Patriots

Oakland stuns Texas, wins West on final day

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Oakland stuns Texas, wins West on final day

From Comcast SportsNet

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Josh Hamilton made one thing clear: The Texas Rangers will forget their stunning season-ending sweep at Oakland and regroup as an American League wild card.

So much for a third straight AL West crown. Texas needed one win against the upstart Athletics in three games, and didn't get it.

"You guys have a hard time believing we can forget about it and move ahead," Hamilton said. "But that's what we get paid to do. We'll go home, regroup and go figure out what we have to do."

The Athletics captured the AL West with another improbable rally in a season full of them, coming back from four runs down and a 13-game division deficit to beat the two-time defending league champion Rangers 12-5 on Wednesday.

Hamilton dropped a fly ball in center field for a two-run error that put the A's (94-68) ahead 7-5 in a six-run fourth inning. The A's only added to Texas' troubles the rest of the way.

"You can have all the experience as you want but when you run into a team that's hot, experience has nothing to do with it," Rangers manager Ron Washington said.

Texas (93-69) is headed to the new one-game, wild-card playoff at home against Baltimore on Friday night, with the winner playing the New York Yankees in the division series.

The A's get some time off before opening the division series in their first postseason appearance since 2006, playing Game 1 at Detroit on Saturday.

The Athletics needed a sweep and they delivered to win their first division crown in six years and 15th in all. They overcame a five-game deficit in the final nine days and took sole possession of the West's top spot for the first time this year.

"We knew this is a beast of a team we would have to beat, and to be able to beat them three games in a row and win the division on top of it, really it's a magical type thing," manager Bob Melvin said.

Grant Balfour retired Michael Young on a fly to center for the final out, then raised his arms in the air as the A's streamed out of the dugout and began bouncing up and down in the infield.

"2012 AL WEST CHAMPIONS" flashed on the scoreboard two days after the A's clinched a playoff spot Monday and held a wild dance party in the clubhouse.

"I'm glad there's not one tomorrow or Friday," owner Lew Wolff said. "I can relax and go home. I'm running out of underwear."

Players high-fived fans while taking a victory lap through the rundown Coliseum, where the outfield still has a light patch of grass from football in the venue shared by the NFL's Raiders.

Soon, the celebratory champagne and beer made its way to the field -- and players sprayed it into the stands. The A's returned to the field almost an hour later to greet fans still gathered along the top of the dugout.

Oakland pulled off another remarkable performance in a season defined by thrilling walkoffs, rallies and whipped-cream pie celebrations by a team that was never supposed to be here.

A club that trailed Texas by 13 games on June 30. A club with a 59.5 million payroll, lowest in baseball. General manager Billy Beane found ways to get a blue-collar franchise back to the playoffs for the first time since being swept by Detroit in the 2006 AL championship series.

Coco Crisp hit a tying two-run double in the fourth against Derek Holland (12-7) and Brandon Moss drove in three runs, including a two-run single in the four-run eighth.

Rookie winning pitcher Evan Scribner (2-0) left the mound in the sixth to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 30,067. He allowed two hits and struck out two in three scoreless innings after replacing struggling starter A.J. Griffin.

Ryan Cook, pitching for a fifth consecutive game, gave up a double to Nelson Cruz before retiring the next three Texas hitters with strikeouts of David Murphy and Mike Napoli. Catcher Derek Norris pumped his right arm as the Coliseum fans jumped to their feet.

Norris then homered leading off the bottom of the eighth for his second RBI. It was his seventh homer and Oakland's majors-leading 112th since the All-Star break.

"Ever since Day 1 I've been here, it's been, the A's can't compete with the payroll, can't compete with this team or that team," Norris said. "We're better off if we're down. It just gives us the extra energy."

The A's join the NL West champion San Francisco Giants as division champions. The Bay Area is already buzzing about a possible Bay Bridge World Series like the 1989 championship swept by Oakland, one interrupted by an earthquake.

Hamilton's miscue while charging forward might haunt the to-be free agent if his Rangers don't get past their wild-card game.

"I just missed it, man," Hamilton said.

Murphy's two-run single highlighted a five-run third inning that put Texas in prime position.

In the fourth, Moss drew a leadoff walk and Josh Reddick followed with an RBI double. Josh Donaldson singled and Seth Smith's base hit made it 5-3 and chased Ryan Dempster with none out and runners on first and second.

Washington turned to the lefty Holland, a starter who was tagged for four runs in the first inning of the second game of Sunday's doubleheader with the Angels before working into the seventh.

He retired the first two batters before Crisp's double down the right-field line.

The only other teams to come back from at least 13 games down to win the division were the 1914 Boston Braves, the 1951 New York Giants, the 78 Yankees and the 95 Seattle Mariners.

"Anything can happen in the long season," said Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish, who will start the wild-card game. "That's why we play 162 games. We're going to forget about this and get ready for the next one."

Now, Texas has all the pressure as they try to make another run deep into October.

These are the same Rangers who twice came within one strike of the franchise's first World Series championship before losing Games 6 and 7 to the wild-card St. Louis Cardinals. It was Texas' second near miss in as many years after losing the 2010 World Series to the Giants.

"We have to go win that playoff game," Napoli said. "We didn't come here to lose. They got it done and we didn't, plain and simple. It's going to be a tough road."

Speed to burn: Cooks, Brady team up to form most productive deep-ball combo

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Speed to burn: Cooks, Brady team up to form most productive deep-ball combo

The first came in the second quarter, when Brandin Cooks turned on afterburners to beat a Raiders double team and glide underneath a Tom Brady heave for 52 yards. The second came in the third quarter, on the third play from scrimmage of the second half, when Cooks faked an out-route, jetted past rookie corner Obi Melifonwu, and sped into the end zone to make the score 24-0. 

Both deep completions in New England's 33-8 win over Oakland just added to cumulative effect that Cooks has had on the Patriots offense since arriving before the season to become their top deep threat. 

Paired with Brady, Cooks has actually become the most productive deep threat in the NFL. 

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According to Pro Football Focus, Cooks leads all receivers with 431 yards on deep passes (throws that travel 20 yards or more down the field). In second place is Houston's DeAndre Hopkins with 313 yards. 

And Brady, who has long been more effective in the short-to-intermediate range than he has been deep, is now among the league leaders in creating explosive plays from the quarterback position. The Patriots are third in the NFL with 41 pass plays of 20 yards or more, and they are tied for second with nine plays of 40 yards or more. 

"You're always trying to work on that," Brady told WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show of his team's deep passing game. "It's not one particular year [you work on it]. I think that's been a concerted effort by our entire offense, trying to make more explosive plays in the pass game. 

"Sometimes your offense is built differently. We actually have some guys now that can really get down the field so that becomes more of a point of emphasis. The way Brandin runs, the way that Chris Hogan runs, the way that Phillip Dorsett runs, they're very fast. You need to be able to take advantage of their skill set . . . 

"When we had David Patten we were throwing it deep. I mean, but David Patten didn't run a lot of short routes. I would say Brandin Cooks, in general, he doesn't run a lot of short routes. Everyone has a different role. If we can get by you, I think that's a good place to throw the ball. if we can't, we gotta figure out ways to throw it underneath and different weeks are going to call for different things based on the strengths of the defenses we're playing, too."

A week before beating the Raiders, against the Broncos and their talented corners, the Patriots had less luck pushing the ball down the field -- though they tried to hit Cooks deep multiple times. In Mexico City, Cooks matched up with a weaker secondary, and he wasn't at all slowed by the altitude, catching six passes in all for 149 yards and a score. 

Per PFF, Cooks has seen almost one third of his targets (30 percent) come on deep passes, which is the ninth-highest rate in the league. He's caught all 11 of his catchable deep passes, three of them accounting for scores.

"Obviously when you're throwing the ball 50-60 yards down the field," Brady said, "your chances of completion go down, but if you hit it, it ends up being a very explosive plays and you can change a lot of field position and get a defense really on their heels if they have to defend every blade of grass on the field." 

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Celtics thought it would be good . . . but this good?

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Celtics thought it would be good . . . but this good?

After arriving in Boston and spending some time with his new teammates, Kyrie Irving felt good about this group doing big things this season. 

But when asked about the experience thus far being what he thought it would be, Irving responded, “It’s probably exceeded that.”

He’s not alone. 

Few would have envisioned the Celtics (15-2) would have the best record in the NBA at this point, let alone be riding a 15-game winning streak which ranks as the fifth-best winning streak in franchise history. 

Irving and his Celtics teammates will try and keep it going tonight when they take on the Dallas Mavericks.

Irving’s ability to mesh with his teammates and still find success was among the many questions out there when the Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off the blockbuster trade this offseason. 

Blending in has not been an issue for Irving, bolstered by the reality that his game stands out. 

We saw that in Boston’s 110-99 win over the Atlanta Hawks, which was a game in which Irving had 30 points on an insanely efficient 10-for-12 shooting night. 

There were many factors that went into Irving’s strong night against the Hawks, but he said it really came down to one thing above all else.

“I just made some damn shots for once,” Irving quipped. “That right there kind of made it seem better than I actually been shooting over the start of the season.  It would also contribute to being able to be in the right spots and guys being selfless in their approach driving to the basket or getting into the paint. It’s tell-tale sign of all of us getting more comfortable.”

Here are five below-the-radar story lines to keep an eye on as the Boston Celtics face the Dallas Mavericks, with Boston gunning for its 16th straight win. 

BROWN’S POSITIVE PLAY

Jaylen Brown has been on a bit of an offensive tear of late, the last being a career-high 27-point performance in Boston’s win over Atlanta. But even more telling is how well things seem to flow with him on the floor. Brown’s plus/minus this season is +146 which is tops among all players in the Eastern Conference. His closest competition in the East? That would teammate Al Horford whose plus/minus this season is +143. In addition, Horford has had a positive plus/minus in every game this season. 

YOGI FERRELL

You can count Yogi Ferrell among the ones that got away from Brad Stevens when he was coaching at Butler. Ferrell, who played at Indiana, was a player on Stevens’ radar when he was coaching at Butler. “I recruited Yogi, unsuccessfully,” Stevens told reporters in Dallas. While Ferrell came on strong as an undrafted free agent with the Mavericks last season, Stevens said there’s nothing about Ferrell’s game now that he didn’t see when he tried to woo him to Butler. “He would have been awfully good at Butler,” Stevens said.

HOMECOMING

While Marcus Smart grew up in Flower Mound, Texas (less than an hour from Dallas), tonight’s game is a homecoming of sorts for another Celtics player – Semi Ojeleye. The 6-foot-7 forward played at SMU which is located in Dallas. A second-round pick by Boston in last June’s NBA draft, Ojeleye has been among the many surprise performers for the Celtics this season. “We knew he could be a versatile defender,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Probably has exceeded our expectations in that regard with his ability to guard one (point guard) through five (center) at certain times. And he’s been pretty consistent shooting the ball. Right now, embracing that kind of 3-and-D role is what he has to do and he’s done it well.”

DEEP DRAFT CLASS

The Boston Celtics struck gold by drafting Jayson Tatum with the third overall pick. But as you look at the teams that had lottery picks in last June’s NBA draft, few come away feeling disappointed or discouraged by the player selected. The Dallas Mavericks are among the teams pleased with their first-round pick, Dennis Smith Jr. who was selected with the ninth overall pick. He has emerged as one of the top rookies this year, averaging 14.5 points, 4.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game. And yes, he was a player that was on the Celtics’ radar leading up to last June’s draft. “We had Dennis in and he was really impressive,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He’s a guy that’s going to have a great career and he’s got good veteran players around him to help kick it off.”

DIRK NOWITZKI

The numbers aren’t anywhere close to what we’ve seen for the bulk of Dirk Nowitzki’s illustrious career that’s now in Year 20. But there is a demeanor about him that seems to be at peace with where he’s at basketball-wise, even if the wins aren’t nearly as plentiful as he’s accustomed to. “I appreciate his game a ton,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Just watching him talk on the court, cheer on the bench, sit at the scorer’s table with a smile on his face. You can’t play this long and be this good this long if you don’t’ love it. Everybody says they love it, but he’s got a different level of passion. You can feel it, you can see it. You root for guys like him to have success.”

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