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The latest MLB no-hitter was pitched by...

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The latest MLB no-hitter was pitched by...

From Comcast SportsNetANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- The Los Angeles Angels' commitment to Jered Weaver is paying off.Signed to a five-year, 85 million contract extension last August, the 29-year-old left-hander pitched his first no-hitter Wednesday night, dominating lowly Minnesota in a 9-0 cakewalk. All the Twins could muster against the two-time All-Star was one walk -- and one other baserunner when catcher Chris Iannetta allowed a passed ball on a swinging third strike."I've been close once in Seattle and had it broken up in the eighth," said Weaver, who struck out nine and retired 22 of his last 23 batters after Iannetta's miscue. "We were having this conversation about five days ago, and C.J. (Wilson) came up to me and said: Why don't you just go out there and throw a no-hitter?' And I said: There's no way. There's no chance.' So it's funny that it happened."Kendrys Morales and Howie Kendrick homered to back Weaver -- not that he needed much support."He dominated us, there's no question about it," said Denard Span, who is 2 for 19 lifetime against Weaver. "He was doing everything. He kept us off-balance, changed speeds and finished strong. He's definitely a different pitcher at home when the ball is coming out of the rocks," referring to the fake rock pile beyond the center-field fence at Angel Stadium.It was the second no-hitter in the majors in less than two weeks, following Phil Humber's perfect game for the Chicago White Sox at Seattle on April 21."It's tough not to think about it when you see some goose eggs up there, but in a professional ballgame, you never know what's going to happen," said Weaver, a native of Northridge, Calif., who played at Long Beach State and pitched his gem in front of family and friends. "A bloop hit or anything else could happen. A lot of things have got to go your way, and that happened tonight. It still hasn't kicked in. It's pretty awesome."Weaver began the ninth inning by quickly retiring Jamey Carroll on a routine fly and striking out Span looking. He then got Alexi Casilla to lift a long fly that right fielder Torii Hunter easily caught at the warning track. The Angels' ace watched his Gold Glove outfielder make the play, and put his hands on his head as the Angels rushed out to mob him."It's not an easy feat," said manager Mike Scioscia, who caught two no-hitters with the Los Angeles Dodgers. "But I think any pitcher that has the stuff that Weave does and pitches at such a high level, you always have a chance. Early in the game, he established the fact that he could hit spots with his fastball and change speeds. He was just relentless at repeating pitches and was ahead in most counts. His stuff didn't look any different tonight than it does any other day."Weaver finished second in the AL Cy Young voting last year after going 18-8 with a 2.41 ERA. He and winner Justin Verlander were the only pitchers listed on every ballot."I was locked in for the most part," said Weaver, who got a scare in the eighth inning when Trevor Plouffe lined a shot that hooked a few feet foul of the left-field pole. "I wasn't throwing 97 or 98 up there. It was pretty much the same poo-poo I've been throwing up there all year. They've got some guys in that lineup that can hurt you, but balls were hit right at people. It's just so surreal, man. It's awesome. And to have my family here and my wife, and knowing that my brother was watching, this is an awesome moment."Weaver threw 121 pitches, and the cheers from the crowd of 27,288 kept growing louder. After his no-hitter was complete, he hugged his wife, Kristin, and his parents, Dave and Gail, who were overcome with emotion."He got pretty emotional, but I think it was more a case of him not believing he did it than anything else," Dave Weaver said. "I'm so happy for him. It's just fantastic. It couldn't happen to a nicer kid or a kid who's worked as hard as he has to get where he's at."This was the second Angels no-hitter in less than a year -- Ervin Santana pitched one July 27 at Cleveland -- and the 10th for the Angels franchise, including four by Nolan Ryan."Weave's been close several times. And with the stuff that he has, I thought if anybody could do it, he was definitely going to be the one," Hunter said. "Santana got it done for us last year, and now Jered got it done. This is awesome, man."The closest the Twins came to a hit was with one out in the third, when Carroll laid down a bunt that third baseman Mark Trumbo charged before throwing him out."I felt like I was in good position," Trumbo said. "I'm never really surprised when somebody tries to lay one down on me, so I prepared myself. Fortunately, I was out there about 3 o'clock doing some stuff like that. So I just went back to that and treated it like what we worked on earlier and it worked out."Trumbo had never played third base in the majors until this season, but had to shift from first base after the acquisition of free agent slugger Albert Pujols -- who still hasn't hit a home run this season after signing a 10-year, 240 million contract."You're aware of what's going on, no doubt," Trumbo said. "I feel fortunate to have experienced Ervin's no-hitter last year at first base, so that helped to calm me a little bit. But it's nerve-racking. I'd be lying if I said say otherwise. But you have to have the mindset that you do want it hit to you. If you ever get the mindset: Hit it to somebody else,' you're dead in the water."The Twins were held hitless for the first time since 1998, when David Wells of the New York Yankees pitched a perfect game against them. Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue and Nolan Ryan also threw no-hitters against Minnesota.The Angels built a 6-0 lead against Australian right-hander Liam Hendriks (0-2), who retired only six of the 16 batters he faced."All the little things a baseball team is supposed to do, we didn't do. We looked like a bunch of Little Leaguers out there," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.The Angels' three-game sweep of the Twins included a complete-game three-hit shutout on Tuesday night by Jerome Williams, who retired 18 of his last 19 batters. It was the first time the Angels had back-to-back complete game wins since 1993 when Chuck Finley and Mark Langston did it.NOTES:The Twins haven't had a hit in the last 15 innings. ... Gardenhire will miss the Twins' three-game series at Seattle to attend his daughter Tara's graduation from Southwest Minnesota State. Bench coach Scott Ullger will run the club until Gardenhire returns Monday for the start of a three-game series with the Angels at Target Field. ... Kendrick was 4 for 4 with his fourth homer of the season, a three-run shot in the fourth against Alex Burnett.

Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

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Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while enjoying the new Brown Sugar Cinnamon coffee flavor at Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s not Cookie Dough, but what is after all?

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer James O’Brien has the details on Radko Gudas getting ejected for an ugly, reckless and dangerous slash to Mathieu Perreault’s head last night. Gudas should be facing a long suspension for a play that has no place in the NHL. It’s time for Flyers fans to stop making excuses for a player who’s no better than a cheap-shot artist and hatchet man. He has to face the music for consistently trying to hurt his fellow players.  

*Frank Seravalli has some of the details for a historic GM meeting in Montreal where NHL hockey was born in the first place.

*You always need to link to a service dog being part of the pregame face-off ceremonies. That’s like a rule here at the morning skate?

*Cam Atkinson and the Columbus Blue Jackets have agreed to a seven-year contract extension, according to reports from the Athletic.

*It’s been quite an eventful year for Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet and some of it has been to the extreme both good and bad just a month into his first year as bench boss.

*For something completely different: Chris Mannix is all-in on the Celtics being the front-runners in the Eastern Conference after their big win over the Golden State Warriors.


 

Belichick getting the most out of his veteran safeties

Belichick getting the most out of his veteran safeties

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. - Bill Belichick’s never been shy about getting the players who play the best on the field as much as possible. 

So, when he looked at a crowded secondary this summer, the Patriots’ coach didn’t view every spot as a defined position. Instead, he analyzed the skill set of his players and decided that the Pats needed their top three safeties - Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Pat Chung - on the field as much as possible. Just past the midway point of the season, Belichick and his defensive coaching staff have managed to do that quite a bit.

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McCourty missed one defensive snap all season, the last play of the opener (590). Harmon has often times found himself as that single-high safety (479) while - as illustrated earlier - Chung has played 83 percent of the snaps, although about a third of those designated as a cornerback (494 total/333 as safety). There are only two other teams in the NFL that play three safeties as often as the Patriots: the Chiefs (Ron Parker, Daniel Sorensen and Eric Murray) and Broncos (Justin Simmons, Darian Stewart and Will Parks). 

When I asked Belichick about all that the responsibilities he puts on that safety trio, the coach wouldn’t single out just those three. He also highlighted veterans Nate Ebner and Jordan Richards.

“That’s good group really with Pat, Devin, Duron, Jordan, Nate gives us a lot in the kicking game. That’s five guys that all help us in a lot of different ways…they all are pretty versatile,” said Belichick. 

Versatility is a critical element to the Patriots being able to put those players on the field and keep them there, no matter what the opposition throws New England’s way.

“You see Jordan play strong safety, you see Jordan come in in multiple defensive back sets. You see Chung play a corner type of role sometimes. I play a corner type of role. I  think it allows us to say ‘if they come out in this personnel, we’ll be ok’” said Devin McCourty. “We’ll just match up these guys in whatever different role in the defense and it’ll work.”

Of course, sometimes that’s easier said than done when you consider what personnel the opposing team can employ. In the opener against Kansas City, the Pats tried and failed to match up with an explosive grouping that including Tyreek Hill and DeAnthony Thomas, wide receivers who can line up in the backfield and take a handoff as well. 

The opponent Sunday, Oakland, doesn’t have those kinds of pieces, but the Raiders still have players in place that can keep defensive coordinators up at night. The suspicion here though is that Matt Patricia sleeps better than most, in part because of his secondary.

“A team like Oakland will come in what we call ‘oh 1’ personnel where they have four receivers and [tight end Jared] Cook on the field, which is kind of like a fifth receiver,” noted McCourty. “We can easily stay in different groups and say ‘all right, this is how we want to match that.’ Where if we didn’t have that versatility we’d have to start to run corners on and then they keep [Marshawn] Lynch on the field in place of Cook and run the ball. There’s so many different things that the offense can do to mismatch personnel. Having the versatility and players who understand different roles allows players to stay calm and match up.”

There’s also an unseen element to what this safety group brings to the field every week. That’s their experience, not just in the NFL, but together. There’s comfort in knowing the guy next to you has seen the same things you have and can go through their mental Rolodex to recall and adjust to personnel groupings and formation changes that maybe weren’t prepared for during the week (yes, even with Belichick as the coach that happens).

“I’ve been playing with Pat and Dev - all of us being together - this has been four years and you don’t catch that too often, especially three safeties,” said Harmon. “I just think us being able to be in a whole bunch of different positions, being able to learn from each other and playing together has allowed us to even been more versatile with each other and be able to run more things, have a better feel for the defense and put ourselves in maybe different positions that you wouldn’t put anyone else in.”

“We don’t have many groups like us that have been together for the last four or five years,” said McCourty. “We don’t always break things down as the strong safety, free safety, the money back, like a lot of things we did, it’s just a position, a spot on the field. I think we all understand that all three of us or all four of us on the field at any time can play at any of those positions. I think that allows us to say, ‘Remember last time we did this, in this game, you were here and you were there’ but this time because this is what they like you go here and I’ll go there. This that allows us to understand what we do defensively but also match it to whatever the offense does. Obviously, that’s what the coaches want to do. When the players can do that, it always helps.”

Belichick knows this and it’s pretty clear this trait - the ability to adjust on the fly - is something he appreciates a great deal. That’s why over the past five games, you haven’t noticed nearly as much movement and - let’s face it - confusion as there was in that first month. The players have shared history to fall back on and it’s smoothed out the communication and led to a much higher level of play.

“We can definitely go back to things that maybe we haven’t done in a while, talk about how we used this against Tampa or we used this against Buffalo or somebody and there’s good recall and good application of it,” Belichick said. “Yeah, there’s times where that definitely helps. Same thing on the offense, with guys like Tom [Brady], James White, Rob [Gronkowski], Danny [Amendola]  - guys that have done things together for multiple years. You got a situation that’s similar to a situation you had awhile back, you can go back and refer to that. You’re not going to be able to do that with Deatrich Wise or [Jacob] Hollister. They just haven’t had that kind of experience. But with experienced players, sure, that comes up from time to time. That’s a good reference.”

So, don’t be surprised Sunday in Mexico City if you see Harmon shaded over the top of Amari Cooper, or McCourty in the box providing an extra run fit, or Chung playing slot corner or linebacker. It’s old hat for a group that is asked to do more and routinely responds well to those challenges.