segunda-feira, 9 de junho de 2008

Tony Clark's pinch-hit HR off Billy Wagner gives Padres sweep of Mets

That machete Omar Minaya had smuggled to Colorado might get some use if this persists much longer.

Two weeks after the Wilpons hauled Willie Randolph into a meeting to explain himself, the Mets again return home two games under .500, and again coming off a trip that included being swept in four games. Only now, the division leader is the Phillies, not the Marlins. And the 7-1/2-game deficit is the Mets' largest in the NL East since 2005.

Asked to record his second four-out save this season - the other came in the Bronx in relief of Johan Santana - Billy Wagner never saw the ninth inning. Handed a two-run lead with two Padres on base, the closer gave up an RBI single to Jody Gerut, then a three-run, pinch-hit homer to ex-Met Tony Clark as the Mets lost, 8-6. The Mets (30-32) were swept in a four-game series in San Diego for the first time since 1980.

The trip was eeily similar to their previous journey away from Shea, where they went 1-6 in Atlanta and Colorado. After a four-game sweep at Turner Field, Minaya joined the team in Denver, and Randolph - in a bit of gallow's humor - joked that the GM had brought along a machette to cut him loose. Randolph wasn't joking Sunday.

"I don't know what to say," Randolph said. "I'm not usually at a loss for words, but what do you say? We finally score some runs. And Billy, who has been pitching lights out all year, gives it up. We have to find a way. It's frustrating. It's embarrassing to be swept twice four games in two weeks. This is not the kind of team we are. We have to find a way to get it right and get it done."

Said David Wright: "The Phillies, obviously, are a great team. I wouldn't have planned it or drew it up this way to be this far behind. We better figure something out quickly because we're too good of a team to continue to play as poorly as we are and expect to be in this race come the end of the year. There are a few options. We can continue to go out there and have these ups and downs and just play out the rest of the season, or we can figure it out and get things turned around and take this to heart and rattle off a good month or so. This is where we need to make a stand. We're already too far behind the Phillies as far as where we'd like to be. I don't think we're nearly playing the kind of baseball we're capable of."

Things don't get any easier. After Monday's day off, when travel-weary players will be in Greenwich, Conn., for a team-sponsored charity event after a cross-country flight, the NL West-leading Diamondbacks arrive at Shea. On tap: Micah Owings, Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, who are a combined 23-10 despite the Mets handling them in Phoenix.

"Why would it?" Wagner asked about getting any easier. "I mean, San Diego is not the upper-echelon team and we just got swept by them. We're going to play the top team in the West. We'll see how that works out."

After three straight 2-1 defeats to the Jake Peavy-less and Chris Young-less Padres, the Mets jumped on Wil Ledezma for three first-inning runs, with Damion Easley contributing an RBI single and Carlos Delgado delivering a two-run triple. But Pedro Martinez, in his second start since returning from a strained left hamstring, allowed three runs in the bottom half. Martinez balked in one run, and later gave up a two-run single to Paul McAnulty.

Martinez, who quibbled with the umps over the strike zone, allowed four runs on 10 hits while tossing 97 pitches in five innings. Still, the Mets took a 6-4 lead into the eighth, when Duaner Sanchez was pulled with two out, two Padres on base and the lefty-hitting Gerut at the plate. Gerut delivered an RBI single, then Clark - in the twilight of his career, and with his power waning - followed with a three-run homer on a full-count offering.

"A stupid pitch to the first guy I faced - Gerut, throwing him an 0-1 slider," Wagner said. "He had no chance at the fastball and I threw him the slider. It hung on the plate. That was the guy to get out. I shouldn't have had to face T.C."

Leon Powe, Paul Pierce carry Celtics over Lakers to 2-0 NBA Finals lead

An unfamiliar chant of "Leon Powe, Leon Powe" was ringing in Kobe Bryant's ears as a former second-round pick cut through the Lakers for an uncontested dunk in the fourth quarter.

It's bad enough that Paul Pierce on one good leg got the best of a healthy, rested and motivated Bryant. But when the league MVP spends most of the night trying to measure up to Powe, the Celtics' second-year backup center, you know that the Lakers are in trouble.

Despite a wild rally in the last eight minutes that saw Los Angeles erase all but two points of a 24-point deficit, Bryant and his teammates are heading home down 2-0 in the NBA Finals. Powe scored 21 points in 15 minutes and a hobbled Pierce scored 28 and made two game-saving plays in the final 23 seconds as Boston survived to beat the Lakers, 108-102, in Game 2 Sunday night.

"It's not the end of the world," Bryant said. "We just have to go home and take care of business."

Pierce, playing with a strained right knee, hit two free throws with 22.8 seconds left to make it a four-point game after Bryant's free throws had capped a 9-0 Lakers run. But following a timeout, the Lakers failed to get the ball in Bryant's hands and instead Sasha Vujacic had his 3-pointer blocked by Pierce, and James Posey chased down the loose ball to seal the win.

The Lakers scored 41 fourth-quarter points, including 13 from Bryant after Boston went ahead 95-71 with 7:55 to play. Incredibly, Los Angeles managed to give Boston a scare - "We got complacent with the lead," Pierce said - but otherwise it was a surprisingly lethargic performance from a Lakers team that did not play well in Game 1.

Bryant finished with a game-high 30 points on 11-for-23 shooting, but he was a nonfactor until the final eight minutes. He's now shooting 35-for-95 in four meetings with Boston this season.

Pau Gasol finished with 17 points and Lamar Odom added 10, but both Laker big men went scoreless in the fourth quarter. Through three quarters, Los Angeles was shooting 27-for-61, only to make 14 of 22 shots in the fourth.

Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen each scored 17 for Boston and point guard Rajon Rondo had 16 assists compared to 20 for the entire Lakers team.

Powe's outburst was nothing short of stunning. He averaged just 7.9 points during the regular season in a reserve role. But with starting center Kendrick Perkins playing with a sprained left ankle and in foul trouble, Powe made the most of his 15 minutes of fame.

He shot 6-for-7 from the field and was 9-for-13 from the foul line. As a team, the Lakers attempted just 10 free throws, a number which wasn't lost on Phil Jackson or Bryant.

quinta-feira, 22 de maio de 2008

Mike D'Antoni has Italian tie to draft

The only thing worse for the Knicks than losing the opportunity to draft Derrick Rose is knowing that the Memphis point guard is sure to end up with an Eastern Conference rival.

Chicago, which scored a stunning upset in winning Tuesday's NBA draft lottery, is expected to select Rose with the first pick. If the Bulls pull off another upset and take Kansas State power forward Michael Beasley, Rose will land in Pat Riley's lap with Miami picking second in the June 26 draft.

In either case, Rose will be off the board when the Knicks are on the clock. But even with the draft's premier player gone, there figures to be a quality guard available at No.6. If either USC's O.J. Mayo or Arizona's Jerryd Bayless falls past the fifth pick, Knicks president Donnie Walsh and new coach Mike D'Antoni will have a tough decision on their hands.

Of the two, Bayless is regarded as the better point guard prospect although both he and Mayo seem more suited to play shooting guard. Indiana's Eric Gordon should also be available.

None of the three is a no-brainer, which creates several scenarios for Walsh. With Stephon Marbury entering the final year of his contract and both Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson equipped to play in D'Antoni's up-tempo system, the Knicks may look to acquire a point guard - perhaps Toronto's T.J.Ford - via a trade or through free agency. The Raptors are hoping to re-sign Jose Calderon, who like Ford would prefer to start.

The Knicks would love to get their hands on Calderon, but Ford is probably the more realistic option of the two.

If the Knicks don't draft a guard they could opt for Danilo Gallinari, a 6-9 small forward who is playing in his home country of Italy.

He has the skills to thrive in D'Antoni's system. Gallinari's father, Victorio, played with D'Antoni in Italy.

"That was my roommate and teammate for eight years, so obviously there's a connection," said D'Antoni, who also coached in Italy. "But at the same time, I don't know where the scouts are or what Donnie has in mind, so I guess in the next three weeks we'll figure that out."

A Phoenix Suns executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity, predicted that the Knicks will draft Gallinari, who is regarded as the best international prospect in the draft.

D'Antoni's teams in Phoenix featured many prominent foreign-born players, including Steve Nash (Canada), Boris Diaw (France) and Leandro Barbosa (Brazil).

"Mike is in love with his abilities," the executive said of Gallinari. "That would seem to make the most sense."

Gallinari has drawn comparisons to Toni Kukoc. He's being touted as a hustle player with big-time offensive skills who can play either forward position.

Walsh is not ruling out trading the pick, which would be a way for the Knicks to rid themselves of large a contract.

Walsh will try to package the pick with either Zach Randolph or Eddy Curry, which would create cap space for the summer of 2010 when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade become free agents.

Steroids net Triple frown

Is Big Brown getting a big boost in his bid for the Triple Crown?

While trainer Rick Dutrow isn't breaking any horse racing laws by giving Big Brown and his other horses a shot of the powerful anabolic steroid Winstrol once a month, the nation's foremost doping expert says "anabolic steroids are for performance enhancement.

"That's the beginning and end of it," Dr. Don Catlin, who also created the UCLA Olympic drug testing lab, told the Daily News.

Dutrow said Wednesday at Belmont that he is still miffed that his admission of Winstrol use is drawing attention. The veterinarian who treats Dutrow's horses said that one of Winstrol's uses was "to help muscles to get stronger.

"Most people use it (in horses) as a muscle-building drug," said Dr. Gregory Bennett, a practicing veterinarian at Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga. "If it's not overused, I think there is value. From my perspective, I wouldn't say it's race-enhancing. It's more for the stress of the race and to induce appetite."

Stanozolol, Winstrol's formal name, is a long-acting drug, according to Catlin. Catlin has spent the last four years sharing his knowledge with the equine community. He points out that the expertise and years of research on doping in humans "doesn't exist for the equine species."

"But I can't think of any reason to have (Stanozolol for use in horses). It's a foreign drug, exogenous. If it's there, it's only there - as far as I'm concerned - for doping," Catlin said. "But there are people who'll say they need steroids for general health and benefit of the horse. I just disagree."

When asked if one shot of Winstrol a month would enhance performance, Catlin alluded to Ben Johnson, the disgraced Canadian sprinter who tested positive for Stanozolol after winning the gold medal in the 100-meter dash at the 1988 Olympics. Johnson was disqualified, and the gold was awarded to Carl Lewis.

"According to Ben Johnson, it had been 30 days since he last used (Stanozolol) when he got busted. I would suggest, yes (it enhances performance). It's just like in humans. It reminds me very much of 25 years ago. There were people saying anabolic steroids don't do anything for humans. It took awhile to get that notion killed. All you had to do was take one look at Johnson and his muscular development. Now it's history - no one would dare to say that," said Catlin.

The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium - the organization that recommends policy, including rules on drug use, to the racing industry - allows for the use of four anabolic steroids, including Winstrol, for therapeutic use. So far, 10 of the 38 states that have horse racing have adopted that policy. Those 10 do not include the Triple Crown states Kentucky, Maryland and New York.

Dutrow told The News that he had not injected Big Brown with Winstrol on the 15th of this month, but would likely administer it to the colt within "another 10 days or so," or about a week before the Belmont.

"You're allowed to give horses Winstrol in New York," said Dutrow. "If we had to stop (using) it today, it wouldn't hurt us in any kind of way. I'm sure our horses would run the same way. I just don't imagine that it's an issue.

"If I can use it I will, if I can't use it, I won't. Simple as that."

At this rate, Yankees' team picture should have many sequels

Before the game Wednesday night, before Joe Girardi dropped the Joba Chamberlain bombshell and the Yankee hitters heeded his clarion call to get their collective act together, the manager assembled his struggling, underperforming $209 million troops onto the field, not for a team meeting but rather for the official 2008 team picture. This, in turn, prompted one Yankee underling to observe with gallows humor: "Geez, I can't believe they're doing this in May. By August, there'll be 20 new guys here and they'll have to take a whole new picture."

While that might be considered a bit of an exaggeration, history tells us there is little tolerance for losing at Steinbrenner U., and, if nothing else, the Yankee rotation now figures to have a vastly different look from the one that began the season with such high hopes for the No.1 draft pick whiz kids, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy. In announcing that the two innings of 35-pitch work in relief of Darrell Rasner Wednesday night was the starting point for moving Chamberlain into the starting rotation, Girardi insisted this was the plan all along. And maybe it was purely coincidental that it should have come at a time when the Yankees were in the throes of a horrendous stretch that had the owner's son getting increasingly gabby in threatening tones, but it does seem like a huge risk they are taking here - not so much for Chamberlain but for the season.

"We're sticking with the program we've had in place for some time," said GM Brian Cashman. "We've come to the general area of the schedule where we decided we had to start stretching him out."

So basically what is happening here is that the Yankees, in last place, are embarking on an experiment in which one of their biggest weapons - Chamberlain setting up Mariano Rivera - is being removed from that role to pitch longer and longer relief, most likely in blowout games such as Wednesday night's when Rasner, treated to eight runs by the previously stagnant Yankee hitters, pitched seven innings of five-hit shutout ball against the Baltimore Orioles.

And who would have thought it back in March, when everyone was wondering where the innings were going to come from in a rotation that featured two kids on pitch counts and a No.3 starter, Mike Mussina, who seldom pitched into the seventh?

The 27-year-old Rasner wasn't even on the 40-man roster, which meant he was not held in the same regard as Chase Wright, Steven White or Jeff Karstens, much less Hughes or Kennedy. It also means he was available to anyone who wanted him for a mere $100,000 in last December's Rule 5 draft. But there he was Wednesday night, stepping into the role of slump-stopper that Mussina, Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte could not fulfill before him, and with three wins in three starts he's certainly surpassed the great expectations held for Hughes and Kennedy and perhaps given the Yankees further incentive to proceed with caution with the Chamberlain experiment.

Nevertheless, removing him from the pressure innings for what figures to be at least five to six weeks, and turning those innings over to Kyle Farnsworth and LaTroy Hawkins, is likely to be greeted with silent cheers from the rest of the American League.

"We didn't start with the expectations that we might have to pull the plug," said Cashman. "We started with the expectations that this will help us in the long run."

You could also probably say Cashman didn't start the season with any expectations for Rasner. But until further notice, Rasner has staked a claim on at least one spot in the rotation for which Chamberlain is being groomed. Kennedy, who right now holds the fifth spot, gets another chance tonight to live up to the expectations Cashman still holds for him. But if he is able to get to the seventh inning, he needn't look over his shoulder to see if Chamberlain is warming up. He won't be.

Nevertheless, Kennedy would be advised not to lose sight of Chamberlain and what is going on around him. At Steinbrenner U., when things are going bad, changes are always in the offing. Check the team picture in August.

Source: NY Dayly News

sexta-feira, 16 de maio de 2008

Big Brown's legal doping a concern

A week before Big Brown bolted out of the gates at Churchill Downs from the outside post and raced to a thrilling Kentucky Derby victory, the colt’s trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. revealed a little secret.

“I give all my horses Winstrol on the 15th of every month,” Dutrow told the Daily News. “If (the authorities) say I can’t use it anymore, I won’t.”

In any sport involving humans, a declaration of the use of a powerful steroid like Winstrol would set off alarms and public outrage, given the fallout from recent doping scandals in sports, and as Dutrow and Big Brown head into tomorrow’s Preakness, questions have surfaced about the trainer’s use of the drug.

In fact, if Big Brown were racing in one of the 10 states that have adopted the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium’s model rule allowing the use of four anabolic steroids, including Stanozolol (Wistrol’s formal name), for therapeutic uses only, Big Brown might have run into trouble with the doping police, says Dr. Scot Waterman, the RMTC’s executive director.

“If one of (Dutrow’s) horses were running in (those 10 states) with a dose on the 15th, he’d probably have a positive,” said Waterman. “That type of use is what moved us to begin the process we began a couple years ago. It’s not just (Dutrow). There was evidence that these products were being overused or abused.”

The RMTC, which was established in 2000 after an American Association of Equine Practitioners summit, has pushed through its model rule in 10 of the 38 states that feature horse racing. Similar to baseball, where players must get a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) in order to use banned substances for medical needs, a veterinarian treating a horse with any one of those four steroids approved by the RMTC must submit a Medication Report Form, if the horse is competing in the 10 states (Arizona, Colorado, Washington, Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware) that have adopted the rule.

“We’re pretty confident that all of the states will be done with the rule-making process by the end of this year,” Waterman said.

Questions about horse racing’s doping culture and overbreeding reverberated through the sport after the filly Eight Belles collapsed from two broken front ankles as she galloped past the finish line in second place in the Derby. Larry Jones, her trainer, has adamantly insisted she was not on steroids.

This train to Bronx should be taken out of service

So much for the Great Weeklong Debate as to whether Willie Randolph should have pitched Johan Santana on normal rest against the last-place Washington Nationals or give him an extra day so he could showcase his wares once more for Hank Steinbrenner by opening the Subway Series at the Stadium Friday night against the Yankees.

Certainly, the Mets could have batted just as ineptly and run themselves out of a ballgame just as easily for their $137 million meal ticket as they did yesterday for poor Mike Pelfrey. And indeed, isn't this a fine way to tune up for the first momentous "bragging rights" series of the season against their Bronx rivals - three out of four losses to the lowly Nats, yesterday's finale being a five-hit shutout, culminated by Billy Wagner's pointed clubhouse explosion at the empty lockers of Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran?

"Someone tell me why the ---- you're talking to the closer," Wagner raged as the inquiring media minds gravitated to his locker in the solemn postgame clubhouse. "I didn't even play!"

Then, glaring directly across the room at the lockers of Beltran, who had talked briefly to the media before departing, and Delgado, who dressed and split immediately, Wagner added: "They're over there now being interviewed. Oh, I get it. They're gone. ----ing shocker!"

Sadly, that was about the most sound and fury the Mets showed all day.

But for two baserunning blunders, another bad-break game-ending baserunning snafu and a sensational catch in left field by Nats whippet Willie Harris, it coulda shoulda been a different outcome - although as Randolph said with a shrug afterward: "We didn't get many breaks and we didn't make any breaks."

He'll get no argument on that. Aside from Pelfrey, who was brilliant, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning, this was a team performance that merely exacerbated all the frustration and lingering anger of the Shea fandom, not to mention the ever-volatile and outspoken Wagner. At first, the fans were probably delighted to see the return to the lineup of the oft-injured Luis Castillo - he of the four-year, $25 million contract - after a three-day absence with a sore quad. But after Nats right fielder Austin Kearns dropped David Wright's lazy, routine fly ball with two out in the third, and Castillo (who'd just singled to right) was only able to make it to third base, the crowd was less than enthralled.

From his standpoint, Randolph said he didn't think Castillo coulda shoulda scored on the play, but he was probably the only person in the ballpark to publicly take that stance. (Nobody got a chance to ask Wagner his opinion.) Actually, Randolph said, he was more upset at Wright for not winding up on second on the muff.