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Encarnacion Homers as Jays Win wild-card Game Over Orioles in extra-inning Thriller



TORONTO — Edwin Encarnacion slammed a three-run homer in the 11th inning to lift the Toronto Blue Jays to a 5-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night in a drama-filled American League wild-card game.

Devon Travis singled with one out off Ubaldo Jimenez, a starter who was Baltimore’s seventh pitcher on the night, and moved to third on Josh Donaldson’s single. Then Encarnacion went to work, depositing the ball over the left-field fence.

The Jays dugout emptied, sending a jubilant mass of Toronto players onto the field. The capacity crowd chanted “Eddie, Eddie.”

Toronto now faces Texas, the top seed in the American League, on Thursday in Arlington to open the five-game AL Division Series.

Both bullpens put on a show, putting up one zero after another. Then, in extra innings, the managers turned to starters with Francisco Liriano and Jimenez.

By then, the sellout crowd of 49,934 was living and dying with every called strike and ball.

Tied 2-2, the Jays sent in closer Roberto Osuna for the ninth. He needed 14 pitches to end it, striking out Mark Trumbo and Matt Wieters as the decibel level grew.

Toronto had a glorious chance to end it in its half of the ninth.

Donaldson doubled off Brad Brach down the left field line to open the inning. Encarnacion was intentionally walked, bringing up Jose Bautista who struck out. Darren O’Day needed just one pitch to induce Russell Martin to hit into the Jays’ third double play of the night.

Osuna got one out in the 10th then left quickly with an apparent injury, bringing out Liriano who got the two remaining outs.

Bautista had a solo homer in the second inning for Toronto, which got six strong innings from starter Marcus Stroman and some great defence from Kevin Pillar, Troy Tulowitzki and Donaldson before a loud, passionate crowd under the stars at the Rogers Centre.

Stroman retired the first nine hitters he faced but stumbled in the fourth when Trumbo, who led the majors with 47 home runs this season, hit a two-run shot to left.

Stroman was good but so was Orioles starter Chris Tillman, who only allowed Bautista to reach base until he ran into trouble in the fifth. Michael Saunders hit a swerving ground-rule double to left with one out and Pillar then doubled to right field on a play Michael Bourn looked to have but missed at the last second after a long run.

That left men on second and third, with Saunders coming home on Ezequiel Carrera’s short single to centre. Tillman gave way to Mychal Givens, who got Travis to hit into a double play.

There was a nasty moment in the seventh when Baltimore left fielder Hyun Soo Kim was almost hit by a beer can thrown from the stands he made a catch near the fence.

The wild-card race went down to the last day of the regular season with Toronto having to throw ace Aaron Sanchez into action Sunday in Boston. He did his job but as a result the Jays, who went 13-16 in an up-and-down September, were denied their top pitcher in the one-game wild-card showdown.

The atmosphere was electric on a 17-degree Celsius October night.

“Let’s go @BlueJays! Canadians are behind you,” tweeted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

For a city caught up in Jays fever, it was more than a playoff game. A loss and it was possibly the end of an era with Bautista and fellow star slugger Edwin Encarnacion facing free agency.

There was a pre-game buzz with the 50/50 draw prize ticking past $50,000 some 25 minutes before first pitch. The crowd was in good voice early, roaring when Stroman jogged out to the bullpen for his warmup pitches.

The Orioles were greeted by boos as they lined up before the game for introductions. Fans, waving giveaway rally towels, roared on the Jays when they came out. Seconds later, a “Let’s Go Blue Jays” chant started. It got even louder as Adam Jones stepped up to the plate to open the game.

Stroman and Tillman signalled a tight game with 1-2-3 12-pitch first innings. But after Stroman did it again in the second, Bautista opened the second by depositing a 3-1 pitch over the left-field fence. It was his fifth post-season homer, second only to Joe Carter (6) in Toronto history. Seventeen of Bautista’s 23 home runs this season have put the Jays ahead.

Baltimore didn’t get a runner on base until Jones singled to right to open the fourth. With Jones running on a full count, the Orioles avoided a double play as Kim grounded out to first. Pillar then made a highlight-reel diving catch after a long run to dispatch Manny Machado.

The crowd was silenced when Trumbo, the next batter, slammed a two-run shot to left.

Tillman retired 11 of the first 12 batters he faced with Bautista’s homer the only blemish. He walked Bautista in the fourth ending a run of eight straight outs but quickly ended the inning,

In the fifth, Tulowitzki dove acrobatically to get a Jonathan Scoop screamer at shortstop.

Tillman went 4 1/3 innings, giving up two runs on four hits in a 74-pitch outing that included 44 strikes

Stroman gave up two runs on four hits with no walks and six strikeouts in his six innings. He threw 81 pitches, of which 53 were strikes.

Donaldson drew cheers for vacuuming up a hard hit Wieters ball to third to open the seventh inning. After Brett Cecil issued a walk, Joe Biagini — who was pitching in Class-A ball last season — cleaned up.

Jason Grilli pitched a 1-2-3 eighth.

Toronto has history with Texas.

Last year, Bautista’s dramatic three-run homer — complete with bat flip — lifted the Jays past the Rangers in Game 5 of the AL Division Series before a riled-up capacity crowd of 49,742 at the Rogers Centre.

Toronto went on to lose to the Kansas City Royals in six games in the AL Championship Series.

The bad blood between the Jays and Rangers bubbled to the top in May when Texas second baseman Rougned Odor punched Bautista in the face after objecting to the Toronto outfielder’s slide. That sparked a bench-clearing melee at Globe Life Park in Arlington.

Odor was subsequently suspended for eight games while Bautista got a one-game ban. In all, 14 players and staff members were disciplined.

Tuesday marked the 20th time the Baltimore and Toronto had met this season with the Jays holding 10-9 edge coming into the game. Both clubs finished with the same 89-73 record in the regular season.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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