Cubs

NBA team earns 1st playoff spot since '07

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NBA team earns 1st playoff spot since '07

From Comcast SportsNetLOS ANGELES (AP) -- With some help, the Los Angeles Clippers had already clinched their first playoff berth in five years before they tipped off against Oklahoma City. Then they went out and earned it.Nick Young scored 19 points off the bench, Blake Griffin added 17 and Randy Foye 13 to beat the Thunder 92-77 on Monday night."It is something that we're happy about, but by no means is that all we want," said Griffin, who like a lot of his teammates will be in the postseason for the first time. "That was one of our goals coming in, but it goes farther than that."Houston lost to Denver by three points earlier Monday night, ensuring the Clippers would end the second-longest active postseason drought in the league."I'm happy we can get Blake on TV in May," DeAndre Jordan said.Griffin had 11 rebounds and Jordan grabbed 12 in the Clippers' fourth straight victory and 12th in their last 14 games. Their 38 wins are the most since the franchise had 40 in 2006-07."This is a great feeling," said Paul, whose acquisition shortly before the lockout ended has played a key role in the Clippers' changing fortunes. "We can celebrate it, be excited about it tonight but tomorrow we're back at work."Kevin Durant led Oklahoma City with 24 points, Serge Ibaka and James Harden added 12 points each, and Russell Westbrook was held to nine as the Thunder's two-game winning streak ended. San Antonio beat Golden State to move percentage points ahead of the Thunder in the race for the No. 1 seed in the West."There's no time to panic right now," Durant said. "We have to win the next game in order to get our momentum back."The Clippers didn't need the victory to achieve their immediate goal, but they played like they wanted it in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Thunder 26-11."We got good looks, but we were missing shots and they picked their intensity up," Durant said. "It was just one of those tough ones for us. I missed a few 3s, Russell missed a few elbow jump shots, which he normally makes, and Serge missed some that went in and out. That's how the game is, man."Mo Williams hit a 3-pointer for the Clippers' first lead since they scored the game's first basket. Eric Bledsoe came in for Paul and calmly ran the offense, feeding Williams and Young, who combined for 10 of their first 14 points."We're one of the best second units in the league," said Young, who joined the Clippers a month ago in a trade from Washington. "I'm excited. I was waiting for one of these type of games. To get it tonight against one of the league's top teams was great."Griffin scored on back-to-back rim-rattling dunks that had the Clippers' 32nd sellout crowd of the season on its feet roaring. Paul briefly came back in, but Williams and Foye made consecutive 3s to stretch their lead to 90-77, so the All-Star guard sat down again with the game in hand."We have enough offensive power to play with anybody, but our defense is what triggers us," Paul said. "When we defend, we're tough to guard."Foye dribbled out the final seconds with a smile on his face, although at the buzzer the Clippers did little more than smile and hug each other."We know that's not the only thing we want," Jordan said. "We still have a goal for this team, and this is just one of the steps towards it."The Clippers won the season series, 3-1."They're really good, but I don't think they're a better team than us," Durant said. "It's not like we're afraid of them or that we're scared to see those guys later on. But you have to give them credit. They beat us."The Clippers dominated the third, outscoring the Thunder 23-14. Durant and Westbrook were shut out, while Ibaka scored 12, including nine in a row. Young scored eight straight, hitting two consecutive 3s, to draw Los Angeles within one. Durant banged into Griffin on the perimeter for the foul. Griffin made both shots, but the second was disallowed when Jordan committed a lane violation, leaving the game tied at 66."We picked up the defensive intensity to start the third quarter," Paul said. "We got some steals, got out in transition, guys hit some big buckets and we were able to sustain that momentum."The Thunder led by 11 points in the second quarter. The Clippers closed within four three times, the last time on a 10-3 run including four in a row by Griffin. But the Thunder ran off the final five points to go up 52-43 at halftime. Ibaka had three fouls in the first half when he had no rebounds and no points.NOTES:Paul took his 2-year-old son to a Dodgers game on Sunday. They were both wearing Dodgers caps and his son waved at the crowd. "They booed me bad," he said. "I was just happy that my son didn't know what was going on." ... The Clippers play four of their final five games on the road, where they will try to finish with a .500 or better record for the first time since moving to Los Angeles in 1984. ... They are 15-14 away from home, one of just three Western Conference teams with a winning road mark. ... The Thunder fell to 19-11 on the road, still tops in the West. ... The Thunder came in averaging 103.1 points. ... Durant made 10 of 12 free throws, but the Thunder was just 62 percent from the line, well below their league-leading 80.3 percent.

Quintana's script against Brewers flipped

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USA TODAY

Quintana's script against Brewers flipped

Before this afternoon's game against the Brewers, Jose Quintana had a 0.95 ERA against them, but thanks to some first-inning longballs, that changed quickly. Milwaukee, on their way to a 7-0 win at Wrigley Field, had sort of stumbled in to this two game series thanks to shaky bullpen performances against the Padres and Braves in their previous two series, and given Quintana's past success against them, it didn't appear likely going into the game that things would change.
 
It took all of two pitches for Lorenzo Cain to homer to left, and then later in the first inning, for Ryan Braun to do the same with a two-run shot that gave the Brewers a quick 3-0 lead. Braun, who before today's game was hitting .143 without even an extra base hit against Quintana, ultimately homered twice.
 
"Everything he’s thrown me, he’s had success with," Braun said of Quintana. "Everything he’s shown me had worked for him."
 
As a team, the Brewers were hitting just .202 against Quintana, so they knew scoring opportunities would be at a premium.
 
"A guy as good as him isn’t going to make many mistakes, so any mistakes he does make you have to take advantage of," Braun said. "He’s had so much success against us, the odds were we were going to find a way to score a couple runs, we were able to do that against him today."
 
In the first inning, Cain homered in the first on a fastball left too far in the zone, and Braun on a curveball that didn't break away from the sweet spot. Braun's second homer came on a 75 mph curveball after Quintana fell behind in the count 2-0.
 
Brewers starter Jhoulys Chacin said that going into the game, he was thinking about how much his offense has struggled against Quintana, but seeing them score so early eased the pressure on him and allowed him to work with his slider and fastball a little more aggressively.
 
"A couple of big-time players stepped up in the first inning, and I mean, yea, we've really struggled against this guy," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of the first-inning success against Quintana. "You put up three runs in the first inning with two homers, it flips the script pretty fast."
 
With the onus off of Chacin, he was better able to throw seven scoreless innings on the way to his sixth decision in his last seven starts. Today's was an especially important win for Milwaukee, who entered this week's short series three games behind the Cubs. Brewers players differed on whether or not they'd call it a must-win, however.
 
"We have six more after these against the Cubs, but I feel like any game is must-win right now," Chacin said.
 
Braun, who has seen firsthand how much games in August and September can change the course of what had been a successful season, called it a little differently.
 
"It’s pretty close to a must-win. If we want to stay in the division race, I think we had to win one of two, ideally you gotta win both," Braun said. "These guys are really good, you obviously didn’t want to leave here down five games."
 
Against the packed crowd of 40,441 Tuesday, Braun said that he enjoys the atmosphere at Wrigley as the opponent.
 
"I’ve always enjoyed playing here. As a competitor, there’s no more enjoyable atmosphere to play in than this. The more hostile the environment is, the more enjoyable it is as a competitor. This place is always packed, it’s always loud. It’s a very challenging place to win," Braun said.
 
Even with another win tomorrow, the Brewers will still remain a game behind the Cubs, but Braun said that he is thankful to be playing in meaningful games at this point in the season regardless. After tomorrow, the Cubs and Brewers play two series in the first half at September, one at Miller Park and one at Wrigley Field.
 
 

Ben Zobrist earned his first career ejection thanks to one hell of a zinger

Ben Zobrist earned his first career ejection thanks to one hell of a zinger

Two days after David Bote turned in the best moment of the Cubs' season, Ben Zobrist delivered the best line of the Cubs' season.

As the top of the ninth inning was getting underway, the 37-year-old mild-mannered veteran was seen talking with home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi.

As Jorge De La Rosa finished his warm-up pitches and the inning was about to start, suddenly Zobrist and Cuzzi got animated and the next thing anybody knew, Zobrist was slapped with his first-ever ejection.

"When you have good, quality at-bats as a hitter and you feel like it's kinda taken away from you, you want some sort of an answer," Zobrist said. "Or you want to be assured that they're gonna go back and make an adjustment and that's what I asked for.

"It was met with, basically, he didn't want to talk about that. He didn't want me to tell him that. I just basically said, 'Well that's why we want an electronic strike zone.'"

MIC. DROP.

This came after a passionate discussion between the two men in the bottom of the sixth inning when Zobrist was called out on strikes on a full count pitch he thought was clearly off the plate. On that play, Joe Maddon came out to intercede and was ejected, but Zobrist walked back to the dugout to collect himself and remained in the game.

So before his next at-bat, Zobrist wanted to say his piece. A calm discussion transformed into something more and while Zobrist didn't apologize for what he said, he was willing to admit his pride played a factor.

"It is what it is," he said. "I'm not gonna lie. When you're dealing with that and you're trying to have good, quality at-bats and you feel like it gets taken away from you, sometimes your pride gets in your way and you say things that are going to upset them. Obviously that upset him and he tossed me."

Zobrist's strikeout wasn't an altogether huge moment in the game, but the pitch — a breaking ball off from Jhoulys Chacin that started off the plate and remained off the plate — should've been Ball 4 and would've given the Cubs runners at first and second with nobody out for Jason Heyward. Sure, it was a 7-0 ballgame, but with the wind blowing out and the Cubs had 12 outs left, crazier things have happened (which Bote just proved).

The Cubs never went on to record another hit, but they didn't blame Cuzzi for that.

"Whenever Zo argues, as a manager, you better get your butt out there," Maddon said. "He's rare to be that way and eventually to get ejected, that's unfortunate. But regardless, there was a couple bad calls, but we gotta do a better job offensively. My god."

Zobrist said he's been more animated and riled up at other points in his career compared to Tuesday afternoon, but obviously that zinger was enough to get the job done to notch his first-ever ejection.

Almost a year ago to the day, Zobrist was very nearly tossed in a game against the Reds, but Maddon once again got in the middle.

This is the latest chapter in what has become a surprising trend of the Cubs vs. umpire debacle. 

For the third straight homestand, the Cubs have had an issue with the umpiring crew — from Javy Baez getting tossed against the Cardinals last month to Anthony Rizzo getting heated with Angel Hernandez two weekends ago to Maddon getting the boot a few days ago against the Nationals.

Only Rizzo's was related to balls and strikes, but between him and Zobrist — two guys who rarely argue — getting heated in the span of 9 days, it begs the question: Does Major League Baseball need an electronic strike zone?

"I'm just gonna leave it at that," Zobrist said. "I think that discussion will happen eventually. But I'm just gonna leave right now at the fact that I said that today. That's it."