Monday, October 8, 2007

Sox Sweep Halos with 9-1 Win

Unlike the last time he stepped on the mound in October, Curt Schilling didn't have a blood-stained sock as proof for his will to win. He didn't need it either.
The evidence was all in the way Schilling completely carved up the overmatched Angels on Sunday afternoon and pitched the rolling Red Sox right into the American League Championship Series for a matchup with either the Indians or Yankees that will open on Friday at Fenway Park.

Though more of a control specialist at the age of 40, Schilling was still at his vintage best in lifting the Red Sox to a 9-1 victory that closed out the Angels with a three-game sweep in this AL Division Series.

As it turns out, all the offense the Red Sox needed came in the top of the fourth inning, when the lethal 3-4 combo of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez led off with back-to-back homers against Jered Weaver.

"You have to be excited about what's going on with this team," said Ortiz, who went 5-for-7 with two homers in the series. "We're playing good, hopefully the four or five days off doesn't affect us."

Eleven days of rest certainly didn't faze Schilling in this one. He held the Angels to six hits and no runs over seven innings, walking one and striking out four. In 16 career postseason starts, Schilling is 9-2 with a 1.93 ERA.

"We're trying to win the games," said Schilling. "Whatever I can do in the mix, it makes you feel good to contribute. How you do it is not really relevant anymore to me."

Now, the Red Sox -- who celebrated this win with champagne and Ramirez dumping buckets of water on anyone he could find -- will try to get the next eight wins necessary to achieve their ultimate goal. For those who believe in omens, Boston's World Series championship run in 2004 also began with a three-game sweep over the Angels.

This series was a compete clinic, as the Red Sox outscored the Angels, 19-4.

"Our main key was pitching," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "I knew we would have to pitch well in order to be successful in this series."

Schilling left after seven, with a tight 2-0 lead. Then the Red Sox busted the game right open and all but punched their ticket to the ALCS with a seven-run barrage in the top of the eighth.

"[Schilling] gave us a quality start when we needed it," said Lowell. "Our bats did a good job in that eighth inning and we were able to put the game away."

Dustin Pedroia got that game-breaking rally started with a double to left that scored Julio Lugo. Kevin Youkilis added a sac fly. After a single by Ortiz, Lowell raked an RBI double to left. J.D. Drew got another run home on a fielder's choice. Jason Varitek added an RBI double and Coco Crisp produced a two-run single, and the rout was on.

In a tightly contested duel, the pitchers were the story early. Weaver took a tough-luck loss, giving up four hits and two runs over five-plus innings.

Home | News | Multimedia | PhotosThe Angels had a good crack at it against Schilling in the third. With two on and two outs, Vladimir Guerrero walked to load the bases. But Schilling got the out he needed, inducing Reggie Willits -- who had entered the game in place of the injured Garret Anderson -- into a foul pop that Varitek hustled to get to.

"I thought Schilling was outstanding," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I thought from the beginning, he commanded, especially the command of his fastball to both sides of the plate -- in and out, up and down. He really pitched."

The missed opportunity by the Angels quickly became more painful. Ortiz led off the Boston fourth with a towering solo homer to right. Ramirez followed by pummeling a long ball onto the rocks in center field. It was Ramirez's 22nd homer in postseason play, tying him with Bernie Williams for the all-time lead.

It was the ninth time Ortiz and Ramirez have gone back-to-back since becoming teammates in 2003, and the second such instance in the postseason.

"Mike [Scioscia] put it great yesterday," said Schilling. "Pick your poison. Manny is seeing the ball well. There is no way to get either one of those guys out when they're both on."

Schilling had one last jam to deal with in the bottom of the seventh, as the Angels, following a leadoff double by Maicer Izturis, had a runner on third with one out. Again, Schilling came through, getting Juan Rivera on a popup to first and striking out Mike Napoli. Knowing his day was done, Schilling clapped into his glove and excitedly walked back to the dugout, where a crush of high fives and pats on the back greeted him.

"I think if you saw the way I reacted to it, you know how important I thought it was," Schilling said. "It was a 2-0 game at that point."

But the Red Sox put one giant exclamation point on the sweep following Schilling's exit and made the cloudless day in Southern California feel even more perfect.

"These guys worked so hard and executed so well in this series, and they have a lot to be proud of," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein.

In many ways, the day belonged to Schilling.

"It's one thing when you get billed as a big-game pitcher, but it's another thing when you actually come through time and time again," said Lowell. "I think he did an outstanding job and got out of some tough situations when he needed to, and then he was cruising through a good part of the game. He gave us a quality start when we needed it."

Now, the Red Sox will take Monday off and go into workout mode for three days, starting Tuesday.

"We'll be back Friday, New England," said Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry.

And the games will only get bigger then.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Tigers Prevail over Gators

Les Miles should head straight to one of those Mississippi River casinos.

Clearly, the LSU coach is on quite a roll.

The No. 1 Tigers and their go-for-broke coach pulled off one gamble after another before Jacob Hester hit the jackpot, scoring on a 2-yard run with just over a minute remaining for a 28-24 victory over ninth-ranked Florida on a thrilling Saturday night in Death Valley.

Playing as a top-ranked team in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 1959, LSU was in serious trouble much of the game. Their top-rated defense was shredded by Florida's double-threat quarterback, Tim Tebow, who led the Gators to a trio of 10-point leads.

But they couldn't hold off the Tigers.

LSU (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) took advantage of two second-half turnovers and barely converted a pair of fourth-down runs on their final drive. Finally, Hester powered into the end zone to give LSU its first lead of the night -- and the only one that mattered.

"We pretty much knew it was going to be a chance to win the game," Hester said. "Coach Miles said, 'I believe in you. I don't want a tie. I want to go out and win this thing.' When your head coach has that kind of respect and trust in you, you want to prove something to him."

Florida (4-2, 2-2) lost for the second week in a row, the first time that's happened to Urban Meyer since he was a little-known coach at Bowling Green in 2002. And, in all likelihood, the Gators' hopes of repeating as national champions have been snuffed out just halfway through the season.

"I don't know if I've ever done this, but I guarantee we'll be back," Meyer said defiantly. "The Florida Gators will be back. Smokin'."

Tebow threw for a pair of touchdowns and ran for another, leading Florida to a 24-14 lead with 15 minutes remaining. But the Gators, who failed to complete a comeback against Auburn the previous week, were the victims of LSU's rally this time.

"I thought our defense hung in there," Meyer said. "They are so young and the offense has got to move the ball. That's twice now. It's two weeks in a row."

LSU kept rolling the dice and coming up with winners. The Tigers scored two touchdowns on fourth-down plays and another after pulling off a fake field goal. Then it was Hester, bulling his way into the end zone to put LSU ahead with 1:09 remaining.

When LSU knocked down Tebow's final long pass in the end zone, the record crowd of 92,910 let out its biggest roar of all.

The Tigers should still be No. 1 when the poll comes out Sunday. And, with second-ranked Southern California losing to Stanford in a 24-23 stunner, really there's no doubt about it.

"We took great strides in showing our character and ability to come from behind," Miles said. "I like the way this team is coming together."

Miles helped the cause by going all-in every chance he got.

Backup quarterback Ryan Perilloux scored on a fourth-and-goal run from the 1 in the second quarter. Starting quarterback Matt Flynn pulled off a fake field goal that led to Keiland Williams' 4-yard TD run in the third quarter. Flynn tossed a 4-yard scoring pass to Demetrius Byrd on fourth-and-goal with 10:15 remaining.

But the Tigers weren't done.

First, with 7 minutes left and the ball on their side of midfield, LSU passed up a punt and went for it needing nearly 2 yards. Hester took the handoff and put his head down. The chains came on after he was tackled. First down by about the length of the football.

"I gamble more than you think," Miles said with the devilish grin of someone who doubled down and hit blackjack. "Their offense is a possession offense. ... They keep the ball. We knew if we got some fourth-down opportunities, we knew were going to make those calls. We were going to make 'em. We just knew that."

They did, over and over again.

LSU kept driving down the field, but found itself facing another fourth-and-1 at the Florida 6. Most coaches would have taken a chip-shot field goal and their chances in overtime. Not Miles, who apparently decided all the cards were going his way. He also was mindful that kicker Colt David already had missed from 43 and 37 yards.

Hester got the ball again and dove forward. The chains came out again. Another first down with less than a yard to spare.

"All the guys were hoping coach Miles would go for them," Williams said. "Even the defensive coaches were trying to get him to go for it."

On the other sideline, Meyer couldn't believe what he was seeing. Just how frustrating was it?

"Very frustrating. Very frustrating," he said.

Finally, Miles' players cut him some slack. On third-and-goal from just outside the 2, Hester took another handoff on virtually the same play that had worked twice before, falling into the end zone with his 23rd carry of the night.

Flynn leaped into the air and pumped his right fist. Touchdown, LSU.

Hester, who finished with 106 bruising yards, trotted off the field to another rousing ovation at Tiger Stadium, there the home team is 30-2 over the last five years.

Tebow got the ball across midfield on the final possession. But his final, desperate heave was batted down in the back of the end zone.

Facing a defense that had two shutouts and was allowing less than 175 yards per game, Tebow passed for 158 yards and rushed for 75. But the Gators let the momentum slip away with two turnovers.

"It is something that just cannot happen," Tebow said. "We have got to straighten it out."

The burly quarterback threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kestahn Moore early in the second quarter to make it 10-0, and scored on a 9-yard scramble late in the half to send the Gators to the locker room up 17-7.

LSU got a huge emotional boost on its first possession of the second half. At about the time Williams was scampering into the end zone to make it 17-14, Stanford was closing out its shocking upset of USC, which was still No. 1 in the coaches' poll.

When the score was announced, the crowd went nuts. But Tebow quickly silenced them with a 37-yard touchdown pass to Cornelius Ingram.

Miles Gambles Pay off in Tigers Win

Is Les Miles a gambler?

Or just a calculated risk-taker?


Going for it on fourth-and-short is perhaps an easier decision when you've got as much talent on the field as any team in the country. Going for it five times against a ranked opponent, once with a fake field goal? That takes a little more guts.

"Coach Miles had the confidence to call them," said running back Jacob Hester, who ground out a couple of fourth-down runs to narrowly earn chain-measured first downs during LSU's game-winning drive against Florida on Saturday. "The defense, they knew what was coming and the offensive line didn't care. They went out there ... and made holes for us."

The No. 1 Tigers' dramatic 28-24 comeback victory over the Gators could go down as a signature moment for Miles at LSU, where he's had more trouble than one might think in validating his coaching ability.

He inherited many of his starters from former LSU coach Nick Saban, whose recruiting efforts in Louisiana brought the Tigers back to prominence this decade. Critics have been quick to point that out, even as Miles has gone 28-4 with two lopsided bowl wins since taking over in 2005.

Perhaps now the LSU fans who have faith in Miles' ability will begin to drown out the remaining skeptics.

After waiting nearly half a century -- since 1959 -- to play as the top-ranked team in the AP Poll, the undefeated Tigers (6-0, 3-0 SEC) got there under Miles and have retained that distinction for at least another week.

While Southern California was blowing a late lead, allowing seemingly miraculous fourth-down conversions to a Stanford squad it was heavily favored to beat, LSU was scoring touchdowns on fourth downs and clawing back from a late 10-point deficit for its most emotional win of the season.

"A good football team finds a way," Miles said. "To me, that's a mark of this team."

Miles has called two successful fake field goals in the past three games, one that went for a touchdown against South Carolina and another against Florida that led to 7 points.

Asked if he has more of those in his bag of tricks, Miles grinned and said, "Eight."

"There's the fake field goal option, fake field goal option-pass -- I mean, it goes on and on and on," he said. "We'll keep one ready for every game."

Of the other four times LSU successfully went for it on fourth down against Florida, two went for touchdowns. The most daring of those came with just over 10 minutes left and LSU trailing by 10.

At fourth-and-3 from the 4, the easy choice was a short field goal for a one-possession game. Miles opted to have quarterback Matt Flynn drop back. Under pressure, Flynn rolled right and appeared primed to try to run it in himself. Suddenly, much like Florida's Tim Tebow had done earlier in the game, he pulled up to throw. Demetrius Byrd made the grab to pull the Tigers within 3.

When Hester crashed through for his 2-yard TD with 1:09 to go, LSU had its first lead.

"Coach Miles said, 'I believe in y'all. I don't want a tie. I want to go out and win this thing,"' Hester said. "When your head coach has that kind of respect and trusts you, you want to go out and prove something to him."

Meanwhile, LSU's defense, which seemed to have no answer for Tebow and the Gators through most of the first three quarters, forced a pair of turnovers on a fumble and an interception on consecutive Florida possessions, then got a three-and-out the next time the Gators got the ball.

"Everyone came together and we were able to overcome the adversity and come out with the win," said defensive end Kirston Pittman, who came down with LSU's interception on a deflected pass.

"In the face of adversity and playing from behind, they played very well," Miles said. "I am proud of this team, very proud."

Rebs post first Shutout since 2003

-Seth Adams threw two touchdowns Saturday and the Ole Miss defense notched the Rebels' first shutout since 2003 in a 24-0 win over Louisiana Tech on homecoming.

Ole Miss (2-4) snapped a four-game losing streak while holding the Bulldogs (1-4) to 301 yards of total offense. Adams completed 16 of 32 passes for 167 yards and touchdowns to Dexter McCluster and Shay Hodge.

Louisiana Tech's Zac Champion threw for 144 yards on 16 of 27 passing, and the Bulldogs lost their fourth straight.

Danny Horwedel missed a 42-yard attempt in the third quarter, and Ole Miss' Brandon Jenkins blocked a 36-yard field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter and Dustin Mouzon returned it 55 yards for the final score.

Daniel Porter rushed for 51 yards for the Bulldogs, and Patrick Jackson added 48.

The two teams combined for four turnovers in the first half, and it was one of those that helped give Ole Miss a 7-0 lead.

Defensive end Marcus Tillman fell on Louisiana Tech center Lon Roberts' errant snap in the shotgun formation on the second play of the game. Three plays later, Adams hit McCluster on a deep slant for a 28-yard touchdown 1:32 into the game.

It was the first touchdown since Sept. 30, 2006, for McCluster, who missed the first four games of the year with a shoulder injury and the last six games of last season with a neck injury.

After Joshua Shene put Ole Miss up 10-0 at the half with a 27-yard field goal in the second quarter, Adams hit Hodge for a 17-yard touchdown in the third quarter for a 17-0 lead.

Louisiana Tech committed 13 penalties for 117 yards and allowed Ole Miss' first shutout since a 31-0 win over Mississippi State on Nov. 27, 2003.

The 24-point winning margin marked the Rebels' largest under head coach Ed Orgeron.