Meet the majors' first two 9-game winners

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Meet the majors' first two 9-game winners

From Comcast SportsNet
WASHINGTON (AP) -- On a bright, sunny afternoon, R.A. Dickey had the Washington hitters swinging at shadows. The knuckleballer baffled the Nationals, limiting them to four singles over 7 1-3 scoreless innings and leading the New York Mets to a 3-1 win Thursday. Dickey (9-1) extended the longest shutout string of his career to 24 2-3 innings -- a span that began against Pittsburgh and continued against San Diego, St. Louis and the Nats. "Literally, when I go out there, the only streak I care about is getting that hitter out," he said. "It doesn't change the mentality because there's a run of scoreless innings." Dickey became the first pitcher in the majors to reach nine wins this season, backed by Lucas Duda's fifth homer in eight games. Dickey also exceeded his victory total from last year, when he often was the victim of poor run support. "I'm getting more swings and misses. Other than that, I'm not doing anything differently," Dickey said. "I'm trying to induce them into hitting pieces of the ball, not getting solid contact," he said. Nationals teen Bryce Harper fanned twice. He awkwardly chased strike three in the first inning, then casually flipped his bat. No luck today, rookie. "He throws it hard, throws it soft. Sometimes, it starts at your face and goes down through the strike zone. He's a pretty unbelievable pitcher. It was pretty fun to face him, but going 0 for 4 is not fun," he said. "You're just trying to look for something up in the zone or just trying to swing as hard as you can or something. I don't even know. This is my first time really facing a knuckeball guy like that," he said. Duda hit his 10th homer, a two-run shot in the fifth against Chien-Ming Wang (1-2). Daniel Murphy, who earlier bounced into an inning-ending double play that left him in a 0-for-19 rut, later added an RBI single. The way Dickey has been pitching lately, those three runs were more than enough. He struck out eight and walked two, and most of the outs were soft ones. When Adam LaRoche worked out an 11-pitch walk, it was a major accomplishment. Mets manager Terry Collins said nice weather has been a factor in Dickey's good fortune, allowing him a better grip and therefore better command. "When you get in that batter's box, you better be ready to hit something that's fluttering," he said. Dickey credited a harder knuckleball -- thrown in the low 80s mph, up from the mid-70s -- with giving him a later, better break on the pitch. "I feel comfortable with where I am with the pitch," he said. "And look: It's a knuckleball. It can be fickle." Washington never got a runner past second base when Dickey was on the mound. He worked out of a two-on, no-out jam in the seventh and left after Jhonatan Solano's one-out single in the eighth. Reliever Bobby Parnell walked Rick Ankiel and after the runners moved up on a grounder, Harper grounded out to end the threat. Frank Francisco gave up Ryan Zimmerman's leadoff home run in the ninth before closing for his 15th save in 18 chances. The win stopped the Mets' three-game losing streak heading into the Subway Series that begins Friday night at Yankee Stadium. The Mets had lost the first two at Nationals Park in the series. Wang allowed eight hits in 5 1-3 innings in his second start of the season. The Mets won for just the second time in 10 meetings with Washington since last September. There wasn't a whole lot for Nationals fans to cheer about on a bright afternoon until Zimmerman's third homer. Midway through the game, however, there was a ripple of applause throughout the crowd of 32,096 when clouds briefly blocked the glare.

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HOUSTON (AP) -- David Freese struck out three times in the first six innings Thursday night. He more than made up for it over the last three. Freese hit his first career grand slam and a two-run homer and rookie Lance Lynn struck out a career-high 11 in earning his ninth win as the St. Louis Cardinals cruised past the Houston Astros 14-2. It was the first career multi-homer game for Freese and his six RBIs tied a career-high. "A typical night. Start slow and finish fast," Freese said with a laugh. Freese's slam in the seventh inning was the third homer of the game for St. Louis. He added a two-run shot in the ninth as the Cardinals scored a season-high. Carlos Beltran connected on his National League-leading 16th homer in the fifth and Shane Robinson added a two-run shot in the seventh to help the Cardinals take the series. Lynn's nine victories are tied with R.A. Dickey of the Mets for most in the NL. Lynn (9-2) allowed six hits and two runs to continue his mastery of the NL Central. He is 7-0 with 60 strikeouts in 15 career appearances in the division. "You could tell he felt really good today," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "The ball was jumping out of his hand he was blowing fastballs pretty good." Houston starter J.A. Happ (4-6) allowed five hits and four runs with five walks in 4 2-3 innings. The Cardinals were up 5-2 before piling on seven runs in the seventh. St. Louis batted around in that inning with 11 Cardinals coming to the plate. Rafael Furcal singled with two outs in the seventh before consecutive walks to Beltran and Matt Holliday. Allen Craig hit an RBI single before Freese's shot to the Crawford Boxes in left field cleared the bases. Jed Lowrie gave Houston a 1-0 lead with a homer to the first row of the Crawford Boxes in the first inning. Brett Wallace doubled in the second on a ball that sailed over a leaping Craig and into the far corner of right field. Chris Johnson followed with an RBI double down the right field line to make it 2-0. Chris Snyder hit a one-out single and Jordan Schafer drew a walk to load the bases with two outs. Lynn limited the damage by striking out Jose Altuve to end the inning. The Astros couldn't get much going offensively after that while the Cardinals heated up. Tyler Greene got the Cardinals' first hit -- a single to start the third inning. Happ then battled Robinson to a 12-pitch at-bat before walking him. Greene and Robinson both advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Lynn before Greene scored on a bunt by Furcal to cut the lead to 2-1. "When as a team you're fighting at the dish and he goes up there and has a 10-plus pitch AB, you feed off that," Freese said of Robinson's at-bat. "I think every team feeds off that. "The good teams that end up winning the division and getting in the playoffs, one through nine, they battle in the box. The goal as an offense is to not let the pitcher have an easy inning." A sacrifice fly by Beltran tied it at 2-2, before Holliday walked. Craig's broken-bat RBI single to shallow right put St. Louis up 3-2. Happ finally got out of the inning when he struck out Freese on his 40th pitch of the frame. Beltran's first-pitch homer to left center came with one out in the fifth to push the lead to 4-2. Robinson singled in the sixth and scored on a single by Furcal with one out. Houston manager Brad Mills made some strange changes in the ninth inning when he put outfielder Brian Bogusevic in to pitch and moved Johnson, the third baseman, to right field. Bogusevic was drafted as a pitcher, but had never pitched in a major league game and it was Johnson's first career appearance in the outfield. "It's something that is probably the last thing that a manager likes to have to go through, but to put that together to get through it, that's what we had to do," Mills said of the ninth-inning changes. Bogusevic allowed three hits and the home run to Freese in one inning. "It felt kind of strange, but once I knew I could throw strikes, I was more comfortable," Bogusevic said. Freese felt like hitting the homer off him was payback for one he took from him with a leaping catch in the stands on the Cardinals' last trip to Houston. "I don't like it. It's weird," Freese said of facing him. "But Bogusevic robbed me the last time we were here, so I'm going to count that one."

Celtics-Wizards preview: Making of a matchup

Celtics-Wizards preview: Making of a matchup

BOSTON -- While it’s debatable whether the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards are rivals, there’s no question there has been a heightened level of animosity towards one another when they play.

When these two met on Jan. 11, the Celtics came away with a 117-108 win.

But the game itself featured plenty of back-and-forth trash talk, finger-pointing, cries of dirty play and NBA fines.

IN FACT . . . Washington plans to bury Boston

“It’ll be a physical game,” said Jae Crowder who was hit with a five-figure fine for his role in a post-game incident involving Washington’s John Wall. “We have to answer the bell; we’ll be ready.”

Crowder knows he and his teammates must balance being the more physical team, with not losing their cool because if tonight’s game is anything like previous ones, there will be trash talk … lots of trash talk.

“They talk a little bit more than other teams,” said Crowder who added that was a factor in the incident him and Wall which cost them $25,000 and $15,000, respectively.

Crowder said a flagrant-foul committed by Washington’s Bradley Beal against Marcus Smart was what really cranked the level of animosity that was already at a high level.

But Beal probably hasn’t fully put behind him an incident last season in which Smart broke his nose and put him in the league’s concussion protocol program on a Smart drive to the basket.

As far as the hard foul that Beal delivered to him earlier this month, Smart said, “you take exception to every hard foul.”

Smart added, “It’s the game of basketball. You play with your emotions and intensity and everything like that. It comes with the game.”

While Crowder understands the Celtics have to play a physical brand of basketball, he’s not looking to do anything that might result in him having to cut another $25,000 check which was the amount of his fine from the Jan. 11 game against the Wizards.

“I’m looking at it as another game we have to win,” Crowder said. “I’m not looking at it as a rivalry or anything like that. I’m not coming in talking; they might.”

For the Wizards, winners in four of their five games since losing to Boston, a major key to their success lies in the play of their backcourt.

John Wall and Bradley Beal are the latest high-scoring backcourt tandem that the Celtics have to be worried about.

And making matters worse for Boston, the Celtics will have to try and make due without Avery Bradley who is still dealing with a right Achilles injury.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said the 6-foot-2 Bradley was not going to be with the team in Washington and would most likely be out all this week.

That means Boston will lean heavily on Smart to not only help the offense run relatively smooth, but also provide some much-needed defense to help limit Wall and Beal who collectively rank among the higher-scoring starting backcourts in the NBA.

“We have to slow them down; by any means we have to slow them down,” Thomas said. “We know they go as far as those two take them. It’s going to be a tough game. They have a lot of momentum at home. It’ll be a tough game for us. But we’re ready for the opportunity.”

Wall and Beal are just the latest in a string of high-scoring backcourts that the Celtics have had to contend with recently.

In Saturday’s 127-123 overtime home loss to Portland, C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard combined to score 63 points on 20-for-42 shooting from the field.

“This stretch of backcourts is exceptionally difficult,” Stevens said. “They (Wall and Beal) both should be and certainly are in the discussion for the all-star team. It’s a real difficult challenge. Our guys are going to have to be really good on both ends of the floor.”

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.