Patriots

Justin Verlander silences A's in decisive Game 5

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Justin Verlander silences A's in decisive Game 5

From Comcast SportsNet
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Already an ace and MVP, Justin Verlander proved to be the Detroit Tigers' ultimate closer, too.Verlander struck out 11 in a four-hitter, pitching Detroit into a second straight AL championship series a day after Jose Valverde failed to hold a ninth-inning lead with a 6-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics in the decisive Game 5 of their division series Thursday night.Verlander tossed his first career postseason shutout and complete game with a 122-pitch masterpiece."He had a look in his eye today," manager Jim Leyland said. "A complete-game look in his eye."The Tigers will face either the New York Yankees or Baltimore Orioles, tied at two games apiece heading into Game 5 on Friday night in New York. Game 1 of the ALCS is scheduled for Saturday.Verlander, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and MVP, was so sharp nobody in the bullpen ever got up to throw. He struck out 22 in his wins on both ends of this nail-biting series.After squandering two chances to clinch the series, including blowing a two-run ninth-inning lead in Game 4, Leyland left it all up to Verlander just as he said he would."I think it's one of those things I expected to go nine innings," Verlander said. "In this situation, in a Game 5, I wanted to go all the way."Austin Jackson hit an RBI double in the third and a run-scoring single as the Tigers added on in a four-run seventh. Prince Fielder hit an RBI single.The Tigers are on to another ALCS despite getting just one RBI all series from Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera -- on a bases-loaded hit by pitch, no less. Booed by the yellow towel-waving sellout crowd of 36,393 each time he stepped into the batter's box. Cabrera finished 5 for 20, and it was his hard-hit ball dropped by Coco Crisp in a 5-4 Game 2 victory Sunday that allowed two runs to score.Leyland all but called Verlander's latest gem."Justin Verlander's a pretty tough chore for anybody," Leyland said.The Detroit skipper gave the ball to his 17-game winner and said beforehand the Tigers would likely win or lose with the hard-throwing right-hander on the mound.And, against the A's, Verlander usually wins."I don't have anybody better than him," Leyland said. "And if they get to him that much we'll probably be in trouble. I'm not taking him out, I can assure you of that, because I don't have anybody better to bring in."Verlander became the fifth pitcher to start a winner-take-all playoff game the year after winning the Cy Young -- and the first to win. In all four previous instances, that pitcher's team lost the game: Steve Carlton (1981 Phillies), David Cone (1995 Yankees), Barry Zito (2003 Athletics), and Roy Halladay (2011 Phillies)."When you're going into pressure situations like this, there's nobody better to have on the mound than Justin," Jackson said.Verlander followed up an 11-strikeout outing in Detroit's 3-1 Game 1 win Saturday at Comerica Park with another overpowering performance in his 10th postseason start. He improved to 3-0 with a 2.11 ERA in three postseason starts against the A's and also upped his career mark to 5-4 with 2.15 ERA in 10 starts at the Coliseum.Verlander had allowed one earned run with a 0.69 ERA in beating the A's twice during the regular season."He's always tough. You go out there and you battle him the best that you can," Crisp said. "Today he had some of his best stuff of the year."Detroit finally got to party in a visiting clubhouse that for the sixth straight game was prepped for a possible clinch celebration.The Texas Rangers were in town last week needing one victory to win the AL West but dropped all three to lose the division to the surprising A's in Game No. 162.On Wednesday night, plastic covering the floor and lockers was torn down in all of about 40 seconds after Valverde allowed three runs in the bottom of the ninth as Oakland won with another walkoff in a season full of them.After Seth Smith grounded out to end the game, the A's stayed on the field to greet the fans who were still on their feet chanting "Let's Go Oakland!" Verlander waved toward the Oakland players in a classy acknowledgment.Detroit's offense did more than enough to give Verlander a cushion on another relatively quiet night by Cabrera and Fielder, the team's 214 million cleanup hitter.Cabrera went five straight games without an RBI on four different occasions during the regular season, but didn't extend that to the playoffs when Ryan Cook plunked him with the bases loaded in the seventh.Oakland's miscues on the mound only helped matters.Omar Infante singled to start the third inning against A's starter Jarrod Parker, then moved to second on a wild pitch. Then, with Cabrera batting after Jackson's double and a sacrifice by Quintin Berry that moved him up a base, Parker threw another wild pitch that allowed Jackson to score.The upstart A's were attempting to become the ninth team to rally from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-five series, but couldn't match the cross-bay Giants after San Francisco won at Cincinnati earlier in the day to reach the NLCS.So much for all that chatter about another Bay Bridge World Series in Northern California like the earthquake-interrupted Series in 1989 swept by the A's.Oakland struck out 50 times in a series of swings and misses riding high only a week ago after stunning the two-time reigning AL champion Rangers on the regular season's final day to win the AL West. The Ks were the most in A's franchise history for a five-game series.Josh Reddick, who hit a team-leading 32 homers, struck out 10 times for the most by an A's player in a postseason series.The A's payroll of 59.5 million is lowest in the majors. But the last game was the only lopsided one.Detroit eliminated Oakland again after the Tigers pulled off a four-game sweep in the 2006 AL championship series -- the last postseason appearance by the A's."We didn't think it was going to end today, not for a second," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "We knew we were going up against a good pitcher. That didn't mean we didn't think we were going to win. We've gone up against good pitchers this year. And it's a bit of a shock when it finally does end. It was a heck of a story. It was a heck of a run for us."The Tigers now look to get through another round after falling in six games to the Rangers in last year's ALCS.Leyland won this one the hard way.In 1997 with this same playoff format -- featuring the higher seed opening on the road for the first two games -- Leyland's Florida Marlins won the first two games at home then completed a three-game sweep of the NL division series against the favored San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park on the way to a World Series title. That is Leyland's lone championship in 21 years as a manager.The Tigers' three stolen bases matched the team record in postseason game, done so for the first time since Oct. 5, 1984, against Kansas City.NOTES:The only person with more Ks than Reddick in a division was Seattle's Bret Boone with 11 in 2001. ... The A's have lost eight of their last nine postseason series. ... Cabrera has reached base safely in all 16 of his postseason games with the Tigers. ... Verlander is Detroit's all-time postseason leader in strikeouts (70) and wins (5). ... MC Hammer, former A's bat boy and club executive, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Jags safety says Gronk hit was unavoidable

Jags safety says Gronk hit was unavoidable

FOXBORO -- During the tail end of the season, Rob Gronkowski was probably the league’s most unstoppable skill player. If any team was going to beat the Patriots, it needed to stop Gronk.

The Jaguars stopped Gronk on Sunday. They still didn’t win.

PATRIOTS 24, JAGUARS 20

The Patriots tight end was driven from the game by a helmet-to-helmet hit from Jaguars safety Barry Church. Gronk, running down the seam on a first-and-10 play with 1:28 left in the half, was hammered by Church, who really didn’t have a lot of options on the play. The throw was too up-for-grabs for Church to ignore the chance of picking it off. And by the time a pick was out of the question, the collision was inevitable.

“I just tried to dislodge the ball,” Church explained. “He’s a big dude and I was just trying to dislodge the ball but I gueess they felt it was too high of a hit. I hope he’s healthy. I know he didn’t come back so I hope he’s alright. It was a tough call but you have to go with what they call. It’s the toughest play in football.  If you go low for the knees you are considered a dirty player and if you go high, they throw the flag at you. It’s a bang-bang play and I was just trying to play football. I tried to lead with my shoulder.”

Gronk was slow to rise and when he did, he was unsteady. Teammate Chris Hogan kept Gronk steady until he got some assistance to the sideline. From there, we was squired to the locker room and into the concussion protocol. He didn’t return.

The hit, the flag and the fact the Patriots would soon score a touchdown to chew into the Jaguars lead caused the inevitable discussion of what Chruch was supposed to do on that play.

Church had the same debate himself.

“It’s tough, that guy s humongous,” said Church. “If you wait for him to catch it and bring it down, he might run you over. You have to go with it and try and hit him in the right target zone but, going 100 MPH, that is nearly impossible.”

Gronk wasn’t spotted in the locker room after the game. He’ll have checkpoints to pass before he’s cleared to play in Super Bowl 52. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

First look at Tom Brady's injured thumb

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First look at Tom Brady's injured thumb

Apparently there was a miscommunication of sorts during Patriots practice this week.

Reports of gushing blood and Brady screaming in pain left many wondering what type of shape Tom Brady was in.

It turned out that he was just fine and ready to go, leading the Patriots to yet another comeback postseason victory.

But a first look at Brady's thumb was finally captured by an Associated Press photographer after tonight's game.

The collision occurred during a handoff and Brady needed 12 stiches, it also injured the collateral ligament in his thumb.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE