Cubs

...although Luck's rookie season is done

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...although Luck's rookie season is done

From Comcast SportsNetBALTIMORE (AP) -- Andrew Luck was harried and hurried in his first career playoff appearance as the Indianapolis Colts' unlikely run came to a disappointing end.Chuck Pagano's emotional return to Baltimore also ended with a thud as the Colts fell 24-9 to the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC wild-card game Sunday."The Ravens made plays when they needed to and we didn't," Luck said. "Field goals in the red zone killed us. Some bad balls by me killed us. ... I wish we could have done better."After improving from 2-14 to 11-5 with No. 1 overall draft pick Luck running their high-octane offense, the Colts couldn't even score a touchdown against the Ravens, who advanced to the conference semifinals against Denver next weekend.But Pagano chose to emphasize the improvements the Colts made in a season filled with adversity, rather than dwell on the way it ended."The foundation is set, and we said we were going to build one on rock and not on sand," Pagano said. "You weather storms like this and you learn from times like this. This disappointment and the feelings they all have right now, that's what's going to propel us to 2013 and motivate us to come back and work even harder."One key moving forward will be Luck, who reached the playoffs as a rookie.Luck was 28 for 54 for 288 yards and an interception, but was often under pressure and forced to scramble by a Ravens defense energized by the return of linebacker Ray Lewis from a torn triceps."My only focus was to come in and get my team a win. Nothing else was planned," the 37-year-old Lewis said. "It's one of those things, when you recap it all and try to say what is one of your greatest moments. I knew how it started, but I never knew how it would end here in Baltimore. To go the way it did today, I wouldn't change nothing."Lewis, who announced earlier this week he would retire after Baltimore's playoff run, was playing the final home game of his 17-year career."We still had opportunities," said Luck, who was sacked three times. "We still put ourselves in positions to score and didn't take advantage of them, and a lot of credit goes to the Baltimore defense. What a great, great unit. I wish we could have capitalized on a couple of those drives, but we didn't."Pagano, the former Ravens defensive coordinator who missed 12 Colts games this season while undergoing treatment for leukemia, coached his first playoff game. But offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who had a 9-3 record coaching in Pagano's absence, missed the game after being hospitalized for an undisclosed illness, leaving play-calling duties to quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen.After the game, Pagano said Arians would remain hospitalized in Baltimore overnight for observation and likely rejoin the Colts in Indianapolis on Monday."Just precautionary," Pagano said. "I think every test they've done on Bruce came back negative. He's in good shape. ... He'll be back with us tomorrow."Indianapolis had won five of its final six games to clinch a wild-card berth, and moved the ball during the first half, but had to settle for a pair of field goals by Adam Vinatieri and trailed 10-6 at halftime."As good as that defense is, it's hard to go on sustained drives," Pagano said. "We moved the ball, we did some things. But we weren't able to get some chunk plays."Luck completed 13 of 23 passes for 143 yards in the first half, and a 15-play drive in the third quarter stalled at the Baltimore 8-yard line, with Vinatieri kicking his third field goal.Vinatieri pushed a 40-yard field-goal attempt wide right early in the fourth quarter. He was previously 10 of 11 between 40 and 49 yards this season."In games like this," Vinatieri said, "you have to make them all."The Ravens followed up Vinatieri's miss -- his first after 18 successful kicks against the Ravens -- Baltimore retaliated with a five-play, 70-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Anquan Boldin.Until that point, even with an offense that couldn't manage a touchdown, it was still a one-score game."It's always come down to a one-score game, a 10-point deficit, and this team has always been able to overcome that for many weeks," Pagano said. "Sitting on the sideline and looking in everybody's eyes, the faith and belief was still there that we were going to get the job done."Owner Jim Irsay said the Colts' future is promising."This year was incredible," he said. "It was special and unique in so many ways. It was one of the most special seasons in Colts history and probably in NFL history. I couldn't have imagined how this season would have played out. We had a coach fighting for his life, we reorganized, won 11 games and went to the playoffs. ... To say that our future is bright is an understatement."Boldin set a franchise record with 145 yards receiving, including the clinching touchdown, setting up the showdown with the Broncos. Denver beat Baltimore 34-17 three weeks ago."It's huge for us," Boldin said. "It's huge for this city, they've supported us this entire year and they expect a lot from us. In return, we want to give it to them."Sunday's victory also enhanced the Ravens' success rate in opening playoff games. Flacco has won at least one postseason game in all five of his pro seasons, the only quarterback to do it in the Super Bowl era.Baltimore overcame the first two lost fumbles of the season by Ray Rice, too, as John Harbaugh became the first head coach with wins in his first five playoff campaigns.

In another huge playoff moment, Wade Davis stays cool while everything else around Cubs goes crazy

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USA TODAY

In another huge playoff moment, Wade Davis stays cool while everything else around Cubs goes crazy

This became a three-ring circus on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Cubs manager Joe Maddon screaming at the umpires, the video board showing the replay of Curtis Granderson’s swing and the crowd of 42,195 booing and chanting “BULLS#$!!”

The Los Angeles Dodgers are still in command of this National League Championship Series, but the Cubs won’t go quietly into the offseason, unleashing All-Star closer Wade Davis for the final two innings of a 3-2 thriller that kept them alive for at least another night.

The Cubs can worry about the daunting task of winning three more elimination games in the morning. Once Davis forced Cody Bellinger into the double-play groundball that left Justin Turner stranded in the on-deck circle and this one ended at 11:16 p.m., he pulled at his right sleeve and buttoned the top of his jersey while waiting for the Cubs to start the high-five line. “Go Cubs Go” blasted from the stadium’s sound  system and fireworks erupted beyond the center-field scoreboard and Davis acted as if nothing had happened.

To put the idea of beating the Dodgers three times in a row in perspective, the Cubs blasted three homers and got a classic big-game performance out of Jake Arrieta and still needed Davis for a heart-stopping, high-wire act.

Maddon already ruled out Davis for Thursday night’s Game 5 after the closer fired 48 pitches – or four more than he did during last week’s seven-out save that eliminated the Washington Nationals. But at least the Cubs will have those decisions to make instead of cleaning out their lockers.

“I don’t know,” Davis said. “We’ll definitely come in tomorrow and get some treatment and go out and play catch and see how I feel.”

It looks like Davis doesn’t feel anything on the mound. Davis didn’t react to Turner chucking his bat and yelling into the visiting dugout after crushing a 94-mph fastball for a home run to begin the eighth inning. Davis didn’t seem bothered by Yasiel Puig flipping his bat after drawing a walk. And Davis never lost his composure while Maddon got ejected for the second time in four NLCS games.

Maddon flipped out at home plate umpire Jim Wolf – and really the entire crew – when what was initially called a swinging strike three on Granderson got overturned and ruled a foul tip.

“Wade doesn’t care about any of that,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “That’s the right guy to have on the mound. With the mentality he has, he’s going to strike the guy out on the next pitch. Obviously with the replay, it’s not easy to keep your composure. But he’s just different. He’s a different animal.”

While the fans at Wrigley Field got loud and turned angry, Davis chatted with catcher Willson Contreras: “I was just trying to think of the next pitch I was going to throw if he ended up staying in the box.”

Davis got Granderson (0-for-4, four strikeouts) swinging at strike four, walked Yasmani Grandal and then blew away Chase Utley with a 95.1-mph fastball, needing 34 pitches to finish the eighth inning. Davis wasn’t finished, using a Kris Bryant bat to hit against Dodger lefty Tony Cingrani, fouling off five pitches before striking out looking at a 94.9-mph fastball.

“Yeah, I gave up there after a little bit,” Davis said with a look that sort of resembled a smile. “He was bringing it pretty good, and I hadn’t seen a baseball in a while coming in like that.”

If the Cubs are going to match the 2004 Boston Red Sox – the only other team to come back from an 0-3 deficit since the LCS format expanded to seven games in 1985 – they are going to need the offense to generate more runs, a great start from Jose Quintana on Thursday night and someone else to run out of the bullpen. Not that Davis is ruling himself out for Game 5.

“Go get some sleep and then come in tomorrow and start getting ready,” Davis said.

Jake Arrieta stars at Wrigley Field and doesn’t believe this is The End for Cubs: ‘Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye’

Jake Arrieta stars at Wrigley Field and doesn’t believe this is The End for Cubs: ‘Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye’

It’s not Jake Arrieta getting greedy and the Cubs being cheap when he holds up another jersey in a different city this winter, smiling for the cameras while super-agent Scott Boras watches the press conference unfold, marketing an ace to a new audience.

Even Arrieta admits that if he had Theo Epstein’s job, he would do the exact same thing, letting it play out until a 30-something pitcher hits the free-agent market. And Epstein wouldn’t have left the Boston Red Sox and taken over baseball operations at Clark and Addison if he didn’t believe in the need for change, to get outside the comfort zone and test yourself.

It’s just business, but this still felt very personal on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Arrieta probably making his last start in a Cubs uniform while the defending World Series champs survived an elimination game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Three straight trips to the National League Championship Series might have spoiled Cubs fans to the point where standing-room-only Game 4 tickets were selling for $60 on StubHub less than an hour before the 8:01 p.m. first pitch.

By 10:13 p.m., the crowd of 42,195 started booing when manager Joe Maddon popped out of the dugout in the seventh inning to take the ball from Arrieta after 111 pitches. It turned into a standing ovation as Arrieta walked off the mound and tipped his cap, his shaved head set against a mountain-man beard.

“Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye,” Arrieta said after a dramatic 3-2 win, surrounded by reporters at his locker. “It’s a thank you, obviously. I still intend to have another start in this ballpark.

“If that’s where it ends, I did my best and I left it all out there. But we’ve won four in a row plenty of times this year. And there’s no reason we can’t do it again.”

So many times, Arrieta has been worth the price of admission, must-see TV through two no-hitters and those two World Series games he won on the road last year against the Cleveland Indians. None of this would have been possible without the Cubs finding a winning lottery ticket in that Scott Feldman flip deal with the Baltimore Orioles on July 2, 2013.

“I took a little bit of extra time in between pitches,” Arrieta said, “just to look around, foul pole to foul pole, behind home plate, just to relish it and take it in. You got the fans on their feet, pulling on the same side of the rope. It breeds some added energy.

“I had that mindset of I’m going to do everything in my power to get it to tomorrow.”

Arrieta’s pitches dart and dive in directions that even he can’t always control, but he has guts, swing-and-miss stuff (nine strikeouts) and the ability to work through traffic. He gave up five walks, hit Chase Utley with a pitch and watched as Cody Bellinger hammered a ball off the video-board ribbon in right field for a third-inning homer.

But lefty reliever Brian Duensing backed Arrieta up with two outs and two runners on in the seventh inning, forcing Bellinger to lift a flyball into shallow left field, keeping it a 3-1 game and setting the stage for a two-inning Wade Davis save.

“Jake was amazing,” Davis said. “He was throwing Wiffle balls, it looked like. Guys were just swinging at balls that started in on the zone and finished a foot off the plate. He’s just got some amazing stuff.”

For perspective on how far this franchise has come, just look at the lineup from Arrieta’s first spot start as a Cub, the second game of a July 30, 2013 doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field:

David DeJesus, CF
Junior Lake, LF
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Dioner Navarro, C
Luis Valbuena, 2B
Starlin Castro, SS
Cody Ransom, 3B
Cole Gillespie, RF

The Cubs actually sent Arrieta back to Triple-A Iowa for two more starts that summer, part of a mental/mechanical reset and the service-time calculus that would delay his free-agency clock by a year.

By 2015, Arrieta’s raw talent and natural confidence converged with a young, inexperienced team that caught fire in the second half, his Cy Young Award campaign fueling 97 wins and the momentum for chairman Tom Ricketts to authorize a spending spree on free agents that almost totaled $290 million.

"That was pretty special,” Maddon said. “I've never witnessed on the field that kind of consistent performance from a pitcher. It was other-worldly, right down to the wild-card game.

“My God, you pretty much knew if you scored one or two runs, you're going to win that night somehow. I don't know how this is going to look moving forward. But I know one thing, man, that one year of watching him play was different. It was a throwback to the ‘60s kind of pitching (I watched) as a kid.

“He's special – his work ethic and who he is and how he goes about his business. He's a very special young man.”

But Arrieta really isn’t in the mood to wonder if this is the end scene to this chapter of his life.

“There’s a little thought of that, yeah, because you never know,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time, now that the game’s over, it’s out of sight, out of mind. The thought process for me now is to be ready if I’m needed.”