Nationals

Big 12 drama: Wild games, shifting story lines

201210202157790429770-p2.jpeg

Big 12 drama: Wild games, shifting story lines

Two more Big 12 games were decided late by teams that scored more than 50 points apiece. National title talk faded for good in West Virginia, replaced by similar chatter at Kansas State.

Intrigue is building as the Big 12 essentially hits the halfway point of the season, and the 10-team league looks like it's going nine deep. Nobody wants to dismiss the one outcast - Kansas - because coach Charlie Weis is a former NFL offensive whiz who has the experience of being the head coach at Notre Dame.

``I'm almost tentative to say `I told you so' or give you that story,'' Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. ``For three or four years, I've been saying that with the skill players that are coming out now, the spread offenses, the fast pace, the blitzing style of defenses, the parity is greater than it's ever been in college football. There's not any question the parity in this league is more than ever.''

Three weeks ago, West Virginia was entering the national title picture and had the Heisman Trophy front-runner in quarterback Geno Smith. That has vanished in blowout losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State.

Kansas State was getting patted on the head as a good little team before going to Oklahoma and knocking off the Sooners in a tense game that declared the race was on. Now coaches are quick to call the Wildcats the big dogs.

For now.

``What you're having to do now unlike the early years is you're having to play every week,'' said Texas coach Mack Brown, whose Longhorns suffered consecutive losses to West Virginia and Oklahoma. ``It did not surprise me when West Virginia left here and went out to Lubbock and got beat.''

No. 4 Kansas State doesn't have to go to Lubbock, but the Wildcats are catching Texas Tech at possibly its highest point in three years under coach Tommy Tuberville. The Red Raiders bounced back from a lopsided loss to Oklahoma with the win over West Virginia, then survived three overtimes at TCU for a 56-53 victory after letting a late 10-point lead slip away.

The No. 15 Red Raiders can scramble the top of the standings with a win Saturday in Manhattan, Kan., but it won't be the last time an underdog has a chance to reshape the Big 12 race.

``We play in a good league. I think everybody understands that,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. ``We got off to a hot start, but a pretty good Texas Tech team and a real good Kansas State team exposed us a little bit.''

Baylor is back near the bottom of the league without Robert Griffin III because the Bears have one of the worst defenses in the country. But these aren't the same Bears who were doormats for most of the first decade of the Big 12 because they still have a quarterback.

Griffin's replacement, Nick Florence, threw for 933 yards and seven touchdowns combined in losses of 70-63 to West Virginia and 56-50 to Texas, both on the road. Florence leads the nation in total offense.

The puzzling game for Baylor was the one in between - a 49-21 home loss to TCU a week after the Horned Frogs lost 37-23 to Iowa State in their first Big 12 home game.

That's the only league win for the Cyclones, who will try to keep the Bears winless in the Big 12 on Saturday.

``I think it's been deep the last two or three years,'' Baylor coach Art Briles said. ``I think you could just go back through and look at the so-called upsets over the last couple of years late in the season. It's a tough battle, and that's why it's such a great league.''

Along with Kansas State-Texas Tech, most of the Big 12 attention this week will focus on No. 8 Oklahoma's effort to re-enter the national title picture in a home game against fifth-ranked Notre Dame. But the other game in Oklahoma - TCU's visit to Oklahoma State - is big for the Cowboys, who are trying to avoid a second league losses.

Texas is taking one of the nation's worst defenses to Kansas, where Weis has quarterback issues as he tries to use his Super Bowl-winning pedigree to get up to speed in a pass-happy, high-scoring league.

``I'm new to the Big 12, and I'm just into the grind of going through this schedule,'' Weis said. ``It doesn't make any difference who you're playing. It's a new set of problems each week.''

Quick Links

Williamson homers again, Giants top Nationals 4-3

usatsi_10804002.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Williamson homers again, Giants top Nationals 4-3

SAN FRANCISCO -- Mac Williamson had to dust himself off after crashing into a low padded wall near the stands in left field while chasing a foul ball.

More frustrated than hurt, Williamson took it out on Nationals pitcher Tanner Roark a few moments later after undergoing a series of concussion tests in the dugout.

Williamson homered for the second straight night and third in five games, hitting a tiebreaking shot in the sixth inning to lead San Francisco to a 4-3 victory over Washington on Tuesday night.

"I got pretty lucky," Williamson said. "I felt fine then and I feel fine now. I'm sure once the adrenalin wears off later tonight, tomorrow we'll see how the body feels. I'm sure I'll be a little sore."

Brandon Belt hit his fifth home run in six games, Joe Panik added three hits and scored twice, and the Giants won their third straight and fourth in the last five.

One night after hitting a 464-foot homer in the series opener, Williamson hit a first-pitch solo shot to center off Roark with two outs in the sixth inning that bounced off the top of the wall and broke a 3-all tie. It wasn't as far as Monday's clout -- this one went 423 feet -- but was just as pivotal for the Giants.

"We've talked about what a shot in the arm he's been and he's more than that," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He came through again tonight. Good for him because he's worked hard at it."

Williamson's deciding home run came one inning after he stumbled over the bullpen mound in foul territory and crashed into a low wall near the stands while trying to chase down Bryce Harper's foul ball. Williamson stayed down briefly as team trainers rushed out before getting to his feet.

"I tried to roll my neck a little bit and my head down a little bit when I started going down," Williamson said. "I think that helped break my fall. I was just a little frustrated I didn't come up with the play. I had it in my glove and it came out."

Belt hit a two-run shot off Roark (1-2) in the third.

Michael Taylor had a three-run homer for Washington, which has lost four straight and 14 of 20 since opening the season 4-0.

"It seems like that sixth inning's been biting us in the rear as of late," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "We're swinging the bats. We just can't get the big hit with people on base."

Reyes Moronta (1-0) retired six batters for his first career win. Sam Dyson pitched one inning and Hunter Strickland worked the ninth for his fifth save.

The Giants got a run off Roark in the first but left the bases loaded when Evan Longoria struck out looking to end the inning. Belt homered on a 3-2 pitch from Roark in the second to make it 3-0.

Washington tied it on Taylor's three-run homer off starter Ty Blach in the third. Ryan Zimmerman walked and Moises Sierra singled before Taylor's deep drive into the right-field stands.

Roark went into the game 6-0 in seven career games against San Francisco but couldn't find a rhythm this time. He allowed four runs on six hits, walked two and hit a batter and threw a pair of wild pitches.

WHERE DID IT GO?

Panik hit a soft comebacker to Roark in the fifth that glanced off the pitcher's glove then bounced up on the top of his cap before falling to the turf. Roark initially couldn't locate the ball but found it in time to throw to first for the out.

AILING BLACH

Blach allowed three runs and four hits in five innings. After the game, Bochy said the left-hander suffered from food poisoning last week and was given an IV on Monday. "That was a really gutty effort that he gave us," Bochy said.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: Placed RHP Shawn Kelley on the 10-disabled list with ulnar nerve irritation in his right elbow. Infielder/outfielder Matt Reynolds was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse and outfielder Rafael Bautista and infielder Adrian Sanchez were called up.

UP NEXT

Nationals RHP Max Scherzer (4-1, 1.36 ERA) and Giants RHP Jeff Samardzija (1-0, 0.00) take to the mound for the series finale at AT&T Park on Wednesday. Samardzija is making his second start after beginning the season on the disabled list.

Quick Links

Rainout delays Orioles RHP Cobb's reunion with Rays

pjimage_1.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Rainout delays Orioles RHP Cobb's reunion with Rays

BALTIMORE -- The Tampa Bay Rays have to wait at least one more day before taking their swings against former teammate Alex Cobb.

Cobb, now with the Baltimore Orioles, was scheduled to face his old team on Tuesday night before the game was postponed by rain.

Thus, Cobb will start Wednesday in the delayed start of this series between the only two AL East teams with losing records.

The rainout will be made up as part of single-admission doubleheader on May 12.

It was the 27th major league game to be postponed this season, the most related to weather through April since the commissioner's office started keeping records in 1986. Detroit's game at Pittsburgh was washed out later Tuesday, raising the total to 28.

Cobb, 30, spent his entire career with the Rays before signing with Baltimore as a free agent on March 21. Over six years with Tampa Bay, the right-hander was 48-35 and one of the leaders of the staff.

"He was a crucial part to this organization's success," Rays starter Chris Archer said. "He's a big-game pitcher and somebody who's very consistent, very routine oriented. The competitive nature rubbed off on me and rubbed off on the other guys in this clubhouse as well."

Cobb signed a $57 million, four-year deal with the Orioles, who will be counting on him to deliver the same kind of pitching and leadership in Baltimore.

Thus far, it hasn't gone well. Cobb got off to a late start because he missed most of spring training, and since his return he's gone 0-2 with a 15.43 ERA.

"Abbreviation has affected that," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "He's going to get going here. Hopefully he can wait one more start before he does."

Brad Miller was down to bat cleanup for the Rays on Tuesday night before the game was called. Miller knew better than to chat with his old friend beforehand.

"Definitely wouldn't talk to him on his start days," Miller said. "Thought about maybe texting him just to rattle him a little bit, but ... ."

Miller won't know what to think when he sees Cobb wearing the orange and black of the Orioles.

"It's definitely going to be weird seeing him on the mound," Miller said. "I miss Cobb a lot. He was the ultimate competitor."

And that, Miller contends, is what sets Cobb apart from most pitchers.

"He's a bulldog. Really intense, kind of an old-school throwback starting pitcher," Miller said. "He's going to go out there and do anything he can for his team. So that, for me, is obviously his biggest trait."

The rainout came at an opportune time for the Orioles, who are hampered by injuries and have lost nine of 10 games to fall 11 games under .500 (6-17).

Baltimore's projected starting lineup did not include infielder Tim Beckham, who's been bothered by a groin injury and is expected to land on the 10-day disabled list.

With Beckham out and Trey Mancini playing with a tender right knee, manager Buck Showalter would have been operating with a short bench.

Help is on the way: Baltimore claimed utility infielder Jace Peterson on waivers from the New York Yankees. He's expected to arrive Wednesday.