Raul Ibanez's first career postseason home run gave the Phillies the breathing room they needed, as the defending World Series champions held on to knock off Los Angeles, 8-6, in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium. In a rematch of last season's National League Championship Series, the Phillies used two three-run home runs, the first by catcher Carlos Ruiz in a five-run fifth and the second by Ibanez in the eighth to thwart any chance of a Dodgers comeback. Cole Hamels worked through 5 1/3 frames, giving up four runs on eight hits and Brad Lidge saved his third game of the postseason in as many opportunities. It wasn't easy as Matt Kemp singled before Casey Blake grounded into a double play. After a walk, Lidge induced a Ronnie Belliard pop out to end the game. Andre Ethier went 3-for-5 and James Loney finished 3-for-4 with two runs scored and a home run for the Dodgers. Manny Ramirez belted a two-run homer for the Dodgers, but grounded out to end the eighth inning, leaving runners on the corners. Clayton Kershaw, the youngest starter in League Championship Series history at 21 years of age, gave up five runs on four hits with five walks in 4 2/3 frames to absorb the loss. Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Friday afternoon at Dodger Stadium as Pedro Martinez takes the ball for the Phillies versus former Phillie Vicente Padilla for the Dodgers.
Game 1 of the American League Championship Series begins Friday night between the Angels and Yankees, but rain is in the forecast the entire weekend in the Bronx, which could cause havoc to the schedule. Both teams swept their respective Division Series matchups last week, as the Yankees beat the Minnesota Twins and the Angels toppled the Boston Red Sox. Los Angeles will go with John Lackey for Game 1, while New York will start CC Sabathia.
The Tennessee Titans reached a contract agreement with veteran cornerback Rod Hood on Thursday. Terms of the deal were not announced. Hood comes to the Music City after playing the last two seasons with Arizona. In 2008, the seven-year pro appeared in 15 games with the NFC Champion Cardinals, starting 14, including the Super Bowl. However, he was let go by the club in April and signed with Cleveland, but was cut in the preseason. He also was with Chicago for four days in September. Tennessee was in dire need of help in the secondary as cornerback Nick Harper will miss up to six weeks after suffering a broken right forearm during the third quarter of Sunday's 31-9 loss to Indianapolis. In six previous seasons, Hood has totaled 11 interceptions, including two for touchdowns, 201 solo tackles and 63 passes defensed in 87 career games -- 43 starts -- with Philadelphia and the Cardinals.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson both sat out practice on Thursday in preparation for Sunday's game against Green Bay. Stafford took limited snaps during Wednesday's practice, but did not participate on Thursday as he is still battling a right knee injury. Stafford was forced to sit out last Sunday's loss to Pittsburgh because of the injury sustained in a Week 4 defeat against Chicago. Daunte Culpepper started in place of Stafford versus the Steelers and went 23- for-37 with 282 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He added 44 yards on the ground on three carries and was sacked seven times. Meanwhile, Johnson has sat out both practice sessions during the week as he has a knee injury. Johnson limped off the field in the first quarter last week and was attended to by members of the training staff on the sidelines in the second half. He had just one catch for two yards in the game, and has 22 catches for 325 yards and a score this season.
Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu practiced in full on Thursday in preparation for Sunday's game versus Cleveland. It was the second straight day that Polamalu was a full go and is likely to return to the lineup for the contest with AFC North Division rival Browns. Polamalu sprained his left MCL in the Steelers' season-opener and has missed the last four games -- two of them losses -- for the defending Super Bowl champions. Also expected to return to action is running back Willie Parker, who was a full participant in drills on Thursday. Parker has missed the last two games with a toe injury.
Zach Collaros sparkled after replacing an injured Tony Pike by rushing for 132 yards and a pair of touchdowns as eighth- ranked Cincinnati beat No. 21 South Florida, 34-17, in a Big East battle from Raymond James Stadium. Pike completed 12-of-25 passes for 140 yards with two scores, but didn't play most of the second half due to a sprained left wrist. Collaros finished 4-of-7 passing for 72 yards and was intercepted once for the Bearcats (6-0, 2-0 Big East), who have their highest ranking ever. B.J. Daniels connected on 15-of-32 throws for 208 yards with a TD and an two interceptions for the Bulls (5-1, 1-1), who faltered by allowing 401 yards. That was an uncharacteristic stat for South Florida, considering the team came into the game as the nation's No. 5 ranked scoring defense (9.4 ppg). Daniels also ran for 74 yards and a touchdown.
Current points leader Jimmie Johnson turned a wicked fast lap during Thursday's qualifying at Lowe's Motor Speedway to claim the pole for the NASCAR Banking 500 -- the fifth race in the "Chase for the Sprint Cup" championship. Johnson, the three-time defending Sprint Cup Series champion and last Sunday's race winner at California, lapped the 1.5-mile oval with a blistering speed of 192.376 m.p.h. to set the fastest qualifying lap in the three-year history of the new NASCAR Cup Series car -- formerly referred to as the "Car of Tomorrow." He claimed his third pole of the season, his third at Charlotte and the 22nd of his Cup career. Dale Earnhardt Jr. held the previous record for fastest qualifying lap (190.907 m.p.h.) in the COT when he took the pole for the spring 2008 race at Texas. Johnson enters Saturday night's 500- mile race with a 12-point advantage over Hendrick Motorsports teammate and closest competitor Mark Martin, who will start alongside Johnson on the front row. Kasey Kahne, a Chase driver, qualified third, followed by Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart, another title contender.