when you get a block against anybody, the crowd is into the game and they really enjoy that,” he said. “Around the league now, in every arena, fans are starting to respect defense. They can sense that it’s a momentum shift when you get a big block or a huge steal or a block.”

It also put momentum, on a personal level, in Durant’s favor. Despite the fact that Curry has won the last two MVP awards, it’s widely believed that James and Durant are the top two players in the NBA.

James has three championship rings, while Durant has none. James has four MVP awards, to one for Durant. When the two met in the 2012 NBA Finals, when Durant was with the Thunder and James with the Heat, Miami won in five games.

Durant, who entered the league four years after James, is at the point in his career that he believes he’s ready for anything James may have. Furthermore, since coming to the Warriors last summer, Durant clearly embraces the opportunity to beat James.

Durant posted 36 points and 15 rebounds when the teams met in Cleveland on Christmas Day, and posted 21 points, six rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals on Monday. KD, on an individual basis, is now 2-0 this season against LeBron.

“Guarding one of the best players in the league, and somebody that can score in different ways and impact the game from different ways, whether it’s in transition or the pick-and-roll or (isolation), I just tried to stay locked in and relied on my teammates,” Durant said.