SANTA CLARA -- Patrick Willis became a bona fide Californian on Tuesday night when the San Francisco 49ers' rookie linebacker survived his first earthquake.
"I wanted to run, but I didn't know where to run to," Willis recalled, still grinning the next morning after those 10 seconds of panic during a quake centered a few miles from his home.
When the ground isn't shaking, Willis usually knows exactly where he's headed. That's why Wednesday he was named the NFL's defensive rookie of the month for October.
Willis leads the NFL with 10.4 tackles per game, and his 73 total tackles in seven games are second only to Tampa Bay's Barrett Ruud, who has 78 in eight games. The speedy inside linebacker has become the stopper on San Francisco's defense, chasing down running backs and receivers from sideline to sideline with speed that still dazzles his coaches.
He has at least 10 tackles in each of the 49ers' last four games, including a 13-tackle effort against the New York Giants and 10 stops last weekend against New Orleans.
The 49ers (2-5) are at Atlanta on Sunday. ...
Joe Nedney, the 49ers kicker, was fined $7,500 by the NFL for making an obscene gesture at his home fans last week against New Orleans. After Nedney made a 29-yard field goal, he booted the ensuing kickoff out of bounds. Nedney tossed his helmet and kicking tee in anger before sitting back on the bench. That's when a fan's obscene comment prompted Nedney to rub the back of his head with his middle finger -- an image captured by television cameras. ... Quarterback Matt Schaub was still feeling the effects Wednesday of a concussion from a helmet-to-helmet hit against San Diego, and coach Gary Kubiak said he probably wouldn't play Sunday at Oakland. Sage Rosenfels should get the third start of his career and his first since a 22-0 loss to Cleveland in 2005 when he was with Miami. ... John H. Baker Jr. died Wednesday in Raleigh, N.C., his son said. He was 72. Baker spent 11 years in the NFL as a defensive lineman with the Rams, Steelers and Lions. He may be best known for his 1964 tackle of Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle, who was photographed sitting bloody in the end zone.
GM Ned Colletti acknowledged Wednesday he had spoken with Joe Torre about managing the Dodgers. He indicated the former Yankees manager was the leading candidate to replace Grady Little, who resigned Tuesday. ... The Mets exercised their $7.5 million option on 41-year-old left fielder Moises Alou's contract. Alou, limited to 87 games by a quadriceps injury, batted .341 with 13 homers, 49 RBIs and only 30 strikeouts in 328 at-bats. ... Adam Dunn, the only player in franchise history to have 40 homers in four consecutive seasons, became the Reds' highest-paid player when the team picked up his contract option for $13 million next season. ... The Cardinals hired assistant general manager John Mozeliak, 38, as their new general manager, promoting him to replace the fired Walt Jocketty. ... Mike Cameron, the Padres' Gold Glove center fielder, was suspended for the first 25 games of next season after testing positive a second time for a banned stimulant.
Rau'shee Warren overcame a sore shoulder and bloody nose to earn another trip to the Olympics. Warren beat Violito Payla of the Philippines 25-11 to make the quarterfinals of the World Boxing Championships in Chicago, earning him a spot in Beijing next year in the flyweight division. Warren was just 17 and the youngest member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic boxing team when he lost his first match in Athens. Light flyweight Luis Yanez also won an Olympics berth, overwhelming Aussie Stephen Sutherland -- the ref stopped it in the second round.
Rusty Wallace Incorporated is making the switch from Dodge to Chevrolet. Team owner Rusty Wallace will field a two-car team in NASCAR's Nationwide Series in 2008, and the former Nextel Cup champion also set his lineup of drivers: His son, Steven, will race in one team entry; 18-year-old rookie Chase Austin and current Cup regular David Stremme will share the second car.
Chivas USA goalkeeper Brad Guzan won the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award. Guzan led his club to the best record in the Western Conference (15-7-8), ranking first among goalkeepers in shutouts (13) and second in goals-against average (0.93).
The stud fees are in from Darley America: Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense will stand for $75,000, Hard Spun for $50,000. Street Sense closed out his career with a disappointing fourth-place finish in the $5 million Breeders' Cup at Monmouth Park on Saturday, with Hard Spun finishing second behind Curlin. Darley is owned by Dubai's Sheik Mohammed.