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Sandoval HRs twice as Giants take 4-0 opener lead

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Sandoval HRs twice as Giants take 4-0 opener lead

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Pablo Sandoval got the Giants off to a quick World Series start, homering against Justin Verlander in the first and third innings as San Francisco took a 4-0 lead over the Detroit Tigers in Wednesday night's opener.

Sandoval hit the first bases-loaded triple in All-Star game history off Verlander in July, and kept on going against the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner.

He connected on a high 95 mph pitch with an 0-2 count in the first inning and sent the ball just over the wall in right-center. Then, on the very next pitch after a mound visit by Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones in the third, Sandoval hit a two-run, opposite-field drive into the seats in left for a 4-0 lead. Verlander simply said, ``Wow!''

Sandoval had been benched for four of five games in the Giants' 2010 Series win over Texas when he entered in a 3-for-14 slide. The Giants then told Sandoval, nicknamed Kung Fu Panda for his roly-poly physique, to get in shape or start the next season in the minor leagues.

Angel Pagan had another of the Giants' unusual postseason hits with two outs in the third when his one-hopper kicked off the corner of the third-base bag and ricocheted past Miguel Cabrera at almost a right angle into short left field. Marco Scutaro, who struck out just once in 48 at-bats during the NL playoffs, fouled off two 98 mph full-count pitches and lined a single into center field to bring up Sandoval.

Barry Zito, dropped from the Giants' roster for the 2010 postseason after a four-year slump, allowed two hits through three innings and threw 43 pitches. The 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner was helped when left fielder Gregor Blanco made a neat diving grab of a liner by Cabrera to end the third with a man on.

Verlander allowed four runs and five hits in the first three innings and threw 70 pitches. He was 0-2 as a rookie in the 2006 Series against Detroit but had been superb this October, going 3-0 with 0.74 ERA.

Coming off its first AL pennant since 2006, Detroit had nearly a week off after sweeping the New York Yankees in the AL championship series. San Francisco had just a day to rest after overcoming a 3-1 deficit against defending champion St. Louis in the NLCS.

The winner of the opener has claimed the title 66 of 107 times, including eight of last nine. The NL is seeking to win three straight Series for first time since 1979-82.

Madison Bumgarner, 0-2 with an 11.25 ERA for the Giants in two postseason outings, starts Game 2 on Thursday against Detroit's Doug Fister, who has a 1.35 ERA with no decisions in two postseason appearances this year. The Series then shifts to the Motor City for Game 3 on Saturday.

Detroit had just the seventh-best record in the 14-team AL at 88-74, and no previous World Series team had been lower than fifth, according to STATS LLC. San Francisco was tied for third in the NL at 94-68.

Back in San Francisco's bayside ballpark for the second time in three years, the World Series took on the Giants' Halloween colors of orange and black as fans waved towels and pompons. The Grateful Dead's ``I Will Survive'' and ``Friend of the Devil'' were among the songs played as the Tigers took batting practice.

Renel Brooks-Moon, who in 2002 became the first woman to be serve as public-address announcer for a Series game, skipped over Detroit's reserves during the pregame introductions.

Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Gaylord Perry and Orlando Cepeda were on the field for the ceremonial first pitch - thrown by Perry.

Detroit also brought along some baseball royalty in Hall of Famer Al Kaline, a team adviser.

Seeking their first World Series title since 1984, the Tigers helped create the first title matchup between teams from the AL Central and NL West.

NOTES: The team hosting the first two games has won 21 of the last 26 World Series: the exceptions were Toronto (1992), the Yankees (1999), Florida (2003), St. Louis (2006) and Philadelphia (2008). ... Cabrera became the fourth player to appear in the Series in the year he won the Triple Crown, joining Mickey Mantle (1956), Frank Robinson (1966) and Carl Yastrzemski (1967)

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Five observations from Wizards' overtime loss to the Celtics, including John Wall's return

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Five observations from Wizards' overtime loss to the Celtics, including John Wall's return

The Washington Wizards lost to the Boston Celtics 130-125 in overtime on Wednesday night. Here are five observations from the game...

1. Tough loss: No matter the stakes, the location or the personnel, the Wizards and Celtics always seem to bring the best out of each other. On Wednesday, they went to overtime for the third time in their past four meetings.

John Wall and Kyrie Irving put in All-Star performances, but a series of clutch shots by Irving in the final period proved the difference in a Celtics win. On one, to put the Celtics ahead by two with under a minute to go, Irving swished a three with Wall all over him. Mostly, he dashed past defenders and finished with spin off the glass.

The Wizards lost their third straight game and fell to 11-17 on the season.

2. Wall was back: After missing one game due to bone spurs in his left heel, John Wall returned to the Wizards lineup. Though he took 26 shots and had five turnovers, he played well for the most part.

Wall ended up with 34 points, 13 assists, six rebounds, two steals and a block. He had 10 points in the fourth quarter alone.

The best part of Wall's night early on was his defense. He was more engaged  and disciplined than usual. Though it's nearly impossible to stay in front of Irving, Wall did a solid job disrupting his path to the rim. 

Wall's defense trailed off at times in the second half, but overall it was a solid return for the five-time All-Star. Though Irving scored a lot of points, he shot 12-for-28, and Wall did his part to limit him, at least until late.

This game had a major injury scare for Wall. After making a layup with just over two minutes remaining in overtime, he hit the floor and stayed there in obvious pain. Trainers rushed to his aid and checked out the back of his right leg. Somehow, he was able to return.

3. Horrible third quarter: The first half was among the most impressive the Wizards have played this season. Finally, they were putting together a complete performance on both ends of the floor. They didn't go down by 20, which has been customary even in many of their wins.

Things were going well through two quarters, but then the third quarter happened, and the Celtics essentially dominated for a 12-minute stretch. They outscored the Wizards 38-22 in the frame and shot 61.9 percent, knocking down 4-of-7 from three. 

Boston forced the issue for the most part, but the Wizards made their share of mistakes to give them opportunities. They had seven turnovers in the third quarter with Bradley Beal (22 points, seven rebounds) accounting for three of them on his own. 

The Wizards forced overtime by outdoing the Celtics by seven points in the fourth. It was the third time in four meetings these teams have gone an extra period.

4. Porter was out: Though Wall came back, the Wizards were without starting forward Otto Porter Jr. Porter missed his third game of the season, this time due to a right knee contusion which he suffered in Monday's loss to the Pacers.

Porter was close, but was ruled out after going through a pregame workout as a gametime decision. One member of the coaching staff remarked to NBC Sports Washington before the game he expected Porter to play, so clearly he was very close to giving it a go.

It would be surprising if he didn't play on Friday. It's just a really bad bruise.

5. Dekker played, Brown didn't: Though Sam Dekker was acquired just a few days ago in a trade, he appears to be ahead of Troy Brown Jr. on the depth chart. Porter's absence meant head coach Scott Brooks had to go deeper on his bench than usual, and it was Dekker who got the nod.

Brown was the team's first round pick in June, but at only 19 years old is being brought along very slowly. He is barely getting any floor time at all, while others in his draft class are playing rotation minutes. 

Take Robert Williams, for instance. The Celtics' first round pick, who was taken 12 spots after Brown at 27th, played 14 minutes on Wednesday. 

Williams, by the way, was impressive. He had a nice block on Dekker and a slam off a pick-and-roll that drew a big reaction from the crowd. He can get up there.

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Scott Boras circus lights up Winter Meetings

Scott Boras circus lights up Winter Meetings

LAS VEGAS -- Scott Boras slid through a crush of media to step onto a 1630 Pelican Transport case in front of a 25-foot tall Christmas tree with 2,240 ornaments Wednesday, then stole its shine.

If that sounds silly, or over the top, or extravagant, it should. For anyone else. This is standard for Boras, agent to the stars, voluminous speaker, deliverer of ideas on how to shape the world around him.

He’s also Bryce Harper’s agent. That made Boras more in demand Wednesday than any time prior in his life. The Alex Rodriguez chase of 2000 delivered a mania of its own. But not like this. Not in the age of cell phones and social media, when passersby in Mandalay Bay stopped to ask whose skull was raised two feet above all else thanks to the boost from a hard exterior case designed to protect television equipment. Security shooed them along.

Boras touched on Harper’s status, the extension process with Anthony Rendon, how he would change the playoffs, and dropped a nurse-thermometer reference when talking about the New York Yankees. He spent more than an hour on center stage with the giant tree sparkling behind his 66-year-old head. Boras appearing after a puff of smoke or being lowered from the ceiling to his speaking spot would not have seemed out of place.

Chopping through his statements revealed little. Harper met with several teams. The Nationals are still in the mix, as much as they can be if their top offer is $300 million. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman backed away from the idea of signing Harper on Tuesday. Boras reeled him back in Wednesday. 

“When you're talking about star players, I go back to Mark Teixeira,” Boras said. “The Yankees are very adept. If they're going to do something, I think they can earnestly tell you that right now they're not doing it, and have every intention of doing something else when it's best for them to do it.

“When the nurse walks in the room with a thermometer, the issue is not what the thermometer says that day. The issue is the health of the patient when they're ready to leave the hospital. They're not ready to leave the hospital yet.”

So, there’s that.

The Nationals are not out of this. According to Mike Rizzo and Boras, anyway. Doors are open, but likely only propped by a foot, a touch of light squeezing through. Boras and Rizzo have been on-message since Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner suggested last week Harper’s future lay elsewhere.

“I’ve heard resonance of it,” Boras told NBC Sports Washington about Lerner’s comments. “Whenever I talk to Mark or Ted Lerner or Mike Rizzo, from our standpoint, their door is very open to us and our door is very open to them. We’ve always had a great working relationship, we will continue to do so and we’ll continue to have dialogue on this subject.”

Rizzo said Wednesday, like he said Tuesday, the Nationals have no scheduled meeting with Harper while in his hometown. He gave a quick summary of why Wednesday from a posh, bright white suite near the top of the Delano hotel.

“We know Bryce better than anyone in this building,” Rizzo said. 

And Boras knows them equally well. 

“The Lerners and Bryce are both collectively going to do what’s best for them,” Boras told NBC Sports Washington. “I think going into this situation in D.C. whether it be Max [Scherzer] or [Stephen Strasburg] or even the draft picks themselves, we’ve had very productive results and the franchise has grown dramatically. They’re a multi-billion dollar franchise. Their attendance has gone up from way back when they started in the early 2010s. The winning has been great. I’m sure they want to get to the higher levels. But for franchises that hope to aspire to where they are, I think it’s all gone positively. It’s been a great working relationship with the Lerner family and the Nationals and Mike Rizzo. For those reasons we just continue to talk and see where we can go.”

Boras was at Nationals Park for Harper’s last home game, an attempt at final resonance struck down by rain. Harper took the uncommon action of coming to work early that day. He pulled on his Nationals jersey long before anyone else in the clubhouse was dressed. Most days, he moved about in a sleeveless gray sweatshirt with his “BH” logo in red across the front. Not that day. He knew it could be the end. So did Boras.

Harper’s long-anticipated move into free agency followed, becoming the rarest of experiences in his life: something new. Harper has managed media and fame from the time he was 16 years old. His laps around the baseball world finished early. However, he’s never been through this. Harper doesn’t know -- yet -- where he will play next year. He has to discuss it with his wife, Kayla, and his father, Ron. So many factors abound when making what could be a decade-long decision.

“I think when you’re in Bryce’s shoes, you have no way of really knowing how this is going to turn out,” Boras told me. “He has great regard for the organization, Washington fans, his teammates. There is certainly a potential where that [final] day could come. It could be his last day wearing that [Nationals] uniform. And there’s potential where it could go on for the eternity of his career.” 

Boras finished his day by swashbuckling through a series of individual interviews. He compared his hotel room to Penn Station, satiated a gaggle of foreign press members, then rolled into the late afternoon dusk. Once he was gone, the tree resumed its station as the hall’s brightest light.

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