Orioles bullpen victimized by Raul Ibanez

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Orioles bullpen victimized by Raul Ibanez

From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- Bullpen perfection disappeared for the Baltimore Orioles when it mattered most.These exciting young Birds had been 76-0 this year when leading after seven innings, their relievers carrying them through the hot days of summer and the crisp nights of early fall. They had won 16 consecutive extra-inning games since losing their first two of the year to the New York Yankees in April, the best streak in the big leagues in more than a half-century.They were two outs from taking control of their AL division series. Jim Johnson had converted a big league high 51 saves.And then, just when you least expected ...Raul Ibanez, pinch hitting for no less than Alex Rodriguez, drove a 94 mph fastball over the right-center field scoreboard with one out in the ninth inning to tie the score 2-all.Three innings later, it was Ibanez again.The 40-year-old sent a 91 mph Brian Matusz pitch into the right field second deck leading off the 12th, giving the Yankees a 3-2 win Wednesday night and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series."Obviously, it hurts," Johnson said, "but you got to get over it quick because we got to come back tomorrow and compete again."The Yankees have a long history of doing this.There was Tino Martinez's tying, two-run homer off Arizona's Byung-Hyun Kim with two outs in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2001 World Series. There Scott Brosius' tying, two-run homer off Kim with two outs in the ninth the following night.Rodriguez hit a tying, two-run homer off Minnesota's Joe Nathan in Game 2 of the 2009 AL division series, then hit a tying solo shot of the Los Angeles Angels' Brian Fuentes in the second game of that year's AL championship series.Ibanez, as Orioles' fans might remember, hit a tiebreaking double in the 12th off Pedro Strop that gave New York a 5-4 win at Camden Yards on April 10. The next night, Nick Swisher's two-run homer in the 10th against Kevin Gregg propelled the Yankees to a 6-4 victory.Since then, the Orioles had won 16 in a row in extras, the best in the majors since Cleveland won 17 straight in 1949."Just left the pitch up. Ibanez obviously has been swinging the bat well and I just missed my location, and he made it hurt," Matusz said. "You just keep going. Just clear it out of our minds and move on to tomorrow. We're still in this."All for naught was the great effort of Miguel Gonzalez, a 28-year-old rookie making his postseason debut. He allowed one run and five hits in seven innings with eight strikeouts and a walk, allowing his only run on Derek Jeter's RBI triple just out of reach of bubble-blowing center fielder Adam Jones in the third."I'm not satisfied that I didn't catch the ball," Jones said. "To make an excuse, that's definitely not me. I just plain didn't catch the ball."Baltimore's Nos. 8 and 9 hitters provided early power, with Ryan Flaherty sending a slider from Hiroki Kuroda over the right-field short porch in the third and Manny Machado putting another slider in the Baltimore bullpen leading off the fifth. They became the first pair of rookies to homer in the same postseason game. Just 20, Machado became the second-youngest player with a postseason home run, behind only Atlanta's Andruw Jones who was 19 in 1996.Then it all unraveled in the ninth."It breaks your heart, but we've been doing great," Gonzalez said. "Can't complain. The guys have been battling the whole year and things happen. It's part of baseball. It was a tough game for us tonight, but I know we're going to come out tomorrow and play a better game."Orioles manager Buck Showalter already was looking ahead."Stunned left me a while ago. I got a grip on how hard this is to do. The problem with a lot of coaches and managers, they forget about how hard the game is to play and how tough a night they've had on given times. It's very hard to do what they do," Showalter said. "Jimmy is a big-hearted, talented guy, that -- believe me, we'd be at home watching without people like Jim Johnson. He's a special guy. We're real proud of him, and you'll see him again tomorrow night, I hope."In the playoffs for the first time since 1997, the Orioles must win Thursday night to save their season."You've got to stay positive through this," Matusz said. "We've all worked so hard this year to get to this point. And you can't let one bad pitch or one game ruin it. You've just got to keep positive."

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

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Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

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Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.