Bears

In the zone: Garza shuts down Phillies

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In the zone: Garza shuts down Phillies

PHILADELPHIA Matt Garza bobbed his head and swayed from side to side in front of his locker. He buttoned up his blue dress shirt, singing along with the Bob Marley music spilling from the clubhouse speakers.

Dont worry about a thing, 'cause every little thing gonna be all right.'

Garza doesnt exactly project calm. Hes hyperactive and talks to himself. But as Cubs president Theo Epstein once said, theres a method to the madness.

And the idea of Garza staring down hitters from a distance of 60 feet, 6 inches has to be reassuring to the other 24 guys in the room.

In front of a sellout crowd, Garza crossed over into another zone on Sunday at Citizens Bank Park, dominating the Philadelphia Phillies in a 5-1 victory that highlighted everything he could be for this franchise.

Garza allowed a bloop single to Jimmy Rollins that fell into right-center field to begin his game and then retired the next 18 batters he faced.

It was a steady stream of weak pop-ups and routine groundballs, the nasty stuff you need in October. After seven scoreless innings, Garza left with a one-hitter and 10 strikeouts, the 10th time hes hit double digits in his career.

Manager Dale Sveum said Garza who knows his own personality very well would be the first one to tell you this.

Thats probably the most comfortable place hes at on the mound, Sveum said. Other than that, hes bouncing off walls all the time.

Its probably the one place where he can kind of gather himself and calm down and obviously hes done it throughout his career. Hes been one of the better pitchers in baseball.

This is where Garza pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2008 World Series. The Cubs are 8-14 and near the start of a long rebuilding process.

There are indications that Garza (2-1, 2.67 ERA), who is under club control through 2013, will likely be a major part of those plans. How long will it take to get back to those heights?

I dont know Im just trying to get through the next five days, Garza said. I dont foresee anything. I just know that were moving in the right direction. Were playing aggressive (and) were playing hard through nine. Thats all we can do.

I have every expectation to be a part of that. Id like for it to happen this year. I dont know anything beyond the next five days.

It wasnt a perfect game Carlos Marmol walked three batters and forced in a run in a close-your-eyes ninth. And a Phillies team (10-12) weakened by injuries has been hearing the boos, struggling to generate offense throughout April.

But the Cubs could laugh about waiting until Game 22 before an outfielder (Joe Mather) hit his first home run this season. The small-ball approach continued to work with Tony Campana (two hits, two runs and his sixth stolen base in eight games).

The rotation (4.12 ERA) wont stack up with Philadelphias. But the Cubs have been competitive, and theyve enjoyed watching Jeff Samardzija evolve into a potential frontline starter, and look forward to Ryan Dempster coming off the disabled list on Thursday.

Everyone feels pretty confident when (Garza) goes out on the mound, Mather said. Those guys are going out there and giving us a chance to win every single time.

It remains to be seen whether the Cubs can really run that momentum out into the summer, and give their fans reasons to watch, but Garza expects to enjoy the ride.

We got a lot of moving pieces, Garza said, but I think its going to be a lot of fun (with) a lot of youth (and) a lot of growing up.

Promising start turns ugly as Bears drop another one to an NFC North rival

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USA TODAY

Promising start turns ugly as Bears drop another one to an NFC North rival

Oh, it all started so promising.

The Bears looked like a well-oiled machine early Sunday, looking like the kind of team bouncing back from a gut-wrenching loss to the Green Bay Packers a week prior. But with another NFC North rival in town, this time the Detroit Lions, things turned ugly in a hurry — and the result ended up the same.

The Bears lost for the seventh time in 10 games this season, falling to the Lions by a 27-24 score on the shores of Lake Michigan.

An offense that has struggled to put points on the board much of the year — and couldn’t match a Packers offense led by backup quarterback Brett Hundley last weekend — started strong, with three scoring drives in its first four possessions. Mitch Trubisky led scoring drives of 70, 55 and 73 yards, producing 17 points and had the Bears ahead by 10 midway through the second quarter.

The lone Lions points came after a rare miscue by the offense in the opening 20-plus minutes when Trubisky fumbled a snap, only for D.J. Hayden to run it back 27 yards for a touchdown. But still, the Bears looked the superior team on both sides of the ball.

It was then, though, that Matt Stafford flipped a switch and started picking apart the Bears’ defense. Backed up at his own nine-yard line after an offensive pass-interference penalty, Stafford marched the Lions down the field, rattling off completions of 17, 40 and 28 yards, the last a touchdown pass that took advantage of a badly burned Marcus Cooper.

Stafford then led a 73-yard touchdown drive, once again picking apart the Bears’ secondary and giving his Lions a lead right before the half, a sudden turn of events considering the Bears had a double-digit lead not long before.

After an uneventful third quarter, the Bears tied the game with five minutes remaining on a stellar touchdown run by Tarik Cohen. But Stafford marched the Lions right down the field immediately afterward, and the Lions cashed in with a 52-yard go-ahead field goal.

Trubisky led the Bears downfield and put them in position for a game-tying field goal, but Connor Barth’s attempt was way off the mark, sending the Bears to another upsetting defeat.

Tarik Cohen gets back in the game

After earning much social-media scorn the last few weeks, the Bears’ coaching staff brought Tarik Cohen back with a vengeance.

The rookie running back proved himself a dangerous offensive weapon early in the season, but he had been largely absent for weeks, combining for just five rushing attempts and three receptions in the previous three games against the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and aforementioned Packers.

Well, the Bears’ coaches must have heard all that criticism and heavily involved Cohen, who finished with nine rushes for 44 yards and four catches for 15 yards. He was targeted a total of six times.

And Cohen came up with a huge play late in the game, taking a shovel pitch from Trubisky, running to the pylon and flipping his way into the end zone, extending the ball in midair to make sure it was a touchdown. That score tied the game at 24 with five minutes left.

Banged-up Bears

The Bears’ defense — already well bothered with injuries — added a couple more to the list Sunday.

None seemed more significant than the one to Leonard Floyd, who was taken off the field on a cart in the fourth quarter after Kyle Fuller crashed into Floyd’s right knee. Floyd spent a good deal of time on the ground before the cart came out.

Fuller suffered a wrist injury on the same play, with TV cameras catching the sight of an awful lot of blood.

At various points, defensive linemen Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman left the field with members of the training staff. And on the offensive side, wide receiver Josh Bellamy was announced as being in the concussion protocol after a play in the third quarter.

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

On two consecutive Saturday evenings the Blackhawks were looking for a little more offense. On two consecutive Saturday evenings they got some from Gustav Forsling, whose shots got through to either tie a game (vs. Carolina) or take a lead (vs. Pittsburgh).

Forsling isn’t the big go-to guy when it comes to points but he’s nevertheless getting them for a Blackhawks team that’s starting to find its offense again. But this is more about Forsling’s overall game which, not long after he made the Blackhawks roster last fall, plateaued. This season he’s been more consistent and more confident from the start, and he and Jan Rutta have formed a pair that coach Joel Quenneville trusts and has kept together for most of this season. The 21-year-old defenseman talked of working on the mental side of his game entering this season and said he feels the difference.

“I’ve been working on it this summer and I feel a little bit better,” he said. “[Just] more confident with the puck and confident in myself and pretty much everywhere.”

Quenneville has seen the difference.

“I think he’s getting better with his reads,” Quenneville said. “He’s got a better gap. [Being] quicker all over the ice is part of that and nice to see him pound one that goes through because his shot can be a lot heavier than it’s been and we want him to use it a little bit more, too.”

Forsling says he feels comfortable playing with any of the Blackhawks’ defensemen but there’s no doubt he and Rutta have been good together. The two clicked immediately, and at times they’ve been the Blackhawks’ second pair.

“I think we’re thinking the same way out there on the ice. We have a great conversation out there and everything’s worked out fine,” Forsling said. “He’s a funny guy and we get along well.”

Forsling’s offensive contributions are welcomed but so is his defense. When the Rangers were looking for the game-tying goal late in the third period on Wednesday, Forsling was on Corey Crawford’s left side to prevent David Desharnais from scoring it. Seventy-six seconds later, Artem Anisimov’s goal gave the Blackhawks a two-goal lead.

“Great play by him,” Crawford said. “For us, we want to cover the short side there and it’s great or him to get over quick and get his stick there. Definitely a great stop by him.”

Forsling’s playing with more confidence. He’s added a little early offense. The Blackhawks wanted Forsling to reach another level this season and so far, he’s doing that.