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Big Ben takes blame for Steelers' stumble

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Big Ben takes blame for Steelers' stumble

From Comcast SportsNetPITTSBURGH (AP) -- Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks at his passing statistics, and they're not all that bad.His passer rating is up from his career average, as well as his average passing yards per game.The completion rate is where it has been over the course of an eight-year career.Only once before has Roethlisberger thrown more touchdown passes per game or fewer interceptions per game.But it's been Roethlisberger's play, by his own admission, that's a key factor in Pittsburgh (7-8) failing to make the playoffs for only the fourth time since 2001."A lot of it just has to do with me not playing well enough down the stretch," Roethlisberger said. "Fourth-quarter drives or last-minute throws, I'm just not making it happen, so my best answer would be that I just didn't play well enough."The Steelers controlled their playoff fate until their 13-10 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday eliminated them from the postseason.Just as had happened one week earlier against Dallas, Roethlisberger threw an interception during a tie game that led to the opponent kicking a winning field goal.Those losses joined others earlier this season against Denver, Oakland and Tennessee in which Pittsburgh not only blew fourth-quarter leads, but had the ball in the final minutes with a chance to drive for a potential winning score.The Roethlisberger-led offense failed each time. In the season opener at Denver, he threw an interception to Tracy Porter that was returned 43 yards for the clinching touchdown."In the past, I prided myself and us in fourth-quarter comebacks," Roethlisberger said. "I've always said that you don't want to have them, because that means you haven't done well early in the game, but we've always been good at it. And this year, we just weren't. I don't think there's any rhyme or reason why, (but) it was just a year when I wasn't."Roethlisberger has thrown only eight interceptions this season, but many came at crucial times. Six came in defeats, four in the fourth quarter or overtime. His first interception in the must-win game against the Bengals on Sunday was returned for Cincinnati's only touchdown.This season, Roethlisberger's 84.4 passer rating in the fourth quarter and overtime is by far lower than during any of the other three quarters.That would seem to be in contrast to the clutch reputation Roethlisberger has earned over the course of a career in which he has led 22 fourth-quarter comebacks and 29 game-winning drives during the regular season and also led a memorable comeback in the final minutes of the 2009 Super Bowl."I don't think there's any reason to go panic about it, because I've been pretty good for eight years doing it and had one not-so-good year on it," Roethlisberger said. "I think I played pretty good football, though, other than those situations."To be fair, Roethlisberger was under center for three fourth-quarter comebacks this season. But even coach Mike Tomlin acknowledges his two-time Pro Bowler just wasn't the same in such situations this season."Just not making the critical plays," Tomlin said. "Not a lot has changed in terms of structurally for how we prepare for those moments and how we deal with those moments. They're not coming together for us, and I'm not going to try to make excuses in that regard."Roethlisberger and Tomlin both downplayed the notion that the quarterback's right shoulder and rib injuries sustained in November are affecting his play.Roethlisberger missed three games, and since he's come back, he's thrown six interceptions and four touchdown passes in three games -- all losses."We can talk about that in the offseason, maybe, but I feel good enough to play," Roethlisberger said.There have been times over the past three games that Roethlisberger's arm didn't appear as strong as usual and he was badly off on throws he typically makes. But there also are examples he was the same old Big Ben.Against Dallas, for example, he lofted a ball more than 50 yards in the air to Mike Wallace to set up a tying second-half touchdown. Earlier in that game, he scrambled and avoided multiple sack attempts to find an open Heath Miller for a score just before halftime."The only reason we're in that game is because of his play," safety Ryan Clark said. "The only reason he had an opportunity to throw an interception at the critical moment is because he played so well to keep us close."Still, Roethlisberger has largely built his career not on eye-popping numbers but on clutch play.When asked about why this season has been so much different, Wallace shrugs and maintains that Roethlisberger is the same at practice and in the huddle."You can't be perfect every time," Wallace said. "You can't be a superhero every time."Maybe, but Roethlisberger was far from it late in this season -- and as a result, the Steelers will spend January at home."I not worried about Ben," Miller said. "He's one of the best quarterbacks in the league -- in my mind, he's still there. And I wouldn't want anybody else to be leading this team."Notes: The Steelers placed Miller, CB Ike Taylor and RB Baron Batch on injured reserve Wednesday and signed TE Jamie McCoy, S Damon Cromartie-Smith and LB Marshall McFadden to the active roster. Miller, who tore knee ligaments Sunday, will have surgery Wednesday.

How should Red Sox handle Chris Sale's pursuit of Pedro Martinez's strikeout record?

How should Red Sox handle Chris Sale's pursuit of Pedro Martinez's strikeout record?

BALTIMORE — Baseball records are so precise. When to pursue them, when to value them even if minor risk is involved, is not nearly as clear cut.

The Red Sox, Chris Sale and John Farrell have stumbled upon that grey area, and it will continue to play out in the final two weeks of the regular season.

Sale reached a tremendous milestone on Wednesday night, becoming the 14th different pitcher in major league history to reach 300 strikeouts in a single season. No one else has done it in the American League this century. Clayton Kershaw was the last to get there in the National League two years ago.

“It was really fun,” Sale said of having his family on hand. “My wife, both my boys are here, my mother-in-law. Being able to run out and get a big hug from him and my wife and everybody — it was special having them here for something like this. … I’ll spend a little time with them before we head to Cincinnati.”

Now, there’s another mark ahead of Sale: Pedro Martinez’s single-season club record of 313. And the pursuit of that record is going to highlight the discussion of what matters even more.

The tug-of-war between absolute pragmatism and personal achievement was on display Wednesday, when Farrell gave ground to the latter. 

The manager was prepared for the questions after a celebratory 9-0 win over the Orioles. His pitchers threw 26 straight scoreless innings to finish off a three-game sweep of the Orioles, and the Sox had the game well in hand the whole night.

With seven innings and 99 pitches thrown and 299 strikeouts in the books, Sale went back out for the eighth inning.

If you watched it, if you saw Sale drop a 2-2 front-door slider to a hapless Ryan Flaherty for the final strikeout Sale needed and his last pitch of the night, you surely enjoyed it. Records may not be championships, but they have their own appeal in sports that’s undeniable. 

But Sale could have recorded strikeout No. 300 next time out. Surely, he would have. He needed all 111 pitches to do so Wednesday.

In this case, the difference between 299 and 300 wound up being just 12 pitches. 

It’s doubtful those 12 pitches will ruin Sale’s postseason chances, particularly considering he was throwing hard all game, touching 99 mph. 

Nonetheless, the Sox hope to play for another month, and they've been working to get Sale extra rest. So, why risk fatigue, or worse, injury?

“The two overriding factors for me,” Farrell explained, “were the pitch counts and the innings in which he was in control of throughout. Gets an extra day [for five days of rest] this next time through the rotation. All those things were brought into play in the thinking of bringing him back out.

“We know what the final out of tonight represented, him getting the 300 strikeouts. Was aware of that, and you know what, felt like he was in complete command of this game and the ability to go out and give that opportunity, he recorded it.”

If Sale makes his final two starts of the year, he’ll break Martinez's record of 313. At least, Sale should. But he might not make his projected final start, in Game No. 162, so that he’s set up for Game 1 in the Division Series.

(So, if he could do reach 314 Ks in his next start, he’d make this discussion disappear — but 14 Ks in one outing is not easy.)

When should exceptions be made to let someone get to a record? Where do you draw the line? 

Would it be reasonable to get Sale an inning or two against the Astros in Game 162 if he was a few strikeouts away, even though he may face the Astros in the Division Series?

Letting the Astros get extra looks against Sale is a different matter than Sale throwing 12 extra pitches. But neither is really a guarantee of doom. They're small risks, of varying size.

Consider that if Sale is on, he should rough up the Astros no matter what.

What's 12 pitches Wednesday for a guy who leads the majors in average pitches thrown per game? Not enough to keep Farrell from letting Sale have a go at one milestone.

Will the Sox work to put Sale in position for the next?

Records don’t usually fall into such a grey area. Outside of the steroid era, anyway.