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Column: Dylan Cease-Justin Verlander matchup brings us back to a time when ace starters ruled baseball

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Column: Dylan Cease-Justin Verlander Matchup Brings Us Back To A Time When Ace Starters Ruled Baseball
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Dylan Cease admitted Monday he sometimes thinks about his chances of winning the American League Cy Young Award during his breakout season.

Chalk it up to the joy of youth?

“Old guys think about it too,” Justin Verlander said with a laugh. “It’s very natural.”

Cease, the 26-year-old Chicago White Sox ace, faces Verlander, the 39-year-old Cy Young favorite, on Tuesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field in the second game of a key series between the Sox and Houston Astros.

Monday’s 4-2, come-from-behind Sox victory was an appetizer for the main course, and both starters seemed primed for the showdown.

“Two guys having good years, and it’ll be fun,” Verlander said. “I don’t think you get a lot of moments where you get two guys having great years like this matchup. Things have to align, so it’s very exciting.”

The game has changed so much over the years, with starters getting lifted even after six or seven no-hit innings and front-office executives game-planning the pitching moves with the manager hours before the first pitch.

Whether it’s better or worse for the game is in the eye of the beholder. To some of us dinosaurs, turning the game over to anonymous relievers is never as fun as watching two dominant pitchers trying to outduel each other for nine innings, even if their stuff isn’t quite as good as it was the first time through the order.

But that’s irrelevant now. Baseball never will go back to the days when a starter throwing well wouldn’t give up the ball unless it was pried out of his hand. Analytics have turned managers into drones. “Five and dive” has been replaced with “five and survive.”

All we can do is appreciate the rare occasions when two dominant starters go head-to-head in a regular-season game — and hope the managers understand this is entertainment. Many fans want to see which pitcher comes out on top, not which one gives his team a chance to win with 85 pitches.

Tony La Russa and Dusty Baker are the kind of old-school managers one might think would give their starters a little more leeway in a marquee matchup such as Verlander-Cease. We’ll see.

They’re also new-school thinkers when it comes to ensuring their aces are still healthy and durable come October, so don’t expect a return to the days when pitch counts were thrown out the window.

Still, Baker knows it’s something the game needs.

“I was thinking about it today,” he said. “This is like when I was a kid — (Sandy) Koufax and Juan Marichal, or Don Drysdale and Gaylord Perry, Ferguson Jenkins and Bob Gibson. These are classic, classic (matchups). I remember when Don Sutton on our team (the Los Angeles Dodgers) was facing Nolan Ryan.

“I’m going to have to really be careful and make sure I don’t spectate and manage. Because if I was at home, I’d get me a bowl of popcorn and some beer and the only time I’d leave would be if there was a commercial or it was between innings because that’s a classic (matchup).”

Baker said the reason there aren’t more classic matchups is there were fewer teams back in the day, and four-man rotations made it likelier that two No. 1s might go head-to-head.

While that’s true, there’s also a lack of star power when it comes to starting pitchers. There are many well-paid starters but few must-see pitchers like Verlander, Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw.

Cease may be on his way — as evidenced by his record streak of 14 consecutive starts allowing one or no earned runs — but he’ll have to prove himself for a few more years to reach that status.

Can he imagine himself pitching at Verlander’s age?

“I haven’t even thought about it,” he said. “It’s hard to fathom, but I guess he and Scherzer are showing that if you take care of yourself, there’s no reason why your (velocity) or anything has to dip. Guys like that are making it easier to picture for sure.”

Cease revealed himself Monday to be the Sox’s poet laureate. He unveiled a poem he wrote about his slider called “O Slider Slide” and had the team distribute T-shirts with the verses on the back. A sampling:

“O slider slide o’ slider slide.

“In the strike zone indeed a win is implied.”

Well, Dylan Thomas had to start somewhere, and he probably couldn’t even throw a slider. You have to give Cease credit for putting himself out there.

Matchup aside, this is a huge series for the Sox, who were taken apart by these same Astros in October in the AL Division Series and have yet to recover.

Baker pointed to the Sox injuries, saying, “It’s not the uniform, it’s the person in the uniform.”

“If I’m playing my first team against your second team, over the long run I’m going to win most of the time and you’re going to lose most of the time,” he said.

The Sox greeted the Astros by playing “Bang the Drum All Day” during the introduction of the Houston lineup, a shot at their sign-stealing past. The Astros responded by hitting Sox starter Johnny Cueto hard in a two-run first inning, aided by a Josh Harrison error.

Cueto settled down and didn’t give up another run through the eighth, allowing the Sox to rally with four runs in the bottom of the eighth.

Maybe the scoreboard guys should’ve played “Golden Slumbers” for the Sox, who have been asleep at the wheel much of the season. The Astros, meanwhile, haven’t had any problems getting up for games, even with a sizable lead in the AL West.

“We expect guys to be their best version of themselves, and we all hold each other accountable,” Verlander said.

Baker said not to count the Sox out.

“They’re in a good division to be where they are,” he said. “I remember when Tony La Russa won 83 games and won the World Series (with the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals).”

So does La Russa.

“I know he does,” Baker said. “You just want to get in the dance. Our job is to stop them from getting in the dance.”

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Ravens-Patriots in review: Highlights, notables and quotables from a Week 3 victory

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Ravens-Patriots In Review: Highlights, Notables And Quotables From A Week 3 Victory
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The Ravens bounced back from a gut-punch loss to the Miami Dolphins with a 37-26 road win over the New England Patriots. Quarterback Lamar Jackson threw four touchdown passes and ran for another while the defense created four turnovers on New England’s last five drives.

Players of the Week

QB Lamar Jackson: New England had no answer for Jackson, who threw for 218 yards and four touchdowns and carried 11 times for 107 yards and another score. He has 10 touchdown passes through three games and has run for at least 100 yards in two straight as he makes an early Most Valuable Player case.

S Kyle Hamilton: When wide receiver Nelson Agholor broke into open space with 5 minutes, 45 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Patriots appeared on their way to a go-ahead touchdown. Instead, Hamilton chased him down and punched the ball free, allowing Marcus Peters to fall on it. In addition to that climactic play, the rookie gave up just one completion on 14 coverage snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

WR Devin Duvernay: The Ravens clung to a one-point lead in the third quarter when Duvernay gave them a jolt by dancing 43 yards along the sideline on a punt return. Four plays later, he followed up with a leaping catch in the corner of the end zone for his fourth touchdown of the year. He has caught all eight balls thrown his way in three games.

Snap-Count Analysis

Cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters seemed back to full strength, playing 65 and 63 of the team’s 66 defensive snaps, respectively. With outside linebacker Justin Houston and nose tackle Michael Pierce injured, veteran defensive tackle Calais Campbell embraced a heavy workload, playing 59 snaps. Inside linebacker Josh Bynes played 71% of the team’s defensive snaps, taking on a larger role against New England’s determined running game. Outside linebacker Brandon Copeland stepped in to play 26 defensive snaps in his first game as a Raven. Rookie cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis played just nine defensive snaps after he struggled early against DeVante Parker.

J.K. Dobbins and Justice Hill shared the workload evenly at running back, playing 26 and 29 snaps, respectively. Mike Davis played one snap. At wide receiver, Devin Duvernay played only two fewer snaps, 35, than Rashod Bateman. Rookie tight end Isaiah Likely dealt with a groin injury during the week and played 20 of 60 offensive snaps. Tight end Nick Boyle played just four snaps in his first game action of the season. Josh Oliver was on the field more than either with 24 offensive snaps. Rookie Daniel Faalele played 54 snaps at left tackle after Patrick Mekari sprained his ankle.

Number Crunch

32: Mark Andrews’ career touchdown reception total. The fifth-year tight end ranks second on the franchise’s all-time list behind Todd Heap (41) after he scored twice against the Patriots.

3: Players in league history who have thrown four touchdown passes and run for 100 yards in the same game, per ESPN Stats & Info. Lamar Jackson joined Randall Cunningham and Cam Newton with his performance Sunday.

4: Turnovers created by the Ravens defense, more than in any game last season.

5.0: Opponents’ per-carry average against the Ravens’ run defense. They ranked sixth worst in the league after Sunday’s game.

Quote of the Week

Coach John Harbaugh on Lamar Jackson: “His way is winning football. It’s fundamentally sound quarterback play. He’s running the show out there. He’s making the checks. He’s managing the clock. All the things that you would say an operator or a manager does, he’s doing all those things, too. He’s doing those things, and he’s making plays sometimes when the play doesn’t make itself.”

Next Up

Buffalo Bills at M&T Bank Stadium, Sunday, 1 p.m.

The Bills went into Week 3 widely regarded as the best team in the league after they won their first two games by a combined 55 points. But they lost a divisional showdown to the Miami Dolphins, the same team that upset the Ravens in Week 2. The Bills fell 21-19, despite outgaining the Dolphins by more than 200 yards and running 90 offensive plays to Miami’s 39.

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Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan named Big Ten offensive player of the week

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Gophers Quarterback Tanner Morgan Named Big Ten Offensive Player Of The Week
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Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan was named Big Ten offensive player of the week Monday. The sixth-year senior had a banner day in the 34-7 win over Michigan State on Saturday.

Morgan completed 88 percent of his passes Saturday — the third-best mark of his five-year playing career. In 2019, he completed 95 percent on the road against Purdue and then 90 percent in the upset of Penn State.

Morgan, who had 268 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, was great throwing more than 10 yards down field. He completed 11 for 12 for 150 yards and one touchdown in passes between 10 and 20 yards downfield. He was 2 for 3 for 49 yards traveling more than 20 yards. He added three rushes for 27 yards, earning some key first downs.

Morgan is the first Minnesota player to win Big Ten offensive player of the week since Nov. 9, 2020.

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‘Basketball Wives’ star Brooke Bailey’s daughter dead at 25

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‘Basketball Wives’ Star Brooke Bailey’s Daughter Dead At 25
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The 25-year-old daughter of “Basketball Wives” star Brooke Bailey has died, the reality mom announced Sunday.

“Forever my baby, Pretty Black aka Kayla Nicole Bailey,” she wrote on Instagram along with a series of photos of the pair. “This is not a goodbye. Mommy will see you soon.”

Bailey did not announce the cause of death for daughter Kayla, but did reshare a post that mentioned a car crash.

“My baby girl is so loved by all of youuuuu!!! The love and support my family has received today is unreal and so appreciated,” the 45-year-old reality star wrote in an Instagram story.

“Kayla left a mark on so many lives. She entered the room and demanded respect, love and attention. If you had the pleasure of meeting her and being friends with her she has forever changed your life.”

Bailey, who has been romantically linked to former NBA All-Star Rashard Lewis and University of Florida standout Vernon Macklin, who was drafted by the Pistons in 2011, returned to “Basketball Wives” in its 10th season.

In the current season, she and her new husband “turn their attention to IVF with hopes of completing their family,” according to the VH1 synopsis.

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Heat’s Jimmy Butler shoots down notion of casting him at power forward (and he shows off new hairstyle); Herro downplay starting role, extension

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Heat’s Jimmy Butler Shoots Down Notion Of Casting Him At Power Forward (And He Shows Off New Hairstyle)
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When it comes to Jimmy Butler potentially playing power forward this season, the Miami Heat’s leading man said Monday that his team had better start considering Plan B.

With power forward P.J. Tucker having left in free agency for the Philadelphia 76ers, and with the Heat not signing an outside replacement, Butler was asked at the team’s media day at FTX Arena if he would be willing to play this season in a power role.

“If they absolutely wanted to have a conversation,” Butler said of relenting to at least listen. “But I’m not going to play the four.”

The Heat’s other options at power forward include Caleb Martin, Haywood Highsmith, Max Strus, or one of the team’s center types, such as Dewayne Dedmon or Omer Yurtseven, albeit with coach Erik Spoelstra rarely favoring big lineups.

“I could play the four, yes, if they absolutely needed me to play the four, yes,” Butler said.

Of Tucker leaving, Butler said with a smile, “P.J.’s a traitor. I tell him every single day.”

Butler, 33, said the Heat would find a way to make it work without the veteran power forward.

“There are going to be changes,” he said. “Everybody realizes roles are going to change. There are going to be a lot of changes that have nothing to do with me. As training camp comes along, it’s going to be exciting to see what this lineup is about.”

Butler also downplayed offseason workout video showing him spending significant time working on his 3-point game. He stressed that his focus remains getting into the paint and getting to the foul line.

“Scout me however you want,” he said. “I’m still going to find a way to get into the paint.”

Of his offseason shift to a lengthier coif, Butler tried to insist that he hadn’t added extensions. But he also said he did not know if he would continue with the look during the regular season.

“I’m just messing with stuff to make the internet mad,” he said of the long braids he continued to sport Monday.

Adebayo’s attitude

Following Butler in the interview room, center Bam Adebayo downplayed the Heat facing a power deficit without Tucker.

“We always find a way,” he said. “That’s the Miami Heat way.”

For his part, he said he plans to take a more proactive approach in the offense.

“Yeah,” he said with a wide smile. “We are a lot better when I’m scoring.”

Heat President Pat Riley spoke at the end of last season of Adebayo getting up at least 15 shots a game.

Adebayo’s response, “18, trying to get it up this year.”

“You heard,” Adebayo added of Riley, “what the old man said about me.

“It is a big deal to me to come back better.”

The ongoing focus, though, he said, is to emerge with the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

“I mean, at this point, it’s politics,” he said of the annual media vote that went to Rudy Gobert and Marcus Smart the past two years.

Herro ball

Having said at the end of last season that he wanted to emerge as a starter, and with Riley saying shortly thereafter that such a role has to be earned, Tyler Herro somewhat softened the stance Monday.

“I’m a team player,” he said, “whatever Spo and organization wants me to do.”

Herro, appreciative of the importance of a well-rounded rotation, said he would accept, “whatever role fits me best.”

Eligible for an extension until the start of the regular season, Herro deferred such talk to his agent.

“I’m focused this season on basketball,” he said.

But confidence remains firmly in place.

“My offensive skill set is one of the best in the league,” he said.

With room, he said, for growth, “becoming more of a catch-and-shoot guy and attacking off the catch.”

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Dolphins’ Trent Sherfield spurs social media craze — and maybe an endorsement — for taking punt to backside

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Dolphins’ Trent Sherfield Spurs Social Media Craze — And Maybe An Endorsement — For Taking Punt To Backside
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Among everything seen in the Miami Dolphins’ exhilarating 21-19 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, maybe most unusual was wide receiver Trent Sherfield taking a punted football straight to his backside.

With less than two minutes to play and the Dolphins punting up against their own goal line, Sherfield, in as an upback on the special teams unit, backed up into punter Thomas Morstead’s kicking motion as he tried to block for him.

The ball went off the foot of Morstead, ricocheted directly off Sherfield’s buttocks and shot up into the air and out of the back of the end zone for a comical, blooper-reel safety.

It could’ve taken a drastically different tone had it cost Miami the game against the AFC East rival. Buffalo then just needed a field goal to win after previously trailing by 4 points, but the Dolphins stopped the Bills one last time to protect the 2-point lead and snap a seven-game losing streak against their divisional foe.

The commentary and reaction to the special teams blunder turned entertaining faux pas began immediately after the game.

“Never seen a butt punt before,” Dolphins star receiver Tyreek Hill said in the locker room. “Next time, he’s going to catch it with his butt cheeks because he’s got strong butt cheeks.”

Former New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, infamously known for the “butt fumble” in his playing days before turning commentator, tweeted at Morstead, “Woah… stay out of my lane bro.”

Sherfield was just happy it took place in a win for the Dolphins.

“My cheeks have a big W tatted on them,” he tweeted with a smiley face on Sunday night.

But he also had fun with the craze.

The NFL’s primary Twitter account posted an image of the football getting booted straight into Sherfield’s hind parts, asking followers, “Is this the greatest photo of all time?” Sherfield quote-tweeted it: “Indeed it is.”

Toilet paper brand Charmin tweeted to Sherfield: “Those cheeks are going to need something soft. Check your [direct messages],” insinuating an endorsement could be on the way.

Sherfield replied: “I’m commercial ready whenever you guys are…”

The DUDE Wipes brand added to Charmin’s tweet: “We’ll cleanup what you leave behind…always up for the sloppy seconds.”

Morstead, who was having a fine afternoon with two punts of 59 yards plus others of 52 and 48, said postgame it was only the second time he had a punt blocked in his 14-year career.

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Heat’s Jimmy Butler shoots down notion of casting him at power forward (and he shows off new hairstyle)

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Heat’s Jimmy Butler Shoots Down Notion Of Casting Him At Power Forward (And He Shows Off New Hairstyle)
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When it comes to Jimmy Butler potentially playing power forward this season, the Miami Heat’s leading man said Monday that his team had better start considering Plan B.

With power forward P.J. Tucker having left in free agency for the Philadelphia 76ers, and with the Heat not signing an outside replacement, Butler was asked at the team’s media day at FTX Arena if he would be willing to play this season in a power role.

“If they absolutely wanted to have a conversation,” Butler said of relenting to at least listen. “But I’m not going to play the four.”

The Heat’s other options at power forward include Caleb Martin, Haywood Highsmith, Max Strus, or one of the team’s center types, such as Dewayne Dedmon or Omer Yurtseven, albeit with coach Erik Spoelstra rarely favoring big lineups.

“I could play the four, yes, if they absolutely needed me to play the four, yes,” Butler said.

Of Tucker leaving, Butler said with a smile, “P.J.’s a traitor. I tell him every single day.”

Butler, 33, said the Heat would find a way to make it work without the veteran power forward.

“There are going to be changes,” he said. “Everybody realizes roles are going to change. There are going to be a lot of changes that have nothing to do with me. As training camp comes along, it’s going to be exciting to see what this lineup is about.”

Butler also downplayed offseason workout video showing him spending significant time working on his 3-point game. He stressed that his focus remains getting into the paint and getting to the foul line.

“Scout me however you want,” he said. “I’m still going to find a way to get into the paint.”

Of his offseason shift to a lengthier coif, Butler tried to insist that he hadn’t added extensions. But he also said he did not know if he would continue with the look during the regular season.

“I’m just messing with stuff to make the internet mad,” he said of the long braids he continued to sport Monday.

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