Fire

Phillies' pitcher finally gets his first victory

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Phillies' pitcher finally gets his first victory

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- Cliff Lee was savoring a most elusive win when Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels sneaked up behind him, giving their fellow Phillies ace a Gatorade bath. Now that was one early shower Lee could enjoy. Lee finally posted his first victory of the season and Philadelphia hit three late homers, breaking past the New York Mets 9-2 Wednesday and stopping a six-game losing streak. "Got a win, Fourth of July. Good for Cliff," manager Charlie Manuel said. Lee (1-5) had gone a puzzling 13 starts this year without a victory, a key reason the five-time NL East champions have fallen far behind. The lefty hadn't been awful, nor had he consistently shown good command. "I would've loved to have a win a long time ago," Lee said, adding the slump was a bigger deal to others than to him. "I wouldn't say it doesn't matter, but it's something I can't control," he said. "Sometimes, weird things happen." If anything, he said, he's been disappointed "because I've let innings snowball." That happened in his previous outing at Miami, his poorest start of the season. Manuel said Lee's teammates kidded and joked with him after he broke his hex. Lee's jersey and uniform pants were soaked when he returned to the clubhouse. "That was good," Lee told Halladay. Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz hit consecutive home runs in the seventh inning as the Phillies rallied from a 2-0 deficit. Ty Wigginton's two-run homer in the ninth capped the surge. Facing the Mets for the fourth time this season, Lee came out sharp and struck out three of the first four batters. He wound up going eight innings and struck out nine, most of them looking. "He pretty much dominated us today," Mets star David Wright said. Lee's drought was the longest by a former Cy Young winner since Greg Maddux went 14 starts without a win in 2008 with San Diego -- the worst skid for a Cy winner was 19 starts by Fernando Valenzuela in 1988-89, STATS LLC said. Lee seemed as if he might wind up in the loss column again after the Phillies managed just two singles in the first six innings against Chris Young (2-2). Juan Pierre led off the seventh with a sharp single and Utley followed with a tying drive into the right-field seats, his second homer since missing nearly three months because of knee trouble. Ruiz, set to play in his first All-Star game, then put the Phillies ahead by connecting for the second straight day, hitting his 13th home run. That was plenty for Lee on this afternoon. "Once they took the lead, we saw a different side of him," said Mets catcher Mike Nickeas, who fanned twice. "He's one of the better ones in the game. He was tremendous today." Philadelphia pulled away with a three-run eighth and a three-run ninth against the Mets' bullpen. Jimmy Rollins doubled home a run, Ruiz hit an RBI single and Wigginton hustled home from second on Hunter Pence's single off shortstop Ruben Tejada's glove in the eighth. Rollins added an RBI grounder and Wigginton homered the next inning. Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon made his first appearance in a week and pitched the ninth. "Make sure we nailed that one down," Manuel said, smiling. The six straight losses matched the Phillies' longest slump of the season. They also had lost seven in a row on the road. A day after routing Philadelphia, the Mets lost for the second time in seven games. Scott Hairston put the Mets ahead with a solo homer in the fourth, lining an 0-2 pitch over the left-field wall. As Hairston rounded the bases, Lee scuffed at the dirt and looked out toward center field, where a replay of the pitch was playing on the videoboard. The Mets, as they've done all season, strung together some two-hits and made it 2-0 in the fifth. Wright drove in the run with a single. NOTES: RHP Jeremy Hefner gave up five hits and three runs in 1 1-3 innings and was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo after the game. ... Utley's sixth homer at Citi Field matched Raul Ibanez for the most by a visiting player at the ballpark. ... Pierre stole his 20th base, the 12th straight year he's reached the mark. His 574th career swipe tied Hugh Duffy for 22nd place. ... Mets OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis didn't play. He was a late scratch from the lineup the previous day after hurting his right hand while swinging in batting practice. He said his hand was feeling better. ... Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey goes for his 11th straight win on Thursday night vs. Hamels. Dickey leads the majors with 12 victories. ... Phillies 1B Ryan Howard (left Achilles) was set to have a day off with Triple-A Lehigh Valley in his rehabilitation assignment. He homered Tuesday night.

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

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USA TODAY

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

The wait to find out which players have their options picked up or declined by the Fire might still be a couple weeks, but the first news of a player move in the Fire's offseason came via Twitter.

Defender Joao Meira announced he won't be returning to the club in 2018.

Meira signed with the Fire just before the start of the 2016 preseason after being out of contract in Europe. The Portuguese center back signed a one-year deal with a club option for the second year.

After he played 28 matches with 26 starts in 2016, the Fire picked up his option. He became even more of a fixture at center back in 2017, beating out Jonathan Campbell for the other starting spot alongside Johan Kappelhof. Meira played in 30 regular season matches and made 27 starts, finishing fourth on the team in minutes played (2,412).

That Meira won't be back isn't a major surprise for a few reasons. First, he was out of contract. He was one of two players, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, on the Fire's roster that the team had no control over for 2018. On top of that, the 30-year-old had made it clear that he wanted to be closer to his home and family in Portugal.

Meira's departure leaves a gap at the center back position for the Fire. Kappelhof, who enters the third year of a three-year guaranteed deal in 2018, and Campbell, who will likely have his club option picked up, enter as the only healthy center backs in 2018. Christian Dean was added in August via trade, but is coming off a broken foot, an injury that has plagued him before. His status for the start of the 2018 season is unclear.

Grant Lillard, a potential homegrown signing and a senior at Indiana, could compete for time at center back next season. He is one of the top rated players in the country for the Hoosiers, which are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While Lillard could step in from a numbers perspective and would add size to the Fire's back line (Lillard is 6-foot-4), he wouldn't be able to replace Meira's ability on the ball. Meira wasn't as effective of a defender as Kappelhof, but was arguably the best passer among the Fire's center backs and helped alleviate pressure at times.

This also opens up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire went over the alloted total last season, but were able to put John Goossens and Jorge Bava on the disabled list to clear room. Meira's exit gives a bit more flexibility in that department.

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Only three of John Fox’s 12 wins as Bears coach have been against NFC North opponents, while 12 of his 29 losses have come against divisional opponents. 

That’s a recipe for back-to-back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC North. And if the Bears can’t beat an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers team, why could it beat a Detroit Lions team that has a healthy franchise quarterback?

The positive end of that answer is the Bears do have wins over two playoff teams (Pittsburgh and Carolina) while six of their four losses have been by eight points or fewer. Sunday’s game will probably be close, again (if it’s not, and the Bears are on the losing end of it, it would raise some significant concerns about the state of Fox within the locker room). 

So if the game is decided by one possession or less, this could be the difference: Detroit has one of the best special teams units in the NFL, ranking second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, while the Bears are 28th by the same measure. 

Getting Sherrick McManis back this week should help solidify Jeff Rodgers’ special teams units, but Jamal Agnew has two punt return scores and is averaging 18.3 yards per return. 

“Tough guy — he’ll return inside and outside,” Rodgers said. “He’s got multiple longer returns against people this year. it’s not just, ‘I had a long return in Week 2 or Week 1,’ and kinda held onto that. he’s been productive in a lot of games. certainly a guy that we’ve gotta do a good job against.”

If the Bears don’t do a good job bottling up Agnew, though, he could be the reason why the game flips to Detroit — or, at least, why the Lions keep the Bears at arm’s length. 

Prediction: Lions 24, Bears 16