Alvarez homers, Pirates beat Blue Jays 8-7

first_imgPedro Alvarez, left, is congratulated by teammate Kang Jung-ho, after hitting a 3-run home run during the first inning of a spring training exhibition baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in Dunedin, Fla. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)DUNEDIN, Fla. (AP) – Pedro Alvarez hit a three-run shot and Korean rookie Jung Ho Kang connected for his first major league homer, leading the Pittsburgh Pirates to an 8-7 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday in the exhibition opener for both teams.Alvarez’s drive came in the first inning off Aaron Sanchez after Gregory Polanco singled and Starling Marte reached on an error by new Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson.Sanchez, a candidate for the starting rotation, yielded four hits, five runs – two earned – and walked one in 1 1-3 innings.Alvarez added an RBI double in the fifth. The 2013 All-Star missed most of September last season with a stress fracture in his left foot and was left off Pittsburgh’s postseason roster. He batted .231 with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs in 122 games.“It was good to see,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “It’s our first exhibition game, so we need to keep a dose of reality on everything we do. I love the way we came out swinging the bats aggressively. We were good within the strike zone with the barrel.”The Pirates bid $5 million for the rights to Kang, then signed him to a four-year, $11 million contract in January. The shortstop hit 40 homers in 117 games with the Nexus Heroes of the Korean Baseball Organization last year.“I tried not to be nervous, but I enjoyed the game and enjoyed the little moment,” Kang said through a translator.STARTING TIMEPirates: Right-hander Casey Sadler tossed two no-hit innings, walking Edwin Encarnacion in the second. Sadler gave up nine earned runs in six games of relief as a rookie last season.Blue Jays: Sanchez threw 36 pitches. He said his objective was to work on his curveball and wasn’t concerned with the rocky start.“Being a starter, you’ve got to incorporate every single pitch,” Sanchez said. “I had a chance to put some guys away. One was a hit, but right where I need to be. This is the first game of spring training, so just build off that and it can only get better from there.”TRAINER’S ROOMPirates: First baseman Corey Hart will likely not make his spring debut until Monday after he cut his foot on a loose filter while getting into a hot tub on Sunday. Hart, who signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract as a free agent in December, received three stitches to close the wound.Right-hander Brandon Crumpton has been experiencing elbow discomfort since Saturday and will meet with Dr. James Andrews for an examination next week. The 26-year-old said he first noticed the problem while throwing batting practice.Blue Jays: Left-hander Johan Santana started his throwing program, playing catch with team medical trainer George Poulis in the outfield before the game. The two-time AL Cy Young Award winner is in camp on a minor league deal. Santana has not pitched in the majors since August 2012 because of shoulder problems and a torn left Achilles tendon he sustained with Baltimore during extended spring training last June.FAMILIAR FACE, NEW PLACEThree-time All-Star catcher Russell Martin made his Blue Jays debut against his former club, going 1 for 3 with a single to left in the fifth. Martin spent the last two seasons with Pittsburgh, before signing a five-year, $82 million deal with Toronto in NovemberGOOD TO BE BACKVernon Wells is back with the Blue Jays until Thursday as a guest instructor to help mentor younger players. The three-time All-Star outfielder retired after last season, following a 15-year career with the Blue Jays, Angels and Yankees.Wells said he had interest from several teams to return to the majors in a reserve role, but he decided it was the time was right to step away to spend more time with his family and coach his sons in youth baseball.UP NEXTBlue Jays: Marcus Stroman makes his spring debut on Wednesday against the Pirates in Bradenton. The 23-year-old righty enjoyed a solid rookie campaign with Toronto last season, winning 11 games in 20 starts.last_img read more

Overtime 9-16-15

first_imgBILL NEAL:10—Earth, Wind & Fire came and “Kept Your Head to the Sky.” George Benson came and took you back “On Broadway.” Aretha Franklin rolled into town on a “Pink Cadillac” and gave you all the “Respect” you could ask for and Smokey came and went and left you “‘Cruizin’” and Bootsie…well you know Bootsie! But none…and I mean none, did it better than the First Lady of Motown, Miss Diana Ross. Talk about “Stop in the Name of Love”…you had to stop…stop and reflect and be reminded of the super “Super Star” that was on stage. Motown icon, R&B legend, Ed Sullivan Show, “Lady Sings the Blues,” “Mahogany,” “The Wiz,” Berry Gordy’s woman and the owner of so many hits you would need two nights to perform them all. Miss Ross, you’re “Coming Out”…was fantastic!!!:09—Oh I know, it’s a sports column. Just shut up a minute. You’re just mad cause you weren’t at the show. Here’s some sports for ya. High school football is in. Go see your kids play and act like you got some sense…YOU AIN’T PLAYING MMMAAANNN!last_img read more

Observations from the Edge: Yinz really otta’ go see the Otters

first_imgErie Otters right wing Alex DeBrincat celebrates with teammates including Dylan Strome, at left, after scoring against the Mississauga Steelheads during the third period of their OHL hockey game at Erie Insurance Arena on Jan. 31, 2016. (ANDY COLWELL / ERIE TIMES-NEWS VIA AP)Every kid playing sports dreams of being in the spotlight someday.  They dream of being Crosby or Lemieux, Rothlisberger or Bradshaw, Clemente or McCutchen.  Hockey kids start the dream early (with supporting hockey moms), usually in mini and mites (ages 5-8), squirt, pee wee and bantam leagues (9-14), and on to juniors (16–20), or college.Hockey is infectious…a flowing constant of bodies, energy and shifting momentum.  Gliding, stopping, running, hopping, spinning and cruising on ice with a weird looking stick, while manipulating a frozen disk in your peripheral vision…is a bit awe-inspiring.Here in Pittsburgh, we’ve been blessed with the best…Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Jaromir Jagr (still playing in the NHL at 45), Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Pierre LaRouche, Jean Pronovost, to name some.  That is to say…we are a tad spoiled.However, two hours north in Erie, you’ll find a brand of hockey where the best seat in the house cost the same as the worst one at PPG Arena.  At 1/3 the size, Erie Insurance Arena packs plenty punch and power.  Welcome to junior hockey and the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League.  For junior players, this is a developmental league, a segue to college or the pros.As the name suggests, this league of 20 teams is made primarily (three from the U.S.) from cities in the Canadian province of Ontario, just across Lake Erie.  They have names like Oshawa, Kitchener, Mississauga, Saginaw and Guelph…and with nicknames like the Steelheads, Petes, 67’s and Frontenacs. (Yes, the Frontenacs…a name derived from Fort Frontenac, of Louis de Baude de Frontenac, governor of New France–now Kingston Ontario–if you must know).Some great players have played juniors rather than go the collegiate route. While Mario Lemieux played in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (a sister league to the OHL), Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr played in the Ontario Hockey League, as did Penguins Andy Bathgate, Syl Apps, Ron Francis, Paul Coffey, Phil Bourque (a Frontenac) and Bob Errey.  So have other major players like Steve Yzerman (DET), Scott Stevens (NJ), Eric Lindros (PHI)…and current players such as Patrick Kane (CHI), Steven Stamkos (TB), John Tavares (NYI), and of course former Erie Otter, number one draft pick, Connor McDavid (EDM).McDavid resides in Edmonton, Alberta as the youngest captain (19 years old) in NHL history, running neck and neck for a scoring title with the best player in the land, Sidney Crosby.  That must say something about his skills but also about his development in juniors.  While he was “up ‘ere” in Erie, he set all kinds of rookie records (as a 15 year-old) for the Erie franchise and for the league.  His three years as an Otter was a conduit to developing those skills.  And players like Dylan Strome, Taylor and Darren Raddysh, and Alex DeBrincat are right behind him.Right wing Alex DeBrincat is setting records too. Recently, he tied the OHL record with a 19-game goal streak, scored 100 points for the third year in a row, scored 50 goals for the same period, and recorded over 300 career points for the league, And on a recent night, he became the American all-time OHL goal scoring leader.  He will be a rookie sensation somewhere in the Chicago Blackhawk’s system next year.  He just won the OHL scoring title with 127 points (and a +60 plus/minus). Right wing Taylor Raddysh has 108 points (and a +66).  As Penguin color commentator Bob Errey might say…sounds like a two-headed monster.Goalie Troy Timpano, who at one point in the season was 17-1 in goal, has finished the season at 36-8 with a 2.37 goals against average and a .915 save percentage.  He figures to loom large in the playoffs, with a solid tender behind him in Joseph Murdaca at 12-4.The Otters have gone deep into the playoff for the last three years, but have not clinched the OHL Robertson Cup.  One wonders that if you can’t win it with McDavid on your roster, can you do it at all?  This may be the year.   “We weren’t a very good team last year,” confesses head coach Kris Knoblauch.  ”You won 52 games last year” I gasped. “We didn’t have the players we have this year,” he noted.Knoblauch has this team playing consistently great hockey.  The Otts have just won the entire league with 103 points, 32 games above .500.  The playoffs start Thursday in Erie (Sarnia in the 1st round) so it’s time to get your ass “up ‘ere.”  That’s what Erites call Pittsburghers…”up ‘eres”…you know from… “hey yinz guys goin’ up ‘ere to Presque Ahll?”Knoblauch is a coach and coaches teach. In fact, Knoblauch was a substitute teacher in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, where he was content to live with his family in what he terms “paradise.” But a falling out with the junior team, Kootenay Ice of Cranbrook, British Columbia, that he was coaching, changed things.  That’s Erie’s good fortune, since they had not won a playoff series in nine years before coach Kris showed up five seasons ago.  Last year, they had their third consecutive 50+ win season…an OHL record… and then did it a fourth time in the season’s last game on Saturday.As I write this article over several games late in the season, the Otts have won them all, with scores of 9-1, 8-4, 9-4 …and this one, a 10-1 win, where center Dylan Strome became the Otters all time points leader with 309, as the Otts scored 8 goals in the second period…setting a franchise record on route to a 60-shot game outburst, tying their own record.  Four of the five top plus/minus players in the league this year are Otters.Like I said, they set records “up ‘ere” in Erie, Penn. This is some brand of hockey.The Otters actually started out in Niagara Falls, Ontario, as the Niagara Falls Thunder.  They moved to downtown Erie in 1996.  The game experience here is the same as in the NHL…lots of loud music, a goofy mascot (in this case, an upright Lake Erie otter who looks more like Goofy or Pluto), kiss cams, t-shirt toss, chuck the puck, human bowling, dance contests, free food…all intended to keep the family entertained.  It’s all about entertainment, is it not?Coach Knoblauch replaced Robbie Ftorek in 2012.  Ftorek, who has his name on the Stanley Cup twice and was head coach of the New Jersey Devils and the Boston Bruins in his past life, was being replaced by a 33-year-old coach with just two years of experience in junior hockey.  Knoblauch didn’t seem intimidated.  After that first losing season, with a team he inherited from Ftorek, Knoblauch made some drastic changes, trading away talent for grit and character.  That helped support younger players who wanted to lead but had no support.  Goal production went from next to last in the league to first in one season.Side Note:  Mario Lemieux said the same thing (adding grit and character) when he hired GM Jim Rutherford, on a 3-year window to get a Penguin’s championship done.  Rutherford did it in two.“The players worked hard, bought in and played a system,” Knoblauch tells me in his thick western Canadian accent.  ”They wanted to win and it showed.  We went from 19 wins to 52…an OHL record.”Yeah, setting records you might say, is “That Thing You Do” in Erie, Penn.As for now, Knoblauch loves coaching in Erie.  He can’t see working for a better organization but admits, given the opportunity to go to the next level, he would like to have the chance.  AHL teams with coaching issues should take note.  He may also see himself as an NHL assistant coach in the near future.  But he asks himself this…”is it good for my family?  Is it an organization that plays hockey how I want it to be played?”Apparently, Erie is a place where they play hockey his way, which varies depending on the players he has to utilize.  With this group, they play a brand of hockey where they take chances–and consequently turn over the puck–relying on defense to bail them out. It helps to have Troy Timpano in net.GM Dave Brown and Knoblauch want players who “play hard with offensive capabilities but are responsible defensively,” says Knoblauch, “players who are responsible on and off the ice.  Team culture is important for team success.”I talked to DeBrincat, Strome, Raddysh and Timpano, whom when queried, all said “maturity” was their greatest development in juniors.  ”I didn’t ‘get it’ till late,” says coach Knoblauch, which kind of derailed his own pro career.  He didn’t get work hard consistently, eat right, work out, and such.  Ultimately it sent his hockey career in another direction…towards Erie.  ”You don’t know what you don’t know.”“Your face and your name are out there,” says Penguin color man and once a Penguin first round pick, Bob Errey, who played two years in the OHL in Peterborough for the Petes, on a line with hall-of-famer, Steve Yzerman. Errey then went on to play on a line with hall-of-famer Mario Lemieux, on their way to winning Stanley Cups in ’91 and ’92.“You’re not a normal person going to school,” continues Errey.  ”You’re kids, you develop as a person, being able to mature as quickly as you can.  You’re developing your mind.  There is a lot of pressure around you.”If there is pressure on these young Otters, you would never know it.  There is this easy comradery around them.  I think they’re a confident bunch.  And why not? They did have a dip in wins in the last 10 games, so they had to win the last two to get 50 for Knoblauch, which they did.  Yes, it’s that thing you do in Erie, Penn.Yinz really Otta’ go “up ‘ere” and see some Otter’s play-off hockey.Lee Kann is a media producer and a writer. Contact: shooting16bl@gmail.comlast_img read more

Penguins D Letang to have neck surgery, out for playoffs

first_imgThe talented but star-crossed defenseman will have a far different view as the Penguins try to defend their title when the playoffs start next week.The three-time All-Star will undergo surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck and is out 4 to 6 months, rendering him a spectator as Pittsburgh tries to become the first team in nearly 20 years to win back-to-back Cups.“Right now it’s pretty hard to swallow,” Letang said Wednesday.Letang last played on Feb. 21, but was working his way toward a return before the postseason begins before symptoms returned last week. He underwent a second MRI, with team doctors recommending he have surgery to repair the problem.“It was not expected,” Letang said. “Like I said, I was going through rehab. It was going really well. It’s just in the last week that it blew up on me.”The 29-year-old is one of the league’s elite defensemen, a blend of speed and skill that make him valuable on both ends of the ice.Yet he’s also struggled staying healthy with a variety of injuries, from a stroke in 2014 to a concussion in 2015 that forced him to sit out during a first-round loss to the New York Rangers. His play was interrupted twice earlier this season with lower-body issues that coach Mike Sullivan insisted had nothing to do with the neck injury.“This was an accumulation of events over time,” Sullivan said. “It wasn’t any one incident when it occurred.”Letang had five goals and 29 assists in 41 games for Pittsburgh, which is in second place in the Metropolitan Division with three games remaining in the regular season.The team bolstered depth along the blue line at the trade deadline, bringing in Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit with Letang, Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley on injured reserve.The team is hopeful Maatta and Daley will return when the playoffs start and both will travel with the rest of the team for a three-game road trip beginning in New Jersey on Thursday.The Penguins have hung around in the competitive Metropolitan Division despite a slew of injuries to bold-faced names and have the league’s second-best record behind rival Washington. The silver lining — if there is one — is that Pittsburgh has learned to make do without Letang.“It doesn’t really change our thought process,” Sullivan said. “It really doesn’t change our players in what their contributions need to be. We’re not asking anybody to replace him.”Letang pointed to his team’s Cup run last year as evidence it can deal with adversity. Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston in December and put together a remarkable turnaround even with center Evgeni Malkin missing the final month of the regular season and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury going down with a concussion, opening the door for rookie Matt Murray to backstop the Penguins to a title.“That team went through so much and they learned so much,” Letang said. “So I think they have the experience that we need.”NOTES: Sullivan said he’s “optimistic” that Malkin — who hasn’t played since March 15 while dealing with an upper-body injury — will be ready for the playoffs. … F Bryan Rust is day to day with a lower-body injury suffered in a 4-1 win over Columbus on Tuesday.,The talented but star-crossed defenseman will have a far different view as the Penguins try to defend their title when the playoffs start next week.The three-time All-Star will undergo surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck and is out 4 to 6 months, rendering him a spectator as Pittsburgh tries to become the first team in nearly 20 years to win back-to-back Cups.“Right now it’s pretty hard to swallow,” Letang said Wednesday.Letang last played on Feb. 21, but was working his way toward a return before the postseason begins before symptoms returned last week. He underwent a second MRI, with team doctors recommending he have surgery to repair the problem.“It was not expected,” Letang said. “Like I said, I was going through rehab. It was going really well. It’s just in the last week that it blew up on me.”The 29-year-old is one of the league’s elite defensemen, a blend of speed and skill that make him valuable on both ends of the ice.Yet he’s also struggled staying healthy with a variety of injuries, from a stroke in 2014 to a concussion in 2015 that forced him to sit out during a first-round loss to the New York Rangers. His play was interrupted twice earlier this season with lower-body issues that coach Mike Sullivan insisted had nothing to do with the neck injury.“This was an accumulation of events over time,” Sullivan said. “It wasn’t any one incident when it occurred.”Letang had five goals and 29 assists in 41 games for Pittsburgh, which is in second place in the Metropolitan Division with three games remaining in the regular season.The team bolstered depth along the blue line at the trade deadline, bringing in Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit with Letang, Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley on injured reserve.The team is hopeful Maatta and Daley will return when the playoffs start and both will travel with the rest of the team for a three-game road trip beginning in New Jersey on Thursday.The Penguins have hung around in the competitive Metropolitan Division despite a slew of injuries to bold-faced names and have the league’s second-best record behind rival Washington. The silver lining — if there is one — is that Pittsburgh has learned to make do without Letang.“It doesn’t really change our thought process,” Sullivan said. “It really doesn’t change our players in what their contributions need to be. We’re not asking anybody to replace him.”Letang pointed to his team’s Cup run last year as evidence it can deal with adversity. Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston in December and put together a remarkable turnaround even with center Evgeni Malkin missing the final month of the regular season and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury going down with a concussion, opening the door for rookie Matt Murray to backstop the Penguins to a title.“That team went through so much and they learned so much,” Letang said. “So I think they have the experience that we need.”NOTES: Sullivan said he’s “optimistic” that Malkin — who hasn’t played since March 15 while dealing with an upper-body injury — will be ready for the playoffs. … F Bryan Rust is day to day with a lower-body injury suffered in a 4-1 win over Columbus on Tuesday. In this Feb. 3, 2017, file photo, Pittsburgh Penguins’ Kris Letang makes a pass during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Pittsburgh. AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)PITTSBURGH (AP) — Kris Letang’s goal in Game 6 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final clinched a fourth championship for the Pittsburgh Penguins.last_img read more

Pa. Black Caucus speaks on racial slur directed at Mike Tomlin

first_imgPennsylvania’s Legislative Black Caucus released a statement Wednesday addressing racial slurs said by then-Cecil Township Fire Station #2 fire chief Paul Smith directed at Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.Smith referred to Tomlin as a “no-good [racial epithet]” after the head coach decided that the team would not leave the locker room for the national anthem Sunday.“There is no place in society for racism and hate, and the language used by Mr. Smith should be eliminated from everyone’s vocabulary,” said state Rep. Jason Ortitay R-Allegheny/Washington). “That is a derogatory and hurtful term and should never be used. I strongly condemn this type of language.”Tomlin’s decision comes amid controversy regarding police brutality against African Americans, an initial stance taken by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick who protested by kneeling during the singing of the anthem last year.“Chief Smith’s behavior was out of step with the values of the average Pennsylvanian,” added Chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia). “Unlike athletes, celebrities or even other citizens, he is a public servant who has held the trust of the general public in the capacity in which he serves them. That capacity came under question, due to his behavior, and he did the right thing by resigning.”Reactions surfaced immediately after Smith’s comments on Tomlin.In an interview with a Pittsburgh television station, Smith said, “My fire department should have never been dragged into this. It was a bad judgement by me, for which I am very embarrassed, for them and my township.”After announcing that Paul Smith was no longer fire chief, the Cecil Township fire company president Ron Zombeck issued a statement.“Cecil Township Volunteer Fire Company #2 (Muse) has accepted the resignation of former Chief Paul Smith as of noon Tuesday,” the statement reads. “The Company is deeply saddened and does not condone or agree with the views of our former leader and we fully denounce his statement.”pjackson@phillytrib.com (215) 893-5745http://www.phillytrib.com/news/pa-black-caucus-speaks-on-fire-chief-s-racial-slur/article_48c81483-65fa-5eb8-92ef-35fa1c55ad71.html Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. — Winslow Townson/AP Images for Paninilast_img read more

Tomlin fine with hyping up Steelers’ showdown with Patriots

first_imgPittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward (97) celebrates a missed field goal attempt by Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby (2) during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)PITTSBURGH (AP) — Sitting across from a Hall of Fame coach turned broadcaster, Mike Tomlin decided to do longtime friend Tony Dungy a solid.Asked about his team’s potential during a taped segment before the Pittsburgh Steelers hosted Green Bay on Sunday, Tomlin said aloud what’s long been whispered in his locker room.Dungy asked for an answer in “non-coach-speak.” Tomlin, who can be as fluent in “coach-speak” as any of his peers, obliged.Yes, Tomlin considers the Steelers talented enough to win the Super Bowl.Yes, he’s well aware Pittsburgh’s Dec. 17 showdown with longtime nemesis New England could produce “fireworks,” in what he believes could be a preview of another playoff clash in January.“We got a good football team,” Tomlin said after Pittsburgh edged the undermanned Packers 31-28 to improve to 9-2.“I got a great deal of confidence in them. Everybody in America knows that’s a big game. We couldn’t deny it if we wanted to.”So Tomlin didn’t even try, a move that caught his players off guard. Not that Tomlin said it. That he opted to share it.“Obviously I’m watching them,” running back Le’Veon Bell said. “They’re winning, doing their job but when we get in a stadium with those guys, I’ll worry about those guys then. Until then I worry about the team we’re playing.”At times, that’s trouble enough for Pittsburgh, who again flirted with a meltdown against a heavy underdog.The Steelers turned it over three times, allowed Green Bay backup quarterback Brett Hundley to throw for three touchdowns and lead a game-tying 77-yard drive in the final minutes.Pittsburgh escaped only after star wide receiver Antonio Brown did Antonio Brown things, namely, a 23-yard toe drag masterpiece on a perfect throw from Ben Roethlisberger that pushed the Steelers to the edge of field goal range.A more conventional 14-yard grab followed, the last in a 10-reception, 169-yard, two-touchdown performance that showcased his flair for the dramatic. Brown has reached the end zone 10 times in Pittsburgh’s past four prime-time appearances.“I think it’s noticed more globally when it’s a big stage,” Bell said. “Down the stretch, more people can see it like and be like ‘Man, that’s a great catch.’ But I see it all the time. He’s just an amazing player. I see him working hard every day. He never seems to surprise me.”Another thing that’s not surprising? Pittsburgh’s difficulties putting away an opponent minus a marquee player or three.The Steelers didn’t lead the Andrew Luck-less Indianapolis Colts until the final snap earlier this month.On Sunday night, their secondary gave up touchdown passes of 39, 54 and 55 yards. Even as the wins pile up, Pittsburgh realizes it is far from a finished product.“We just got to limit the explosion plays and we’ll be a top-notch defense,” defensive end Stephon Tuitt said. “Until then we’ve just got to stay in the lab. It’s a long season along the way. Just got to finish out.”The Steelers figure it’s better to learn their lessons in victory than in a decidedly more unpleasant outcome.Two more roadblocks await before they get a shot at the Patriots in a rematch of last season’s AFC championship game. Pittsburgh travels to AFC North rival Cincinnati next Monday and then hosts Baltimore.A pair of wins and the Steelers would lock up a second straight AFC North title, a scenario that would likely turn their grudge match with the Patriots into a battle for home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.It’s exactly what Pittsburgh wanted when the season began. Even though the Steelers haven’t always looked the part, they’ve found a way.That’s all they’re focused on.Tomlin is well aware his words won’t mean a thing if his team can’t back it up. That’s fine. He’s prepared to “wear it” to borrow one of his pet phrases. Considering the talent at his disposal, he’ll take his chances.“One guy (Bell) leads the league in rushing,” Tomlin said. “I think the other guy leads the league in receiving (Brown). Our quarterback is our quarterback.”And the standard, as he’s fond of saying, is the standard.“We’ll work at (our issues) but we’ll work at it being 9-2,” Tomlin said. That’s a beautiful thing.”___For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFLlast_img read more

This one’s for Shazier—Steelers win 23-20 over mistake-prone Bengals (Dec. 6, 2017)

first_imgLike us at https://www.facebook.com/pages/New-Pittsburgh-Courier/143866755628836?ref=hlFollow @NewPghCourier on Twitter  https://twitter.com/NewPghCourier ANTONIO BROWN somehow makes a leaping catch, takes an illegal blow to the head by Bengals safety George Iloka, and holds on for the game-tying touchdown. A Chris Boswell field goal as time expired put the game in the win column for the Steelers, Dec. 4. (AP Photo)On Monday night, Dec. 4, the Pittsburgh Steelers pulled off a last minute 23-20 win over the despised Cincinnati Bengals in Cincy.However, for two successive weeks, the Black and Gold has been forced to depend upon the “Midas toe” of their place kicker, Chris Boswell. This game had all of the elements of a battle for the ages. Players being laid out as if they were soldiers fighting on a battlefield being forced to face tanks, rockets, mortars and other conventional tools of modern-day warfare, with only helmets, cleats, shoulder pads and a pigskin.STEELERS LINEBACKER RYAN SHAZIER suffered a devastating back injury while attempting to make a tackle in the opening quarter against Cincinnati. He has spent the last two nights at University of Cincinnati Medical Center, as doctors closely monitor his status. (AP Photo)Breaking news: the “choir boy” and Bengals resident saint, Vontaze Burfict, was given a fresh clock-cleaning by the Steelers rookie wide receiver, Juju Smith-Schuster. Schuster threw a block for Le’Veon Bell as Bell was his making his way downfield. After Smith-Schuster delivered the bone-crushing blow to Monsieur Burfict, Sir Juju stood over the stunned Burfict appearing as if he was ready to perform a jig, post haste. See, boys and girls, it is usually Mr. Burfict who delivers bad news on the gridiron, but on this occasion, Burfict was the one who had to sign for the contraband. If there was any doubt about the outcome of this collision, well, put it this way: only the chiropractor knows for sure. As far as Smith-Schuster standing over Burfict as he lay dazed and bewildered on the field, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was as always, politically correct. Postgame, he said: “He shouldn’t have stood over him…We want to play within the rules; we respect player safety, I can assess a judgment on the fact that he stood over him and that’s not how we play and that’s not reflective of the sportsman he is. I’m sure he’s sorry for that.”Smith-Schuster said this about the play: “I didn’t know it was Burfict at first. All I saw was the first Bengal was going to tackle…and my instinct is I gotta block for my teammate. And me just playing ball, I hit him. After I seen the replay I think I should’ve held back a little bit more from blocking him. Also, I believe that that’s not me. I should’ve never stood over him. I apologize for that and with that being said, I hope he gets better.” Smith-Schuster, “hopes” Burfict “gets better.” Oh, the innocence of youth.ARTIE BURNS breaks up a pass intended for Bengals receiver A.J. Green. The Steelers’ defense only allowed three points in the second half, en route to their comeback victory. (Photo by Courier photographer Thomas Sabol)Vontaze Burfict has justifiably earned the reputation as a player who may, at times, bend the rules of competition in order to cause physical distress to his opponents. However, Burfict found out on this particular occasion that, “it’s no fun when the rabbit got the gun.” Burfict seriously injured not one but two Steelers in the past (Bell, and Antonio Brown) and his remorse for those actions seemed to be a bit “staged.” Steelers wide receiver Brown said that Burfict’s injury may have been due to “karma.” However, most people simply define it as “payback.”So, the Steelers face another bloodthirsty AFC North rival, the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday night, Dec. 10, at Heinz Field. If you think the Steelers/Bengals matchup was a bit rowdy, it might be prudent to have a few extra paramedics on hand when the “dirty birds” come-a-callin’. This, my friends, may possibly be for all of the marbles, home-field advantage and a first-round bye. The Steelers will again be featured on primetime television.And that’s the way they like it.last_img read more

Tomlin fine with hyping up Steelers’ showdown with Patriots

first_imgPittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward (97) celebrates a missed field goal attempt by Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby (2) during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)PITTSBURGH (AP) — Sitting across from a Hall of Fame coach turned broadcaster, Mike Tomlin decided to do longtime friend Tony Dungy a solid.Asked about his team’s potential during a taped segment before the Pittsburgh Steelers hosted Green Bay on Sunday, Tomlin said aloud what’s long been whispered in his locker room.Dungy asked for an answer in “non-coach-speak.” Tomlin, who can be as fluent in “coach-speak” as any of his peers, obliged.Yes, Tomlin considers the Steelers talented enough to win the Super Bowl.Yes, he’s well aware Pittsburgh’s Dec. 17 showdown with longtime nemesis New England could produce “fireworks,” in what he believes could be a preview of another playoff clash in January.“We got a good football team,” Tomlin said after Pittsburgh edged the undermanned Packers 31-28 to improve to 9-2.“I got a great deal of confidence in them. Everybody in America knows that’s a big game. We couldn’t deny it if we wanted to.”So Tomlin didn’t even try, a move that caught his players off guard. Not that Tomlin said it. That he opted to share it.“Obviously I’m watching them,” running back Le’Veon Bell said. “They’re winning, doing their job but when we get in a stadium with those guys, I’ll worry about those guys then. Until then I worry about the team we’re playing.”At times, that’s trouble enough for Pittsburgh, who again flirted with a meltdown against a heavy underdog.The Steelers turned it over three times, allowed Green Bay backup quarterback Brett Hundley to throw for three touchdowns and lead a game-tying 77-yard drive in the final minutes.Pittsburgh escaped only after star wide receiver Antonio Brown did Antonio Brown things, namely, a 23-yard toe drag masterpiece on a perfect throw from Ben Roethlisberger that pushed the Steelers to the edge of field goal range.A more conventional 14-yard grab followed, the last in a 10-reception, 169-yard, two-touchdown performance that showcased his flair for the dramatic. Brown has reached the end zone 10 times in Pittsburgh’s past four prime-time appearances.“I think it’s noticed more globally when it’s a big stage,” Bell said. “Down the stretch, more people can see it like and be like ‘Man, that’s a great catch.’ But I see it all the time. He’s just an amazing player. I see him working hard every day. He never seems to surprise me.”Another thing that’s not surprising? Pittsburgh’s difficulties putting away an opponent minus a marquee player or three.The Steelers didn’t lead the Andrew Luck-less Indianapolis Colts until the final snap earlier this month.On Sunday night, their secondary gave up touchdown passes of 39, 54 and 55 yards. Even as the wins pile up, Pittsburgh realizes it is far from a finished product.“We just got to limit the explosion plays and we’ll be a top-notch defense,” defensive end Stephon Tuitt said. “Until then we’ve just got to stay in the lab. It’s a long season along the way. Just got to finish out.”The Steelers figure it’s better to learn their lessons in victory than in a decidedly more unpleasant outcome.Two more roadblocks await before they get a shot at the Patriots in a rematch of last season’s AFC championship game. Pittsburgh travels to AFC North rival Cincinnati next Monday and then hosts Baltimore.A pair of wins and the Steelers would lock up a second straight AFC North title, a scenario that would likely turn their grudge match with the Patriots into a battle for home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.It’s exactly what Pittsburgh wanted when the season began. Even though the Steelers haven’t always looked the part, they’ve found a way.That’s all they’re focused on.Tomlin is well aware his words won’t mean a thing if his team can’t back it up. That’s fine. He’s prepared to “wear it” to borrow one of his pet phrases. Considering the talent at his disposal, he’ll take his chances.“One guy (Bell) leads the league in rushing,” Tomlin said. “I think the other guy leads the league in receiving (Brown). Our quarterback is our quarterback.”And the standard, as he’s fond of saying, is the standard.“We’ll work at (our issues) but we’ll work at it being 9-2,” Tomlin said. That’s a beautiful thing.”___For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFLlast_img read more

AT THE FINISH LINE…Where Only the Truth Matters

first_imgTruth is . . .This ongoing argument about players playing in different eras needs to come to an immediate stop.  Greatness is greatness.  It’s as simple as that.  Wilt would be unstoppable today as he was then.  Jim Brown will run over, thru and around you just the same.  And trust me on this one, Muhammad Ali is kicking your sorry butt in 2020 the same as he did in 1971.  Take it all to the bank!  Truth is . . .Of course Coach Narducci gets the extension.  No-Body, No-Where, No-How expected Pitt to upset Miami.  Quite possibly the greatest upset in Pitt University football history.  Well played boys.  Well played!  On to next year. BILL NEAL You Have Just Crossed Over the Finish  Line Truth is . . .Here’s the movie lineup you should consider for the holiday: #5 – Marshall . . . 4 basketballs #4 – LBJ . . . A sleeper, but real good . . . 3 basketballs #3 – Bad Christmas Moms . . . I’m sorry, but fun-ney . . . 3 basketballs #2 – Justice League . . . 4 basketballs AND #1 – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri . . . Best movie I’ve seen all          year . . . 4½ basketballs  Truth is . . .You may not think it possible, but the Boston Celtics are looking like Eastern Conference NBA champions.  It’s early, but LeBron and the boys are not the same.  Can you say Kyrie Irving? Truth is . . .High school and college hoop season is upon us.  A reminder for everyone from coast to coast.  Act like a parent and remember .  . . there’s a reason you never made your high school hoop team.  I am just sayin! last_img read more

Fendrich on Tennis: US showing in Australia just ‘a bad day’

first_imgUnited States’ Venus Williams leaves Rod Laver Arena following her first round loss to Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian) All it took was one bad day at the Australian Open to unravel all those good feelings about American tennis generated by so much success at the U.S. Open only a handful of months ago.Maybe, though, that should not be the takeaway from Day 1 in Melbourne.Maybe neither the shock over opening-round losses by more than half of the U.S. women in the field at the first Grand Slam tournament of 2018, nor the euphoria over four women from the United States reaching the semifinals at the last Grand Slam tournament of 2017, is appropriate. Maybe neither should be viewed as a meaningful statement about the state of American tennis.It’s better to see each as an isolated occurrence and take the long view: Progress is being made, and it’s simply inevitable that there will be a mix of good days and, well, not-so-good ones.“It was a tough day, and this is a tough sport,” said 113th-ranked Nicole Gibbs, who won NCAA titles in singles and doubles at Stanford, and was the lone U.S. woman to win a match out of the 10 in action Monday at the Australian Open. “This isn’t an indication of anything, except we have a lot of depth (on the WTA tour) and we had a bad day.”Sure did.And it wasn’t just the women who fared poorly by going 1-9 — including exits by U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens , seven-time Grand Slam title winner Venus Williams , and 10th-seeded CoCo Vandeweghe . Each member of that trio reached the final four at Flushing Meadows in September, the first all-American semifinals at that major tournament since 1981.The men hardly distinguished themselves Monday, either. Two of the three highest-seeded U.S. men lost, too: No. 8 Jack Sock and No. 16 John Isner .It’s been nearly 15 full years since any American man won any Grand Slam singles title, so let’s keep the focus on the women for the moment. That is where there have been some real positive signs recently.With Serena Williams out of competition since winning her 23rd major singles championship at last year’s Australian Open — she was pregnant at the time, then dealt with health complications after giving birth in September — there has been an opportunity for other players to step forward.Older sister Venus, for example, reached the Wimbledon final for the first time since 2009, and then the U.S. Open semifinals for the first time since 2010. She had started last season by getting to the Australian Open final for the first time since also finishing as the runner-up to her sibling there in 2003.And yet, there she was on Monday, losing right away to 78th-ranked Belinda Bencic of Switzerland 6-3, 7-5, joining not just 20-somethings Stephens and Vandeweghe on the way out, but also CiCi Bellis, Jennifer Brady, Irina Falconi, Sofia Kenin, Alison Riske and Taylor Townsend.“Last year is last year. This is, like, a new year,” the 37-year-old Venus Williams said. “You can’t live in the previous year. It’s impossible.”Stephens knows that all too well.She made a real breakthrough at the U.S. Open by earning the trophy. Remarkably, she has not won a match anywhere since, extending her losing streak to eight with a 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2 setback against 34th-ranked Zhang Shuai of China on Monday.Taken on its own, that result is truthfully not all that surprising, given Stephens’ recent form, the fact that she hasn’t won an Australian Open match since 2014 (first-round defeats in 2015 and 2016; an injury absence in 2017) and her opponent’s ranking.“Tennis is definitely a roller coaster. But I have learned to just not panic. It will be OK. There’s always going to be times when it’s really tough, and there will be times when you’re on an extreme high,” Stephens said. “I think for me now, it’s not that great, but it’s nothing to panic about.”The same could be said about the entire American contingent Down Under.___AP Sports Writer Dennis Passa in Melbourne, Australia, contributed to this report.___Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich___More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennislast_img read more

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