Connect with us


Edwin Encarnacion’s Dramatic extra-inning, walk-off Homer Sends Blue Jays to ALDS



Hello, Blue Jays offence, nice of you to drop by.

Riding an early home run from Jose Bautista and solid starting pitching from Marcus Stroman, the Toronto Blue Jays hung around long enough in the AL Wild Card game to see their closer suddenly leave the game in the 10th inning with an injury, only to win it in the 11th with a long-awaited killer blow provided by Edwin Encarnacion.

His three-run bomb off Baltimore’s Ubaldo Jimenez gave Toronto a 5-2 win that sends the Jays through the torture of the one-game playoff round and on to Texas for the American League Division Series, where they will face the Rangers in a rematch of last year’s epic five-game battle.

In a game that had home runs, key late strikeouts and one moronic toss of a beer can from the outfield stands, the Jays improbably won a battle of the bullpens after theirs had been mostly disastrous for the past week, and after Roberto Osuna was quickly pulled with one out in the 10th.  Francisco Lariano, who was considered for the start coming in, finished up and retired the Orioles to set the stage for the Encarnacion dramatics.

But they will take it.

“We were fortunate we had the last at-bat,” said manager John Gibbons, “and Eddie came through.”

“I was looking for a fastball, to try to put the barrel on it, and I got it,” said Encarnacion, through a translator.

“It was a very special moment,” he said. “Thank God I did the job for us.”

This game was always going to be unbearably tense, requiring fans to have a good supply of paper bags on hand to either prevent hyperventilation or be a repository for their vomit.

And it has been known for weeks now that this was the best the Blue Jays could hope for, once they swooned through September and surrendered the AL East title to Boston.

Gibbons theorized before the game that, maybe, the team’s September struggles would come in useful now that the team was suddenly in a must-win game.

“It was a battle to get in. The guys hung tough,” he said, understating it more than a little. The Blue Jays were 11-16 in September and needed both of their wins in October to give them home field for Tuesday’s game.

Compared with last season, when Toronto went 43-18 to tear into the playoffs and promptly dropped the first two games at home to the Texas Rangers, maybe all the adversity would pay off.

“This is all gravy here,” Gibbons said about still being alive when it often looked last month like the Blue Jays were in a death spiral. But a feeling of relief can only do so much for a team. “The format, you know, is difficult,” Gibbons said, again putting it rather mildly.

The format is absurd: a one-game playoff after a regular season of 162 games would be like deciding the first round of the NHL playoffs at the first intermission.

A fluke hit, a weird play, a ball that drops three inches to the right of the line instead of three inches to the left of it, any of it could have been the difference between advancing to the American League Division Series and going home.

Absent their slump, the Jays could have avoided this lunacy. But they didn’t, and so the crucible it was. “One game, see what happens,” was the manager’s succinct description of what would unfold.

What happened was not all that surprising, until late.

Bautista popped a soaring home run into the left-field bullpen in the second inning, sending an already hopped-up Rogers Centre crowd into delirium.

This is what Bautista does. Marcus Stroman, the Toronto starter, did more than enough to justify Gibbons’ decision to use him in an elimination game, tossing six innings of four-hit ball at the powerful Orioles lineup.

His only blemish was a two-run homer surrendered to Mark Trumbo in the fourth inning. It was a good pitch, low and on the inside corner, but Trumbo, who led the AL in home runs this season with 43, reached down and golfed it off his shoetops over the left-field fence to give the Orioles a 2-1 lead. Sometimes, good players hit tough pitches, which is what makes the one-game format so agonizing.

The Jays finally got a hit from someone other than Bautista in the fifth, an opposite-field double from previously sonambulant Michael Saunders, which was followed up by another double from Kevin Pillar and then a run-scoring single from Ezequiel Carrera to tie the game.

With the win, the Jays put off for at least three games and possibly as many as five the questions about their future, of which there are many.

There are the huge stars who are pending free agents such as Bautista and Encarnacion, the lesser who might also have played their last games here, and even the manager whose future is uncertain.

This first year of the Mark Shapiro-Ross Atkins era was in many ways a holdover from the last year of Paul Beeston-Alex Anthopoulos, but with so much potential upheaval in the off-season it’s a good bet that the new guys will truly put their stamp on the team for 2017.

All of that, though, can wait, thanks to Encarnacion himself. There is still more baseball to play. It probably won’t go according to plan.

Read More..

Continue Reading


Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

Continue Reading


Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

Read more…

Continue Reading


Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

Continue Reading