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Fields replaces injured Dalton, 'can play better'

Published in Breaking News
Sunday, 19 September 2021 17:30

CHICAGO -- Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields' time may have arrived.

After playing a handful of snaps in the first half of Sunday's home game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Fields took over at quarterback in the third quarter for veteran Andy Dalton, who suffered a knee injury and didn't return.

Fields went 6-of-13 for 60 yards and an interception and rushed 10 times for 31 yards in the Bears' 20-17 victory.

"I don't think I'm pleased with how I played at all," Fields said. "I think there's a lot more in me that I have to show. That's going to come with time. I know it's not going to happen overnight, so I'm just going to keep grinding, and no matter what happens, I know I'm meant for this. I'm meant to be here. My path here has been crazy. When I was younger, I never thought I would be here in this position. I'm here for a reason. And I definitely think I can play better. I just think that this is the beginning. I'm definitely excited for the future and excited to get back to practice on Monday, Tuesday."

Dalton suffered the injury on a 14-yard scramble in the second quarter when he landed awkwardly on the Bears' sideline. Dalton immediately pointed to Fields to enter the game and headed to the blue injury tent to be examined.

He initially appeared to check out OK and reentered the game for a series before going back to the locker room before halftime. Dalton remained in uniform after halftime but did not have his helmet on while on the Bears' bench.

Bears coach Matt Nagy said he does not believe Dalton suffered a serious anterior cruciate ligament injury, but did not want to speculate on Dalton's status as starting quarterback moving forward.

"I'm not going to get into that," Nagy said.

Nagy used Fields sparingly in last week's season opener versus the Los Angeles Rams. The first-round pick played five snaps and scored a rushing touchdown in the losing effort.

"Like I've said with Justin, he's probably further along than we thought at this point right now," Nagy said. "If that's the case [and Dalton has to miss time], we feel good about it with Justin. He has worked really, really hard to get to this point.

"We'll see where everything goes and where it's at, but Justin has done everything we've asked him to do and we feel good with him."

Jets want Wilson to learn 'boring' OK after 4 INTs

Published in Breaking News
Sunday, 19 September 2021 17:30

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Facing the New England Patriots for the first time, New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson received his "welcome-to-the-rivalry" moment on his first pass. And his second. And two more times after that.

The rookie was intercepted four times in his first 10 pass attempts in a 25-6 loss Sunday at MetLife Stadium, an all-time clunker in which he learned a hard lesson about being overly aggressive.

"It's OK to play a boring game of football. That's really it," coach Robert Saleh said after dropping to 0-2. "He's an electric dude. He's competitive as crap and he wants to win so bad, but sometimes it's OK to be boring. That's probably the biggest lesson he can take out of this one."

Wilson, drafted No. 2 overall, threw more interceptions in the first 34 minutes of the game than he did his entire 2020 season at BYU. The common theme: He forced passes downfield when it would've been wiser to take the safer, checkdown option.

"This is what we signed up for, right?" Wilson said. "There's going to be games like this -- the ups and downs.

"I just have to remember the situation I'm in. I'm an important piece in this whole thing, and I just have to keep learning and getting better. You have to keep that swag and that mojo every single week."

By halftime, Wilson had completed as many balls to the Patriots (three) as he did to his own team. It was one of those days that had statisticians unearthing some crazy factoids:

• Wilson became the third rookie in the past 40 years to have four interceptions in his first 10 attempts, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The previous two were the Chicago Bears' Kyle Orton (2005) and the Buffalo Bills' Nathan Peterman (2017).

• Wilson joined Mark Sanchez and Sam Darnold as the only rookies in Jets history to throw four interceptions in a game. Sanchez actually did it twice in 2009, including a five-interception debacle.

• Wilson became the first Jets player in 40 years to throw interceptions on his first two passes. The last to do it in any game was the Seattle Seahawks' Tarvaris Jackson in 2011.

• Wilson was the first Jets quarterback to throw three interceptions in the first half of a game since Geno Smith in 2014. That's a rare occurrence in the NFL. Since the start of the 2020 season, only one other quarterback has done it -- Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings.

• Wilson became only the fourth rookie top-five pick to have four interceptions and no touchdown passes in a game in the past 20 years. The previous two were Jets -- Darnold and Sanchez. Alex Smith did it in 2005 as a member of the San Francisco 49ers.

"It wasn't like he was overwhelmed," Saleh said of Wilson. "There's some fundamental things that he has to understand with regard to taking care of the ball and basic stuff."

Things got so bad that the crowd was booing early in the fourth quarter. Wilson took it in stride, saying the fans "should be booing" when the team plays that poorly.

Saleh said he never considering pulling Wilson. He doesn't have a veteran option on the bench, as the backup -- Mike White -- has no regular-season experience.

Wilson's first interception was a bad throw into single coverage, intended for wide receiver Corey Davis over the middle. It was caught on a deflection by cornerback J.C. Jackson. Linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley came free on a delayed blitz, but Wilson said that didn't disrupt his timing.

"I probably just shouldn't have thrown it," he said. "That's really what it comes down to."

On the second interception, Wilson was rolling out and forced a pass to Davis on the sideline. Rookie Elijah Moore was open underneath. The ball was high but catchable. It went off Davis' hands, and safety Adrian Phillips made a diving pick. "I should've had that," Davis said.

The third interception was an underthrow to Moore. Once again, Wilson was victimized by Jackson. The fourth interception was a deep floater, not even close to a target -- an easy play for safety Devin McCourty. Wilson hinted that a receiver might have run the wrong route, saying there was "a little confusion" on the play.

Wilson wasn't the first Jets quarterback to get devoured by a Bill Belichick-coached defense, but he insisted the Patriots didn't do anything to confuse him. He said they simply executed well in man-to-man coverage.

"I think no matter if it's a rookie quarterback, if you can create pressure and get to the quarterback and not allow him to go through his reads, and do the normal things, that's tough to do," McCourty said.

What made Wilson's performance disconcerting is that his pass protection was solid and he was supported by a running game (152 yards). Still, he wasn't able to get the ball to his playmakers. Davis, who had two touchdowns in Week 1, was held to two catches for 8 yards.

Afterward, Wilson didn't seem rattled.

"I just have to tell myself, 'Hey, I can't be gun-shy,'" he said. "I have to sling it around and I still have to be aggressive down the field, especially when we're down. And I have to take care of the ball."

While Wilson struggled, Patriots first-round pick Mac Jones (22-of-30, 186 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT) was efficient with a mostly conservative approach in earning his first career victory. Jones seldom threw down the field, content to take the shorter passes and complement the Patriots' solid defensive effort.

"It feels good. Obviously it's hard to win in the NFL. We'll get better," Jones said. "I think everybody, including anyone who watched the game, could agree that the offense can play better. And we will. The defense did a great job creating the turnovers."

Jones also found a way to contribute in other areas, hustling down the field and helping push running back Damien Harris over the goal line on his 26-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, and later chopping down a defender on a 16-yard run by receiver Kendrick Bourne.

Jones also shared the words of advice he gave to Wilson after the game.

"I think Zach's a really good player. As a rookie quarterback, this is what I told him after the game: We just have to continue to get better. It's just part of the game," he said. "Our defense is really good, so it's a tough defense to go against. I've gone against them in practice, and probably thrown a lot of picks too. So it sucks. Zach is going to be a great player and he's a really hard worker. He kept his head up. We just had some brief words there. He's definitely going to continue to grow, just like I will too."

ESPN's Mike Reiss contributed to this report.

Nats catcher Avila, 34, to retire at end of season

Published in Baseball
Sunday, 19 September 2021 15:49

WASHINGTON -- Washington Nationals catcher Alex Avila will retire after the season, the veteran said before a 3-0 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Sunday.

The 34-year-old veteran, an All-Star in 2011, is a son of Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila. He has played in the majors for parts of 13 seasons, and is hitting .179 with seven RBIs this year.

Avila said he expects to continue in baseball next season in a non-playing role. He said he has not spoken with his father about a position. Al Avila once traded his son.

Drafted by the Tigers in the fifth round back in 2008, Avila played eight seasons with Detroit. In that All-Star season for Detroit, he hit 19 home runs and finished with a .295 batting average.

"I always figured I would know when I feel like I've given everything I possibly can physically on the field," he said. "And at that point, I would call it an end."

Avila joined the Nationals this season, agreeing to a one-year deal at a price tag of $1.4 million.

Hours after the announcement, Juan Soto homered to back Paolo Espino in the victory as the Nationals ended the Rockies' five-game road winning streak.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Padres starter Arrieta exits in 1st with groin strain

Published in Baseball
Sunday, 19 September 2021 15:49

ST. LOUIS -- San Diego Padres pitcher Jake Arrieta departed Sunday's start at St. Louis with a right adductor groin strain after facing six batters.

Padres interim pitching coach Ben Fritz made a mound visit after Edmundo Sosa hit a two-run double, and summoned manager Jayce Tingler and trainer Mark Rogow.

After a short conference, Arrieta was pulled from the game and replaced by Craig Stammen. The Padres ended up losing 8-7.

The 35-year-old former Cy Young Award winner was signed by the Padres last month after being released by the Chicago Cubs.

Arrieta was activated off the injured list on Sept. 3 after missing 10 games with a strained left hamstring. He was 0-2 with an 8.25 ERA in three starts for the playoff-contending Padres before facing the Cardinals.

Arrieta allowed five runs, four of them earned, on two hits and a walk against St. Louis.

The Padres placed fellow starting pitcher Blake Snell on the injured list with a left adductor groin strain on Sept. 15.

Kershaw earns 1st win since June for Dodgers

Published in Baseball
Sunday, 19 September 2021 15:49

CINCINNATI -- Clayton Kershaw pitched five sharp innings for his first win since June 27, Gavin Lux and Corey Seager each hit two-run homers and the streaking Los Angeles Dodgers beat the sliding Cincinnati Reds 8-5 Sunday.

Will Smith also homered as the Dodgers won for the eighth time in nine games. They began the afternoon two games behind San Francisco in the NL West.

The Reds lost their eighth straight series after starting the day two games in back of St. Louis for the second NL wild-card spot.

Kershaw (10-7) allowed one run and three hits, striking out eight without a walk. He pitched in Cincinnati for the first time since 2013.

"It was great," Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said. "I thought he was great all the way around. I'm a little biased, but I thought he got squeezed a little, but he was fantastic. Overall really in control. See him get through five with close to 75 pitches. It was perfect."

The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner missed more than two months with inflammation in his left elbow, then returned Monday and threw 4 1/3 solid innings against Arizona. He threw 74 pitches.

"I felt a little more crisp with each pitch," Kershaw said. "I've still got a little ways to go with my stamina. I got up to, I think, 75 pitches, but we still have a couple more (starts) before the playoffs."

The only Reds run against him came when Nick Castellanos doubled, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Tyler Stephenson's groundout in the fourth that made it 6-1.

Lux, who missed Friday's game with a right forearm contusion, had three hits and drove in three runs. He hit a two-run triple Saturday in a 5-1 win.

"We've needed it a ton," Roberts said. "He's in a good spot mechanically. His approach to each pitcher and his work with hitting coaches is very sound and consistent."

Wade Miley (12-7) continued to struggle, allowing six runs and nine hits in a season-low three innings. The left-hander, who pitched a no-hitter on May 7 at Cleveland, has been roughed up for 19 hits and 12 runs, 11 earned, in 7 1/3 innings over his last two starts.

"I made a pretty good pitch to Smith I thought," Miley said. "I'm just not finishing pitches. I haven't figured it out yet. It's not good. Guys know what I'm going to do. It's no secret. I have to get the ball where I need it to be."

Mookie Betts gave a hint of things to come, leading off the game with a single.

"Wade's been so good all year," Reds manager David Bell said. "He had a couple rough starts. We have to check and make sure he's healthy. Fatigue is a factor, maybe."

Pinch-hitter TJ Friedl, promoted by the Reds on Saturday, notched his first career hit and home run in the sixth. Friedl singled and scored on Jonathan India's double in the eighth.

Joey Votto lined a pinch-hit homer off Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen in the ninth.

MOOKIE DELIVERS

Betts gave a bat to the fan who caught Friedl's home run ball and successfully retrieved the memento for the rookie.

SHOULDER THE LOAD

Seager originally was ruled safe due to interference by 2B Jonathan India during a second-inning rundown, but the call was reversed after the umpires met. They determined that Seager went out of the baseline and banged into India with his left shoulder.

DOMINANT DODGERS

The Dodgers improved to 65-35 in their last 100 games against the Reds since 2006.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Dodgers: Pinch-hitter Max Muncy was hit by a pitch in the left leg in the ninth inning. He stayed in the game.

UP NEXT

Dodgers: After Monday's off day, LHP Julio Urias (18-3) starts in the series opener on Tuesday at Colorado.

Reds: RHP Vladimir Gutirrez (9-6), Monday's scheduled starter against the Pirates, allowed five hits, three walks and four runs in 3 2/3 innings of Cincinnati's 5-4 loss at Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

Ireland head coach Adam Griggs hailed "outrageous" wing Beibhinn Parsons after the teenager inspired her side's World Cup qualifying win over Italy.

The 19-year-old scored the opening try after 29 minutes and helped create Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe's score with a defence-splitting surge up the pitch.

Italy remain top of the qualifying pool on five points, ahead of Ireland on points difference.

"She's outrageous I think at times," Griggs told RTE.

"The beauty of her collecting that ball at the back, having time and space to pick out players, that she was able to use her feet, bouncing off, getting into space quickly with that acceleration she has.

"Again, the pleasing aspect for me of that try is that once she was brought to ground we recycled the ball quickly, and I spoke about it during the week, having trust in the backs to execute."

Victory in Parma boosted Ireland's hopes of securing qualification to the finals in New Zealand. Only the winner of the four-team tournament is guaranteed passage, with the runners-up entering the final qualification tournament.

Scotland's 27-22 win over Spain on Sunday evening leaves all four teams on five points from two games, with everything to play for in the final round of games on Saturday.

However, Griggs admitted that his side must work on their set-pieces ahead of their crunch game against Scotland.

"I think that's probably the one major work-on that we still need to get right," he added.

"Our scrum was hugely improved and we got some really good front foot ball off that, but absolutely we've got to be smarter at calling them, and you find a lot of those lineouts that we did end up losing we were going up against their main jumpers.

"In a lineout they're going to give you space somewhere, whether it's at the front or the back, and you've got to be clever to see that space and call it so you can put the ball there, and I think when we did get the lineout right the call was spot on, the lifts were good and the throw was good."

With their confidence dented from the shock defeat by Spain, Ireland started the game in sluggish fashion, conceding three penalties from four scrums inside the opening 20 minutes.

However, they dug deep to put the Italians under pressure and had the chance to put their first points on the board with a 23rd-minute penalty, only for Stacey Flood's kick to strike the post.

Six minutes later, Flood was involved once more when the out-half collected the ball from Kathryn Dane after an Irish maul had collapsed and passed to Parsons, who touched down in the corner.

That try appeared to spark Italy into life but the Irish defence was resolute in the face of rising Azzurre pressure with Ciara Griffin and Cliodhna Moloney making crucial tackles before Flood stormed out of defence with a clever sidestep to drive Ireland up the pitch and keep their lead intact at the break.

Ireland's frustrations were compounded when, six minutes after the restart, Eimear Considine was yellow carded for a high tackle.

Italy duly capitalised on their numerical advantage when Beatrice Rigoni rampaged clear down the left wing before touching down in the corner. Michela Sillari's conversion gave the Italians the edge with just under half an hour remaining.

The Irish kept their composure, however, and got their noses back in front thanks to Flood's penalty after Rigoni's yellow card for a deliberate knock on.

Parsons was the inspiration for Ireland's second try as the winger tore through the Italian defence to spring an attack that culminated in Murphy-Crowe crossing the line to hand momentum back to the visitors.

While it was far from a vintage Ireland performance, Griggs' side did enough to breathe new life into their quest for World Cup qualification and will hope to use their new-found momentum to beat Scotland in their final qualifier on Saturday.

Ireland: E Considine; AL Murphy Crowe, E Higgins, S Naoupu, B Parsons; S Flood, K Dane; L Feely, C Moloney, L Djougang, N Fryday, S Monaghan; D Wall, E McMahon, C Griffin.

Replacements: N Jones, L Peat, L Lyons, B Hogan, C Molloy, E Lane, E Breen, L Delany.

Haaland brace as Dortmund cruise past Union Berlin

Published in Soccer
Sunday, 19 September 2021 12:24

Erling Haaland scored twice, including a spectacular lob, to guide Borussia Dortmund to a 4-2 victory over Union Berlin on Sunday which lifted them to second in the Bundesliga.

Norwegian Haaland has now scored seven times in the league this season while taking his total tally to an impressive 68 goals in 67 games in all competitions for Dortmund.

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The visitors had the first good chance in the first minute but Dortmund quickly took control with Raphael Guerreiro firing them in front after a lightning-quick passing move that left the Union defence frozen in the 10th minute.

With Dortmund's Donyell Malen wreaking havoc with his speed down the wing, it was only a matter of time until they added to their score line. But it was Union who did it for them when defender Marvin Friedrich's clumsy clearance of a Marco Reus cutback landed in his own net in the 52nd.

Max Kruse's penalty five minutes later cut the deficit and Andreas Voglsammer's 81st minute header gave Union hope briefly before Haaland latched onto a deep Mat Hummels cross, saw Cologne keeper Andreas Luthe off his line and lobbed the ball high over him to restore order with a remarkable finish.

Dortmund's third league win in a row lifted them to 12 points, one behind Bayern Munich. The leaders thrashed VfL Bochum 7-0 on Saturday.

VfL Wolfsburg, third on goal difference, host Eintracht Frankfurt later on Sunday.

Chelsea's second-half goal flurry sinks Spurs

Published in Soccer
Sunday, 19 September 2021 12:24

Chelsea earned an impressive 3-0 win at Tottenham on Sunday thanks to second-half goals from Thiago Silva, N'Golo Kante and Antonio Rudiger.

Following a tight affair in the first half, Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel brought on Kante after the break, and the visitors scored three goals to seal the victory.

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Chelsea continued their unbeaten start to the Premier League campaign and go level on points with Liverpool at the top of the table.

Spurs have now lost back-to-back league games after winning their first three under new manager Nuno Espirito Santo.

"I was absolutely not happy with the first 45 minutes," Tuchel said. "There were individual performances which were great in the first half from [keeper] Kepa and Thiago Silva.

"In general we lacked intent, energy and relentlessness in duels and 50-50 balls. We spoke about it at half time. In the second half it was a very good performance and a deserved win."

The London derby was also the world's first net zero carbon football match at an elite level.

The project aimed to educate fans on the role of sport in addressing climate change while supporters at the stadium were encouraged to choose plant-based food options and recycle.

Before kickoff, both sets of players and supporters gave an emotional minute's applause in memory of former Spurs and Chelsea striker Jimmy Greaves, who died on Sunday at age 81.

Spurs enjoyed the better of a first half with few clear-cut chances and came closest to scoring after 33 minutes when Son was denied from close range by Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Kante replaced Mason Mount after the break which saw Chelsea dominate and they took the lead after 49 minutes when Silva headed in from Marcus Alonso's corner.

Three minutes later, Alonso almost doubled Chelsea's lead but his strike was brilliantly clear off the line by Eric Dier.

However, just before the hour mark, Dier was left in an unfortunate position when Kante's shot deflected off him into the bottom corner.

Silva almost grabbed a second from another corner after 76 minutes but Hugo Lloris parried his header wide.

Rudiger made it 3-0 in stoppage time with a well-taken finish from Timo Werner's low cross.

Lingard, De Gea vindicate Solskjaer's game plan

Published in Soccer
Sunday, 19 September 2021 12:16

LONDON -- After criticism of his tactical approach during the Champions League defeat to Young Boys on Tuesday, Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was in no mood to get into the finer points of his football philosophy ahead of the trip to West Ham United.

"Football is a simple game," he said. "Sometimes we look too much into the intricacies to explain it, but it's about passion and desire."

If nothing else, Solskjaer's team has enough of those qualities, with Sunday proving the latest example. In a game they might have lost at the London Stadium, Man United ended up with a 2-1 win.

It helps, too, when you have a striker of the quality of Cristiano Ronaldo and so many options in your squad that you can replace Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood with substitutes like Jadon Sancho and Jesse Lingard.

It was Lingard who scored the winner against the club for whom he impressed on loan last season, although Man United also needed David De Gea to save Mark Noble's stoppage-time penalty to make sure they returned home with all three points.

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The dramatic win maintained an unbeaten start to the Premier League season for Solskjaer's men and marks only the second time in 10 years that Man United have been unbeaten after five games. They have also gone 29 away games without defeat in the league, dating back to January 2020.

"We are very happy with the win and we deserved the win," Solskjaer said afterward. "We played some very good football, created good chances and we pressed them into making loads of mistakes."

During his discussion of tactics at a news conference on Thursday, Solskjaer insisted games are more regularly decided by "which one of the strikers has the desire to get on the end of crosses." On Sunday, Ronaldo again stepped up in that regard.

There can be little doubt that Man United will have to improve before being considered genuine title challengers alongside Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, but while the Norwegian tries to work out a way of getting Ronaldo, Pogba and Bruno Fernandes to jell, the Portuguese forward is proving useful at papering over cracks.

Of the seven goals Man United have scored since his debut, Ronaldo has got four and, while his equaliser against West Ham will not trouble judges of the Puskas Award, it was the type of goal they have missed. He is in the right place at the right time, a lot.

That 35th-minute strike covered up a disjointed first-half performance. As was so often the case last season, Man United started slowly and deserved to go behind after half an hour, even if the manner of the goal was unfortunate.

Jarrod Bowen had already gone close twice -- once after Harry Maguire had been robbed of possession inches from his own penalty area -- when Said Benrahma's shot hit Raphael Varane and sent De Gea the wrong way.

But Solskjaer had promised a reaction to the shock Champions League defeat to Young Boys, and Man United, to their credit, responded well. Fernandes clipped a cross into the penalty area and Ronaldo ran off Aaron Cresswell and, having seen his goalward flick saved by Lukasz Fabianski, stayed alert to tap in the rebound.

Subjected to boos and jeers by the home fans all afternoon, Ronaldo collected the ball out of the net and gave a "calm down" gesture toward the stands. Baiting him rarely works, and he remained Man United's most likely threat.

Moments after his goal, Ronaldo was played in down the right and forced Fabianski into a good save. West Ham defender Angelo Ogbonna, having tried to keep up, puffed his cheeks as he picked himself off the floor, wearing the look of a man who realised it could be a long afternoon.

It is bound to be when your opponents have Sancho, Lingard, Donny van de Beek, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial on the bench, and despite West Ham stifling Man United's attack for the next 40 minutes or so, Solskjaer's squad depth was too much in the end.

Having come on with Sancho after 73 minutes, Lingard collected a pass from another replacement, Nemanja Matic, before cutting in from the left side of the penalty area to launch a shot into the top corner. The goal was redemption for a player, who not only became a favourite for West Ham fans last term, but was looking to respond after a poor backpass led to United's midweek defeat.

Solskjaer, meanwhile, had some vindication of his own game management, given the role of his substitutes, and was especially effusive of Lingard following the 28-year-old's difficult week, which came after he opted not to leave Old Trafford.

"Jesse was quite clear [in the summer] he wants to fight for his place and be part of a Man United team that is going places; he's really contributing," Solskjaer said. "I'm so pleased he handles the highs and lows really well. He's becoming a grown man and is a very good player."

But despite such a late goal, there was time for more drama as the game drew to a close. Deep into stoppage time, having waved away repeated claims from Ronaldo for penalties, referee Martin Atkinson went to the video screen before deciding Luke Shaw handled Andriy Yarmolenko's cross.

De Gea, who was criticised for his failure to save any of the 11 penalties he faced against Villarreal in the Europa League final shootout in May, guessed right and saved from Mark Noble, who had been brought off the bench to take the spot kick.

Noble's previous penalty miss and De Gea's last save both came in 2016 but, in a high-pressure moment, the tables were turned and Man United -- players and manager alike -- mobbed their goalkeeper at full-time. Football can sometimes be hard to explain.

Five minutes before the toss in Kent's T20 Blast quarter-final against Birmingham Bears in late August, Matt Walker and Sam Billings, their head coach and captain, pulled Darren Stevens aside for a chat. The topic was not one he had been expecting to address.

At the ripe old age of 45, Stevens had forced his way back into Kent's T20 plans after three seasons out of the side and had played all 12 of the group-stage games for which he was available. His record for the year did not stand out - 94 runs off 71 balls in eight innings, and nine wickets with an economy rate of 9.07 - but his role at No. 7 had added balance to a side which topped the South Group. Now, however, he was being told he was out of the side at the business end of the competition.

"Was I disappointed? Let's just say you wanted to be a fly on the wall," Stevens recalled. "I'd played every game and I was devastated to be left out. I'm very tight with Sam and Walks and if I didn't show [my frustration] they'd be disappointed in me. It's passion for the club, it's passion for playing big games of cricket. I want to be at the forefront of any big-match situation."

Kent's logic was sound: they wanted to include a left-hander in their middle order to help counter the threat of Danny Briggs, the Bears' left-arm spinner, and with Jack Leaning and Jordan Cox both impressive through the group stages, Alex Blake's selection dictated that Stevens had to miss out. "I said to them: 'look, get us to Finals Day and I'll win you the comp,'" Stevens explained.

A comfortable defence of 162 against the Bears took Kent to their first Finals Day since 2009 and the unavailability of both Blake (injured) and Adam Milne (IPL) opened up an opportunity for Stevens to come back into the side, Billings joking at the toss that he was a "like-for-like replacement" for the New Zealand fast bowler.

A mid-innings wobble saw Kent slip from 93 for 2 to 94 for 5 in the semi-final against Sussex, allowing Stevens time to play himself in after striding out in the 12th over. His 47 not out off 28 balls included seven fours, the pick of them a deft lap-sweep off Chris Jordan; in the run-chase, he removed David Wiese with his first ball to leave Sussex reeling at 43 for 4.

"That was a little bit of the me of old there," he said. "That was my job years ago; I'd come in after about 10 overs, tick it over and go big at the end. It gave me an opportunity to actually give myself a chance, play some good shots and take it down to the wire - that's what I did for years with Kent."

Stevens' contribution in the final was more limited: with the bat, he pulled Craig Overton for a swivelled six but sacrificed his wicket to get Cox back on strike; with the ball, his four overs of nagging medium pace and cutters cost 30 runs - 10 of which came from his final two deliveries - and included the wicket of Gregory, caught by Matt Milnes after Cox's audacious relay parry on the square-leg boundary.

But he was front and centre of the celebrations, Kent recognising and paying tribute to his determination to win an improbable recall after so long out of their T20 side. "He's just ridiculous, isn't he?" Billings said as supporters held up a 'Stevo is God' flag in the stands. "He's 45 years old, how is not fed up with cricket?

"He just keeps doing it in all formats of the game. He's a club legend. I reckon Stevo probably made his debut before Jordan was born. Experience of big occasions like this is priceless and Darren has been here before and been on the end of victory before."

Following previous wins with Leicestershire (2004) and Kent (2007), Stevens became the Blast's fifth triple-champion after Dan Christian, Ben Duckett, Paul Nixon and Claude Henderson and, at 45 years and 141 days, is unsurprisingly the oldest man to play at Finals Day. It was a far cry from his long spells on the sidelines when Kent were implementing a youth policy - and from being left to run drinks for Derbyshire during a brief loan stint two Blast seasons ago.

"I've been gutted over the last four years not getting a chance but it's been a strong side to get in," Stevens said. "I tried pushing my case but couldn't get in, and then this winter I really pushed on. The way I played in the Champo [County Championship] this year, where I've been quite aggressive, it showed that actually I've still got the shots in me and I've definitely got the desire to play white-ball cricket and win trophies."

Stevens signed a one-year extension to his Kent contract in June which will take him through until the end of next summer and insisted that he had "no interest" in retiring any time soon. "I'm still playing the game because it's all about winning trophies and winning games of cricket for Kent," he said.

"[Tonight] showed that I've still got it in there. I've got no interest in stopping. As long as I keep myself fit, looking after my body, and as long as the eyes stay good, I'll be alright."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98

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