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Giants' Scutaro takes long journey to NLCS MVP

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Giants' Scutaro takes long journey to NLCS MVP

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Fans labeled Marco Scutaro a super-sub in Oakland for all his fill-in roles. Others called him a Colorado castoff in July, and his new San Francisco Giants teammates nicknamed him ``Blockbuster'' for the often overlooked trade-deadline move.

Now he has a new title: NLCS MVP.

Scutaro tied the league championship series record with 14 hits to earn the honors, capping off his remarkable run with three singles and a walk in San Francisco's 9-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday night in the decisive Game 7.

After several stops and bumps along the way, the 36-year-old has finally found a place where fans will know his name for years to come.

``As soon as you get traded, you kind of start thinking where you're going to live, your family, you have to pack,'' Scutaro said. ``I kind of thought I had a really good opportunity to make the playoffs with this team. We just started playing good, and here we are in the World Series.''

In a fitting ending to a series that saw Scutaro absorb a hard and an admitted late slide from Matt Holliday that strained the second baseman's left hip, Scutaro caught Holliday's popup through the pouring rain for the final out.

He batted .500 with two walks, scored six runs and drove in four. Hideki Matsui (2004 Yankees), Albert Pujols (2004 Cardinals) and Kevin Youkilis (2007 Red Sox) also had 14 hits in an LCS. And Scutaro's 10-game hitting streak ties Cody Ross and Alvin Dark for the longest in Giants postseason history.

Starting Wednesday night in San Francisco, he'll have a chance to break that mark when the Giants host the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the World Series.

``It took him a couple days to adjust to us, but he really has been a leader since he got here,'' said pitcher Ryan Vogelsong, who won Games 2 and 6. ``He's played great. He's played great defense. He's a true professional. He knows the game. He does all the little things right. Everything you'd lay out on a table for a guy to do, he does.''

The Giants acquired the Venezuelan native at the trade deadline. It turned out to be one of baseball's best moves, and easily one of its most overlooked.

While the rival Dodgers' spending spree made headlines from coast-to-coast, the Giants took on just $2.1 million of Scutaro's salary from Colorado in exchange for minor leaguer Charlie Culberson.

All Scutaro has done since is make opponents pay - and he earned a $75,000 bonus for winning NLCS MVP honors in the process.

``That's the best thing that's ever happened so far,'' said Giants ace Matt Cain, who threw 5 2-3 innings of five-hit ball in the clincher. ``That's why it's `The Blockbuster.'''

He had a major impact even before October, batting .339 after the All-Star break to power the Giants' playoff push. Scutaro has delivered in the biggest moments in the postseason, and in many ways, has become the 2012 version of Ross.

The Giants plucked Ross off waivers in August two years ago and watched him capture MVP honors in the NLCS against Philadelphia and help lead them to the first World Series title since moving from New York in 1958. And just like in 2010, general manager Brian Sabean's move made the biggest noise at the most key time.

Scutaro became just the fifth midseason acquisition to win a postseason MVP award.

``When we acquired Scutaro, a great job by Brian Sabean, making that blockbuster deal, as we say, that's his nickname,'' Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. ``I knew he was a good player. But to see him day in, day out, you really appreciate the talent that this guy has. I don't know if it was possible for him to raise his game, that's how well he's played, his level. But he did after that slide.''

Scutaro was hurt on Holliday's slide in the first inning of Game 2. Scutaro got even a few innings later with his own big blow that helped the Giants even the series and end an 0-3 home slide in the postseason when he singled home two runs in San Francisco's four-run fourth inning.

Another run scored on the bases-loaded hit when Holliday misplayed the bouncing ball in left field. Scutaro left after the fifth of that 7-1 win because of his damaged hip on a play Bochy felt was illegal.

Scutaro never missed a game, and he never stopped playing all-out, either.

His sliding stops were part of a spectacular defensive effort that backed Barry Zito in San Francisco's 5-0 Game 5 victory. He even threw his arms in the air after grabbing Pete Kozma's spinning hopper in the fourth inning of Game 7.

He also delivered a two-out, two-run double to highlight a four-run second inning in the Game 6 win. And even in the Game 1 loss, Scutaro's single to left leading off the fourth was San Francisco's first hit off 18-game winner Lance Lynn.

He spent four seasons across the bay with the Oakland Athletics from 2004-07, filling in wherever he was needed in the infield - and, on occasion, in the outfield. Scutaro, who turns 37 on Oct. 30, also played for the Mets (2002-03), Toronto (2008-09), Boston (2010-11) and 95 games with Colorado this season.

No matter what happens now, he will always be remembered in San Francisco.

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Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP

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Dominant defense earns Ravens' Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors

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Dominant defense earns Ravens' Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors

The defensive performance on display by the Baltimore Ravens Sunday against the Tennessee Titans in a 21-0 shutout win was flat out historic. So historic that it's earned linebacker Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

A franchise-record 11 sacks were laid on quarterback Marcus Mariota during the Week 6 matchup, with Smith leading the way with three of them.   

So far this season the 26-year-old has 20 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks, and one forced fumble. As someone who is in the final year of his rookie NFL contract, he's certainly proving he is worthy of getting paid this offseason. 

"It feels great, man. It's big," Smith said of the honor during media availability Wednesday. "I know when I first found out I called my mom and she was already looking at it. But I called her and she was trying to congratulate me and was like 'who would've ever thought the guy that played one year of high school football would be where he at now and making so many goals.'"

But earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week isn't the only goal Smith has in mind. His performance through the first six weeks and assisting the No. 1 ranked scoring defense is just a stepping stone to the ultimate honor.

"I was telling her, 'Ma you know this is a good self-goal but my main goal is to get us to the Super Bowl.'" 

The road to the Super Bowl for Smith and the Ravens continues this Sunday vs. Drew Brees and the Saints. 

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4 things to watch as the Caps host the Rangers

4 things to watch as the Caps host the Rangers

The Caps return to action Wednesday as they host the New York Rangers (7 p.m., NBCSN) in a Metropolitan Division clash.

Here are four things you should be watching for in this game.

The schedule finally gives the Caps a break

The early season schedule for Washington has been bizarre to say the least. Finally, they will be catching a break on Wednesday as the Rangers will be playing in the second leg of a back-to-back.

That certainly does not guarantee a victory, but it is something the Caps are very aware of and they hope to take advantage.

“I think speed is a big part of the game and for them to be fatigued off the back-to-back is definitely going to help us whether we move the puck a little quicker than we would in other games just kind of knowing they are coming off that back-to-back,” Nathan Walker said.

“We've got to make them skate, we've got to make their D go back for pucks,” T.J. Oshie said. “I don't feel like they're going to look tired at the start of the game, usually that comes towards the end of the game, second half, and so you've got to work to drain them down a little bit and we've got to take advantage of that opportunity tonight.”

Top-line Stephenson

Stephenson was added to the top line on Saturday with no practice other than the morning skate that day. A few days between games has given him a chance to practice with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov and it should pay dividends on Wednesday.

This game also should be a good opportunity for Stephenson who was added to the top for his speed. Playing a tired Rangers team is something he will need to take advantage of.

“It's always tough to play back-to-back and with the travel and stuff like that,” Stephenson said. “For the most part, I think that that's going to be important and just to play a full 60, that's something that we want to get consistent with and we haven't been so far … But for the most part, I think the start will really help us tonight.”

Nathan Walker returns

The Caps made a change to the lineup for Wednesday’s game as Nathan Walker will be in for Dmitrij Jaskin on the fourth line.

When asked why he made the change, Reirden said, “Just a different look. A team that's on a back-to-back, we wanted to really come at them with some speed, tenacity and intensity that we know we always get from Nathan so thought it was a good add into tonight's lineup.

The Caps have got to get more offense from their bottom six and adding the speedy Walker to the bottom six could provide a boost. He has had trouble playing within the system in the past and his play has been more frenzied than controlled at times, but with Tom Wilson still suspended, there’s definitely an opportunity for Walker to earn more playing time depending on how he plays Wednesday.

King Henry remains on his throne

In addition to a tired Rangers team, the Caps are also expected to face a tired goalie.

Henrik Lundqvist started New York’s game on Tuesday and is expected to start again on Wednesday against Washington. That is not confirmed as the Rangers did not have a morning skate because of the back-to-back, but it is believed Lundqvist will play again.

There was a time when Lundqvist was considered the best netminder in the NHL and he is off to a phenomenal start this season with a 1.99 GAA and .939 save percentage in five games thus far.

But how will the 36-year-old goalie handle a back-to-back?

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