Raiders

Another first for Bryce Harper

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Another first for Bryce Harper

From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- Bryce Harper had looked so bad all season against R.A. Dickey's dancing knuckleball that he didn't even expect to play Tuesday night.Nationals manager Davey Johnson had a different idea.Harper had his first four-hit game and pinch-hitter Tyler Moore launched a go-ahead homer off Dickey in the seventh inning to send Washington past the punchless New York Mets 5-3.After entering 0 for 10 with six strikeouts against Dickey, Harper doubled and singled twice off the All-Star pitcher. The talented rookie added an RBI single in the ninth off Josh Edgin to become the first teenager with four hits in a major league game since Andruw Jones did it for Atlanta on Sept. 22, 1996."Now he realizes he can hit a knuckleball," Johnson said.Leadoff batter Jayson Werth reached base all five times for the NL East leaders, who have won seven straight and 11 of 12 at Citi Field.Harper credited Werth's fine at-bats in front of him for helping him solve Dickey. Werth is 13 for 27 (.481) with two homers, three doubles and five walks against Dickey -- attributing his success to all the Wiffle Ball he played as a kid."Just trying to see something up or see a pitch I can square up," Harper said. "I've tried everything against that guy."Looking for a win over baseball's top team to boost his Cy Young Award resume, Dickey (18-5) mostly pitched out of trouble for seven solid innings. But he gave up a two-run shot to Moore that made it 3-2 in the seventh and was unable to tie Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez for the major league lead in wins.Gonzalez beat the Mets 5-1 in the series opener Monday.Not surprisingly, Dickey got little help from his teammates at the plate. The fading Mets, losers of five in a row and seven of eight, set a club record by failing to score more than three runs for the 12th consecutive home game. The last time they managed four runs at Citi Field was Aug. 12 in a 6-5 win over Atlanta.New York has dropped 21 of its last 25 in Queens and is 0-5 on a six-game homestand against Atlanta and Washington. The Nationals improved to 13-4 against the Mets this season.Tom Gorzelanny (4-2) worked a hitless sixth in relief of a shaky Jordan Zimmermann, who labored through 104 pitches over five innings. Christian Garcia struck out three of his four batters and Tyler Clippard allowed a solo homer to pinch-hitter Scott Hairston in the ninth before securing his 31st save in 34 attempts.Kurt Suzuki also had an RBI single in the ninth for Washington (88-54)."That's the best lineup I've faced. They're just so functional," Dickey said.After going an absurd 110 straight innings at home without scoring more than one run, the Mets finally put up a crooked number in the fifth.Ruben Tejada singled for the third time and scored easily from first when Daniel Murphy's slicing double took an odd carom off the retaining wall in medium left field. Murphy clapped his hands at second base, Dickey cheered from the dugout and then David Wright grounded an RBI single under the glove of a diving Ian Desmond at shortstop.Suddenly given a 2-1 lead, Dickey soon gave it back. Suzuki singled with one out in the seventh and Moore drove the next pitch to left for his ninth home run in 138 at-bats this season."I had a mediocre knuckleball and had to pitch with it," Dickey said. "At this point in the season, you want to give the fans something. We've got a shot at doing something, maybe."Harper shortened his big swing against Dickey, hitting the ball on the ground all four times. After fouling off a bunt attempt, the 19-year-old slugger chopped a double inside third base to set up Ryan Zimmerman's sacrifice fly in the first."I think I was fortunate to get a couple knocks tonight," Harper said. "You can't really get any advice on that guy. He's got a knuckleball. That's what he throws. You either hit it or you don't."Johnson smiled in the dugout after Harper's third hit. Before the game, he explained his decision to start the youngster."He's going to have to learn how to hit a knuckleball. It's too early to be dodging anybody," Johnson said. "Bryce has had a day off and he doesn't need one. He's stronger and younger than anybody out there. And that knuckleball might find his bat. It may take a wrong little knuckle and go right into his bat, and I know he's going to be swinging hard enough, it could cause some damage. So I'm willing to take that chance and have him in the lineup."Zimmerman became the first Nationals player with an RBI in eight consecutive games. He also singled in the eighth, extending his hitting streak to 15 games.In a tradition that began after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Mets wore caps commemorating the NYPD, FDNY and other first responders during batting practice and the national anthem.The Nationals wore their special blue game jerseys with stars and stripes, and both teams lined up along the baselines for a moment of silence before the first pitch.NOTES:Johnson plans to give LF Michael Morse (sore right hand) a couple of days off. ... LHP Sean Burnett (elbow) could be available Wednesday. ... Johnson said he met New York quarterbacks Eli Manning and Mark Sanchez at a charity function near the World Trade Center site Tuesday morning. "It's just a great cause," the manager said. "It was nice to be there." ... It was Moore's second pinch-hit home run. ... Nationals LHP John Lannan, from nearby Long Beach, will make his first start at Citi Field since April 2010 when he faces Mets rookie Matt Harvey in the series finale Wednesday night.

Why firing Ken Norton Jr. won't solve the Raiders' bigger, deeper problems

Why firing Ken Norton Jr. won't solve the Raiders' bigger, deeper problems

ALAMEDA – Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio was twice asked about making in-season changes at his Monday press conference.

He wouldn’t rule it out. Del Rio said he would do anything necessary to help the team “win now.”

He fired Ken Norton Jr. the next day, hoping the dismissal will do exactly that.

It might. More likely, it might not do enough.

New play caller John Pagano has a unique style in that he knows how to bring creative pressure and exploit weak links, but he won’t be using his system. He’ll still be working within Norton/Del Rio’s existing scheme and, more importantly, he’s still playing chess with existing, often inferior pieces.

The defense doesn’t have enough talent in the secondary, the interior defensive line or the inside linebacker corps. That’s not on Norton or Pagano.

Pagano can’t do a thing about an offense struggling mightily to catch passes, block consistently and let plays develop downfield.

At its base, Norton’s firing was a shot across the bow that should be felt through the entire roster.

“We played under our talent level,” defensive tackle Justin Ellis said, “Those things come with consequences.”

The Raiders have some major talent problems, with rush and coverage rarely working together as desired. That, and some uninspired schematics, have produced awful statistics.

The Raiders don’t have an interception, and are the first team to go 10 games without a pick. They’re on track to have the second-worst opposing completion percentage (72.3) and passer rating (113.3) in NFL history, per the Associated Press.

They’re also last in sacks for the second straight year, with just 14 this season despite having reigning defensive player of the year Khalil Mack.

They're thin because last year's second and third round picks, Jihad Ward and Shilique Calhoun aren't contributing. This year's draft class had to make an immediate impact, but Gareon Conley played two games, Obi Melifonwu spent eight games on IR and Eddie Vanderdoes as underwhelmed after a promising start.

Highly paid free agents haven't performed well enough, and many could be shown the door.

It’s possible roughly half of the starting lineup doesn’t return next season, with Sean Smith, Reggie Nelson, Bruce Irvin and NaVorro Bowman likely out the door as free agents or roster cuts.

In sum, this isn’t all Norton’s fault.

He was, however, the easiest cut. You can’t fire players en masse during the year, and Pagano was an easy replacement without disrupting the position coaches. Pagano has extensive experience calling plays. He was the then-San Diego Chargers’ defensive coordinator from 2012-16.

Norton wasn’t an innovative play caller. He was passed over for coordinator jobs while serving as Seattle’s linebackers coach, after Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn were hired as head coaches. Del Rio, who played with Norton in Dallas back from 1989-91, hired Norton shortly after being hired by the Raiders.

The Raiders' defense has never been good under Norton/Del Rio, and Norton was on a hot seat most of last season. It was surprising when Pagano was hired that Norton was retained and allowed to continue despite underwhelming performance.

Norton was immensely popular in the locker room, especially with members of the front seven. Mack and Irvin in particular were Norton guys. Norton and Irvin go way back to Irvin’s Seattle days, where the coach helped players get and stay on the right path.

That’s why this firing was deeply felt on Tuesday. The players were told in a Tuesday meeting, following a walk-through focused on corrections from Sunday’s New England loss.

"The axe came down on everybody," free safety Reggie Nelson said. "Everybody felt it in this building. Players, we love Norton, regardless. Unfortunately, the production wasn't a high standard this year and it's a production league. He's not playing. We are.”

The Raiders are 4-6, and can’t afford to lose many more games. They might need to be perfect down the stretch. That’s a tough ask for a team that’s been woefully inconsistent on both sides. This team was always expected to shoot for the middle and have a potentially great offense score points by the bushel.

The offense has been disappointing, performing far below its pay grade and talent level. There was no movement on that side of the ball. The Raiders hope, with fingers firmly crossed, this change provide the spark necessary to create turnovers and quarterback pressure than has been lacking in a disastrous season to this point.

Playing in OKC is no longer a big deal for Durant: 'Just a regular game'

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AP

Playing in OKC is no longer a big deal for Durant: 'Just a regular game'

Kevin Durant in his first season with the Warriors faced three benchmark games, two of which were against the Cavaliers and, specifically, LeBron James. The third was his return to Oklahoma City, where Durant created his NBA legend.

With all eyes on him, Durant aced all three exams. He was individually better than LeBron, twice, and when he arrived in Oklahoma City last February, with thousands of emotionally wounded fans targeting him for ridicule, he ravaged his former team.

Durant totaled a team-high 34 points (12-of-21 shooting, including 3-of-6 from deep, 7-of-7 from the line), nine rebounds and three assists in a 130-114 rout.

So there will be no such dramatic backdrop Wednesday when Durant takes the floor at Chesapeake Energy Arena, and it is anticipated his sprained left ankle will have healed sufficiently enough to allow him to play. Regardless of whether he plays, hHs return this time simply will not generate the tremendous local turbulence it did last season.

“It was a pretty fun moment to be a part of,” Durant told reporters at practice Tuesday. “You always respect the players on the court. And the people that have stuff to say about what’s going on on the court, they really don’t matter.

“So I just tried to go out there and think about that. Just realize that the players on the court are the most important and I know if I don’t focus and lock in, I won’t play to the best of my ability. I tried to block out all the nonsense and the BS and just go out there and play.”

There should be considerably less BS and nonsense this time around, for this is a more evolved Durant and this is not the OKC team he left behind, shattered in a dozen little pieces scattered around a new solo act that was Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook now has two fellow All-Stars at his side. OKC general manager Sam Presti navigated offseason deals to acquire both Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. There is a sense that the reloaded Thunder can make some playoff noise, and that matters in the wake of a steep drop last postseason.

Having spent most of a day interviewing locals in advance of the Warriors-Thunder game last season, it was apparent those folks were heartbroken by KD’s departure but perhaps more crestfallen about what little was left of their beloved team.

Durant, who remains connected to some of his personal causes in OKC, seems to recognize that. It’s enough to assuage any unease he may have felt for the fans that once adored him.

Asked Tuesday if there was any lingering sentiment about returning to the place where he spent eight seasons, Durant barely hesitated.

“No, it’s just a regular game for me now,” he said. “I learned how to tune out the crowd. I learned how to tune out the b------t and just play. Just keep it at basketball and I’ll be all right.”

It has been 16 months since Durant woke up on the morning of July 4 and announced his decision to sign with the Warriors. Durant has adapted to the Bay Area. He drives the local streets, rides BART every so often and has his favorite spots. He has his hands all over the high-tech industry that drives so much of the energy here.

Durant has moved deeply into the next phase of his career and has his eyes on his post-career options. OKC was home for most of his NBA life, but he now lives elsewhere.

Kevin Durant is in a good place, in most every way, and he likes it.

“I’ve been in the league for this long and been in every situation as a basketball player: losing games, winning games, overtime games, winning a championship, losing a championship, MVP, coming in second in the MVP,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been through everything in the league as an individual player. All those experiences have given me knowledge and given me insight on the game and what it’s about.

“It’s pretty simple when you think about it. You work, you work, you work. You gain experience, you gain knowledge and when it’s time to give it to somebody else you do it. When it’s time to apply it to your game, you just apply it when you play. “

When KD steps on the floor Wednesday and sees George and Anthony behind Westbrook, he can’t help but feel the difference. He has moved on and so have the Thunder.

There is reason, good reason, to believe the man when he says going back this time is just another game.