Blackhawks

Miracle run continues for St. Louis Cardinals

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Miracle run continues for St. Louis Cardinals

From Comcast SportsNetMILWAUKEE (AP) -- An afterthought in early September, the St. Louis Cardinals needed every last win just to reach the postseason. Now, this wild ride is headed to the World Series. "We believe," third baseman David Freese said. "I think that's what you've got to do in this game. We've got a group of guys with some talent, desire, and just a ton of heart." Freese hit a three-run homer in the first and manager Tony La Russa turned again to his brilliant bullpen for seven sturdy innings as St. Louis captured its 18th pennant with a 12-6 victory over the bumbling Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday night. Albert Pujols and the wild-card Cardinals took out the heavily favored Phillies in the first round, then dispatched the division-rival Brewers on their own turf in Game 6 of the NL championship series. "I mean, you could have never known," Pujols said. Freese, often overlooked in a lineup anchored by All-Stars, batted .545 with three homers and nine RBIs to earn series MVP honors. Looking for its second title in six seasons, St. Louis opens the World Series at home Wednesday night with ace Chris Carpenter on the mound against the AL champion Texas Rangers. "Your goal is to win it," Pujols said. "Nobody talks about second place. Everybody talks about who wins it. That's our main goal." Trailing by 10 games in the wild-card race on Aug. 25, the Cardinals surged down the stretch and took advantage of a monumental collapse by Atlanta to win a playoff spot on the final night of the regular season. In a twist of fate, it was Philadelphia that helped them into the postseason by completing a three-game sweep of the Braves. "Improbable, incredible, overwhelming," La Russa said. "This one here has its own mark, because coming from that far back is historic I think. That's what they tell me. And having to win on the road, Philadelphia, these guys." Now, bolstered by a group of no-name relievers who keep answering La Russa's call, the Cardinals are back in the World Series for the first time since beating Detroit in 2006. What a relief! "Well, it was crazy," outfielder Matt Holliday said. "We had a lot of adversity, but we found a way." It was a disappointing end to a scintillating season for Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and the NL Central champion Brewers, who finished with a franchise-record 96 wins, six games ahead of St. Louis. Baseball's best home team collapsed in the NLCS, though, losing twice at Miller Park in an error-filled flop. It was likely Fielder's final game with the Brewers, too. He can become a free agent after the season. "I had to clear the throat once, but it was all right. I love these guys," said Fielder, a first-round draft pick in 2002. "I've been playing with most of them since I was 18. So this organization has been great to me." Rafael Furcal and Pujols hit solo homers off Chris Narveson and St. Louis built a 9-4 lead by the time the bullpen took over for Edwin Jackson in the third inning. The group of Fernando Salas, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, Lance Lynn and Jason Motte allowed two runs the rest of the way. For the series, St. Louis relievers finished 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA over 28 2-3 innings. The biggest scare came when Pujols was shaken up after tagging out Braun in the fifth inning when he fell hard on his right forearm on a close play at first base. The three-time MVP was slow to get up, but stayed in the game. "I got spiked, and then (Rzepczynski) kind of stepped on my right knee, but it was a do-or-die play," Pujols said. "I'm glad, you know, we got the out." The Cardinals needed a shutout from Carpenter to beat the Phillies 1-0 in Game 5 of the NLDS, but took control of this series beginning in Game 2 by jumping out to early leads and letting the bullpen lead the way. La Russa called on his relievers 28 times in the NLCS and Jackson's start was the shortest of the postseason for the Cardinals rotation, which finished the NLCS with a 7.66 ERA. St. Louis became the first team to win a postseason series without a starter reaching the sixth inning, according to STATS LLC. Freese gave his teammates credit while accepting the MVP award. "I wish we could make eight or nine of these and give them to our bullpen. They're the reason why we won this series," he said. Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks and Jonathan Lucroy all homered for the Brewers, who won a major league-most 57 times at Miller Park this season and four straight in the postseason before losing Game 2 to the Cardinals. It was the two ugly defensive performances that will likely linger for Milwaukee, which committed four errors in a 7-1 loss in Game 5 and added three more in Game 6. "You can't get away with mistakes to them and we made way too many mistakes," manager Ron Roenicke said. The Brewers' biggest hitters -- Braun, Fielder and Weeks -- finished 1 for 12 in Game 6. Fielder, the All-Star game MVP and the reason St. Louis will start at home on Wednesday, received a standing ovation in his final at-bat in the eighth. He grounded out and slowly walked back to the dugout with his head down. Struggling starter Shaun Marcum never really gave Milwaukee a chance and was hurt by defensive plays that weren't ruled errors. In the first, Jon Jay singled with one out and stole second when Weeks couldn't hold onto Lucroy's low throw. Marcum believed he had strike three on Pujols, who ended up walking. Lance Berkman singled for the second time in 18 career at-bats against Marcum to drive in the first run, and center fielder Nyjer Morgan made an ill-advised throw to third that let Berkman reach second. Marcum saved a run by grabbing Holliday's dribbler and flipping it out of his glove to Lucroy to get Pujols at the plate, but Freese homered on the next pitch to make it 4-0 and extend his postseason hitting streak to 10 games. Marcum was finished after the first, ending his postseason 0-3 with a 14.90 ERA. "They were some kind of team in that first inning. We couldn't get away with anything," Roenicke said. "We didn't make good pitches. But we just never had a chance to get into our comfort zone." Furcal homered off Chris Narveson in the second and Pujols hit a drive to left in the third to give St. Louis a 6-4 lead. Holliday then singled, Freese doubled and the Brewers intentionally walked Yadier Molina with one out. Nick Punto hit a sacrifice fly and pinch-hitter Allen Craig singled in two more runs off LaTroy Hawkins to make it 9-4. Yuniesky Betancourt's RBI double in the fourth cut the lead to 9-5, but Milwaukee fell apart in the fifth with three errors in a span of two plays. First, Hart bobbled Freese's single in right field, allowing Holliday to reach third. Holliday scored on the next play when third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. committed two errors. He booted Molina's grounder and then flipped the ball out of his glove through Weeks' legs at second. "They outplayed us," Roenicke said. "They're a good team and they outplayed us." Pinch-hitter Adron Chambers' sacrifice fly gave St. Louis an 11-5 lead in the fifth. In the bottom of the inning, Braun's groundout cut the lead to 11-6, but the focus was on Pujols when he was slow to get up. La Russa came out to check on his star, who gripped his right forearm and had a brief limp, but stayed in the game. He looked better later, contributing a two-out RBI single in the eighth for the final margin. Jackson allowed Hart and Weeks to lead off the first two innings with homers and Lucroy added a two-run shot to cut the lead to 5-4 in the second. St. Louis answered back with four more runs, keyed when Jackson was pulled for Craig, who delivered his two-run single. Salas caught a break in the third when Jay made a leaping catch of Fielder's drive at the wall in right-center. Jay added another spectacular grab, crashing into the padding in the ninth with Motte on the mound. One out later, the celebration was on. "It's kind of surreal that we're here," Freese said. "But this team deserves what we've been rewarded." NOTES: St. Louis joins the Dodgers and Giants with 18 World Series appearances, second only to the Yankees (40). ... It was Milwaukee's 26th loss at Miller Park this season. Marcum started 13 of those games. ... Furcal has hit six of his nine homers this season against the Brewers. ... Marcum gave up 34 runs over his final 34 innings dating to Sept. 9. ... The Miller Park roof was closed with the game-time temperature 55 degrees and a strong autumn wind blowing throughout the day. Inside, it was 67 degrees.

Patrick Sharp hitting his stride in Year 2 as broadcaster

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NBC Sports Chicago

Patrick Sharp hitting his stride in Year 2 as broadcaster

The NHL’s best players competing against each other will be a familiar sight for Patrick Sharp, who will work his first All-Star Game as a broadcaster this weekend in St. Louis. 

The three-time Stanley Cup champ with the Blackhawks was the MVP of 2011’s All-Star contest with a goal and two assists. 

Less than two years after hanging up his skates, Sharp's transition from player to television analyst has been as seamless as everyone expected. In addition to the look and the experience, the 2014 Olympic gold medalist has been a student of his new game behind the scenes.

"I feel a little more settled," said Sharp, who can be seen Friday and Saturday on NBC Sports and NBC covering the NHL All-Star festivities. "Just trying to improve and get better at the job. It's just like playing in the NHL, the first year you ask a lot of questions and you learn as much as you can from the people that have done it before you and that are really good at it. Going into Year 2, nothing really changes; you just want to continue to get better. 

"I love following hockey and watching games; it makes the job a little bit easier. I don't think I'll ever get fully comfortable on television, but it's been fun and a good transition for me from playing the game." 

The 38-year-old’s bountiful in-depth insight during game broadcasts has come as no surprise to those who know him.

"Sharpie looks like he's really found a career," said Patrick Kane, who often shoots his former teammate a text after catching him on TV. "He does a really good job and he's easy to listen to. He knows who he's talking about, he has really good information. 

"It almost to me sounds like you're just talking to him, like me just having a conversation with him about hockey. He does a really good job of explaining the information and I think he's done pretty well at it."

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews regularly watches his former alternate captain’s commentary as well.

"I think the way he studied the game, the way he understood the game, he obviously has a lot of passion for it," Toews said of Sharp as a player. "I think it's great that our sport has someone like him with his talent level and his career so soon after his playing days to go out there and talk about it and relate some things to the fans that a lot of people, even myself, wouldn't even recognize.

"He does a great job. I think he's more than poised up there too.”

The fact that the former Hawks forward looks like he’d have no trouble skating in today’s NHL adds to his on-air presentation.

“He's still pretty jacked, I'm assuming,” Alex DeBrincat said. “He hasn't gained any weight. You'd assume after your career you'd let go a little bit, but doesn't look like he has.”

“The thing about Sharpie was he was always one of the top-five guys in fitness testing, he was always in great shape,” Kane said. “He was strong, a powerful skater, had a good shot, was able to shoot it pretty good.

"It felt like he could still play. It was just kind of like the opportunity and if he wanted to travel, move his family; so, I wouldn't have been surprised if he kept playing and was successful too.” 

Some of Sharp’s former teammates knew the transition was inevitable.

“Guys that wanted to chirp and make fun of him said he couldn't get there soon enough, he loves the camera,” Toews said with a chuckle. 

Others saw a different path for No. 10. 

“I don't know if we really expected him to do that to be honest with you,” Kane said. “I thought maybe he'd be trying to get in with the team somewhere whether it was scouting or trying to get into the front office. I could see him doing that even to this day. 

“Maybe that's a stepping stone for him maybe in the future. I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the front office at some point because I think he's pretty good at scouting players and knowing a lot about the league too.” 

For Sharp, nothing can compare to the rush of playing in front of a sold-out United Center crowd, but the feeling right before going live on the air comes close. 

“I love it,” the Winnipeg native said. “It's very similar [to playing]. I love having the earpiece in and hearing our producer tell us that we're on in '10 ... 9 ... 8 . . .' Hearing the countdown kind of gives you that adrenaline feeling, the butterflies that you used to get as a player right before the first shift of a game. 

“I kind of miss that stress and anxiety of being a player and putting pressure on myself. I can't really think of too many other things in the game that bring that to us, so this is maybe a close second.”

Despite another career in the game, the four-time 30-plus goal-scorer with the Hawks still goes through what a lot of players do after they exit the ice. 

“The struggles of hanging up the skates and then trying to figure out what's next, I kind of went through that myself, still going through it,” Sharp said. “I miss the game every day. 

“I love being a part of NBC, but there's nothing that's going to replace being a professional hockey player and that's something that I did my entire adult life. I'm thankful that I've got an opportunity to continue working and be in the game, but at the same time I've had struggles just like every other former player. I want to keep my mind occupied and try to fill that void of playing hockey as best I can.”

Sharp joins NBC Sports’ national broadcast team every other week for a Tuesday or Wednesday game during the regular season. He’s frequently an analyst for Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago and come the postseason he’ll be on the national broadcasts full-time.

Whether he’s on TV in Chicago or nationally, Sharp prepares the same way.

“I think when I do more prep, that's when I struggle on the air,” he said. “I feel like I do enough prep just by being the same hockey guy that I've been my entire life. I watch the games, I stay involved, I talk to some players that are still playing that are friends of mine. 

“I don't look at it as doing research and preparation; I just love the game and love being around it and watching different players and teams play. I feel like when I fill my head with stats and things that I want to say on the air, it never comes out quite the way I want it to. So my approach now is just stay on top of the league as best I can and let's go out there on TV and just have a conversation and talk some hockey.”

Patrick had plenty of opportunities to talk hockey and get in front of the camera while with the Blackhawks, which made the transition that much easier.

“I think playing for the Blackhawks all those years we had so many opportunities to do different things with the media. Whether it was those Winter Classic games, we had the cameras following us around every year it seemed for a month of the season; training camp was always answering questions and making up videos,” Sharp said.

“The preparation that I got with the Blackhawks, being a Blackhawk player, it prepared me for life in the media post-hockey. My last game was on a Saturday and I took the week and I had an opportunity to come in and talk with NBC on the following Monday and I did it and I'm glad I did because it's been a fun experience and I like working with that team at NBC.”

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device. 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Discussing 2020 White Sox expectations

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Discussing 2020 White Sox expectations

SportsTalk Live is on location at McCormick Place to preview SoxFest 2020. Chuck Garfien and David Haugh join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00 - White Sox manager Rick Renteria joins the guys to talk about the team's big offseason and the expectations for the 2020 season. He also talks about how the team with handle Michael Kopech (4:00) and what Dallas Keuchel brings to the rotation. (6:00) Plus, he explains how guys who turned the corner in 2019 like Lucas Giolito and Yoan Moncada can stay hot in 2020. (15:00)

17:00 - Steve Stone joins the guys to explain how the White Sox rebuild is going according to plan despite not landing one of the top free agents this winter. Plus, he updates his Twitter follower battle with Jason Benetti (23:00) and talks about how he would handle Michael Kopech's return. (25:30)

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: