From Comcast SportsNetOAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Ideally, Jim Leyland would have everybody hug it out and play ball.Just as Detroit's Justin Verlander and Coco Crisp of Oakland did on the field for Monday's workout day ahead of their teams' Game 3 in the AL division series Tuesday. The Tigers lead 2-0 and are one win from advancing to a second straight AL championship series.Leyland insists reliever Al Alburquerque meant no ill will toward the Athletics when he fielded Yoenis Cespedes' ninth-inning comebacker and quickly kissed the ball before throwing to first. Yet the manager disagreed with the display."Everybody always says I'm from the old school, so I'd have probably hugged it first," Leyland joked. "I don't think it was the right thing to do. I will sit here today and I will not try to defend it. I will say that I can assure everybody, including the Oakland A's, Al Alburquerque did nothing intentionally to offend the Oakland A's. A lot of emotion is shown in different ways in the game anymore. You see a lot of different variations of personal celebrations as well as team celebrations."It wasn't a smart thing to do, but I can honestly tell you that there is no way that Al Alburquerque or any members of the Detroit Tigers would ever do anything intentionally to offend another team. It just would not happen," Leyland said.As upstart Oakland returned home hoping to pull off another improbable sweep like the one against Texas last week to capture the AL West crown, that controversial smooch was still plenty talked about in both clubhouses.Alburquerque said he did speak to his teammates, and that they knew his gesture was "within the emotion of the game.""I respect Cespedes and I didn't do it out of disrespect," the pitcher said. "I was just excited to get the out."Still, that didn't mean the Tigers weren't surprised by it."I said, Did I see what I just saw?'" catcher Gerald Laird said.Cespedes was eager to get to his baseball work Monday, saying: "That's his problem. It doesn't bother me. It was his turn to win. Someday it will be my turn."Even though everybody realized full well they should be focused on the game itself."I know him, so I know he didn't mean much by it," injured A's third baseman and former Tiger Brandon Inge said. "But I'm sure he's going to regret it. Honestly, this is something that's going to be blown out of proportion because it's a unique story and it's something that doesn't happen much. For us, our ultimate retaliation or comeback would be to win three. We're not concerned with the actions of one person. On their side, I'm sure he didn't really want to stir up a hornet's nest over here either."Right-hander Anibal Sanchez (4-6), a midseason acquisition from Miami who was steady down the stretch, will try to pitch the Tigers to another postseason sweep of Oakland.Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera is still looking for his first RBI of the series, but is hitting .375 (3 for 8) with two doubles, no strikeouts and a walk.Lefty Brett Anderson (4-2) gets the ball in his postseason debut as the A's try to prolong their season for one more day. Anderson, who looked strong in six starts after a 14-month absence recovering from elbow ligament-replacement surgery, is coming back from a right oblique injury he sustained falling awkwardly off the mound in a start at Detroit on Sept. 19. He hopes to work deep without a pitch count, though pitching coach Curt Young said he'd likely be around 80."It's going to be fun," he said. "I don't think I'll have to dial it down. ... A postseason game in Oakland, there hasn't been one for a while."The Tigers swept Oakland out of its last playoff series -- in four games of the 2006 AL championship series. None of the current A's were on the team then, and only two were even in the organization.The task is daunting: win three straight at home. Yet this A's team has accomplished unheard of feats in a season full of walkoffs and victories celebrated with whipped-cream pies.And, just last week they took three in a row from the two-time reigning AL champion Rangers to stun Texas for the AL West crown in Game No. 162 last Wednesday.That late-season surge erased a five-game deficit, and the A's became the first time in major league history to do so over the final 10 games to win a division or pennant. They trailed Texas by 13 games on June 30."Nobody knew we were good until the end," Oakland's Jonny Gomes said. "We had Major League Baseball right where we wanted them: We tricked them into playing 162 games."Now, Oakland will attempt to become the first playoff team in franchise history to come back from down 2-0. In six of the previous seven series when the A's lost the first two games, the wound up getting swept.Oakland will try to get its offense going after striking out 23 times in the first two games, including 14 in Saturday's 3-1 loss in Game 1. The A's hit a majors-leading 112 home runs after the All-Star break.A's manager Bob Melvin isn't worried about the K-fest, and neither are his players. Josh Reddick has six of the strikeouts after hitting a team-best 32 home runs during the regular season."If you're going to be aggressive, you're going to swing hard," Gomes said. "If you're going to hit home runs, you're going to swing hard."Yet Melvin knows firsthand how good Sanchez can be. The 28-year-old Venezuelan pitched a no-hitter for Florida during his rookie season of 2006 against Melvin's Arizona Diamondbacks. Oakland shortstop Stephen Drew also was on that Arizona team, while Cabrera played for the Marlins.Leyland has experience with this year's playoff format, featuring the higher seed opening on the road for the first two games.Facing the favored San Francisco Giants, Florida won the first two games at home, then completed a three-game sweep of the NL division series at Candlestick Park on the way to the title -- Leyland's lone championship in 21 years as a manager.These Tigers sure seem primed for another special October run.First, they'll have to deal with a loud Coliseum crowd that has come alive over the past month as the A's emerged as a surprise contender, then clinched the club's first playoff berth in six years.For Melvin, whatever happened Sunday is now in the past. He has bigger concerns at the moment."I respect Jim Leyland about as much as I respect anyone," Melvin said. "I think there are varying degrees of all that stuff, showmanship. ... I don't think there's one right or wrong way. Emotionally after a game when something like that happens you're always going to hear something from somebody. But you move on. It's not a big deal for me."
BOSTON -- The last two seasons, tourists weren't the only ones eager to visit Fenway Park. Opponents, too, couldn't wait to get to the old ballpark.
In 2015, the Red Sox barely finished above .500 at home (43-38). In 2014, their performance at Fenway was truly troubling -- 34-47, worse than they were away from home.
The days of juggling rotations to avoid unfavorable matchups against the Red Sox in Boston were a distant memory. It didn't much matter who pitched at Fenway. The Red Sox weren't much to worry about.
That's not the case in 2016, however. Overall, the Sox are 17-9 at home this season. Since April 24, they're 12-2.
And they're not just winning at home; they're bludgeoning other clubs into submission. Since the start of the season, the Red Sox are averaging 6.73 runs per game at Fenway Park . . . and over the last 18 games, they've pumped that average up to exactly eight runs per outing.
In 11 of their last 13 home games, they've scored at least six runs and pounded out 11 or more hits.
So it was, again, Tuesday that the Red Sox kicked off a three-game set with the Colorado Rockies with another eight-run performance.
A decade after the PED era crested, the Red Sox are putting up late 1990s/early 2000s offensive numbers at home.
"Our roster, our personnel has changed,'' said John Farrell after the 8-3 win over the Rockies in explaining the surge in Fenway offense. "We've added young, energetic, athletic guys that are able to go first-to-third, which is key in this ballpark because a man at second base in not always a guaranteed run on a base hit, particularly to the left side of the field.
"It's an all-field approach. That's the other thing. This has historically been a great doubles ballpark. Our hitting approach plays to that. The combination of those two things is the reason why.''
Indeed, the numbers bear all of that out. When it comes to their numbers at home, the Red Sox lead the league in runs scored, doubles, hits, total bases, batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and OPS.
They've scored 175 runs at home; that's 59 more than the next-best team (Texas) has scored in its home ballpark.
Why, the Red Sox even lead the league in home triples (seven), evidence of how much more athletic they've become.
Farrell's right to point out the improved athleticism. Once more on Tuesday night, Xander Bogaerts scored from first base on a double by David Ortiz, something Bogaerts has seemingly done several times a week at Fenway this season.
The ability to take an extra base or two extends big innings and puts further pressure on an opponent.
When slow-footed catcher Christian Vazquez is rifling a ball to the triangle and ending up on third with a triple -- as was the case Tuesday -- then you know that things have changed at Fenway.
Chili Davis, the Red Sox hitting instructor, has been preaching the importance of using the entire field, and hitters are listening. On Tuesday, Ortiz slapped a single through the shortstop hole against the shift in the first for a two-run single.
Then, two innings later, Ortiz pulled a ball into the right-field corner for two more runs.
It's like that night after night, game after game for the Red Sox. The hits and runs pile up, and the wins follow.
The Sox are advised to take full advantage now of a schedule that is decidedly home-friendly in the first half of the season. In August and September, they'll will play the vast majority of their games on the road.
For now, though, there are plenty of games lined up at Fenway . . . an opportunity to keep the offensive numbers surging and the opponents cowering.
When Cyrus Jones was selected by the Patriots in the second round of this year's draft, director of player personnel Nick Caserio made it very clear that the Alabama corner's ability to return punts made him a more highly-valued commodity.
Caserio admitted that when it came time to make a pick at No. 60 overall, there were multiple players on New England's draft board who were graded similarly, but Jones stood out.
"I think the thing that tipped the scales in Cyrus’ favor a little bit," Caserio said, "was his overall versatility -- punt return -- that’s a huge component of what we do and we thought he had the ability."
Caserio's choice of words in that instance was noteworthy given that over the course of the last three years the Patriots have returned on average between two and three punts per game. Last year they returned 47 punts total, which works out to 2.9 per game.
That hardly seems like "a huge component" of any team's overall attack. But the accumulation of those plays over the course of a season is significant. It's a few dozen opportunities for explosive plays, a few dozen chances to shift field position. There may not be many of them, but they can be game-changers.
Jones was as accomplished a punt returner as anyone in this year's draft class, taking four back for touchdowns for the Crimson Tide in 2015 alone.
But the attraction of placing Jones deep to field punts in 2016 and beyond may not be solely based on what he can do with the football in his hands. He may also help take some of the workload off of the shoulders of Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman -- a tangible benefit for Tom Brady's two most dependable targets at the receiver position going into this season.
Amendola and Edelman have been among the game's top punt returners in recent years. Amendola led the league in return average last year with 12.0 yards per return. Meanwhile, Edelman's career return average of 12.0 yards is second behind only Devin Hester (12.1) among active players and seventh-best all-time.
Returning punts is just another unforgiving responsibility for the pair of veteran slot receivers who have made their livelihoods on their willingness to run unforgiving routes across the middle. Skilled as they are as return men, having Jones in the fold could save them from absorbing extra hits on special teams and potentially help keep them healthier deeper into the season.
Just how many hits might Jones' presence save the pair of 30-year-old wideouts coming off of offseason surgeries?
The math isn't perfect because not all punt returns end in bone-jarring collisions. Neither do all receptions. But let's take a quick-and-flawed look at the number of shots Jones may save Edelman and Amendola in 2016.
Over the last three years, including last year when he played in just nine regular-season games, Edelman has returned 70 punts, not including fair catches. That's 1.79 returns for each of the 39 games in which he has played. If that average were to hold true over a 16-game season, that would work out to about 28.6 returns in a year.
For Edelman, who has averaged 6.6 catches per game over the last three years, 28.6 returns in a year is the equivalent of about four games (4.33) of touches as a receiver.
One of the key cogs to New England's passing offense, saving Edelman that many hits over the course of a season might help in keeping him relatively fresh for a longer period of time. Though it would fall well short of guaranteeing his health, pulling Edelman as a returner would certainly reduce his chance of injury.
Even before he was injured last season, it seemed as though the Patriots were set on limiting Edelman's opportunities as a return man. Amendola returned 15 punts through Week 10, the week Edelman was injured against the Giants, which was five more than Edelman had. That breakdown in their shared workload was a shift from 2014 when Amendola (16 regular-season games) returned 16 kicks and Edelman (14 regular-season games) returned 25.
Because it seems like Edelman's return-man role was already shrinking in some respects, Jones' presence may have a more meaningful impact on Amendola in 2016.
Since Amendola's arrival to New England in 2013, he has returned 40 punts, not including fair catches. In 42 games, that works out to 0.95 returns per game.
Since 2014, though, when he began to be utilized as a return man regularly, Amendola has averaged 1.3 returns per game. Over a 16-game season, if that average were to hold true, that would mean 20.8 returns in a year.
For Amendola, who has averaged 3.5 receptions per game over the last three years, 20.8 returns in a year would be the equivalent of almost six games (5.94) of touches as a receiver.
Even if you were to take Amendola's receiving numbers from the 2015 season, when he averaged 4.6 catches per game, 20.8 returns means about 4.5 games worth of receiver touches -- and the potential punishment that comes with them. Taking those returns off of his plate might help Amendola maintain his health longer into the season.
Again, the returns-to-receptions math is far from perfect. But touches are touches, and punt-return touches can have a tendency to end with high-speed crunching hits. If the return-man torch happens to be passed to Jones this season, it could save a pair of his veteran teammates -- both of whom are vital to the function of the offense -- a great deal of wear and tear.
As Caserio pointed out during the draft, though, Jones has a lot of work to do before he's trusted in one of the roles that the team considers to be "huge."
"The guys that have done it have been really good," Caserio explained. "I mean Danny was one of the league leaders last year. Julian who had never done it before, his average is like one of the top punt returners in history.
"That’s a hard, I would say, skill and position to develop so if you have multiple players that can actually handle the ball then you can figure out, 'OK, well maybe we can take his workload and redistribute it somewhere else.'
"In the end we’re going to do what we think is best for the football team. If a guy's not ready to do it then we’re not going to have him do it even if he has the experience and he’s done it. We’re not going to really know . . . Everything they’ve done to this point, like, honestly doesn’t matter. Now they’re going to show up here next week and basically start from scratch. There’s probably going to be some things that [special teams coach] Joe [Judge] and [assistant special teams coach Ray Ventrone] will coach them to do in terms of fielding the ball, handling the ball, may be a little bit different. OK, how do they handle that? How do they read the ball? Can they adjust to our blocking pattern?
"There’s a whole number of things that go into it, and then he’s trying to learn a new position. It’s just a matter of how quickly they can perform the task at a good level relative to another player at that same positon, and then ultimately we’ll figure out whoever’s the best option for us and whoever we think is the best at that time then we’ll go ahead with him in that capacity."
Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while wrapping my brain around exactly what the heck the Bruins are doing.
-- In the shameless self-promotion department: Fred Toucher and yours truly did battle this morning over the $10 million contract that the Bruins handed out to Kevan Miller. Are you #TeamHaggs or #TeamFrich?
-- What do the Dallas Stars need in the 2016 NHL Draft, with the combine and draft both coming up just weeks away.
-- A nice tribute from Hockey Night in Canada to the Tragically Hip as their front man battles through terminal brain cancer.
-- Damien Cox puts together his Team Canada list for the World Cup of hockey. Check out Brad Marchand's line: He plays left wing with Jonathan Toews and Tyler Seguin. That would be very fun to watch.
-- With the Bruins signing Kevan Miller to a bloated four-year, $10 million contract, similar defensemen like Eric Gryba will be lining up at the trough.
-- FOH (Friend of Haggs) Kevin Kurz weighs in on the Sharks run to within one win of the Stanley Cup Final, and what a player like Joe Pavelski has meant to them in the postseason.
-- For something completely different: It sounds like things are getting a little strange with Marco Rubio.