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Late-game drama in Detroit as Tigers take opener

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Late-game drama in Detroit as Tigers take opener

From Comcast SportsNetDETROIT (AP) -- Al Alburquerque reached out and snagged a sharp grounder to the mound -- then planted a little kiss on the ball before tossing it to first.The relieved reliever gave his Detroit teammates a reason to laugh in ninth inning of a tight game. Moments later, the Tigers were celebrating.Don Kelly scored the tying run on a wild pitch in the eighth, then hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth that lifted the Tigers over the Oakland Athletics 5-4 Sunday for a 2-0 lead in their AL playoff series.Detroit overcame three A's leads and seesawed to victory. It was 1-all before a wild final three innings that included a key error by Oakland center fielder Coco Crisp, two game-tying wild pitches and several momentum changes.Alburquerque kept it tied in the ninth when he got Yoenis Cespedes to hit a comebacker with men on first and third and two outs. He gave the ball a quick smooch before throwing underhand to first."I just did it," he said. "It was the emotion of the game. I wasn't trying to be a hot dog."Oakland outfielder Josh Reddick wasn't thrilled."We didn't appreciate that. I thought it was immature and not very professional," Reddick said. "You don't do that on the field. Save it for the dugout. That's all I'm going to say."Detroit will go for a sweep of the division series matchup in Game 3 on Tuesday at Oakland.Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera doubled twice for the Tigers, hit a fly ball that Crisp dropped for two runs and later singled in the ninth.It was the sixth straight postseason loss for the A's, all to Detroit. The Tigers swept Oakland in the 2006 AL championship series, winning the series on Magglio Ordonez's homer in Game 4 -- which was Detroit's last sudden-death postseason win before Sunday.Omar Infante and Cabrera hit back-to-back singles off Grant Balfour with one out in the ninth. With runners on first and third, Prince Fielder was intentionally walked, bringing up Kelly, who had stayed in the game as the designated hitter after pinch-running the previous inning."Was looking for a fastball and I got it," Kelly said. "It's a great feeling, to be able to go out there in that situation and do that."Kelly's fly to right was plenty deep enough to score Infante without a play at the plate. It was another big playoff moment for Kelly, who hit a home run last year when the Tigers beat the New York Yankees in the decisive fifth game of the division series.A favorite of manager Jim Leyland, Kelly hit .186 during the regular season but made the postseason roster as a pinch-running option who can also play any position in the field."It takes everybody to contribute and we got contributions from everybody," Leyland said.Alburquerque missed most of the season after offseason surgery on his throwing elbow. He came on to face Cespedes with the Tigers in a jam, and that one out was enough to earn him the win.And the right-hander entertained his teammates in the process with a bit of, um, comic relief."We were cracking up in the dugout," Detroit pitcher Max Scherzer said. "We were like, Did he really just kiss the ball?' ... Alburquerque does some crazy things on the mound."It was tied at 4 after both teams made their share of mistakes in the seventh and eighth. Cliff Pennington gave the A's the lead with an RBI single in the seventh, but Crisp dropped Cabrera's two-out flyball in the bottom half, allowing two runs to score.Oakland tied it in the eighth on a wild pitch by Joaquin Benoit, and Reddick followed with a solo homer to give the A's a 4-3 lead. Then it was Ryan Cook's turn to throw a tying wild pitch, allowing Kelly to score.Pennington nearly came through again for Oakland in the ninth, but his deep drive down the left-field line was just foul."We just need to win a game," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "If you start thinking about three games ahead, you lose your focus on Tuesday's game."On a drizzly day at Comerica Park, the Tigers and A's were sloppy with the game on the line.With runners on first and second and two out in the seventh, Cabrera lifted a fly to center. Crisp, charging hard, tried to make a basket catch but bobbled the ball. He nearly recovered to make a falling grab, but the ball popped out of his glove and the Tigers took a 3-2 lead."I saw it come off the heel of my glove, and I tried to grab again," Crisp said. "I even went for it barehanded, but I couldn't get it."Cespedes led off the eighth with a single and stole second and third. With one out and the infield in, Benoit threw a wild pitch to allow the tying run. The worst was still to come for the Detroit reliever, who allowed Reddick's homer to right that put Oakland ahead 4-3.Reddick had struck out in all six at-bats in the series before that.Oakland again gave up the lead immediately. The A's have taken the lead four times in this series, but on each occasion they failed to hold it through the bottom half of the inning.Doug Fister allowed two runs and six hits in seven innings for Detroit, striking out eight. Rookie Tommy Milone was impressive for the A's, allowing a run and five hits in six innings. He struck out six.Fister gave the A's trouble early with his slow, sweeping breaking ball, but Oakland hit four singles in the third. Crisp's slow roller to third turned into an infield hit when Cabrera threw wide to first. Stephen Drew struck out looking -- and had words for plate umpire Mark Wegner -- but Cespedes followed with a run-scoring single.Oakland nearly scored again on a single to right by Brandon Moss, but rookie Avisail Garcia threw Crisp out at home.The A's showed frustration with the plate umpire during Game 1, and that spilled over to Sunday. Reddick struck out looking for the third out of the third and threw his bat away immediately. Wegner took off his mask and stared at the Oakland hitter as he headed back toward the dugout, but the situation didn't escalate.Cabrera hit a one-out double in the bottom of the third -- to the same spot in left-center as his double in the first. He went to third on a single by Fielder and scored on a dribbler by Delmon Young that was too slow to be a double play.Milone retired 10 in a row, starting with Young's RBI groundout.

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John Wall badly wants to win and is sick of perception he cares more about his own stats

John Wall badly wants to win and is sick of perception he cares more about his own stats

John Wall is ready to put the 2017-18 season behind him, behind him like a hapless defender staring at the back of his No. 2 jersey on a fastbreak. 

After missing 41 games due to injuries and falling in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in his career, the Wizards' All-Star point guard is taking nothing for granted. The 28-year-old believes he's about to lead the most talented team he's ever played on.

Wall has made five All-Star teams and one All-NBA selection. After playing for two seasons without one, he signed a reportedly five-year shoe deal with Adidas in 2018. He has a supermax contract, one that kicks in next season and begins at a projected $37.8 million.

What Wall doesn't have is what he's always wanted most. He wants to win.

The Wizards have made the playoffs four times in his career and reached the second round three times. The Eastern Conference Finals, however, has been elusive.

"I'm the type of guy that wants to have a statue out front. I want to bring a championship here. Those are all the things that I care about," Wall told NBC Sports Washington. "If you're not winning as a group and doing things as a team, then you don't get individual success. That's something that I learned a long time ago."

There was a lot about the 2017-18 season that bothered Wall. In particular, he detested the perception that grew that he was unhappy with the team's success while he was injured. 

During Wall's second injury absence, from late January to late March, the Wizards won five straight games and 10 of 13 with him watching from the sidelines.

Though it ultimately proved to be a mirage, as the Wizards lost 12 of their next 17 that he didn’t play, there were numbers early on that suggested their success was because they passed the ball more frequently without him. Comments from his teammates Bradley Beal and Marcin Gortat to reporters and on social media were viewed by some as slights to their point guard.

Wall remained silent at first and a lack of communication between the sides allowed it all to bottle up. He did several interviews, including one with NBC Sports Washington, to give his side of the story and to say it was ridiculous he could be criticized for not being a team player.

That narrative still bothers him.

"Some people mistake me that all I care about is individual stats but that's never been my game," he said. "I don't think a lot of people really get that."

"I love to get assists. I love to get 10 assists before I score 30 points. It's just that I have the ability to do both. A lot of guys never had the ability to be able to do both. It's great to do that, but I feel like if I ain't winning then it don't mean s*** to me."

Wall's numbers are historically good for his age and he is aware of the company he's in. He is one of only four players to average at least 18 points, nine assists and four rebounds per game through their first eight NBA seasons. The other three were Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson and Chris Paul. Johnson and Robertson are Hall of Famers and Paul will be there someday. 

Statistically, Wall is on a Hall of Fame track, but he wants much more than a plaque in Springfield, Massachusetts.

"I think about all of that. Everybody thinks about the Hall of Fame and being the franchise scoring leader and all that," he said. "I have all of those goals, but it don't mean s*** if you don't win at the end of the day. You can be a loser and have all of these records, but what does that stand for?"

Wall has been relatively fortunate throughout his career when it comes to his health, but his worst injuries have come at inopportune times. In 2015, his Wizards were up 1-0 on the Hawks in the second round of the playoffs when he suffered five non-displaced fractures in his left wrist and hand. That may have cost him a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Last year, Wall's months-long injury saga began when he banged his knee with a Mavericks player in just the 10th game of the season. 

It was a down year for him and the Wizards in a season in which the Cavaliers were vulnerable, the Celtics had major injuries and the Sixers were still learning how to win. If Washington was at full-strength, perhaps they could have taken advantage.

Now, after an offseason that brought newcomers Dwight Howard, Austin Rivers and Jeff Green to Washington, and that saw LeBron James leave the Eastern Conference, Wall feels he has a serious opportunity to win.

He just wants to get back to the postseason and take another shot at a deep playoff run he believes he is destined for.

"We had a great chance [in 2017]," he said. "We just s***ed the bed. That's how it goes. I don't think [time is] running out, but teams are getting better."

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The Toronto Maple Leafs are not happy with Caps' Lars Eller

The Toronto Maple Leafs are not happy with Caps' Lars Eller

On Saturday, the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals faced off against one of the hottest young teams in the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was viewed as a marquee matchup and it certainly lived up to its billing with both teams battling in a tight, well-played game.

In the end, Toronto walked away as the 4-2 victors in one of their better wins of the young season, but not everyone left that game impressed.

A team that already boasted super-star talent Auston Matthews added John Tavares in the offseason as a free agent giving the Maple Leafs a formidable one, two punch at center. For most of the game, the Caps were able to shut down that center tandem.

Lars Eller was asked after the game how the Caps were able to keep the Leafs’ big stars in check and he indicated that perhaps Tavares and Matthews were not as formidable a pair as they had been made out to be.

“We’re used to playing against [Sidney Crosby] and [Evgeni Malkin],” Eller said. “Everything kind of drops from there so it’s not that special. It’s a good team like a lot of others. They’ll probably be a playoff team, I think.”

Not surprisingly, that quote caught Toronto’s attention, especially forward Nazem Kadri.

Per Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, Kadri called Eller’s comments “bulletin board material.”

With 12 points in seven games, the Maple Leafs currently boast the top record in the league. Toronto is far from perfect, however, and their defense remains a major question mark in whether this team is a true Stanley Cup contender.

But as to whether or not they are a playoff team? That seems like a pretty safe bet.

The Caps and Maple Leafs will meet twice more this season on Jan. 23 and Feb. 21. Both games are in Toronto.  

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