Patriots

Longoria's three bombs send O's to play-in game

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Longoria's three bombs send O's to play-in game

From Comcast SportsNet

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Evan Longoria's flair for the dramatic on the final night of the season ended Baltimore's bid to force a one-game tiebreaker for the AL East title.

Instead, the Orioles were left to begin their first playoff appearance in 15 years on the road against two-time defending league champion Texas.

Longoria homered three times and the Tampa Bay Rays shut down the Orioles 4-1 Wednesday night at Tropicana Field, where Longoria also ended last season with a bang.

Baltimore began the day one game behind the New York Yankees in the division. The Orioles needed a win, plus a loss by the Yankees to Boston, to pull even.

New York cruised to a 14-2 rout of the Red Sox and finished two games ahead of the Orioles, earning its 13th division crown in 17 years. The Yankees had a 10-game lead on July 18 but Baltimore caught up Sept. 4 and the teams were tied 10 times in September.

"We knew it was a long shot, but we ran into some really good pitching," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I've got to tip my hat to them, and what is really kind of amazing is that you look over there with what they've been able to do this year, win 90 games, and that tells you what a fine line there is in all those extra-inning games and one-run losses, and we could be in the same position they are."

The loss sent the Orioles to Texas, where they'll play the Rangers on Friday night, with the winner advancing to the best-of-five division series against the New York Yankees.

"We're going to take it one game at a time. Obviously if you lose, you're done," said Orioles slugger Chris Davis, who had homered in six straight games. "We're going to try to do everything we can to beat Texas and get back home."

Longoria finished the season in dramatic fashion for the second straight year, hitting solo shots off Chris Tillman in the first and fourth innings and adding another solo drive off Jake Arrieta in the sixth.

With a chance to tie the major league record of four homers in a game, the three-time All-Star who missed 85 games this year with a strained left hamstring grounded out in the eighth.

"It was cool," Longoria said. "That's about as fun a night as you can have in a ballgame."

Longoria's second career three-homer game came a year after he hit two of them of the final night of last season, including a 12th-inning, game-ending shot that clinched a postseason berth. The area beyond a short wall in the left-field corner where the biggest homer in franchise history landed is now called 162 Landing.

"I just think it highlights how well we play in games 162," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It was a very dramatic game, the way it all unfolded. I just like the idea that we played the last game of the season with that kind of effort and intensity."

Ryan Roberts also homered for the Rays in the fourth against Tillman (9-3).

Jeremy Hellickson (10-11) allowed one hit -- Adam Jones' fourth-inning single -- in 5 1-3 innings. Jake McGee, Wade Davis, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney teamed up to hold the Orioles to two hits -- J.J. Hardy's double and Matt Wieters' single, both in the ninth inning -- the rest of the way.

Jones ruined Tampa Bay's shot at a 16th shutout with a sacrifice fly off Peralta. After Wieters singled, Rodney was summoned to get the final out for his 48th save in 50 opportunities.

Davis, who tied an Orioles record when he homered for the sixth straight game in a 1-0 win over Tampa Bay on Tuesday night, went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.

Baltimore had five hits in the final two games of the regular season, but Jones is confident the offense will bounce back for the club's first postseason game since 1997.

"We ain't got no choice. You don't hit, you go home," Jones said. "It's no ifs, buts or maybes. Both teams know that."

Longoria has homered in five of his last seven plate appearances in the final game of the season. In four career Game 162s, he is 8 for 15 with six homers and nine RBIs.

"Sometimes you've got to give credit where credit is due. He put some good swings on some pitches, but I should have been better," Tillman said. "I knew what I needed to do. I just didn't get it done."

Longoria is 6 for 12 with three homers against Tillman, who lasted five innings and allowed three runs on four hits in his first loss since Kansas City beat him on Aug. 11. The right-hander who had gone 3-0 with a 1.20 ERA over his previous five starts also allowed three homers in that game, matching his career high.

The Rays (90-72) won 12 of 14 down the stretch, remaining in contention for the second AL wild card until the 160th game and finished with at least 90 wins for the third straight season.

Hellickson allowed three baserunners, two of them in the fourth inning when Jones singled to right-center after Davis struck out on a wild pitch that allowed him to reach first. The 2011 AL Rookie of the Year walked Manny Machado leading off the sixth and was replaced by McGee after getting the next batter, Nate McLouth, to pop out.

"The big tip of the cap goes to Joe Maddon and the Rays. They played 162," Jones said. "Their players went out every game to the last one and gave it all they've got."

Energized Patriots defense forces 'critical swings' with turnovers

Energized Patriots defense forces 'critical swings' with turnovers

“We’re a blue-collar team…”

Devin McCourty didn’t hesitate when asked about the Patriots’ identity. Moments prior, McCourty and his teammates had just stomped the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City, 33-8, to run their win streak to a half-dozen games. The Pats are tied for the best record in the AFC with the Steelers

“We played at a high level,” said McCourty. “They made some plays, but I thought we executed our game plan and did exactly what we wanted to do today.”

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After surrendering a 100-points per game through the first month (ok, it was only 32), the Pats defense has flexed their muscle during this stretch, allowing 12.5 points per game, which would be the best in the NFL were this a season-long thing. We’re not looking at the same unit even though the personnel is largely the same. If anything, from a talent-level, this defense has less skill than it did when the season started. Their best player, Dont'a Hightower, is out for the year, lost during the first win of this 6-game streak. They’ve also survived three-game absences from $31-million cornerback Stephon Gilmore and their most consistent interior defender, tackle Malcom Brown. Yet the defense keeps showing up, keeps improving and its confidence is growing by leaps and bounds.

“We’re just playing together…we’re kind of figuring that out,” said McCourty. “We’re understanding how we need to prepare, how we need to practice, whether it’s a hard, full-padded practice, whether it’s a walkthrough, we know what we need to do on each of those days and when we do that, we give ourselves a chance. You’re seeing that on Sundays. Everyone running around, everyone knows their job and it’s all about execution.”

“I thought our players gave a great effort tonight,” said Bill Belichick. “We came out and performed well early, throughout the game and played really good situational football.”

The Pats were opportunistic, forcing three turnovers, including one in a huge spot, when Marquis Flowers stripped the ball from wideout Seth Roberts as the Raiders were knocking on the door. It was 14-0 at the time, and Oakland had life. Second-year cornerback Jon Jones battled Roberts, Flowers popped the ball free and safety Pat Chung pounced on it. Instead of milking the clock and heading into halftime up two scores, the Pats turned that fumble into points, driving to midfield before Steven Gostkowski kicked a career-long 62 yarder. That further energized a Pats team that was already surging.

“It’s something we talk about every week,” said McCourty. “We’re playing solid defense, executing the game plan, but changing the game with turnovers - you know, even Duron’s interception was a third down so it was kind of like a punt. The energy that brings - when the offense takes the field after we get a turnover - that’s huge. And then with them driving again in the red area before the half is what we talked about, getting that stop.”

“We had some real critical swings with those turnovers,” admired Tom Brady, a chief beneficiary of those change in possessions.

Earlier this week, I asked McCourty if he got a sense that the team was coming together at the tail end of their stay in Colorado Springs. He smiled and joked initially, but you could sense the veteran safety can see and feel what the rest of the league is now a witness to.

“I hope so. I mean, it’d probably be terrible if I say yeah and then we go on a five-game losing streak. I can see the headline: ‘McCourty was wrong.’ So, no, I think we understand how the season starts to pick up. You know, each game means more. We understand that seven wins (now 8) doesn’t mean anything. We have to continue to get better. So, I think why we end up usually improving is because it’s the understanding of there’s no tomorrow.”

The defense ordered that Code Red after losing to Carolina in Week 4, and since then, they have worked harder, worked longer and cleaned up so many of the issues that ailed them that opening month. It’s a credit to the players, “they won’ the game tonight,” said Belichick, and the coaching staff as well. if you’ve followed this team over the years, you know even now, they’re not satisfied. There are “things to work on” added Belichick and they’ll start that work on the flight home from Mexico City to Foxboro. 

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