Orioles

No. 3 Kansas, No. 11 K-State ready for showdown

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No. 3 Kansas, No. 11 K-State ready for showdown

Bruce Weber has been in the middle of some intense rivalries during his career.

The coach of No. 11 Kansas State remembers one time, as an assistant on Gene Keady's staff at Purdue, the Boilermakers visited highly-ranked Indiana coached by Bob Knight. Their bus in Bloomington was surrounded by happy Hoosiers, and they needed a police escort to get through.

Before taking over the Wildcats, Weber was the coach of Illinois and went through several knock-down, drag-out fights with Missouri, the Fighting Illini's bitter border rival.

So he knows something about big-time rivalries.

He'll get his first real taste of Kansas State's most heated one Tuesday night.

That's when his Wildcats, at 15-2 and 4-0 in the Big 12, welcome third-ranked Kansas to Bramlage Coliseum. The Jayhawks have won a nation-leading 15 straight games, are 16-1 and also 4-0 in the Big 12, which means first place in the conference will be on the line.

``It's one of the things that is most brought up. There's no doubt about that,'' Weber said of the simmering rivalry. ``I told the guys it's important, but it's important because we're in first place, and they're at No. 2 (in the) RPI. That's why it's really important.''

Kansas State isn't far behind in the RPI, a measure used by the NCAA selection committee to help seed teams come March. And that makes this match-up one of the biggest in years.

The last time the teams approached a game of this magnitude at Bramlage Coliseum was in January 2010, when the 11th-ranked Wildcats lost 81-79 to No. 2 Kansas in overtime. They played again that March, and the second-ranked Jayhawks beat the fifth-ranked Wildcats 82-65.

Only two other times since 1958 have both teams been ranked during a regular-season game.

``The thing that really makes a rivalry is when you beat each other, you go back and forth,'' Weber said. ``That's what really makes it a rivalry.''

By that definition, the Sunflower Showdown hasn't been much of a rivalry lately.

The Jayhawks, the eight-time and defending Big 12 champions, have won 44 of the last 47 meetings, and they're an unheard-of 22-2 in Bramlage Coliseum since it opened in 1987.

``It's a first-place game in the Big 12, and that's something I haven't played for,'' said the Wildcats' Will Spradling, a junior from Overland Park, Kan. ``Since I was here we've always been in that third and fourth range. Now we're up in first place.''

Indeed, Kansas State's eight-game winning streak is its best since winning 10 in a row from November 2009 through January 2010, and they've won 12 straight at home dating to last season.

Possible? Sure.

Expected? Not really.

The Jayhawks, on the other hand, were a unanimous pick to win another Big 12 title. They haven't lost since playing Michigan State in their second game of the season, and they're off to a 16-1 start - or better - for the third time in the last four seasons.

All of that was assumed, more or less.

The road to a perfect Big 12 start hasn't been smooth as glass, though. The Jayhawks needed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Ben McLemore to force overtime in a win over Iowa State, and then scuffled offensively in lackluster victories over Texas Tech and Baylor.

On Saturday, they needed to storm back from an 11-point deficit to beat Texas 64-59.

``It was tough, but we have a pretty mature team that continues to grind through,'' said the Jayhawks' Jeff Withey, who had 14 points and nine rebounds in the win. ``We've been in these kinds of situations before, so knew that we would be able to come back.''

The Jayhawks, who are averaging just below 62 points in their last three games, are picking a lousy opponent to try to snap out of an offensive funk.

Kansas State has only allowed two of its last six opponents to score more than 60 points.

``We were trying to catch up too fast, and their pressure bothered us,'' Kansas coach Bill Self said, when asked why his team struggled early in the second half against the Longhorns.

``Then when we settled down, and even though we didn't get an offensive flow, we got to the free-throw line. We did the things that we should do to give us a chance to win on the road.''

The same kinds of things that it will take to win another road game Tuesday night.

Kansas State students will be back on campus following their winter break, and some of them will have camped out overnight in frigid temperatures for a front-row seat Tuesday night.

They'll pour into the dimly lit confines of Bramlage Coliseum the minute the doors opening, and spend 90 minutes working themselves into a lather before the ball is thrown up at center court for one of the most eagerly anticipated Sunflower Showdowns in years.

``Everybody's excited knowing that we're playing Kansas at home,'' said Kansas State's Jordan Henriquez. ``Everybody's going to come out. We're winning. We're doing really good things and the eyes are on us right now. I don't think a lot of people predicted us to be 4-0 in conference, so we'll come out and see what Bramlage looks like in the next 48 hours.''

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All it took for Chris Davis to break out of his slump was a letter from a Red Sox fan

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All it took for Chris Davis to break out of his slump was a letter from a Red Sox fan

Well, dang. We did not expect to need tissues for this video.

When Orioles first baseman Chris Davis was in the midst of the worst slump in Major League Baseball history, it often felt from afar like nothing could pull him out of his doldrums. It was difficult to watch Davis make the worst kind of history, knowing there was nothing fans can do to help.

Apparently, that was a mistake. All it took was a letter.

Henry Frasca, a diehard Red Sox fan, hated watching Davis struggle. So, when the O’s were in town to play his favorite team, he decided to write Davis a letter of encouragement.

The note made its way to Davis, who kept it with him. Inspired by the kind words, Davis had a breakout day at the plate, driving in four runs one his first three hits of 2019. The longtime Oriole has kept the letter with him ever since.

Frasca was unaware of the specific impact his message made, but as the Orioles returned to Fenway Park once again, he was given the opportunity of a lifetime.

This is, frankly, one of the coolest things we’ve seen in a long time. Frasca is just nine years old, but his view on the world and, specifically, helping those in need is both mature beyond his years and inspiring to the adults around him.

The most impressive part of the letter, as Orioles broadcaster Gary Thorne highlights in his interview, is the idea that how Davis is playing on the field does not define the person he is off it.

It’s an insightful message, one that’s easy for even grown men and women to forget when cheering on their favorite players from afar. For someone so young, who roots for a rival team, to recognize it so early is mighty impressive.

The video is five minutes long, but well worth every second of your time. Well done to the Orioles, Thorne, Davis, and of course, Frasca most of all.

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Much to his pleasure, Max Scherzer ‘probable’ to start this week

Much to his pleasure, Max Scherzer ‘probable’ to start this week

WASHINGTON -- If you ask Max Scherzer, he is ready. Which is not an upgrade from where he was earlier in the week.

Scherzer felt well again Sunday when he woke up following his second simulation game of the week. His workload increased Saturday, his comfort remained the same and Sunday his body told him he is ready to pitch in a game for the first time since July 25. Davey Martinez agreed -- for the most part. He said Scherzer is “probable” to start Thursday in Pittsburgh.

“I feel good,” Scherzer said. “Kinda do my normal little tests, move my arm and go through the throwing motion, so I feel good. I’m basically sore today the way I should be sore, given that and all the treatment we did yesterday and throwing a sim game. Like everything feels right where it should be. There’s no extra soreness other than what I anticipated. To me, that’s right on par.”

Scherzer remains irritated he was instructed to throw a second simulation game. He understands why. It just was not his personal preference. Part of the reason is in the title of the act. “Simulation” is not reality. For instance, he warned Gerardo Parra a slider was coming in the first simulation game. “Watch your foot,” Scherzer told him out of concern for possible injury. Pitchers are not truly pitching inside during simulations because of that worry. Players could be found to stand in the box without concern of injury. However, they couldn’t competently handle a hall-of-fame pitcher. So, that’s a false test, too. Only being in a game tells the truth.

But this is what Scherzer had to deal with because of the organization managed his return slowly. They focused on the future -- both this season and beyond. Scherzer is much more concerned about the now because, in his view, his rhomboid strain is not a significant injury.

“The long-term health, that’s not even part of the equation,” Scherzer said. “We all know that’s going to be good because we’re dealing with a muscle strain. Every other structure within the back, shoulder, you name it – nothing at play here. It’s literally dealing with the muscle strain and getting through it.”

Knowing this is not a long-term injury has keyed Scherzer’s frustration with the process. He’s felt close, then ready, really close, and again ready throughout the recovery. He’s being teased by the thing he wants to do most: get back on the mound in a real game. 

“Honestly, the toughest part about this whole thing is I feel like the carrot’s right in front of my face,” Scherzer said. “That it’s such day to day that any day it could turn and you always wake up every single day thinking today’s the day that you’re going to wake up and not feel anything and you’re going to go out there and you’re going to throw it and you’re going to feel no pain whatsoever. And you go off running because it’s not a serious injury. That’s been the most frustrating part. 

“If I knew that was going to be however long this is going to take – if I was dealing with, say, a more significant injury where they say, ‘You’re not going to feel good in six weeks’ – all right, you got it. You can easily mentally check out for six weeks knowing I’m not going to be able to throw a ball in six weeks and you can build your rehab around that. That hasn’t been the case. It’s really been day to day: ‘Hey, you might be feeling good here in two days.’ That’s really been the prognosis I’ve gotten from the doctors and everybody about what I’m dealing with. 

“So for me, that’s really been the hardest part mentally. I feel like at any point in time I could be ready to get back out there and at any day everybody’s expecting that this could turn. For me, when you have that carrot right in front of your face and you want to be helping your team, that’s what’s been the most frustrating part for me mentally.”

A bullpen session Monday should be next. After that, a final step to diffuse all of Scherzer’s irritation, his competition-based combat with Martinez and the organization and exasperation with a muscle strain which derailed him for a month can come: pitch one.

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