Bears

Jays, Indians play longest opener in MLB history

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Jays, Indians play longest opener in MLB history

From Comcast SportsNetCLEVELAND (AP) -- The Toronto Blue Jays are determined to have a special season. They opened it by making history. J.P. Arencibia hit a three-run homer in the 16th inning to send the Blue Jays, who rallied to force extras with a three-run ninth, to a 7-4 win over the Cleveland Indians on Thursday in the longest opening-day game ever in the major leagues. A game that seemed so routine for several hours wound up extraordinary. "I guess it's pretty cool now," said Arencibia, who wasn't thrilled at catching all 16 innings. "I'm glad to be on the winning end." Arencibia was 0 for 6 with three strikeouts before he connected off Indians reliever Jairo Asencio. The marathon eclipsed the previous longest openers -- 15 innings between Cleveland and Detroit on April 19, 1960, and 15 innings between Philadelphia and Washington on April 13, 1926. According to STATS LLC, the Indians-Blue Jays opener was the longest of 1,360 opening-day games played since 1901. "If you're going to break records you might as well do it on opening day," said Indians All-Star closer Chris Perez, who was able to show some humor after allowing the Blue Jays to come back from a 4-1 deficit in the ninth. "No position player wants to be out there for 16 innings on opening day. I feel terrible. "Everybody did their job today except me." Luis Perez, Toronto's seventh pitcher, worked four scoreless innings for the win and Sergio Santos got two outs to end the 5-hour, 14-minute game. Jose Bautista homered and hit a sacrifice fly for Toronto, which did next to nothing for eight innings against Cleveland starter Justin Masterson before storming back in the ninth. Jack Hannahan hit a three-run homer in the second to give Cleveland a 4-0 lead against Ricky Romero. But the Indians didn't score again, blanked for 14 innings by Toronto's pitchers to disappoint a sellout crowd of 43,190 that thinned to just a few thousand die-hards by the end. An opener that began in clear skies and bright sunshine ended just after twilight as the sun disappeared over the Lake Erie horizon. This one had a little of everything: strong pitching, bad pitching, blown chances, emptied benches and bullpens, a soon-to-be 45-year-old infielder playing the outfield and, of course, a spot in baseball annals. "I guess we got in the record books," said Masterson. "That's something. Who started it? That's a trivia question." Masterson allowed just two hits and struck out 10 in eight dominant innings. But the Blue Jays, who believe they can hang with Boston, New York and Tampa Bay in the brutal AL East, rallied in the ninth off Perez and gave manager John Farrell reason to think this season could be wild. "If tonight is any kind of insight into this season, strap in," Farrell said. "We're in for a long ride." In the 16th, moments after the team's had rewritten the history books, Asencio walked Brett Lawrie and Omar Vizquel reached on a fielder's choice before Arencibia, who hit 23 homers as a rookie last season, drove a pitch onto the pedestrian plaza in left. He was lucky it ever got there. After taking a ball, Arencibia thought third-base coach Brian Butterfield had given him the bunt sign and he popped his attempt foul. "For some reason, I thought I got the bunt sign," Arencibia said. "That got me in two strikes. Then I was just trying to hit the ball. I happened to hit it hard and got it out of the park." Arencibia was unaware of his gaffe until he got back into the dugout, where Farrell told him what he had done. "He high-fived me and said, Great job, you missed a sign,'" Arencibia said, laughing. The Indians squandered a potential game-winning situation in the 12th. They loaded the bases on two walks and a single before Farrell brought 44-year-old shortstop Vizquel off the bench as a fifth infielder. The strategy worked when Asdrubal Cabrera swung at Perez's first pitch and bounced into an inning-ending double play. Toronto trailed 4-1 going into the ninth after being stopped by Masterson. But the Blue Jays rallied for three runs off Perez, who missed most of spring training with a strained side muscle and looked awful. He gave up two singles to start the inning before Bautista's sacrifice fly made it 4-2. Kelly Johnson took second on the play, and after Adam Lind walked, Edwin Encarnacion hit a two-run double to tie it at 4. Perez got an out, but walked Eric Thames and was pulled by manager Manny Acta before hanging his head as he walked dejectedly to the dugout amid loud boos. "I don't think I was too pumped up," Perez said. "I was rushing, definitely, especially when stuff started getting sticky." Perez's meltdown cost Masterson a win he deserved. The right-hander won 12 games last season, but pitched better than his record. Acta chose him to open the season, picking him in spring training over Ubaldo Jimenez, who may be the staff's ace but hasn't lived up to expectations since he was acquired in a July trade form Colorado. Masterson set an early tone, striking out the side in the first. He retired the side in order four times, and except for giving up Bautista's homer, was never in serious trouble. Hannahan's third career opening-day homer gave the Indians a 4-0 lead. Hours later, Hannahan didn't know the game had reached historic proportions. "It felt really long," he said, "and a little chilly, too." NOTES: Arencibia has a thing for debuts. He hit two homers on opening-day last season and connected for two in his first major league game in 2010. ... The Indians have had six home openers go to into extras since Progressive Field opened in 1994. ... Cleveland has lost four straight openers and eight of 10. ... Cleveland pitchers combined for 16 strikeouts. ... Toronto's Colby Rasmus made a diving catch to rob Hannahan of extra bases in the fifth. ... Farrell began his playing career with Cleveland and pitched five seasons for the Indians, often taking the mound in less-than-ideal-conditions in old Cleveland Stadium. "I pitched in the snow before," he said. "Opening day on the Great Lakes is a risky proposition."

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

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USA TODAY

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

NBC Sports Chicago’s John "Moon" Mullin talked with The MMQB's Albert Breer, who shared his thoughts on where the Bears stand — and if they’ll be able to compete — in a highly competitive NFC North.

Moon: The Bears have made upgrades, but they’re in the NFC North and not many divisions are tougher, given the strength at quarterbacks.

Breer: Yes. You look at the other three teams, and they all very much believe they’re in a window for winning a championship. The Packers are going through some changes, but they’ve gotten Mike Pettine in there as defensive coordinator and a new general manager who was aggressive on draft day. I know that internally they feel that’s going to give them a boost, and bringing Aaron Rodgers back obviously is the biggest thing of all.

Minnesota, all the things they did this offseason, signing (quarterback) Kirk Cousins, (defensive lineman) Sheldon Richardson, and they were knocking on the door last year.

The Lions have been building for two years under (general manager) Bob Quinn and (new coach) Matt Patricia, who lines right up with the general manager — the two of them worked together in New England. They really believe that Matthew Stafford is ready to take the sort of jump that Matt Ryan made in Atlanta a few years ago, where you see that mid-career breakthrough from a quarterback that we see sometimes now.

It’s one of the toughest divisions in football, and every team in the division believes that it’s in the position to contend right now.

Moon: We didn’t see a lot of Mitch Trubisky — 12 games — so it sounds possible that the Bears could improve and still lose ground.

Breer: The Lions were pretty good last year. The Vikings were in the NFC Championship game. And who knows where the Packers would’ve been if Rodgers hadn’t broken his collarbone. The biggest change is that Aaron Rodgers will be back, and that’s the best player in the league. It was a really good division last year, and you’re adding back in a Hall of Fame quarterback.

As far as the Bears, there’s going to be questions where the organization is going. It’s been seven years since they were in the playoffs. I think they certainly got the coach hire right. This is a guy who I know other organizations liked quite a bit and was going to be a head coach sooner or later.

And I think he matches up well with Mitch. I think the Bears are in a good spot, but as you said, they’re competing in a difficult environment, so it may not show up in their record.

Moon: A lot of love for the Vikings after they get to the NFC Championship and then add Kirk Cousins.

Breer: A lot of people look at Minnesota and think Kirk Cousins’ll be a huge improvement. And maybe he will be. I think he’s a very good quarterback, top dozen in the league. But Case Keenum played really, really well last year, so it wasn’t like they weren’t getting anything out of that position last year.

The NFC right now is clearly the strength of the league. If you picked the top 10 teams in the league, you could make a case that seven or eight of them are in the NFC. I think there will be NFC teams that miss the playoffs who could be in the Super Bowl coming out of the AFC. There’s a little bit of an imbalance there.

Moon: Trubisky projects as part of a wave of new quarterbacks league-wide, a sea change in the NFL.

Breer: The interesting thing is that this is probably as stable as the league has been at quarterback in a long time. There’ve been questions where the next great quarterbacks will come from, but I don’t know that there’s a team right now in the NFL like you looked at the Jets or Browns last year, where you say that team is definitely drafting a quarterback in 2019.

Everyone either has a big-money veteran or former first-round pick on their roster. One team that doesn’t is the Cowboys, but they’ve got Dak Prescott who’s played really well. Every team in the league has some stability at the position. I think the position is as healthy as it’s been in a long time, and you’ve got a lot of good young prospects.

A significant first practice goes well for three Bears critical to 2018 success

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USA TODAY

A significant first practice goes well for three Bears critical to 2018 success

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — It’s a major Bears story until it isn’t, and in Friday's first practice of training camp ’18, the story was that Leonard Floyd, Kyle Long and Allen Robinson weren’t the story. 

Not even the weather was a story, as coach Matt Nagy continued the two-hour practice without interruption despite repeated torrential downpours. Whether this represented a soggy, wet chapter of Nagy’s campaign of physical practices and getting his team “calloused” is a question, but “It's just a part of what we wanted to do,” Nagy said, with a bit of a smile. “We weren't going inside. We were coming outside unless that (lightning/tornado) horn went off. So it was a good day. The guys fought through it.”

Getting through it was of franchise-grade import for three linchpins coming off significant injuries that cost them all or part of their 2017 seasons. All had been largely held out of minicamps and training camps, making Friday a de facto shakedown cruise for three players the Bears need at the elite levels projected for them.

Floyd practiced without the large brace he’d worn during minicamp work and which he admitted was an impediment to performance. Bears medical and training staff and Floyd have been pointing to this moment as the first step toward full health for the regular season.

“I basically, this whole offseason, I've been working on getting my leg right,” Floyd said on Friday. “I’m not really looking into who's playing where. I've been looking to get back healthy. ... Yeah, I'm able to go full force.”

Floyd’s pursuit speed was noteworthy as he ran down several offensive players with the football.

Players were not in pads, but Robinson similarly flashed, at one point making a difficult catch of a ball slightly behind him as he was tumbling to the ground. If he was holding anything back, it was not apparent in his cuts, routes and runs after catches.

“I feel great,” Robinson said. “It's been a process that we've taken a little bit slower, but I think that was for the best. It just was all about getting me ready for this time right here, so I feel great. I feel 100 percent.”

Long has been buffeted by injuries requiring surgeries over the past two years. The setbacks have taken him down from the Pro Bowl level at which he played his first three seasons.

But he turns 30 in December and is entering his sixth NFL season having missed 14 games the past two years after just one the first three.

“I’m feeling great,” Long said. “It’s really a lot of fun to get out here with my teammates and start camp without any limitations and be able to contribute from Day 1. It feels good. I spent a lot of time with our training staff. I got to know Andre Tucker really well, our new head trainer. He has done a tremendous job.

“You know, it’s Day 1 and I was out there at practice, and I got to hit other guys, and that was fun. I don’t look much into psychological hurdles. But a physical hurdle? Yes, it was. I had a lot going on this offseason. I’m just really happy to be out here.”

All was not good news physically for the Bears as inside linebacker Danny Trevathan and cornerback/special teamer Sherrick McManis were held out of practice after hamstring issues surfaced in their pre-camp physicals. Nagy said neither was considered serious but gave no timetable for their returns.