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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Alex Gordon took a big rip at a batting-practice fastball, fouled it off badly into the cage, and ducked when the carom nearly hit him in the head.
Gordon let out a huge laugh, and so did a bunch of his Kansas City Royals teammates watching Monday’s workout.
“I can’t believe that just happened, dude,” pitcher James Shields razzed.
It’ll be more frustrating than funny if those are the same awkward swings the Royals and San Francisco Giants take once the World Series begins.
Going into Game 1 on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium, both teams will deal with a familiar issue this deep in the postseason: Does an extended layoff translate into rest or rust?
Buster Posey and the Giants zipped through the playoffs, and now will try for their third title in five years. Lorenzo Cain and the Royals zoomed along, reaching the Series for the first time since 1985.
And then, they all got some time off. Almost an eternity, by October standards.
The Royals went 8-0 in the AL playoffs, giving them five idle days before Shields starts the opener. San Francisco went 8-2 on the NL side and had four days to relax before Madison Bumgarner pitches.
“It’s definitely different because we have played so many games over the last 7 1/2, eight months. But you just understand it’s one of those things,” Posey said.
As recent history has shown, hitters can be very vulnerable when they get out of rhythm.
“It affects a bit with your timing, especially when trying to adjust to pitchers,” Kansas City second baseman Omar Infante said. “It’s hard to recover that groove you have.”
The slightly favored Giants and Royals held practices, studied video and checked out scouting reports. But as several teams that stumbled in the World Series after long breaks discovered, nothing can duplicate playing a real game.
Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and Detroit got nearly a week off in 2012, then the Tigers hit a combined .159 and totaled six runs in getting swept by the Giants.
Troy Tulowitzki and the Colorado Rockies rushed into the 2007 World Series, waited a week and got outscored 29-10 in Boston’s sweep.
A year earlier, Magglio Ordonez and the Tigers looked so powerful in the playoffs, but fell apart a week later and hit only .199 in a five-game loss to St. Louis.
Infante played on both of those Detroit teams that got wiped out. He actually excelled in 2012, hitting .333.
“It’s a short series, you need some luck. We lost four in a row and they were coming from playing seven. In this series, I think both teams are even,” he said.
Royals reserve Raul Ibanez, who’s enjoyed postseason success in the past, said “determination and will” carry players in the fall. Yet the timing and confidence that lifts them for so long can be lost in a hurry.
All of a sudden, a ball that might’ve been a solid double becomes a soft fly. A line drive up the middle turns into a foul ball straight back. A big hit winds up a great catch.
Just like that, a magical touch is missing, and can’t be recaptured until it’s too late.
Royals catcher Salvador Perez hooted at himself after a popup and an easy grounder in BP on Monday, and changed bats for his next round. He homered on his final swing.
“When you’ve been playing for seven or eight months, it’s nice to have an off day every now and then. But when you do have those workout days where you just go in and hit BP and take grounders and stuff, you try to keep it as much like game day as possible,” Giants first baseman Brandon Belt said.
Royals designated hitter Billy Butler said he didn’t see the five-day break being a detriment.
“Hey, they’ve had four days off. That’s the way you look at it. They played one day later than we have – they’ve had a layoff, too,” he said.
“I don’t know if it’ll play any factor. It definitely won’t be the reason if we go out there and don’t win tomorrow,” Butler said.
Shields and Bumgarner seemed unconcerned.
This will be Shields’ first start since Oct. 10 in the AL Championship Series opener against Baltimore.
“I think this late in the year almost too much throwing is too much,” he said. “So I’ve just kind of rested my body up for tomorrow.”
Bumgarner has already thrown 249 innings this year, including four postseason outings. He was the NLCS MVP, and started last Thursday when the Giants closed out St. Louis.
“Honestly, I feel the best I’ve felt all year for the last probably two months,” the lefty said.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A six-pack won’t be enough for Madison Bumgarner if the San Francisco Giants win the World Series.
The Giants ace chugged four beers after beating Pittsburgh in the NL wild-card game, upped the count to five following the NL Division Series clincher against Washington and six when San Francisco won the NL Championship Series over St. Louis.
“I don’t know if I can hold any more than that,” he said after earning the NLCS MVP award last week. “I had to keep it going, though. We’ll see if we keep winning. We don’t want to change anything up.”
Bumgarner starts the World Series opener on Tuesday night as the Giants try to become the first NL team to win three World Series titles in a five-year span since the St. Louis Cardinals of 1942-46. James Shields goes for the Royals, back in the Series for the first time since winning the 1985 title.
Just 25, Bumgarner already is 2-0 with 15 shutout innings in Series play and is 2-1 in four starts this postseason with a 1.42 ERA. He followed Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez as a rookie in the 2010 Series. He pitched three-hit ball over eight innings in a 4-0 Game 4 win at Texas that put San Francisco within of its first title since 1954.
Two years later, he pitched after Barry Zito and allowed two hits over seven innings in a 2-0 win at AT&T Park in Game 2 as the Giants swept Detroit.
Now, with Cain sidelined since the All-Star break because of an elbow injury that needed surgery, the left-hander has become the ace. A native of Hickory, North Carolina, Bumgarner has a farm with horses and cattle. He is said to have given his wife a cow ahead of their wedding.
Bumgarner is part of a Southerner corner contingent of pitchers in the Giants’ clubhouse that includes Georgian Tim Hudson and Alabamian Jake Peavy. Bumgarner takes the mound to the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Fire on the Mountain.”
“Our locker room definitely took a step toward the redneck side at the start of this year, that’s for sure – in a good way,” Hudson said. “I think every team needs a little redneck in them.”
And manager Bruce Bochy, while born in France, spent time living in North Carolina and Florida. Grits are served to players ahead of day games.
“I like my rednecks, they’re a good bunch of guys,” Bochy said. “They come out, they get after it and play the game right. It’s a very diverse group. … We do have a unique group of rednecks.”
Shields, a 32-year-old right-hander, also is unbeaten and unscored on in the Series: He pitched Tampa Bay to its lone win in 2008 when he allowed seven hits over 5 2-3 innings in a 4-2 victory over Philadelphia. Kansas City acquired him from the Rays in December 2013, hoping he would help transform a young team into a contender.
“He’s kind of just turned the clubhouse around, really,” manager Ned Yost said. “He brought a definite winner’s attitude with him, and he’s not only molded but he’s mentored our players in that fact.”
Shields is 1-0 with a 5.63 ERA this offseason. He told the Kansas City Star he passed a kidney stone last week during the ALCS.
“I haven’t pitched the way I wanted to. There is no doubt about it,” he said. “So I’m a big believer in amnesia. I’ve been doing it my whole entire career.”
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Everyone is well-aware of Jeff Fisher’s affinity for trick plays. He really knows how to pick his spots.
“If we need them, if the opportunity is there, that’s who we are,” Fisher said Monday. “That’s what we do.”
Johnny Hekker’s fake punt that helped the St. Louis Rams play keep-away and finish off the Seattle Seahawks was a mixture of design, deception and derring-do. The call caught Rams players by surprise, too, until special teams captain Chase Reynolds said, `Yeah, it’s real! Let’s do it!”
They got over the shock, then put one over on the Super Bowl champions on fourth-and-3 from the Rams 18 and less than three minutes to go when Hekker hit up back Benny Cunningham for 18 yards.
“We’re so prepared, it’s scary,” Hekker said. “There was no off call. It was go time. We were ready.”
Fisher’s rationale was simple. That was the only way the Rams could win.
Russell Wilson had been nearly unstoppable, becoming the first NFL quarterback to pass for 300 yards and run for 100 yards, and the Seahawks would have had plenty of time.
Seattle had a whopping advantage in total yards, 463 to 272, but lost where it count. Maybe, even from the 18, they should have known.
“That’s the kind of team they are,” Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman said. “Jeff Fisher is a gambling coach and he takes them at different times in a game. It was a good play and a good call.”
That was the fifth time in three seasons Fisher has relied on his punter’s arm instead of his leg. Hekker is 4 for 5 for 60 yards and in 2012 duped the Seahawks for the go-ahead touchdown pass on a fake field goal when Danny Amendola dawdled leaving the field and lined up all alone near the sideline.
“Sure, there’s a couple of butterflies definitely,” Hekker said. “We work on every situation possible. We’re ready when the time comes.”
Stedman Bailey’s 90-yard punt return got a massive assist from Tavon Austin, who staggered and then tumbled to the turf while preparing to make a phantom catch on the opposite sideline. Fisher noted with a smile that other special teamers yelled “Right! Right!” to further confuse the Seahawks and draw them toward Austin.
Don’t forget Fisher’s masterpiece of deception. The Music City Miracle, the lateral pass from Frank Wycheck to Kevin Dyson that kept the Titans alive in the 2000 postseason for a Super Bowl matchup against the Rams, who beat them 23-16.
“If you have the reputation that you’re fearless from the standpoint of making those calls, you’re going to be able to dictate some things,” Fisher said. “That’s what we try to do.”
Austin scored on a reverse last season, a play the Titans nearly clicked on under Fisher when Adam Jones was a rookie. Fisher readily recalls the play was nullified because Brad Hopkins was whistled for holding. He also scored on a 98-yard punt return against Indianapolis last year, waving everybody away and then fielding the ball at the last instant on the sideline.
That Hekker was a high school quarterback with a power arm factored into the Rams decision to sign him as an undrafted free agent out of Oregon State. He led the NFL in net punting last year, perhaps partly because teams were worried about the fake.
The Rams released Austin Pettis to clear roster space elsewhere Monday, perhaps at linebacker. They have five receivers, all brought in by Fisher.
Pettis made 11 starts in four seasons after the Rams drafted him in the third round in 2011. He’s been the fifth or sixth wide receiver this year and totaled 12 receptions for 118 yards and a touchdown.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs were such a mess in their season opener against the Tennessee Titans that they were quickly written off, their dramatic turnaround last season considered a fluke.
Turns out that conclusion was premature.
After steadily improving over the first few weeks of the season, the Chiefs earned a marquee victory Sunday when they rallied for a 23-20 victory in San Diego – not only knocking off one of the NFL’s hottest teams but taking a big step toward the top of the division.
Sure, the Denver Broncos remain the team to beat in the AFC West, and the Chiefs are still looking up the standings at the Chargers. But there is suddenly a feeling that the Chiefs can make some noise in the wild-card race, if not for the division title.
“I think overall the whole picture is good,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Monday. “Yeah, it came down to the last drive, but there were a lot of people on both sides of the ball and special teams that put you in a position to be able to do that.”
The Chiefs had chances to steal wins in Denver and San Francisco, but struggled in crunch time. They had no such trouble against the Chargers, marching 62 yards in nine plays in the waning minutes to set up a 48-yard, go-ahead field goal by rookie Cairo Santos.
The kick was a little bit wobbly. It looked a little bit funky. But it just managed to skirt inside the upright, helping to end the Chargers’ five-game winning streak.
“I have 100 percent confidence in Santos,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said. “He has shown he can do it. In practice he barely misses. It’s about confidence.”
Santos might be indicative of the Chiefs’ growing confidence.
After wrestling the job away from veteran Ryan Succop in training camp, Santos promptly missed field goals in each of his first two games. He hasn’t missed since, including all three attempts against San Diego.
“That’s the game of football,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “You have to trust the guy next to you. We talk about it all the time – offensively, defensively, the guy next to you in the huddle – you have to trust all those guys to do their job. And you have to trust that you’re going to do yours. It’s no different with Cairo. The guy went out there and hit a great kick and had a great kickoff right after, so I’m happy for him.”
Now, a resilient bunch of Chiefs that withstood a series of devastating injuries during the first couple weeks of the season has a relatively weak schedule ahead.
First up Sunday is a visit from St. Louis, coming off an emotional high from its victory over Seattle. Then comes a home game against the New York Jets, a team that has lost six straight games.
“The great part about this is there were a lot of people we could stand up here and mention. The great part about this is we still have a ton of room to improve,” Reid said. “We’ve got a heck of a football team coming in here this week. Jeff (Coach Fisher) has done a nice job with the Rams. They are playing at a very high level, they’re fast, they’re aggressive. We’ve got to make sure that we get ourselves ready.”
ST. LOUIS (AP) — The St. Louis Rams have released wide receiver Austin Pettis, citing roster concerns elsewhere.
Pettis was inactive for Sunday’s victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
He caught 12 passes for 118 yards and one touchdown this season. He made 11 starts in four seasons with the Rams, who drafted him in the third round in 2011.
The Rams also released wide receiver Emory Blake from the practice squad.
(New York) (AP) – Trisha Yearwood and Carlos Santana are among the musicians set to perform the national anthem during the World Series.
Major League Baseball says Yearwood will sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before Game 1 on Tuesday when the San Francisco Giants play the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.
Santana will perform an instrumental rendition of the national anthem with his son before Game 4 on Saturday at the AT&T Park in San Francisco.
Former “American Idol” winner Phillip Phillips will sing before Game 2 on Wednesday. Country quartet Little Big Town will sing before Game 3 on Friday.
The games will air on Fox at 8 p.m. Eastern time.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Jeff Kellogg will be the umpire crew chief for the World Series, and four other umps have been picked to work the event for the first time.
Major League Baseball announced the crew Monday, a day before San Francisco and Kansas City meet in Game 1.
Hunter Wendelstedt, Jerry Meals, Jim Reynolds and Eric Cooper will call their first Series. Ted Barrett and Jeff Nelson also are on the seven-man crew.
Meals will work home plate for the opener. After Game 2, he’ll move to the replay room for the rest of the Series, switching places with Nelson. Brian O’Nora will serve as the replay assistant in the first season of expanded video review.
Kellogg is working his fifth World Series. Barrett and Nelson are in their third Series.
Wendelstedt’s father, Harry, called the Series five times. The Wendelstedts are the fourth father-son umpire in Series history, joining Shag and Jerry Crawford, Tom and Brian Gorman, and Ed and Paul Runge.
The voice of the Zizzers Travis Smith has your West Plains Friday Night Football Follow-Up:
Once again the final score of the night was 42-21, the Zizzers defeating the Rolla Bulldogs. The win during Game 9 takes the Zizzers regular season record to 7-2 for the year. Next week you will find the Zizzers at home as they take on their first game of District play.
The voice of the Bulldogs Brad McNew has your Cabool Friday Night Football Follow-Up:
Once again the Bulldogs lost to the Salem Tigers 32-14 which leaves their regular season record at 4-5; a major improvement from their total losing seasons the last two years. Next week you can find the Bulldogs at home as the face off against the Thayer Bobcats in District play.
The voice of the Bears Larry Spence has your Willow Springs Friday Night Football Follow-Up:
Once again the Willow Springs Bears fell hard on the field to the Ava Bears losing the game 61-20, giving them a final regular season record of 3-6 for the year.