Bears

The wait is over! Albert Pujols hits a home run

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The wait is over! Albert Pujols hits a home run

From Comcast SportsNet
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- That day off sure did Albert Pujols some good. The 240 million slugger finally hit a home run for the Los Angeles Angels, ending the longest power drought of his career Sunday in a 4-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays. Pujols connected in the fifth inning for a two-run shot, his first AL homer and the 446th overall. He didn't play in Saturday night's victory after Angels manager Mike Scioscia kept him out of the lineup for the first time this season. "I don't think anything's been lifted off my shoulders, man," said Pujols, who did not come out for a curtain call. "I don't think about what you guys write or what you think. I know what I'm capable of doing, and I come out here every day and try to get myself ready for the game and give 110 percent to this team and to this organization. And if I do that, there's nothing to be sorry about." Pujols circled the bases without showing much emotion -- same as he did so many times with the St. Louis Cardinals. But when he returned to the dugout, he had it all to himself. There was nobody home. No players, no coaches, no batboys. Pujols' teammates gave him the ol' silent treatment, a plot hatched by Torii Hunter. They were all waiting for the slugger in the tunnel leading to the clubhouse. Then, a burst of euphoria and they were all back on the bench, high-fiving and slapping him all over his body. "I thought that would be cool. I always wanted to do that, and it worked," Hunter said. "I just said: Let's get off the bench and go to the tunnel.' He was excited about it and we were, too. We had to think fast. When I have a day off, man, I do stupid stuff." Pujols had gone 33 games and 139 at-bats dating to last year without a home run in the regular season. The three-time NL MVP had a three-homer game for the Cardinals in the World Series and hit seven home runs in spring training. Pujols drove a 2-2 pitch from rookie right-hander Drew Hutchison (1-1) into the left-field bullpen. Mike Trout doubled one out before the home run. Pujols homered in his 28th game and 111th at-bat with the Angels, who signed him to a 10-year, 240 million contract as a free agent in December, touching off a frenzy that resulted in more than 5,000 extra season tickets being sold. This was his first home run at Angel Stadium, the 31st big league ballpark in which he's hit one. "The last three weeks here, the fans have wanted to see it, and I'm blessed that I got the opportunity to do it here in front of them," Pujols said with a trace of a grin. "They've been waiting and they've been impatient, and the last couple of days I heard some boos out there, but that's part of it. I touched on that the other day. If I could boo myself, I'd do it myself, too. "But don't blame the fans. If you want to blame somebody, blame me because I'm a big guy and I can take it. I'm not performing the way everybody's expecting, but the season isn't only 27 games. You play 162 games, and they're going to cheer us more than they're going to boo us." The home run drew a reaction far away, too. Several of his former St. Louis teammates were watching on television in the clubhouse after a win at Houston, and they clapped and cheered loudly when Pujols connected on Hutchison's slider. "My slider was pretty effective today, other than the one I hung to him," Hutchison said. "I was trying to bounce it in the dirt and I didn't execute it. When you don't execute your pitches, things like that happen." Pujols had not homered in the regular season since Sept. 22. He began the game batting .194 with five RBIs. His longest homer drought prior to this was in 2011, when he came up empty in 27 straight games and 105 at-bats. Previously, his longest home run drought at the start of a season was in 2008, when he failed to hit one in his first eight games and 27 at-bats. "Man, it's a relief for him and I'm pretty sure it's a relief for us," Hunter said. "We don't have to hear about Albert having a goose egg no more. I'm happy that he got this lifted off of him. Now he can go out there and just swing the bat and have fun." Jerome Williams (3-1) allowed three runs and eight hits in 6 2-3 innings. The right-hander gave up an unearned run in the seventh after Pujols -- a two-time Gold Glove winner -- committed his first error of the season with a bad throw to second. Angels lefty Scott Downs injured himself trying to avoid a line-drive single through the box by J.P. Arencibia with one out in the ninth and was replaced by LaTroy Hawkins. Hawkins turned Omar Vizquel's line drive into a game-ending double play for his first save with the Angels.

J.P. Holtz provides spark Bears have been missing at tight end

J.P. Holtz provides spark Bears have been missing at tight end

Trey Burton's nagging injuries and Adam Shaheen's lack of development created a tight end crisis for the Bears through the first half of the 2019 season, but with Burton on injured reserve and Shaheen seemingly no longer in the team's plans, someone had to rise from the ashes and take over the starting job.

Enter J.P. Holtz, the 26-year-old unknown commodity whose under-the-radar signing with the Bears was hardly noticed by the fanbase. GM Ryan Pace claimed Holtz off waivers on Sept. 11 after a brief stint with the Washington Redskins, where he spent 2018 and the start of 2019 bouncing between the practice squad and active roster.

Holtz initially entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Pittsburgh. He signed with the Browns in May 2016 and spent the end of that season on Cleveland's practice squad. 

Needless to say, Holtz's journey to the Bears' starting lineup has been anything but traditional. But in Week 14's game against the Dallas Cowboys, he provided the Bears' offense with its first legitimately productive game at tight end. Holtz finished Thursday's game with three catches for 56 yards and had the longest catch of any Bears receiver (30 yards). He was the highest-graded player on Chicago's offense, per Pro Football Focus. His 79.2 grade was better than Burton's top mark in 2019 (67.6) and would've qualified as Burton's third-best game of 2018, too. 

Holtz out-snapped fellow tight end Jesper Horsted, 37-31, and appears to have taken a slight lead over Horsted for reps moving forward. That said, both players have surprisingly looked like better fits for what Matt Nagy wants to do in his offense than either Burton or Shaheen. Horsted had four catches for 36 yards on Thursday.

Holtz and Horsted combined for seven catches and 92 yards. That's more yards in one game than Burton managed in the eight games he played, total.

It would be unfair to expect similar production from Holtz from here on out considering he was never a pass-catcher at any point in his career. In college, Holtz never topped more than 24 catches in a season and recorded a career-high 350 yards his senior year. But we've seen players' roles change once they get to the NFL before. Take 49ers superstar George Kittle, for example. His career-high in receiving yards at Iowa was just 314. We know what kind of weapon he's turned into as a pro.

No, Holtz isn't the next Kittle. But he doesn't have to be. He just has to be the guy we saw Thursday night who made plays for an offense desperate for a playmaking tight end.

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Blackhawks place Duncan Keith and Andrew Shaw on injured reserve

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USA Today

Blackhawks place Duncan Keith and Andrew Shaw on injured reserve

The Blackhawks placed defenseman Duncan Keith and forward Andrew Shaw on injured reserve Friday, retroactive to Nov. 29 and 30, respectively. The move opens up two spots on the 23-man roster, although the team did not make any corresponding transactions due to cap reasons.

Keith, who has missed the last three games with a groin injury, and Shaw, who is in the league's concussion protocol, will not play in Friday's game against the New Jersey Devils but they will both be eligible to return after that, whenever they're cleared to do so. Injured reserve requires a player to miss a minimum of seven days from their retroactive date.

The Blackhawks do not receive any cap relief by putting Keith and Shaw on regular injured reserve, but if their injuries continue to linger, the team could transfer one or both to long-term injured reserve (LTIR) for financial reasons, which would force them to miss a minimum of 10 games and 24 days from the time of their injury.

The Blackhawks do not have the cap space to make a call-up and with Drake Caggiula, who's on LTIR, inching closer to a return, that complicates things from a financial standpoint. They're currently sitting at 21 players and have $240,030 in projected cap space, according to Cap Friendly.

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