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Seahawks QB Wilson ready for big stage in playoffs

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Seahawks QB Wilson ready for big stage in playoffs

RENTON, Wash. (AP) The auditorium is usually reserved for coach Pete Carroll during the season and the occasional first-round draft pick being introduced in the spring.

After months of standing behind a small circular table and in front of a makeshift cereal box-shaped backdrop, Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson got the auditorium Thursday - with the big podium, the microphone stands and an entire wall adorned with the Seahawks logo.

``A change-up,'' Wilson said as he entered the room.

He's certainly earned the big stage after going from Seattle's third-round pick to a starting quarterback who's won five straight games and seven of his last eight going into the playoffs.

``He's allowed us to do everything we could think of. We trust him in everything that we're calling,'' Carroll said. ``It doesn't matter what play it is, what concept it is, we trust him to be able to handle it. If it gets off of the practice field on to game day, then we trust that he could do anything. That's a wonderful feeling for a coach that you can trust your quarterback like that.''

Wilson will go into his first playoff game Sunday at Washington coming off one of the finest regular seasons ever by a Seattle quarterback. While passer rating has its flaws as a statistical measure, Wilson's final rating of 100 is the best ever for any Seahawks signal-caller.

That would be the best mark ever for a rookie quarterback if not for Sunday's playoff opponent - Washington QB Robert Griffin III - barely bettering Wilson's final total.

Wilson did get the better of Griffin in touchdown passes, tying Peyton Manning's rookie record with 26.

More important, Wilson led Seattle to 11 wins, becoming the third quarterback in franchise history to win at least 11 games in a season, joining Matt Hasselbeck (13-3 in 2005) and Dave Kreig (12-4 in 1984). That record becomes more impressive when considering Wilson got just a third of the snaps during offseason minicamps and early in training camp as he attempted to win the job in competition with Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson.

Jackson was traded and spent the year as a backup in Buffalo. Flynn didn't see the field until Week 14 when Seattle led 45-0 on its way to a blowout victory.

And Wilson is in the middle of the offensive rookie of the year discussion with Griffin and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.

``I didn't come here to be a backup quarterback or a third-string quarterback. I came to be a starter for a long time, and that's my mindset. That's always been my mindset, that competitive edge that I try to bring to the table,'' Wilson said. ``I think the great quarterbacks - and I'm trying to work to get there - if you really look at and I always study the best quarterbacks to play the game, they have tremendous leadership, they have great attention to detail, and they have that competitive relentless nature where they are just competitive all the time. I think that's what's helped me a little bit.''

Among the rookies, most of the attention this season has gone to Luck and Griffin - and rightfully so. Tucked away in the Northwest, the spotlight only started to find Wilson a month ago after he led consecutive long drives at the end of regulation and again in overtime when Seattle won 23-17 at Chicago. Wilson had his finest day as a pro, throwing for 293 yards and two touchdowns.

Almost universally, those final moments in Chicago are being referenced by Wilson and his teammates as a turning point of the season. The Seahawks proceeded to outscore their final four opponents by a combined 170-63 margin.

``That was huge. To be able to do that in the type of circumstances that we were in was pretty awesome,'' Wilson said. ``That really pushed our offense forward and pushed our defense forward to have confidence in what we do.''

While this is his first time in the NFL playoffs, the feel and sense around the team's facility reminded Wilson of his preparations a year ago when he was getting ready to lead Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl against Oregon, a game the Badgers lost 45-38. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell didn't hesitate earlier in the week when asked if he was worried about Wilson getting too wrapped up in the noise of the postseason.

``I just expect him to be very poised, have everything under control and play well,'' he said.

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Orioles clean house, fire 11 members of scouting and front office departments

Orioles clean house, fire 11 members of scouting and front office departments

Baltimore Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias is dedicated to altering the direction of the organization and that was reciprocated Friday with the firing of 11 members of the scouting and front office departments.  

"We're in a period of change right now with the industry and we're in a period of change right now with the Orioles," Elias said. "Sometimes to make changes you've got to make changes."

Among those relieved were baseball operations director Tripp Norton, scouts Dean Albany, Jim Howard, John Gillette, Nathan Showalter, and Buck Showalter. 

Elias acknowledged the uphill battle ahead of filling numerous voids but insists it's just a part of the job 

"We're going to be very busy bringing people into this organization," he said. "This is just the organization moving along and adapting to the sport today."

Just one day removed from a judge confirming that the Orioles owe the Nationals nearly $300 million, Elias insisted this move isn't to save money.

"There are changes going on in the scouting business in terms of greater availability of information in general, video and data," Elias said. "There are instances where we will replace people's roles kind of man for man, head for head, spot for spot, but there's other instances where we're reconfiguring the way the scouts go about their business."

The O's will look completely different from this point out and players won't be the only changes.

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Sleep-deprived Nationals win one they probably shouldn’t have in Chicago behind Aníbal Sánchez

Sleep-deprived Nationals win one they probably shouldn’t have in Chicago behind Aníbal Sánchez

The clubhouse wears have never been packed so quickly. Washington was sprinting as a group to get out of Pittsburgh on Thursday night following another three-hour-plus game with a 1:20 p.m. local start looming in Wrigley Field on Friday.

Max Scherzer finished his postgame comments in less than four minutes, then quickly moved to get cleaned up and join the others. Most lockers were vacant by the time media members reached the clubhouse, which wasn’t long after the game ended. 

Despite the scramble for minutes saved, Friday was supposed to be a loss. Las Vegas knew. The players and management knew. It was a bad spot. Night game, onto a plane, then a day game against a team which played at home the previous afternoon, and was 44-19 there -- the second-best home record in the National League. 

And yet, Nationals 9, Cubs 3, and it wasn’t that close.

Some bloops fell, some situations turned out lucky. Though, Aníbal Sánchez dominated. No voodoo or charms were involved.

He went through 8 ⅓ innings before being removed after 112 pitches. He was provided a shot to finish the game -- just 15 National League pitchers have a complete game this season -- but couldn’t. A rare Anthony Rendon throwing error cost him an out, then his opportunity for a solo close to the afternoon in Chicago.

Sánchez threw 31 four-seam fastballs, 31 cutters and 28 “splitters” among his 112 pitches. He worked as a marionettist, pulling strings to change positions and outcomes throughout the day. Matt Grace finished the game. No high-end reliever was used, resetting a bullpen which had to cover five innings in Pittsburgh on Thursday.

The offense beat up Jon Lester. He didn’t make it out of the fifth inning. Everyone in the lineup -- including Sánchez -- picked up a hit. Trea Turner’s single extended his on-base streak to 30 games.

Sánchez’s work piggybacked on what the other starters did against woeful Pittsburgh. Nationals starters have allowed two earned runs in the first five games of this seven-game road trip. The offense has averaged 8.2 runs in that span. It’s hard to fathom they lost once with both sides operating in such fashion.

All of this is just a continuation of a massive turnaround. Washington is 52-26 since its nadir May 24. Only the Dodgers -- who host the Yankees on Friday night -- have a better record in that span, and by just a half-game. They have won 10 of 12 and 13 of 17. Fivethirtyeight.com now gives the Nationals a 90 percent chance to make the postseason (this includes the wild-card game).

Wins like Friday emphatically move that needle. The Cubs are trying to wind their way into the postseason. They were also set up for a clear advantage thanks to the schedule. Instead, Sánchez, throwing as slow as 68 mph and as fast as 91, controlled the day, the offense rolled through the afternoon and everyone was ready for bed after a surprise win.

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