Contact Us 417-256-1025 or 888-485-9390
Ozark Area Network
Horse TraderOzark Regional News Talk RadioKUKU Oldies 100KKDY 102.5KSPQ Q94 Jack FM96.9 The Fox

MSU-West Plains Grizzly Basketball
The Grizzly Basketball team (2-0) will host Trinity Valley Community College (TX) at 7 p.m. Friday in the Joe Paul Evans Arena at the West Plains Civic Center.
Everyone is encouraged to bring building materials or usable tools for Habitat for Humanity as part of the team’s community service project for the night.
The game sponsor is Shoe Factory Lofts.
For more information about the Grizzly Basketball team, visit http://wp.missouristate.edu/grizzly/bb. 

sports_photoThe Missouri State football program will hit a crossroads this weekend. The Bears have suddenly caught fire, winning three games in a row by double digits.

At 4-2 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, MSU is tied with Illinois State (a team the Bears have already beat) for third place in the league. A win at Southern Illinois this weekend would give the Bears their most league wins since 1990, which was also the last time MSU made the FCS playoffs.

It’s been a roller coaster season that began with an 0-4 start in the non-conference schedule, followed by losing two of the first three MVFC games.

But somehow, some way, the Bears are on the upswing/

MSU has finally found some offense to go with its stellar defense, and the results have been three straight convincing wins. Their game this Saturday will have long-term and short-term implications.

A win, and the Bears keep their slim hopes for the p-word (I can’t bring myself to type it and jinx it) alive. The Bears would be 5-6 overall and 5-2 in the MVFC, with a regular season finale at home the following week against last-place Northern Iowa.

You wouldn’t think a .500-level record would be good enough to get into the FCS playoffs, but the Bears have a few things working to their advantage.

For one, they play in what’s usually viewed as one of the toughest conferences in the FCS. Generally, the MVFC sends multiple teams to the playoffs. That at-large bid may be a pipe dream with a 6-6 overall record, but at least at 6-2 and alone in third place, the Bears would have chance.

In speaking with the media this week, Allen said: “If we can get this one (at Southern Illinois), then we’re coming home and might be playing for something pretty specially. So we gotta make sure they know that, but also stay in the mindset that it’s one game at a time.”

So, you mean to say MSU’s season might not be over after playing Northern Iowa on Nov. 16?

“(Players) understand that,” Allen said. “We’ve made sure of that.”

The FCS playoffs also expanded from 20 to 24 teams for the 2013 season. While it may have been bleak to get a bid two or three years ago, the Bears could land in one of those new playoff spots.

Here’s a recap of how many MVFC teams have made the playoffs in the last five years. Keep in mind, between 2010-2012, there were 10 at-large spots available. There are 13 at-large spots this year.

• 2012 – League champ: North Dakota State; At-large: Illinois State, South Dakota State
•  2011 – League champ: North Dakota State; At-large: Northern Iowa
• 2010 – League champ: Northern Iowa; At-large: North Dakota State, Western Illinois
• 2009 – League champ: Southern Illinois; At-large: South Dakota State *16-team playoff, 8 at-large spots
• 2008 – League champ: Northern Iowa; At-large: Southern Illinois *16-team playoff, 8 at-large spots

In the interest of full disclosure, the easy case against the Bears’ playoff chances would be that none of those at-large teams in the last five years had a .500-level record. That just makes the Bears’ early season struggles all the more frustrating.

If they don’t somehow pull a loss from the jaws of victory against Murray State, Central Arkansas and South Dakota, they’re at least 6-4 and a near-lock for the playoffs if they win out.

Let’s play along and say the Bears win their last two games, defy the odds, and squeak into the playoffs with one of the last at-large bids.

Suddenly, your head coach goes from the hot seat to the contract-extension seat. Allen will have given the Bears their most league victories and first playoff appearance in over 20 years. He also would go into 2014 in the final year of his contract.

You have to bring him back for 2014 and let the contract play out, but now do you reward him with an extension? Does one improbable late-season run into a playoff spot outweigh seven seasons of average-to-above average football?

It would be hard for Allen to go on the recruiting trail, coming off a breakthrough playoff appearance for the school, and try to land players while they know his contract will be up after their first season at MSU.

That contract extension depends on if the Bears can win at Southern Illinois, then return home and beat Northern Iowa (something Allen has never done at MSU.) Past history would tell us that this is the classic MSU sports scenario where we slightly get our hopes up, only to be let down.

If they lose one or both of the next two games, we could see a lot of changes with MSU football before next season. A “lame duck” situation would not be ideal for anyone.

Still, it’s a refreshing change that basketball season is about to start and the football Bears still have something to play for.

Former Missouri player Michael Sam watches pregame festivities before the start of the South Dakota State-Missouri NCAA college football game Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, in Columbia, Mo. The St. Louis Rams cut Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team. Coach Jeff Fisher repeated over and over that it was purely a football decision. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

Former Missouri player Michael Sam watches pregame festivities before the start of the South Dakota State-Missouri NCAA college football game Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, in Columbia, Mo. The St. Louis Rams cut Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team. Coach Jeff Fisher repeated over and over that it was purely a football decision. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Michael Sam was probably never an ideal fit with the St. Louis Rams and it had absolutely nothing to do with his sexual orientation.

They’re just too well-stocked at defensive end, Sam’s position.

Sam showed up for his face-to-face exit meeting with coach Jeff Fisher Sunday, a few hours after clearing waivers.

He arrived via the media entrance at Rams Parka still looking right at home clad in a T-shirt, shorts and flip flops. He shook hands with two reporters and accepted well wishes but declined further comment before heading upstairs to see the coach who wasn’t afraid to add the first openly gay player to the roster.

Or to cut him loose.

Fisher said numerous times during his post cutdown-day news conference Saturday that releasing the SEC co-defensive player of the year was a “football decision.” Sam was outplayed in the preseason by Ethan Westbrooks, the Rams’ top target when signing undrafted free agents.

The coach pointed out four other late-round picks were released, and thought it a sign the franchise is on the upswing.

There were no regrets. Fisher and Sam both said it was never a distraction, and the coach believed that would be the case if Sam landed with another team.

“There were no issues, that’s the thing,” Fisher said. “No issues in the team meeting room, on the field, anyplace.”

All 21 players released Saturday cleared waivers.

“Some may be coming back,” Fisher said. “You may see them Sunday on the practice squad, and some you may never ever see again.”

The meeting with Sam was postponed a day so he could attend Missouri’s opening victory over South Dakota State.

The Rams appeared unlikely to re-sign Sam to the 10-player practice squad because the defensive line is their strongest unit.

Sam had three sacks, one more than Westbrook. But most of the preseason, he was playing with the second- and third-stringers.

Westbrooks was the Division II defensive player of the year when he had 19 1-2 sacks for West Texas A&M, a school the Rams tapped a few years earlier for quarterback Keith Null.

“He was very productive and played all four spots,” Fisher said. “He is a very, very talented young player that I think has a really good future.”

Fisher noted only one defensive lineman had more preseason snaps than Sam, so he got a full shot. And that there were more than enough pass rushers with Robert Quinn and Chris Long starting plus productive backups William Hayes and Eugene Sims.

Tackles Michael Brockers and Aaron Donald, the latter a first-round pick this year, also are sack threats.

“It’s the strength of our team,” Fisher said, adding carrying nine defensive linemen was a “significant number.”

“If you go with 10, then you’re going to be short someplace else, and we’re just not there.”

They’re not as deep in the secondary, minus cornerback Trumaine Johnson (knee) for probably the first month. They need numbers at linebacker, with just five on the roster. Backup center-guard Barrett Jones is sidelined indefinitely after back surgery.

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Travis Wood throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Travis Wood throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Matt Holliday long has been a thorn in the side of Chicago Cubs starter Travis Wood.

Holliday hit his third home run in two games and broke an eighth-inning tie with a two-run single, rallying the St. Louis Cardinals past the Chicago Cubs 9-6 on Sunday.

Holliday is 13 for 37 (.351) against Wood with four home runs.

Chicago took an early 5-0 lead before Holliday began the comeback for the Cardinals. He hit his 16th homer in the fourth off Wood.

“Everything was rolling pretty good there and I got 2-0 on Holliday and I was just trying to get back into the count and he hit a homer,” Wood said. “That was all the damage they had done there and I kind of lost it there in the fifth. I couldn’t find the strike zone and they made me pay. They put the bat on the ball and manufactured some runs.

“I wasn’t as crisp today. That fifth just got to me. I was a little sporadic, wasn’t able to pound the strike zone and they made me pay for it.”

John Lackey pitched 6 1-3 innings in his sixth start for St. Louis since coming over from Boston on July 31. The right-hander allowed five runs, two earned, and nine hits.

Lackey issued a leadoff walk in the second and made a throwing error that allowed a run to score. Chris Coghlan hit a two-run single and Luis Valbuena, who had three hits, added a two-run homer to make it 5-0.

“We were able to get Woody a five spot early in the ball game and he was actually pitching pretty well,” Chicago manager Rick Renteria said. “We had a couple of plays today that quite frankly that probably could have been made that weren’t. We extended innings a little bit and we didn’t continue to tack on runs to keep us where we needed to be.”

Holliday had three hits and four RBIs for the Cardinals, who began the day one game behind first-place Milwaukee in the NL Central.

St. Louis second baseman Kolten Wong homered but left in the top of the eighth after falling backward when he tried to catch a popup in short right field. He appeared to hurt his head and shoulder, and was replaced by Pete Kozma.

Kozma, in his third stint with St. Louis this season, led off the bottom half with a double. It was his second hit in four at-bats this year.

After failing to get down two bunt attempts, Daniel Descalso got the third one down and beat Carlos Villanueva’s throw to first for a single. With the bases loaded and two outs, Holliday singled off the foot of Villanueva (5-7) to drive in two runs.

Jhonny Peralta’s third single scored the final run in the three-run eighth.

“There’s nothing positive out of this,” Villanueva said. “What needs to be addressed has already been addressed and we take nothing from it. We take a loss and we’re not happy about it.

“Our goal down the stretch is to break as many hearts as possible and we play a lot of teams that are in contention now and that’s what we’re going to learn from – winning those games. We’ve got a month left so we’ll see how we do.”

Pat Neshek (7-1) earned the win with one inning of work. Trevor Rosenthal got his 40th save in 45 chances with a scoreless ninth.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cubs: 1B Anthony Rizzo (tightness in lower back) was out of the lineup again. Rizzo, second in the NL with 30 homers, has not played since Tuesday in Cincinnati, where his back tightened up during a 50-minute rain delay. He is expected back Monday.

Cardinals: RHPs Michael Wacha (shoulder) and Jason Motte (shoulder) were scheduled to pitch Sunday night for Double-A Springfield. Both pitchers are on rehab assignments.

UP NEXT

Cubs: Jacob Turner (4-8, 5.84 ERA) will make his second start at home Monday against Milwaukee. The St. Louis native is 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in three appearances with Chicago since he was acquired from Miami.

Cardinals: Lance Lynn (14-8, 2.79) starts at home Monday afternoon against Pittsburgh. Lynn’s start will be his team-leading 28th of the season and his fourth against the Pirates. With a victory, Lynn would join Detroit ace Max Scherzer as the only pitchers with 15 wins in each of the last three seasons.

TRANSACTIONS:

Cubs: Chicago optioned Zac Rosscup to Triple-A Iowa on Sunday. Rosscup was available for both games Saturday as the Cubs’ 26th man. He will be back Monday when team rosters can expand.

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The St. Louis Cardinals recalled left-handed reliever Kevin Siegrist and infielder Pete Kozma from Triple-A Memphis on Sunday and optioned three left-handed pitchers – Marco Gonzales, Nick Greenwood and Tyler Lyons – to Double-A Springfield.

Gonzales picked up his first career victory in Saturday night’s 13-2 win over the Chicago Cubs in the second game of a doubleheader. Lyons struck out eight in 4 2/3 innings of relief in a 5-1 loss in Game 1.

The Cardinals also assigned pitchers Michael Wacha and Jason Motte to Springfield on a 30-day injury rehabilitation assignment. Both are scheduled to pitch Sunday night at Tulsa.

Siegrist is 1-3 with a 6.11 E.R.A. in 32 games and Kozma has appeared in only four games this season going 1-3.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The race for the AL Central title got another wrinkle Sunday night when Cleveland’s game at Kansas City was suspended in the 10th inning.

The Indians grabbed a 4-2 lead on pinch-hitter Lonnie Chisenhall’s two-out, two-run double, but rain prevented the teams from playing the bottom half of the inning. It was shelved after a 58-minute delay.

The game will resume on Sept. 22 in Cleveland before the start of the last scheduled series between the teams.

“It’s kind of a weird feeling, the game’s not over, but I’d rather have the lead,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “As weird as it is, you put this in your rearview mirror and move on quickly, and then we’ll figure it out once the time comes around.

“I think the umpires had a game at one o’clock in St. Louis and I think they’re just trying to make the best decision they could. One school of thought was to wait until 11:45 and maybe play in the rain. We’ll do whatever they tell us do, but you can’t control the weather.”

Both 10th-inning runs were unearned after first baseman Billy Butler fumbled Jason Kipnis’ one hopper. Chisenhall drove an 0-2 pitch from closer Greg Holland off the right-field wall to score both runs.

“It’s not over yet,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Kansas City (74-61) and Detroit were tied for the division lead coming into the day, with Cleveland (70-64) just 3 1/2 games back after winning three straight and six of seven. The addition of the suspended game to their September three-game set just adds to the importance of the series for the Royals and Indians.

“If we’re still in a funk then we’re in trouble,” Yost said. “We’ll find a way to battle through it.”

Detroit lost 6-2 to the Chicago White Sox on Sunday, so the Royals lead the Central by a half-game heading into the opener of a three-game series against Texas on Monday night.

The Indians begin a four-game set with the Tigers on Monday.

Kansas City had lost three straight and five of seven heading into the series finale against the Indians. But the Royals jumped in front on Alex Gordon’s sacrifice fly in the first inning.

Gordon also went deep in the ninth, tying it at 2 with a leadoff drive against Cody Allen. The closer had converted his previous 17 save chances.

The Indians got an RBI double from Michael Brantley in the third, and Mike Aviles hit a sacrifice fly in the fourth. Yan Gomes had four hits at the time of the suspension.

Danny Duffy allowed two runs, one earned, and five hits in 6 2-3 innings for Kansas City. He struck out six and walked three.

Cleveland left-hander T.J. House threw seven innings of one-run ball. The rookie struck out five and walked none.

“I thought that was his best game,” Francona said. “I thought his stuff was sharp.”

ROSTER ADDITIONS

Indians: INF Jesus Aguilar, who hit .303 with 19 home runs and 77 RBIs with Triple-A Columbus, will be among the September callups. So will be RHPs Bryan Price and Austin Adams.

Royals: LHP Brandon Finnegan, a 2014 first-round selection who has a 1.33 ERA in 27 professional innings, will be added to the bullpen Tuesday. OFs Terrance Gore, who has 47 steals in 54 attempts this season, and Lane Adams will also be among the promoted players.

SRO

The announced attendance of 39,009 was the third Kauffman Stadium sellout this season and the Royals’ largest crowd since 40,103 for the home opener.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Indians: DH-1B Jason Giambi (left knee inflammation) is expected to come off the disabled list Monday when rosters can be expanded to 40.

Royals: DH-OF Josh Willingham (sore back) was out of the starting lineup.

UP NEXT

Indians: RHP Corey Kluber (13-8) will start Monday’s game against Detroit. Kluber, who went 2-2 with a 2.10 ERA in five August starts, is 1-1 with a 2.78 ERA in three starts this season against the Tigers.

Royals: RHP Yordano Ventura (10-9), who has not pitched in nine days because of mid-back tightness, will start Monday against the Rangers.

TUKWILA, Wash. (AP) — Vlatko Andonovski is glad the last 10 minutes of the National Women’s Soccer League title game is over. The stress was almost too much for the FC Kansas City coach.

Amy Rodriguez scored twice and Kansas City held on during a wild finish to capture the NWSL championship with a 2-1 win over Seattle Reign FC at Starfire Stadium on Sunday.

Megan Rapinoe capped a crazy sequence – one that saw a shot hit the crossbar and another blocked in the box – with a goal in the 87th minute for Seattle to make for a frantic final few minutes in which two attempts at an equalizer went wide.

“I think the last 10 minutes shortened my life for 10 years,” Andonovski joked.

It is the first title for Kansas City, which knocked off the league’s defending champion, the Portland Thorns, in the semifinals.

“Unbelievable,” defender Kassey Kallman said of the title. “I mean this is my first professional championship game and it’s my first championship winning it, so it’s pretty great. I love the team … it was such a hard fought game and I couldn’t think of a better girls to spend the day with.”

Rodriguez got behind the defense in the 21st minute and beat Reign keeper Hope Solo with her left foot to open the scoring.

Last season’s scoring champion scored what would prove to be the game-winner in the 56th minute after Lauren Holiday, the game’s MVP, provided a timely cross into the box. Rodriguez had to leave the game in the 63rd minute due to cramping, but Andonovski said she would have subbed off shortly anyway.

The Reign controlled the game from the outset, but were unable to find quality shots on goal. Seattle had free kicks just outside the penalty area twice in the second half, but was unable to convert.

“It’s just pure disappointment right now, I think,” Seattle midfielder Kim Little said. “We did all we could to win the game, but I think today they took their chances, and I think although we had more and maybe dominated the game. We couldn’t take ours.”

The Reign were the NWSL regular season champions, losing just twice. They scored a total of five goals against Kansas City in three previous matches this year.

“It’s a battle,” Andonovski said. “It’s not just two best teams, we were playing the best team in the league, hands down. Unbelievable roster, great team, great organization, they were very well organized. We knew it was going to be a battle all the way through and we came to battle. I’m just glad the girls were focused all the way through for 90 minutes.”

Seattle Reign FC's Megan Rapinoe celebrates after scoring against the Washington Spirit's in the second half of an NWSL semifinal soccer match Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, in Seattle. The Reign won 2-1. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Seattle Reign FC’s Megan Rapinoe celebrates after scoring against the Washington Spirit’s in the second half of an NWSL semifinal soccer match Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, in Seattle. The Reign won 2-1. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

(Washington) (AP) – The Seattle Reign, with the best record in the NWSL this season, has home field advantage for the league championship on Sunday. Well, kind of.

The Reign will face FC Kansas City in the title game on Sunday at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila, Washington. That was Seattle’s home last season, the first for the U.S. women’s pro soccer league, and the team’s current training field.

The game can’t be played at Memorial because of scheduling conflicts the Bumbershoot arts and music festival, and the only viable option was Starfire.

“We spent a lot of time at Starfire last year, we train there every day and we’re training there as much as we possibly can during the week to get ourselves back to being used to the surroundings,” Reign coach Laura Harvey said, looking positively at the move. “Anyone who has been to Starfire knows that it’s an exceptional football facility.

The Reign played home games this season at Memorial Stadium, where they were 8-0-4. Seattle has best overall record in the NWSL at 16-2-6.

The Reign defeated the Washington Spirit 2-1 last Sunday to advance to the championship match. The Blues defeated the defending champion Portland Thorns 1-0 in Kansas City last Saturday.

The Blues and the Reign have met twice before at Starfire, with FCKC winning both 1-0.

The Reign have a talented roster that includes U.S. national team goalkeeper Hope Solo, along with Sydney Leroux and Megan Rapinoe, along with midfielder Kim Little – who was named the NWSL Most Valuable player of the Year. Little had an NWSL record 16 goals this season, including four that came after the 89th minute.

Coach Harvey earned Coach of the Year honors.

“Not only is her knowledge about football just second to none, also her man management is probably is probably the best I’ve ever seen,” Seattle midfielder Jess Fishlock said on a conference call this week with reporters. “If you put those things together then you’ll always have, not only a team that is a happy camp on and off the field whether things go well or things go bad, but you also have a club – if you ask any of us I don’t think there’s anywhere we’d rather be.”

Kansas City, which finished second in the regular season standings at 12-7-5, fell to the Thorns 3-2 in the semifinals last season.

“To make it to the final is definitely very rewarding, but we still feel like we have some unfinished business from last year,” said FCKC defender Leigh Ann Robinson said. “We’re hungry, ready and excited to get this far and I think we match up well with Seattle in terms of both teams liking to play through the midfield.”

The Blues are known for their defense, which features Robinson, Nikki Phillips and U.S. national team defender Becky Sauerbrunn, as well as goal keeper Nicole Barnhart, with a 1.33 goals-against average.

“You’ve got the two teams that finished first and second and were most consistent throughout the league,” Fishlock said. “The games we’ve had against each other have all been really exciting and I think that will be exactly the same on Sunday. It will literally be a case of the best team on the day will win because I don’t think there’s much between us at all.”

Former Missouri player Michael Sam watches pregame festivities before the start of the South Dakota State-Missouri NCAA college football game Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, in Columbia, Mo. Sam, the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team, was released by St. Louis Rams Saturday. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

Former Missouri player Michael Sam watches pregame festivities before the start of the South Dakota State-Missouri NCAA college football game Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, in Columbia, Mo. Sam, the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team, was released by St. Louis Rams Saturday. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Not long after Michael Sam waved to an adoring crowd at Missouri’s season opener, he looked down at his cell phone.

It was 3 p.m. CT, the deadline for NFL teams to pare rosters to 53 players. And the Rams coach was talking to the players who didn’t make the cut.

He headed into the locker room. At some point, his phone rang with the bad news: He didn’t make the cut.

Twenty others were cut by the St. Louis Rams on Saturday, all of them mere footnotes. For Sam, it meant a roadblock in his journey to become the first openly gay player to make an NFL roster.

Over and over, coach Jeff Fisher said, it was purely a football decision.

“I will tell you this: I was pulling for Mike,” Fisher said. “I really was, and I don’t say that very often. Mike came in here and did everything we asked him to do.”

The seventh-round draft pick projected confidence while scrutinized at least as closely as Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel. He’s been cheered by athletes and celebrities, denigrated by just a few.

In the end, the defensive end couldn’t make a team stocked with pass rushers and lost out to undrafted Ethan Westbrooks, who proved more productive and more versatile.

Fisher believes Sam has an NFL future, and it still could be with the Rams. If he’s not picked up by another team, he could land on the St. Louis practice squad.

“I can’t go there right now,” Fisher said. “Coaches don’t talk about practice squads because we have to see what happens. We’ll know better tomorrow afternoon.”

Wherever he lands, Fisher said “there will be no challenge, no challenges whatsoever.”

“He’s not about drawing attention to himself,” Fisher said. “He kept his head down and worked and you can’t ask anything more out of any player for that matter.”

On Twitter, roughly an hour after he was cut, Sam wrote “The most worthwhile things in life rarely come easy, this is a lesson I’ve always known. The journey continues.”

He also thanked the Rams and city of St. Louis on Twitter, adding that he looks forward to a long and successful career.

Sam was introduced to the Missouri crowd in the end zone alongside defensive E.J. Gaines, a sixth-round pick who made the team. He blew a kiss and waved before returning to the sideline, then posed for a few pictures before starting to look at his phone, and then headed for the locker room.

Fisher personally delivered the news to the 20 others released in meetings Friday and Saturday, but didn’t seem to mind that Sam was out of town, visiting his alma mater. The conversation was perfunctory, with plans for a face-to-face meeting on Sunday.

“He said `Yes sir,’ and he said, `I understand.’ He said, `Thanks for the opportunity,’ and I said, `Mike, I’m looking forward to visiting with you tomorrow,’ and he goes, `I am, too.’”

Sam was the SEC co-defensive player of the year at Missouri and had been projected as a mid-round draft pick. His stock fell after a poor combine showing not long after he came out as gay in February, and the Rams took him with the 249th overall pick out of 256.

He kissed his boyfriend as a national television audience looked on, and arrived brimming with confidence and with a quick retort for anyone who contended he was in the NFL only because he came out. Fisher was proud to have made the landmark pick, but made clear from the start that Sam would be judged on talent.

The cameras followed, but the extra attention did not seem to faze Sam or his teammates. Veteran defensive end Chris Long noted rosters are always made up of players from different backgrounds. Players said Sam was part of their family.

Sam shed weight before training camp to be faster for special teams duty, reporting at 257 pounds. But after the preseason opener, Fisher said he’d have to make the team based on defensive end play.

Sam came out publicly following his final season at Missouri, though he had told his teammates before it began. It was no distraction. Missouri tied the school record with 12 wins and won the SEC Eastern Division and Sam had 11 1-2 sacks.

Sam was lightly regarded out of Hitchcock, Texas, a town of about 7,000 along the Gulf Coast about 40 miles southeast of Houston. His first two years at Missouri, Sam backed up Aldon Smith and Jacquies Smith, both of whom are in the NFL.

From the start, teammates seemed to like having Sam around. His energy was infectious and, if there were problems, they stayed behind closed doors. Publicly, Sam was just another late-round pick trying to make the Rams, which, like other NFL teams, held sensitivity training early in camp. The Oprah Winfrey Network put off a planned documentary on Sam, saying it would allow him to focus on his dream.

At one point, Sam’s Rams jersey was the No. 2 seller among rookies online, trailing only Cleveland’s Johnny Manziel, and Sam was among just 10 draftees selected by the NFL to be featured on commemorative coins. Sam headed to the ESPY Awards to pick up the Arthur Ashe Courage award. He got a hug from Hall of Famer Jim Brown on his way to the stage and fought back tears throughout his speech.

He told the audience: “Great things can happen when you have the courage to be yourself.”

St. Louis Cardinals' Matt Holliday, right, is congratulated by teammate Yadier Molina after hitting a solo home run during the eighth inning in the second baseball game of a doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, in St. Louis. The home run was Holliday's second of the game. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

St. Louis Cardinals’ Matt Holliday, right, is congratulated by teammate Yadier Molina after hitting a solo home run during the eighth inning in the second baseball game of a doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, in St. Louis. The home run was Holliday’s second of the game. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Matt Holliday has been known to be a streaky hitter.

And he might be finding his hitting stroke at just the right time for the St. Louis Cardinals.

He homered twice and had five RBIs and the Cardinals beat the Chicago Cubs 13-2 Saturday night to earn a split of a day-night doubleheader.

“It feels good,” Holliday said. “It always feels good to help your team win. That’s what we’re here for. We’re here to win games. When you do something that helps the team win, that’s the idea.”

The victory snapped a four-game losing streak for St. Louis, which won for just the third time in its past nine games and pulled to within one game of the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers. Milwaukee dropped its fourth straight with a 3-1 loss at San Francisco.

It’s the most runs this season for the Cardinals and the first time in seven games they scored at least three runs. Their previous high was 10, which they did twice.

“Yeah, we really need those big production days and Matt’s the guy that can do that,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “It’s nice to see and nice to see him lead like he did.

“It’s good to see our offense kind of quiet people that think that we can only score two runs a game.”

The Cardinals have scored two or fewer runs in 45 of their 136 games or about one-third of the time.

Marco Gonzales (1-2) gave up one run and three hits over a season-high six innings. His previous long outing was in his debut on June 25 when he pitched five innings against Colorado, but didn’t figure in the decision in a 9-6 win for St. Louis.

Tsuyoshi Wada (4-2) gave up four runs in six innings.

“Wada was hanging in there,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “He was hanging in there. One pitch obviously Holliday drilled it out of the ballpark. Then he went back out and kept us in there one more inning. He ground it out. I thought he kept us in the ballgame.”

Holliday hit his 14th home run in the fifth to break a 1-1 tie. His three-run, two-out blast to center scored Daniel Descalso and Matt Carpenter.

He got No. 15 leading off a nine-run eighth. It marked his 19th career multi-homer game and his first since getting two on Aug. 10, 2013, against the Cubs. Holliday has an 11-game hitting streak during which he has gone 14 for 43.

“Three-run homers are game-changers,” he said. “Especially if it’s a tie game and you get a three-run lead, it kind of gives you a little bit of a cushion and allows your pitcher to settle down a little bit.”

The first 10 batters reached to start the eighth for St. Louis. Holliday’s homer was followed by five singles and three walks before he was hit by a pitch to drive in the seventh run of the inning.

Matt Adams hit a sacrifice fly and Yadier Molina got his third hit of the night to drive in the ninth run before second baseman Javier Baez made a nice play on an Oscar Taveras grounder to start an inning-ending double play.

Felix Doubront pitched seven strong innings in his National League debut and Starlin Castro hit one of Chicago’s three solo homers, sending the Cubs to a 5-1 victory in the opener.

Doubront (1-0) allowed seven hits in his return from the disabled list. He had been out with a strained right calf since Aug. 1, two days after Chicago acquired him from Boston. Logan Watkins and Chris Valaika also connected for Chicago in the makeup of a May 14 rainout.

Justin Masterson (2-3) gave up all three homers and five earned runs in 4 1-3 innings for St. Louis. Masterson has allowed four or more runs in five of his six starts for the Cardinals and pitched five innings or fewer in four of his starts.

WELCOME BACK:

Molina went 3 for 5 with three singles in his second game since returning to the lineup following a seven-week absence. Molina, who had surgery on his thumb in July, went 0 for 3 in his return Friday and sat out the first game of the doubleheader. He also threw out Arismendy Alcantara trying to steal second in the fifth, the first attempt against Molina since his return.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cubs: 1B Anthony Rizzo, who was second in the NL with 30 homers, sat out again. Rizzo’s lower back tightened during a rain delay Tuesday in Cincinnati. He has not played since and is expected to sit out Sunday as well. … RHP Edwin Jackson (strained right strain) threw in the bullpen before the game. He has been on the disabled list since Aug. 21.

Cardinals: RHP Michael Wacha (right shoulder strain) will pitch Sunday in Tulsa for Double-A Springfield. Wacha went on the DL after his June 17 start.

UP NEXT

Cubs: LHP Travis Wood (8-11, 4.72) will start Sunday afternoon. He is 2-5 with a 5.83 ERA against St. Louis in his career, with both victories coming this year. In his last outing against the Cardinals, he got a no-decision after giving up five runs (two earned) in five innings July 25 in a game Chicago won 7-6.

Cardinals: RHP John Lackey (2-1, 4.50) gets his second career start against Chicago. He earned his second win with St. Louis in his last start, giving up one run in seven innings in a 3-2 win Aug. 25 at Pittsburgh.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — It’s getting very crowded at the top of the AL Central. The surging Cleveland Indians have turned the division into one of baseball’s best playoff races.

Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana each had an RBI single in the 11th inning, leading the Indians to a 3-2 victory over the sliding Kansas City Royals on Saturday night.

Kansas City has lost three in a row to fall into a first-place tie with Detroit, which split a doubleheader at Chicago. Cleveland, which has won six of seven, is just 3 1/2 back.

“It’s extremely agonizing,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “It’s frustrating.”

The Royals got a run back in the bottom of the 11th when Salvador Perez’s two-out double scored Jarrod Dyson. But Erik Kratz struck out to end the game.

Jose Ramirez sparked Cleveland’s winning rally with a leadoff triple. Brantley followed with a base hit against Scott Downs (0-4).

“It was a hustle triple,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I about swallowed my tobacco when he went around second. Instead of Brantley trying to get the runner over they have to bring the infield in and he hit a chopper over the infield.”

Brantley then stole second and went to third on Perez’s throwing error before Santana singled into center field.

The Royals loaded the bases with one out in the 10th, but failed to score off Josh Tomlin (6-8). The reliever got Alcides Escobar to hit a grounder to third, forcing Perez at the plate. He then struck Jayson Nix, who was making his Royals debut.

The Royals went 2 for 18 with runners in scoring position and stranded 16 runners, twice leaving the bases loaded.

“We weren’t getting any hits with runners in scoring position, it was plain and simple,” Yost said. “One was an infield hit and didn’t score a run. We had a multitude of opportunities starting in the first inning. We just couldn’t take advantage of it.”

Cleveland grabbed a 1-0 lead when Yan Gomes doubled in Jason Kipnis in the fourth.

The Royals tied it in the eighth without the benefit of a hit. Alex Gordon led off with a walk. Billy Butler then hit a comebacker that should have been a double play, but reliever Scott Atchison threw the ball into center field, putting Gordon on third. With the bases loaded, Lorenzo Cain’s grounder scored Gordon for an unearned run.

“That’s tough, leaving that many runners on base,” Cain said. “We should have definitely beat these kids. We had a few chances to walk it off. I did myself. We just didn’t get the job done. We’ve got to come through in those tight situations if we want to get to the playoffs.”

Indians rookie Trevor Bauer pitched 5 2-3 scoreless innings despite issuing five walks. He allowed four hits and struck out six. The Royals loaded the bases with none out in the first, but Bauer escaped the jam.

“I was fortunate to get out of it,” Bauer said. “With the way the game turned out it was important to get out of it with no runs. Usually in that situation you try to keep it to one or two, but that was big with no runs.”

James Shields tossed seven innings of one-run ball for Kansas City. He gave up five hits, struck out four and walked one.

“It’s disappointing,” Shields said. “We had the game right in our grasp, right in our hands and we didn’t come out of it.”

Wade Davis replaced Shields and struck out the side in the eighth to run his scoreless streak to 25 2-3 innings, the longest active streak in the majors. He has allowed just one run in his 49 innings, lowering his ERA to 0.76.

INDIANS WINNING WAYS

The Indians have won five straight series and are a season-best six games above .500. They have won eight of their past 10 road games. They are 17-9 in August for their fourth straight winning month.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Indians: DH Jason Giambi (left knee inflammation) and OF Ryan Raburn (right wrist soreness) are on a rehab assignment with Double-A Akron. Giambi is eligible to come off the disabled list Monday and Raburn on Tuesday.

Royals: DH-OF Josh Willingham was unavailable with a stiff back. .1B Eric Hosmer (fractured right hand) went 2 for 6 with two RBIs and struck out twice in his first rehab game with Triple-A Omaha. … 2B Omar Infante (right shoulder inflammation) started after missing four games.

UP NEXT

Indians: Rookie LHP T.J. House, who won his first big league July 5 over the Royals, is coming off a rocky outing, giving up five runs Tuesday in a no-decision against the White Sox.

Royals: LHP Danny Duffy’s 2.47 ERA ranks third in the American League, but he has a losing record at 8-11.

Minnesota Twins' Brian Dozier (2) is caught stealing second by Kansas City Royals second baseman Christian Colon during the ninth inning of a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Minnesota Twins’ Brian Dozier (2) is caught stealing second by Kansas City Royals second baseman Christian Colon during the ninth inning of a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Royals have optioned rookie infielder Christian Colon to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, opening a roster spot for infielder Jayson Nix.

The moves were made before Saturday’s game against Cleveland.

Colon batted .302 in 19 games with the Royals. Nix was claimed off waivers Thursday from Pittsburgh and arrived in time for Saturday’s game.

The 32-year-old Nix hit .111 in 16 games with the Pirates. He began the season with Philadelphia.

Colon, who started seven games at second base and three at third, was the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft out of Cal State Fullerton. Kansas City plans to recall him Tuesday after Northwest Arkansas’ season ends and major league rosters can be expanded to 40.