Category Archives: Sport

With Power and Precision, Yankees Take Another From the Cubs In Baseball

The Chicago Cubs pounded baseballs over the wall and had the best starting rotation in baseball last season. But what they did better than any other team was play defense — and they did it by a historic margin.

With their effective use of shifts and Gold Glove Award winners at first base in Anthony Rizzo and right field in Jason Heyward, a worthy Gold Glove candidate in shortstop Addison Russell and the defensive dynamo Javier Baez at second base, the Cubs converted batted balls into outs better than any team had in 34 years, according to Baseball Prospectus.

The Yankees had the solution in their 11-6 victory over the Cubs on Saturday night. They simply hit the ball where the Cubs could not reach it — spraying one after another down the foul lines during a five-run first inning and a couple of others over the ivy-covered walls of Wrigley Field for good measure.

It made for a comfortable night for the rookie left-hander Jordan Montgomery, who allowed just three hits and two earned runs in six and two-thirds innings as the Yankees won their fourth in a row and remained atop the American League East.

Starlin Castro, a former Cub, continued to make his return to Wrigley a memorable one. He hit one of the balls that ended up where no Cub could catch it, into the left-field bleachers for a two-run homer, and he has five hits in the series.

Cubs fans, as is their tradition for home runs by the visiting team, tossed the ball back onto the field. Aaron Hicks received a similar treatment after his three-run homer in the eighth.

It was fourth hit of the night for Hicks, whose turnaround from last season, when he hit .217, embodies the Yankees’ early reversal from a year ago. Hicks, who has replaced the injured Jacoby Ellsbury in the lineup since Monday, is hitting .355. Manager Joe Girardi was reluctant to play him last season, but now he is seeking out ways to get him at-bats.

“I give him a lot of credit because he wasn’t happy during spring training,” Girardi said, referring to his decision to award the right field spot to Aaron Judge.

Hicks, a former first-round draft pick, did not argue with Girardi’s assessment that he has matured. “I have more of a plan, an idea of what I want to do in every at-bat, and it’s been working out so far,” Hicks said.

As Hicks reached first base after his home run, he pointed to C. C. Sabathia in the dugout. Before Hicks had come to the plate, Sabathia had suggested that Hicks — who at the time had five home runs to his name this season — had not hit one in a while. Hicks had shrugged the idea off.

“Then I ended up hitting it, and I got excited,” he said.

But the Yankees built their lead not with power but with placement.

Brett Gardner, who won the series opener on Friday with a two-out, two-strike, three-run homer in the ninth inning, ripped the third pitch he saw in the first inning between Rizzo and the first-base line for a double

“Rizzo covers a lot of ground, not just front and back but side to side,” Gardner said. “When he dove for it, I wasn’t sure. If he gets that, who knows how that changes the inning?”

Hicks then beat out a bunt, which he had laid down to move the runner up, and Gardner raced home when pitcher Brett Anderson threw the ball past Rizzo. Castro drove in Hicks by slicing the first pitch of his at-bat just inside the right-field line. After Judge struck out, Gary Sanchez lashed a single a few feet inside the left-field line past a lunging Kris Bryant, scoring Castro.

Didi Gregorius followed by dropping a soft liner into shallow left field. Chase Headley drove home Sanchez and Gregorius when his liner landed down the right-field line for a double.

Anderson then left with what the Cubs announced was a low back injury. He had recorded one out.

Although the Yankees jumped to an 8-0 lead, and restored the margin to 11-3 after Hicks hit his home run in the eighth, the Cubs made the Yankees sweat a little when they pushed across three runs in the eighth before Adam Warren replaced Tommy Layne and escaped further damage by striking out Ben Zobrist with runners at second and third.

The Cubs, already thin on pitching, waved the white flag in the ninth — they sent catcher Miguel Montero to the mound. After walking Sanchez, he got Gregorius to ground into a forceout, retired Headley on a liner and, after a walk by Chris Carter, got Rob Refsnyder to fly out to center.

As Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. camped under the ball, the crowd rose to its feet and gave Montero a standing ovation. He responded by tipping his cap as he jogged back to the dugout, having performed a feat the Cubs’ starter could not: getting three outs.

INSIDE PITCH

The Yankees could have Jacoby Ellsbury back in center field and Matt Holliday at first base on Sunday night. Ellsbury has not played since he injured his elbow crashing into the Yankee Stadium wall on Monday. Holliday, the designated hitter, has not played in the field this season. … Aaron Judge, who was moved into the cleanup spot for the first time this season, was hitless in five at-bats on Saturday night.

This Atlanta’s New Ballpark Has Pitchers Sweating

The Launching Pad has been reborn, much to the dismay of R. A. Dickey and other Atlanta Braves pitchers.

The Braves’ most recent homestand provided more evidence that the new SunTrust Park is a great place to play — if you are a hitter.

“It’s a fact that the ball seems to be carrying here so far,” Dickey said.

The season is still young, but the ball seems to be carrying especially well for the Braves’ opponents.

Entering Monday, Atlanta’s 5.61 E.R.A. in home games is easily the worst in the majors. Colorado’s Coors Field has been known as the toughest park for pitchers, but Rockies pitchers are a distant second at 5.31.

Dickey said he felt it was safe to conclude that the new park will yield a lot of homers, including some “that might seem like cheapos.”

The barrage of long balls is no surprise to the former Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, who walked into the new park and immediately joked that he retired too early.

Jones said he felt the whoosh of air in his face when he first walked onto the field through a door in the center field wall. He knew in an instant that would be bad news for pitchers.

“There weren’t too many cheap homers at Turner Field,” Jones said last month. “This place, I don’t think you’re going to have to necessarily crush one to get it out of here.”

The Braves were outscored by 51-26 and outhomered by 12-4 in their 1-5 homestand. Atlanta pitchers have given up 21 homers at home, putting them on pace for 130. The most Braves pitchers allowed at Turner Field was 95.

Dickey, 42, signed with Atlanta following four seasons with Toronto, where the Rogers Centre was a home-run friendly park.

“So you certainly go from a place like that to here and you think it’s not going to be so bad, right?” Dickey said. “It’s still a small sample size so we’re not in a panic yet, but at the same time it’s similar, for sure.”

Including all games through Sunday, the Braves’ 4.82 E.R.A. ranks 29th in the majors, just ahead of Detroit’s 4.83.

Atlanta added the veterans Dickey, Bartolo Colon and Jaime Garcia as a short-term fix to allow prospects time to develop. Manager Brian Snitker said the early struggles would not force the team to rush the prospects to Atlanta.

“I think we can be real patient,” he said. “We’re running through a little stretch here, that’s all.”

He added: “They’ll bounce back. They’ll make some adjustments and they’ll be O.K. They always have. All those guys we’re talking about wouldn’t have been playing as long as they have if they hadn’t been able to do that.”

On the other hand, those veterans never had to pitch at SunTrust Park before this year.

Draymond Green is really disappointed Cavs’ opponents going down easily

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green is disappointed in the level of competition the Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors have been able to put up against the Cleveland Cavaliers in these playoffs.

“I thought teams would compete a little harder,” Green said after shootaround on Monday. “I just watched San Antonio-Houston. I like to watch good basketball. When you watch Cleveland play, you’re only watching one side of the good basketball. That’s kind of weak.

“I like watching a good game, not even necessarily that it’s going to be a close game. I like to watch teams playing good basketball. When you watch them, you watch one team playing good basketball and everybody else do something. I don’t know what that something is.”

The Cavaliers are 8-0 this postseason and have beaten their opponents by an average of 8.3 points. Golden State is 7-0, beating the opposition by an average of 13.7 points.

Green says that even though they’re handling teams with more ease than the Cavaliers, he argues they’re facing stiffer challenges.

“Nah, but I think Utah is still playing good basketball,” he said. “Regardless if they win or not, I think we’re a better team. But at the same time, they still play a good brand of basketball.”

The All-Star power forward said the team isn’t looking ahead to a potential third consecutive NBA Finals matchup with the Cavaliers.

“No, we have a long way to go,” Green said. “We still got to get five more wins before we can even think about participating in the NBA Finals.”

Golden State has a chance to close out Utah on Monday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena and match Cleveland’s record.

“We don’t want to be 8-0 in the playoffs because Cleveland is 8-0. It doesn’t matter,” Green said.

The Cubs place Jason Heyward on 10-day DL for injured knuckle

The Chicago Cubs placed outfielder Jason Heyward?on the 10-day disabled list on Monday for a hand injury and called up right-hander? Dylan Floro to take his place.

Heyward injured a knuckle on his right hand while diving for a ball in the outfield on Friday. He will be eligible to come off the disabled list on May 16.

Heyward was off to a decent start in 2017, after having a year to forget last season. He was hitting .253 this season, with three home runs and a .333 on-base percentage, before going down with the knuckle injury. He also was playing stellar in right field.

Heyward injured his wrist last year, and adjustments to his mechanics led to his worst campaign at the plate. He hit a career-low .230, with just seven home runs.

Even after his wrist healed, Heyward never found his groove; he reworked his swing during the winter.

The Cubs want him fully healed before he returns.

Floro, 26, came up in the? Tampa Bay Rays?organization and made his major league debut last season. This year, he was 1-0 with a 5.06 ERA in eight appearances for Triple-A Iowa.

The Cubs have a need for extra arms after playing an 18-inning game on Sunday night, a day after starter Brett Anderson?recorded only one out before leaving an outing with back tightness. The Cubs now have nine relievers as they open a series against the Colorado Rockies.

The Cubs also traded outfielder Matt Szczur to the San Diego Padres on Monday for minor league righty Justin Hancock, who was drafted by Chicago general manager Jed Hoyer in 2011 when Hoyer held that same position with the Padres. Hancock, 26, has a career 3.91 ERA in seven minor league seasons. He has appeared in 116 games, starting 90 of them.

Here After Yankees Won a Baseball Marathon, the Real Race Begins

The buses and the truck pulled onto the tarmac, and players and equipment were whisked through security and loaded onto the plane. At 3:08, the flight was in the air — with 14 minutes to spare.

Tuliebitz is not sure what would have happened if the plane had not gotten airborne in time. It is a 310-mile bus ride to Cincinnati, but the collective bargaining agreement limits the distances teams can travel by bus.

“I was so excited that we made it,” Tuliebitz said. “There were a lot of smoke and mirrors to make it look smooth and easy.”

The conspiracy of circumstances — a game that was played Sunday night to accommodate ESPN; Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman’s blowing a three-run lead in the ninth inning; and neither team’s being able to score until Starlin Castro’s grounder brought home Aaron Hicks in the top of the 18th inning — left the Yankees bleary-eyed when they arrived at Great American Ballpark on Monday afternoon.

Of course, the Cubs had it worse. They traveled farther for their Monday night game — to Colorado.

“You feel like you have that hangover without the benefits of actually drinking,” Cubs Manager Joe Maddon told reporters in Denver.

The Yankees landed in Cincinnati at 5:08 a.m. Eastern and reached their hotel as the sun was coming up. Many of them were in bed by 6 a.m.

“I usually get a little more sleep than that,” said Manager Joe Girardi, who was up at 11 a.m. “It’s part of the schedule and you’ve got to deal with it, and you know these games are going to happen.”

Girardi also had to deal with fielding a team for Monday’s game with a roster full of exhausted players. He rested two regulars: second baseman Castro, who had been the only Yankee to play in every game, and right fielder Aaron Judge, who has been icing his knees after games since tumbling into the stands in Boston two weeks ago.

“He’s got enough strawberries to last for a couple months,” Girardi said of Judge. “You see a lot of Band-Aids on him, too.”

Also getting a reprieve was the backup catcher Austin Romine, who caught the first 12 innings Sunday before moving to first base, where he finished the game. Most of the bullpen, including Jonathan Holder, Adam Warren, Shreve and Chapman, was expected to be out of commission on Monday night. Hicks and Didi Gregorius, who both played the full game Sunday night, were in Monday’s starting lineup, but Girardi implied that both could get a day off on Tuesday.

Immediately after Sunday’s game, Girardi huddled with General Manager Brian Cashman, who informed him of a bit of good fortune. The Yankees’ Class AAA affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre had been rained out Sunday in Pawtucket, R.I., so that team’s best pitcher, Chad Green, was fresh and ready to go.

Word was relayed to Green, who was awakened by a phone call at 2:30 a.m. from his manager, Al Pedrique.

“I watched the game up until the 10th inning, and then I went to bed,” said Green, who was available Monday to throw 100 pitches out of the bullpen, if needed, in relief of starter Masahiro Tanaka. “When I got the call, I got ready to go.”

To make room for Green on the roster, the Yankees sent down Rob Refsnyder, a reserve outfielder and infielder. Typically, though, when the Yankees have overextended their bullpen and need reinforcements, a pitcher with options is sent to the minors, where he must remain for at least 10 days — unless there is an injury.

It happened to Warren, when he threw six shutout innings in an 18-inning loss at Oakland, and to Shreve two years ago, when he threw a career-high three and two-thirds innings in a 19-inning loss to Boston. Warren and Shreve were naïve then, heading to the ballpark the next day wondering whom the Yankees would call up — neither of them considering the other part of the equation: who would be sent down.

“I remember riding the subway to the stadium with Miller,” Shreve said, referring to his former teammate Andrew Miller. “We were talking about the bullpen being dry, and they were going to have to call somebody up. When you’re young, you’re thinking, ‘I pitched really well.’ You think, ‘Why would they send me down?’ You don’t think of it the other way.”

For Shreve, who, like Holder, threw three one-hit scoreless innings, one of the highlights was facing an old high school teammate, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, whom he retired on a fly ball and then walked with two outs in the 18th.

“You try to forget who’s up there and treat him like any other reigning M.V.P.,” Shreve said of Bryant, the reigning National League most valuable player.

A personal connection also enhanced the memories of the marathon for Castro, who said it was the longest game he had played in. The ground ball he hit came against his good friend Pedro Strop, with whom he had lunch last week when the Yankees and the Cubs were both in Boston.

“That’s my boy,” said Castro, who cursed himself after swinging at a pitch in the dirt for the second strike. “I forgot about who he was, but I think he knew it was me because the only strike he threw me was the one I hit. I’m just happy I hit it — otherwise, maybe we’re still playing.”

News The Warriors’ Draymond Green calls Celtics’ Kelly OIynyk dirty player

Draymond Green has let it be known that he’s no fan of Boston Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk.

“He’s dirty, a dirty player,” Green said on Uninterrupted’s “Dray Day” podcast. “I don’t respect guys like that. I know he’s not the greatest basketball player of all time, so maybe he feel like he got to do that, but you don’t have to do that. Just dirty. I don’t respect that, man. He’s dirty.”

Green took exception to Olynyk’s setting an illegal high screen on Washington’s Kelly Oubre in Game 3 between the Celtics and Wizards. Oubre was knocked down but then jumped up and charged at Olynyk, burying his forearm into his chest.

Olynyk fell backward onto the court, and teammates from both sides intervened to end the altercation. Oubre was hit with a flagrant 2, which resulted in an automatic ejection, and was suspended for Game 4.

Olynyk went unpunished.

“Kelly Olynyk is a dirty player, man,” Green said. “Olynyk caught [Oubre] in the face and the neck with a couple of elbows. That’s what I don’t understand. You let people get away with stuff, and then when somebody finally react … you penalize that guy. But you are not going to penalize [Olynyk] for continually elbowing him the face. … I don’t get that.”

Green also referenced Olynyk’s history of questionable plays.

Olynyk was the player who pulled the left arm of Cleveland Cavaliers?forward Kevin Love during a rebound chase in the first round of the 2015 playoffs. The play resulted in a dislocation of the shoulder and forced Love to undergo season-ending surgery.

“You’ve seen what he’s done,” Green told ESPN on Monday after shootaround. “Everybody’s seen what he’s done. I don’t really need to go [further] on that. Come on, man. There’s more cameras in these arenas now than it’s ever been. Everybody sees what goes on.”

Celtics coach Brad Stevens disagreed with Green’s opinion of Olynyk.

“I’m around Kelly every day,” Stevens said. “I don’t agree with that assessment.”

Stevens also defended the Celtics forward on Sunday, saying he’s not sure where the “narrative” against Olynyk comes from.

“I guess he set a screen, it was called a common foul, it was reviewed by the league, and the league determined it was a common foul. Another guy rushed him and chucked him on the ground,” Stevens said. “I understand all the stories of the past, and I understand they’ve gotta talk about something with three days in between games. But we know Kelly. I’m around Kelly every day.”

Last year, a Los Angeles Times poll surveying coaches and players revealed that Milwaukee Bucks guard Matthew Dellavedova was voted as the league’s dirtiest player.

“Everybody’s seen what he’s done too,” Green said to ESPN. “We know about him.”

But Green has also been ridiculed by many and called dirty for his previous kicking antics.

Green occasionally flails his foot up while attempting a shot from under the basket. He connected to the groin region of Oklahoma City Thunder big man Steven Adams a few times in last year’s playoffs.

He disputes the perception that he’s a dirty player.

“I haven’t kicked anybody,” Green told ESPN. “You kick somebody with your foot, not your shin. I don’t know who taught them how to kick if they’re kicking with their shin. You kick with your foot. That’s what I was always taught. Growing up where I grew up at, you kick somebody, you kick them with your foot. You don’t kick somebody with your shin. So I wouldn’t necessarily say I kicked somebody.”

Green argues that there are players who are crafty at seeking a competitive advantage and then there are players who will do anything to get an edge. Olynyk falls in the latter category, Green said.

“There’s a difference, big difference between knowing all the tricks [and being dirty]. … Knowing all the tricks ain’t doing stuff to hurt people,” Green said on his podcast. “[Olynyk] yanked [Love’s] shoulder out of place. I don’t roll with that, man. He’s just dirty. You know veteran tricks is grabbing an arm so a guy can’t get there to block a shot or cutting some guy off so he can’t get there to contest. But you’re not doing nothing to hurt nobody. This dude [Olynyk] be out there trying to hurt people.”

Information Yankees Outlast Cubs with 48-Strikeout

They also had to endure getting just one hit from the ninth to the 16th inning and a spectacular catch by Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber, who dove into the left-field seats to run down a pop foul in the 12th inning.

It was fitting that in a game that featured a major-league record 48 strikeouts, the last came when Chasen Shreve fanned Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks with runners at first and second to end the game. (The previous record, 43, was set in 1971 in a 20-inning game between the Angels and the A’s.)

“It was a gritty performance by our guys,” the Yankees’ manager, Joe Girardi, said after completing the sweep of the defending champions, which gave the Yankees five consecutive wins, a half-game lead over Baltimore in the American League East and, at 20-9, the best record in baseball.

Luis Severino pitched superbly for the Yankees, allowing only four hits and one run over seven innings, Aaron Judge delivered a booming run-scoring triple, and Jacoby Ellsbury hit a two-run homer. But those events took place earlier in the evening before many in the crowd of 40,584 gave in to temperatures that hovered near 40 degrees and the clock drew closer to midnight.

In the end, the Yankees’ heroes were typically unsung ones — relievers Jonathan Holder and Shreve, the sixth and seventh pitchers of the night, who combined to allow two hits over the final six shutout innings, striking out eight.

“That’s the longest game I’ve ever been a part of,” Holder said.

The longest Major League Baseball game, between the White Sox and the Brewers in 1984, lasted eight hours and six minutes over 25 innings.

For Shreve, it was a memorable performance — he twice faced Kris Bryant, his former high school teammate in Las Vegas, including in the 18th after retiring the first two batters. He walked Bryant, then Anthony Rizzo was intentionally walked because Strop’s spot was up, and the only option for Cubs Manager Joe Maddon was to use another pitcher to hit, so he chose Hendricks.

Facing Hendricks required a reminder that all Shreve needed to do was execute his pitches and he would be fine. Facing Bryant was another matter.

“It’s a funny thing,” said Shreve, who got Bryant to fly out in the 16th. “When me and my buddies talk about it back home, oh, when you face Kris, you talk about those situations. What if he comes up in a one-run game in the last inning? You try to forget who’s up there and treat him like any other reigning M.V.P.”

The reward Shreve and Holder get may be a trip to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, since they both have minor-league options, and they will be unavailable Monday night, having thrown 44 and 33 pitches, respectively, and the bullpen is in need of fresh arms.

Shreve, who was sent down to make room for fifth starter Jordan Montgomery earlier this season, has yet to allow a run in seven innings this season.

“I want to pitch well here, I think I can pitch well here, so tonight was very satisfying,” Shreve said. “I just have to keep getting better.”

It hardly seemed like the Yankees were in store for such a long night when Chapman took the mound in the ninth, having been handed a 4-1 lead.

But Chapman, who had allowed one run all season, walked Russell and allowed a single to Jon Jay to begin the inning. He struck out Willson Contreras, but Albert Almora singled to score Russell, and Javier Baez — after fouling off three two-strike pitches — singled to score Jay, narrowing the Yankees’ lead to 4-3.

Chapman rebounded to strike out Kyle Schwarber, but with runners at second and third and a 3-1 count on Bryant, Girardi ordered Bryant walked to load the bases. Chapman then hit Rizzo on the forearm with his first pitch, forcing in the tying run.

After 35 pitches, Chapman was removed for Tyler Clippard, who sent the game to extra innings by retiring Ben Zobrist on a grounder to second.

Adam Warren, who also received a World Series ring on Friday, having spent the first four months of last season with the Cubs, struck out Russell and retired Contreras on a grounder to strand Rizzo at third to end the 12th inning.

On and on it went, until Hicks came to plate in the 18th. It had been a frustrating night for Hicks, who struck out four times and had been hitless, but he leaned on a skill that he had spent time in the off-season honing: bunting.

“You see how Strop a lot of times throws the ball underhanded, you figure that maybe he has a problem with some touch throws,” Girardi said. “That’s why we did it.”

Hicks dropped his bunt down, but it was not far enough to get to Strop. Contreras, who played the entire game behind the plate, sailed his throw into Hicks and past Rizzo, allowing Hicks to reach second. Ronald Torreyes bunted him to third, and then Castro hit a sharp grounder to the left of Russell, who was playing in.

Russell gloved the ball, and a good throw might have had Hicks, but his off-balance throw was up the first-base line. As Hicks slid past the plate, the earlier signs of frustration were gone. He did not kick at the dirt or slam his batting helmet down, as he had done earlier in the game.

He popped up from his slide and was mobbed in the dugout, realizing it felt much better to feel beat than beaten.

Info The Rangers Fight Best When Put in a Corner

“Every situation is different,” said defenseman Dan Girardi, a veteran of 121 playoff games with the Rangers since 2007. “We’ll use that experience and hopefully translate into a win tomorrow.”

The Rangers have been particularly good at turning the page after subpar performances this postseason. After losing Game 2 of their first-round series at Montreal in overtime — a game in which they gave up the lead with 18 seconds remaining in regulation — and then dropping Game 3 at home, they reeled off three straight impressive wins to capture the series.

And after blowing another late lead against the Senators in Game 2, and losing in overtime, the Rangers responded with a pair of emphatic home wins to tie the series.

Such late-game drama has been common in these playoffs. Through Sunday, 14 of 22 games in the second round have had a winning goal scored in the third period or overtime. That includes Anaheim’s memorable three-goal rally against Edmonton on Friday, when the Ducks scored three times with their goaltender pulled before prevailing in overtime.

“You cannot quit believing in any situation,” Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle said. “Momentum swings in the playoffs are so drastic, and they mean so much, that when you get one you start to believe. It sends a different message to the opposition.”

Rangers center Derek Stepan said the onus for yet another comeback inevitably will fall on goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who despite allowing three overtime winners this postseason retains the team’s confidence. In the 20 games since 2012 in which the Rangers have faced elimination, Lundqvist is 15-5 with 1.74 goals against average.

“Every single time we step on the ice we know that we have one of the best — if not the best — goaltender in the league, especially when we get to these situations,” Stepan said. “He turns it on to a whole new level.”

Rangers Coach Alain Vigneault said too many of his players turned in pedestrian efforts on Saturday.

“At this time of the year against such a good opponent — and all opponents right now in the playoffs are good teams — you can’t bring an average game to the table,” Vigneault said.

Vigneault also expressed confidence that the vast playoff experience on his roster would be an asset now. The Rangers are trying to reach the conference finals for the third time during his four seasons as coach.

“There’s no doubt for me that experience, when you have it, is a good thing,” Vigneault said. “You’ve got to control your emotions and focus on what you need to do on the ice. This is going to be an opportunity for our team to respond and play a strong game in a pressure situation.”

About John Daly Wins and Soaks in the Glory

President Trump, an avid golfer who owns more than a dozen golf courses, congratulated Daly for winning his first P.G.A. Tour Champions title. Daly, who endorsed Trump during the campaign, was wearing American flag pants when he finished at 14-under 202 at the Woodlands.

Daly’s victory earned him $322,500. He opened with rounds of 68 and 65 to take a one-stroke lead over Kenny Perry into the final round.

Perry and Tommy Armour III tied for second. Perry had a 69, and Armour shot 67.

Daly eagled the par-5 first, and appeared to be cruising to victory, up to 17 under through the 15th hole to lead by two shots. Poor tee shots on the final three holes led to mistakes that Perry and Armour could not take advantage of in trying to chase down Daly.

As Daly walked up the 18th green, he knelt and kissed the large, colorful umbrella printed on the fairway to honor the late Arnold Palmer.

When Daly tapped in the winning putt, he pumped his fist. Moments later friends and colleagues including players Esteban Toledo and Michael Allen ran out to spray their pal with champagne. Daly closed his eyes, leaned back and soaked it all in.

Daly has had his moments at the Woodlands. He had four top-10 finishes in 15 appearances when the Shell Houston Open was played at the course, including a playoff loss to Vijay Singh in 2005. Daly tied for 17th at his first PGA Tour Champions event last May.

The two-time major champion becomes the 12th member of the senior tour to record a win on all three PGA Tour circuits.

“Now, I can say I’m a champion on the Champions Tour, which is really cool,” Daly said. “Hopefully, I can keep this confidence going.”

Perry looked like he might run down Daly until his approach to No. 17 landed in the water. “I had my opportunities to flip the scores on holes but I never could do it,” Perry said. “But good for him. That first win is always special.”

Armour, too, said he gave away his chances to win. He finished with two bogeys, one on the 17th after also hitting into the water.

“What can I do: I kind of threw away the tournament,” he said.

Kevin Sutherland was fourth at 11 under after a 67.

Here First African to Play in the Major Leagues Is a ‘Pinnacle’ for Baseball

Every promotion to the major leagues is a triumph. The rookie has ascended to the top of his profession, realized his dream, validated his toil and sacrifice. He deserves the support that awaits him.

For a new Pittsburgh Pirate, though, the feelings run deeper. Gift Ngoepe has arrived, and Major League Baseball has never seen anyone like him. As the industry struggles with declining participation by black Americans, here is Ngoepe, a middle infielder and the first big leaguer born in Africa.

“You know how when you see someone you have something in common with, the way you don’t need to speak, you just look at each other and kind of nod and tip your cap?” said Chris Archer, a pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays. “It’s like the ultimate moment for that.”

Ngoepe, 27, was born in what is now Polokwane, South Africa, and he signed with the Pirates for $15,000 in September 2008. In his first four seasons, he did not rise above Class A. In his next four, he peaked at Class AAA.

But last month, when the Pirates needed a middle infielder, they finally called for Ngoepe, who singled off the Chicago Cubs’ Jon Lester in his first at-bat.

Ngoepe gave his cap to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., but kept his bat, he said, because it still had hits left in it. He followed up with three more in Miami and two in Cincinnati. He was 7 for 24 (.292) through Sunday, while playing the smooth defense at shortstop and second base that has kept the Pirates intrigued for so long.

“I played with a lot of people, saw a lot of shortstops, and he ranks up there at the top with them,” said the Pirates coach Tom Prince, who spent 17 seasons in the majors. “His reads on balls, throwing it accurately across the diamond — he’s an unbelievable defender.”

As an amateur, Ngoepe — pronounced n-GO-pay — twice attended Major League Baseball’s academy in Italy, where he worked with Barry Larkin, the Hall of Fame shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds. Larkin noticed Ngoepe’s athleticism, but also his remarkably advanced baseball instincts.

Ngoepe’s introduction to the game, however, was a twist on the typical American path. Many players in this country learn baseball from their fathers, but Ngoepe never knew his. Instead, he learned baseball because of his mother.

It would be wrong to say she taught him the game — “She had zero idea about baseball,” Ngoepe said — but without her, he might never have known baseball existed: She raised him at a ball field in a suburb of Johannesburg.

Early Promise

Ngoepe’s given name is Mpho Gift Ngoepe, the middle name a translation of the first, which is in Sotho, his native language. His mother, Maureen, was inspired by a conversation she had with a stranger in a church. She was 21, poor and pregnant with her second son, and the baby’s father had left her. The stranger told her that the boy would make her proud, and that his name should be Gift.

“Just thinking about my name and everything that has happened all my life, it was always bigger than me,” Ngoepe said last week, on the bench before a game at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. “God had a purpose and God had a plan for me.”

As a baby, in the waning days of apartheid, Ngoepe lived in a hut in Limpopo, the northernmost province in South Africa. Needing a way to provide for her sons, Maureen left the children with her parents and found work cleaning houses.

She found shelter in Randburg, outside Johannesburg, at the modest home field of an amateur white baseball club called the Mets. The team practiced on Tuesdays and Thursdays and played on Sundays. Maureen ran the clubhouse — cooking and cleaning for players, selling food to spectators — and lived in the small room next to the shower stalls.

Soon, young Gift joined her there, and in 1998 she had a third son, Victor, who is now a Pirates farmhand. The quarters were tight — kitchen on one side, dresser, television and bed on the other. But the home was so filled with joy that the players gave Maureen a nickname: Happy.

Music filled their world, Ngoepe said — South African and also the hits from the United States. A Whitney Houston song, “My Love Is Your Love,” was a favorite of his aunt’s and popular when he was 9 or 10. He made it a tribute to his mother.

“I’d put on that song on purpose so I could make my mom dance with me,” Ngoepe said. “She’d be like, ‘No, no, no!’ But I’d hold her tight and spin her. It was a fun time with all of us. We didn’t have a whole lot of things, but everything that we had, we just made it work.”

The world outside captivated him, too. The Mets taught Ngoepe their sport, and he took to it eagerly, preferring its speed to that of cricket. He reveled in the camaraderie of the team, and developed quick hands by mastering the craggy infields. By his teens he had become a baseball prodigy, and his sessions in Italy taught him the finer points of footwork.

“He was one of the earliest to arrive and one of the last to leave,” Larkin said. “There was certainly a desire to be as good as he possibly could be.”

In his second year at the academy, in 2008, Ngoepe had built on lessons learned the previous summer. Larkin told him that a Pirates scout, Tom Randolph, was interested in signing him. It was part of an ambitious effort by the Pirates, then a perennial loser, to seek out talent where others were not looking at all.

They signed two pitchers from India who did not advance far in the pros. They pursued but could not sign Max Kepler, now a promising Minnesota Twins outfielder from Germany. They also signed a pitcher, Dovydas Neverauskas, who became the first major leaguer from Lithuania during the same April series in which Ngoepe debuted.

Painful Progress

The deepest valley in Ngoepe’s journey came four years ago with the Altoona Curve on a road trip to Akron, Ohio. He had finally advanced to Class AA, the proving ground for elite prospects, but felt completely overmatched at the plate. Worse — much worse — was an urgent phone call from home: His mother was in the hospital with pneumonia, and it was serious.

Ngoepe had managed his homesickness before. (“Gift is a conformist,” Larkin said. “He adapts well.”) But this felt different. He took batting practice in a fog, swinging as hard as he could at every pitch. When a teammate asked what was wrong, Ngoepe came undone.

He fled the field for the clubhouse, falling to the bathroom floor in tears. Prince, then a coordinator of instruction, found him there and let him compose himself. Huntington happened to be in town, and clearly, Prince said, they needed to talk.

“I know I’m not doing too good right now, and if you want to release me, go ahead and do it,” Ngoepe said he told his bosses. “But I need to be home. I need to be with my mom. My mom’s not doing too good. I will pick family over what I want in my life.”

There was no need to choose, Huntington said; of course Ngoepe could take all the time he needed at home. Ngoepe spent five torturous days by Maureen’s side until she died, at age 45, a loss that at first seemed to shatter his brothers. He felt a duty to be strong for them.

“Everybody’s crying — should I join them?” Ngoepe said. “But I was like: ‘Well, you have a responsibility now. You have to look after your brothers. They collapsed. They’re down. I have to pull them up.’”

The feeling was so strong for Ngoepe, Huntington said, that he was not sure he would ever return. Finally Ngoepe did, though, after more than two weeks, convinced that his mother would not want him to quit and believing that her memory could sustain him.

Yet progress was painful. Ngoepe hit .177 in Class AA in 2013, then repeated the level in 2014. After that season, he helped major leaguers run a clinic in South Africa and met Archer, who had no idea that anyone from there played in the pros.

Archer, whose biological father is black, had taken the trip to learn more about his heritage. He was eager to spread baseball to a continent not known for it, but also to interact with people and learn about their life. In Ngoepe he found a native who was grappling with his future in the game.

Archer gave Ngoepe a note with a one-word question: “Why?” Over dinner, Ngoepe shared his doubts and frustration.

“I get it, dude, I get it,” Archer said he had told him. “You’re on a different continent, in a different culture, and there’s no one like you anywhere — in Altoona, Indianapolis, or if you get to the big leagues. But you’re giving hope to more than just yourself.”

Archer insisted that the sacrifices Ngoepe was making — all those seasons away from his brothers, the added pain of leaving them without their mother — would one day make sense. Eventually, Archer promised, there would be a reward. Ngoepe listened and decided to press on.

“His mom named him Gift for a reason,” Archer said. “You get that feeling when you’re around him.”

Reaching the Pinnacle

Ngoepe finally reached Class AAA Indianapolis later in the 2015 season. He abandoned switch-hitting, focusing solely on the right side, and held his own for a few weeks. But last season brought more disappointment: a .217 average, with 130 strikeouts in 332 at-bats.

“He was always trying to find himself with the bat in his hand,” said the first-base coach Kimera Bartee, a minor league instructor throughout Ngoepe’s climb. “But when he’s in between the lines and he’s got that glove on? Extremely comfortable. Always has been, always will be.”

Clint Hurdle, the Pirates’ manager, could not shake the allure of that glove. It lit up the screen when he surveyed the team’s prospects on video. Hurdle would pester the minor league coaches: What about the bat? Do we have a player? But Ngoepe was often his own worst enemy at the plate, too impatient to work deep counts or commit to a consistent technique.

Then, this spring training, things changed: Ngoepe hit .429 with a .500 on-base percentage. He stopped chasing bad pitches, working the counts in his favor and capitalizing. The Pirates ignored his sluggish start in Class AAA because at last, they had seen what they wanted to see. The major league game does not overwhelm him.

“I’m really interested to see how this works out for him,” Hurdle said, “because if the bat starts to play a little bit, he’s a legit major league player.”

Ngoepe is popular with his teammates, his enthusiasm infectious — important for a clubhouse rocked by the drug suspension of the All-Star outfielder Starling Marte and the legal troubles that have kept third baseman Jung Ho Kang in South Korea all season.

Center fielder Andrew McCutchen, the team’s centerpiece, said he was thrilled to witness Ngoepe’s trajectory. He may even visit his teammate in South Africa, where Ngoepe returns for two months or so every winter.

“He’s invited me,” McCutchen said. “I’ve got to take him up on the offer; it’d be kind of cool. I told him already: ‘I want to plan a trip.’ I try to be a man of my word.”

Ngoepe, who has a tattoo of Africa on his left shoulder, knows life will be different when he returns home. Typically he starts in Johannesburg and then spends time with his family in Limpopo, where the sports minister has already promised a rousing welcome-home party. That is fine, Ngoepe said, but really he is most comfortable relaxing, and burrowing his way back in time.

Maureen is gone, and others in Randburg now run the clubhouse. But his older brother, Christopher, still lives at the field, and Ngoepe joins him when he visits, though he could afford something much bigger now.

“Yeah, but I grew up there and all my memories are there,” he said. “I do love being there, knowing that I can practice and work on my baseball stuff on that same field I grew up on.”

When he was a boy, Ngoepe said, he would plead with his mother not to watch him bat. He never seemed to hit when she did, but he knew deep down that she could always peek out a window and see.

“Nice hit, my son,” she would tell him. All these years later, it is not so different. When Ngoepe reached base after that first single in the majors, Bartee wrapped him in an embrace.

“It was hard to hold back those tears,” Bartee said. “I didn’t know what to say. I just told him: ‘Hey, Mom’s here. Mom was right there with you. She’s smiling.’”

Ngoepe had made it, completing a quest unlike any other in the history of the game. Somewhere, perhaps, the former clubhouse manager of the Randburg Mets was dancing again. My love is your love.