Smoak two-run homer powers Blue Jays to 4-1 win over Rays

left the game after he was hit in the left hand by a Biagini pitch in the seventh inning. He’s recognizing them better,” Gibbons said. Roberto Osuna received a much-needed confidence boost on Saturday. The first baseman has 12 RBIs this season, second only to Kendrys Morales (14).“It’s always been swing at strikes and take the balls, but I feel like I’m a little more relaxed right now at the plate,” Smoak said of his hitting strategy. All he had to do was get back to his four-seam fastball to get it.The Blue Jays closer, who had struggled through recent outings, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to cement Toronto’s 4-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.Osuna said he had been trying to incorporate more of his two-seam fastball into his arsenal early in the year. We’re counting on him and he’s off to a good start.”Matt Andriese (1-1) allowed four runs, three earned, and struck out four through seven innings. It was the catcher’s fourth RBI of the season and his first to come via something other than a solo home run.Liriano left the game in the sixth with two on and nobody out following a walk to Rickie Weeks Jr. Initial X-rays were negative. It’s a long season.”Manager John Gibbons has liked what he’s seen from Smoak, who didn’t play much in the second half of last season with Edwin Encarnacion manning first base full-time.“I see him laying off those breaking balls. … “And we had a conversation and[(Martin] told me, ‘You’ve been having a lot of success the past two years with the four-seamer so I don’t think you need anything else.’“Just the four-seam, locate the fastball, and that’s what we did today.”Osuna lowered his earned-run average from 7.50 to 6.43 while picking up his second save of the year.“A lot more confidence for me,” he said with a smile. “We tried to work a little different in the beginning, throw more two-seam, breaking stuff. The play at the plate was a close one — Bautista had rifled an on-target throw from right field to Martin, who swiped at Beckham as he crossed home. It was my decision,” Osuna said. Beckham was initially called out but a video review confirmed he beat the tag.Martin drove in Smoak with a long double to centre field for a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning. And relievers Joe Biagini and Joe Smith kept the Rays scoreless through the sixth, seventh and eighth.Smoak, who came into the game as one of Toronto’s better hitters, went 3 for 3 to raise his average to .274. “Hopefully I can keep pitching like this.”Justin Smoak hit a two-run homer and Martin drove in a run with a double for the Blue Jays (7-17), who can win their first series of the year with a victory Sunday.Francisco Liriano (2-2) allowed a run on four hits while walking four and striking out six through five-plus innings. Biagini got two strikeouts and a groundout to end the inning.“I’ve said many times, as tough as things have been – and they’ve been real tough – [the bullpen] competes, they play to win, they don’t get down on things which can be a hard battle,” Gibbons said.“We think good things are on their way, we really do.”Bautista led off the bottom of the sixth with a walk, stole second, advanced to third on a Morales groundout and scored on Smoak’s homer.Attendance was 42,419 and included Toronto Maple Leafs star and Calder Trophy finalist Auston Matthews, clad in a denim jacket, grey Blue Jays cap and sunglasses.NOTES: Steven Souza Jr. But a chat with catcher Russell Martin convinced him to change that approach. and a Chris Coghlan fielding error that allowed Corey Dickerson to reach. He also walked three batters and was charged with one balk.Jesus Sucre had the lone RBI for the Rays (12-13).Jose Bautista gave Toronto a 1-0 lead in the first inning, scoring on an error to shortstop Tim Beckham, who threw a Morales ground ball wide of first base while trying to make the out.Sucre’s RBI-single scored Beckham to tie the game in the second. “It’s in there, Smoaky does some good things for us. “That’s always the key to have success, now just gotta keep it going. The team said he had a left hand contusion.

Pageau scores four, including winner, as Senators beat Rangers in double OT to lead series 2-0

Andy!”New York went ahead just past the halfway point when forward Chris Kreider spun with the puck along the left boards and fired what appeared to be a soft shot toward the Ottawa goal. Somehow, the puck found its way past a screened Anderson for Kreider’s first of the postseason.The Rangers went up 3-1 courtesy of another dreadful Ottawa power play when lanky Rick Nash sent Derek Stepan down the right side, and Stepan beat Anderson with a wrist shot to the glove side. His “upper body” injury is not believed to be head related.The game proved totally unpredictable in the third period. The Ottawa Senators, led by the 24-year-old local-born-and-raised Pageau, staged a truly remarkable third-period comeback to force the New York Rangers to overtime. Overtime loomed.“You just never know,” Anderson said.Less than 23 minutes later, everyone did know. But not, at least not yet, in 2017.Unless, of course, you were a member of the family and were celebrating Saturday’s remarkable four-goal performance by undersized centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau, known as the “Honey Badger” by his teammates for his utter fearlessness on the ice. Overtime goal. We got lucky.”The Senators could hardly have asked for a better setting in which to play this Saturday afternoon contest. It must have been a nightmare for head coach/controller Guy Boucher to watch his players miscue, fumble pucks and even fall down with no one around them.Fortunately for the Senators, the Rangers also had mental cramps, the worst coming with defenseman Dan Girardi, usually the definition of dependent, blindly swatted a puck across to the far boards, where little Ottawa’s Pageau picked up the gift, skated in and fired a hard wrist shot past Lundqvist on the short side. Again they sputtered badly, managing not a single shot on Lundqvist.The Rangers, however, did get a shot on Ottawa’s Craig Anderson when, shorthanded, winger Jesper Fast picked up a puck that had been fumbled at the New York blueline by Ottawa’s Mark Stone. “We dug ourselves a hole and we found our way out of it. They were down two goals three different times, yet somehow came back to win and take a two-games-to-none lead in the best-of-seven series. An “ugly day” that required “ugly goals,” Boucher conceded.The afternoon match was at times crazy, at many times sloppy, a few times dreadful and just as many times exciting, especially in the chaotic, scrambling overtime periods. An unassisted goal, and Pageau’s second of the postseason.If Lundquist’s goaltending had been the story of Game 1 – even in a 2-1 loss – this was not this day. Game 3 will be Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City.In a repeat of Game 6 against the Boston Bruins, the Senators again began a match with three straight power plays. Less than two minutes in, a point shot by Ottawa’s Phaneuf slapped off the backboards and rebounded out between Lundqvist’s legs to the stick of Stone, who simply popped the puck into the net for his second of the playoffs.Shortly after, Skjel scored his second of the game and fourth of the playoffs on a wrist shot that somehow found its way under Anderson to restore the Rangers’ two-goal lead.It seemed the end was nigh, lacking only a buzzer to confirm matters.But then, with barely three minutes left, Pageau tipped a long Zack Smith shot past Lundqvist to bring the Senators within one.With a minute and a half left, Boucher gambled and pulled Anderson for the extra attacker. The Senators could barely muster a few shots on goal, let alone threaten, with the man advantage. Ottawa gained the New York zone, captain Erik Karlsson sent the puck across to Kyle Turris and Turris one-timed a slapshot that, again, Pageau tipped into the net.Hats rained down onto the ice. Miller on a rebound. “I’ll remember this for the rest of my life.”For the Senators, it marked the fifth time in the postseason that a game went beyond regulation time – a total of seven extra periods of hockey in only eight matches.It was not great hockey. It took two extra periods before Ottawa could claim a 6-5 victory after Pageau broke down the left side and, at 2:54 of the second extra period, beat New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist high to the glove side.“Four goals – that’s absolutely sick,” said Ottawa head coach Guy Boucher. Early in the second period, he stole a sure goal from Oscar Lindberg on what appeared to be a simple tap-in.Then, during a Rangers power play, he stopped what appeared to be an even better chance by J.T. Challenged by 43 shots in Game 1, he faced but 34 shots in this match, even with the extra playing time.As for Anderson, who faced 48 shots, he was at times as sensational as Lundqvist had been in the opening match. “Tying goal. Fast raced down the ice, threaded a perfect pass over to Michael Grabner and Grabner had an empty net in which to deposit his third goal of the playoffs.“I made a terrible play,” Stone confessed.It would be a kindness to describe Ottawa’s play in the opening frame as sloppy. Andy! Lundqvist stopped the puck but the rebound was left sitting for Ottawa defenceman Marc Methot to punch in, for his first goal of the playoffs.Another two minutes and New York was up 4-2 when a Brady Skjel shot from the point slipped behind a heavily-screened Anderson.Ottawa’s Clarke MacArthur, who missed virtually all of the previous two seasons with concussion symptoms, left the game in the second period and did not return. It couldn’t happen to a better person.”“A special moment,” said the little centre. The Senators had somehow won and J-P Pageau, the local kid, was now the local hero.“He definitely was a big man today,” Boucher said. Apart from the extra time, the game was, strangely enough, played more like a carefree exhibition preseason game than a Stanley Cup playoff game, with the players seemingly uncertain, the goalies equal times brilliant and flawed.“It probably wasn’t the best executed game,” said Ottawa defenceman Dion Phaneuf, in an understatement. It was Stepan’s second goal of the playoffs.Less than a minute later, with the teams playing four skaters aside, speedy Mike Hoffman carried the puck down the ice and tried to force himself into Lundqvist’s crease. There is a saying in hockey that “all great games end 6-5.”It was said during the 1972 Summit Series and said again during the 1987 Canada Cup. The frustrated Miller skated to the boards and hammered his stick on the glass while the crowd chanted “Andy! Already up one game to none in their Eastern Conference semi-final against the Rangers, they had a military jet flyover to welcome them, a coach spreading fake news to inspire them – that they were the underdogs, that every available expert had predicted a four-game sweep by the Rangers – and, finally, a pumped, sellout crowd to cheer their every move.But what they truly could have used was a few fewer power plays.The Rangers scored two – repeat, two – shorthanded goals.

Sunderland relegated from Premier League after a decade

These are difficulties which we have been unable to overcome and we are paying the price for that now.”Short expressed “sadness, disappointment, anger and frustration.” Little wonder when the club also recorded a loss of £33-million ($43-million U.S.) in the last financial year, with a debt of £110-million.“We need to improve, both on and off the field,” Short said, “and despite the bitter disappointment of today, there is a strong determination to do so throughout the club.”Sunderland is stranded at the bottom of the standings, an impossible 13 points adrift of safety, and fans vented their frustration at David Moyes, demanding the manager’s firing.“I hoped it would never come around at any time but I’m disappointed for the supporters, disappointed that we couldn’t give them more,” the former Manchester United and Everton manager said. Southampton is ninth.WEST BROM 0, LEICESTER 1Jamie Vardy extended his hot scoring streak as the champions moved closer to safety with only their second away win of a dismal title defence.Midtable Leicester moved nine points clear of the bottom three with four matches remaining. But it’s an unforgiving league and small margins decide every game.”Here’s a look at Saturday’s other games:SOUTHAMPTON 0, HULL 0Hull goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic saved a late penalty kick from Dusan Tadic to boost his team’s survival hopes.Marco Silva has now guided Hull to 21 points from his 15 league games since taking charge, with the team one place and three points above the relegation zone. It lifted Burnley above Palace and eight points clear of danger.STOKE 0, WEST HAM 0Goalkeeper Jack Butland achieved his first clean sheet in his second game back from injury in front of England manager Gareth Southgate.West Ham is eight points above the drop zone with three games remaining, while Stoke is a point better off. No late escapes this year, Sunderland is leaving the Premier League.The northeast club is returning to the second tier after a decade in world soccer’s richest league.Relegation was confirmed with four games remaining in the season after a 1-0 loss to Bournemouth on Saturday.American owner Ellis Short doesn’t mask the problems engulfing the club, saying “significant work” is now required to secure an instant return to the Premier League. “They come here in their thousands week in, week out. “The Premier League is unforgiving. With the money spent, the managers coming into the league, it’s such a competitive league as you saw today on the pitch.“There was very little between the teams today but we managed to nick a big win for us. It’s such a good standard this year. “I acknowledge that during my ownership mistakes have been made, particularly in the area of player recruitment, and as a result we have found ourselves struggling to survive in recent seasons,” Short said. I’m just sorry that we weren’t able to do a better job.”A job like Bournemouth, which has effectively secured a third season in the Premier League thanks to Josh King’s 88th-minute goal.“Look at the size of the clubs we are competing against week in, week out,” Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe said. “We had massive disruption during the summer transfer window and an unprecedented number of injuries throughout the season. Vardy struck in the 43rd minute at the Hawthorns for his eighth goal in 12 matches since Craig Shakespeare replaced Claudio Ranieri as manager for the rest of the season.Tony Pulis’s eighth-placed team has lost four in a row.CRYSTAL PALACE 0, BURNLEY 2Burnley’s relegation fears were eased with its first away win of the Premier League season secured by goals from Ashley Barnes and Andre Gray. They travel in their thousands as well.“I know that cash isn’t easy up this part, so I appreciate every penny they put into the club by watching the team, so my thoughts are with them.

Penguins chase Holtby, beat Capitals to take 2-0 series lead

… He replaced Scott Wilson. Holtby has a 2.62 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in eight games in these playoffs, a far cry from his career post-season brilliance.But Grubauer couldn’t rescue the Capitals, allowing a power-play goal to Kessel on the second shot he faced 2:19 with Shattenkirk in the penalty box for putting the puck over the glass. Teams that have lost the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home are 18-69 (21.7 per cent) all time in the Stanley Cup playoffs, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. … The goals by Matt Cullen (short-handed), Kessel and Guentzel weren’t all Holtby’s fault because of miscues and odd-man rushes, but the reigning Vezina Trophy winner didn’t make the timely save his team needed.Grubauer allowed goals to Kessel and Evgeni Malkin early in the third, but the Penguins continued to pour it on and got an empty-netter from Guentzel in the final minute. Cullen blocked Kevin Shattenkirk’s shot from the point, blew around Washington’s big trade-deadline acquisition and slid the puck between Holtby’s legs for the short-handed goal 1:15 into the second even as T.J. They dominated territorially and tested Fleury but couldn’t crack him as the teams went through another first period without a goal.Complaining of no power plays in Game 1, the Capitals did nothing with their two first-period chances and gave up the first goal on the third early in the second. Backstrom’s rebound goal 3:44 into the third period cut the Penguins’ lead to 4-2, but Malkin tipped a shot by Ian Cole past Grubauer at 5:31 on a play that was called goaltender interference on the ice and reversed on a successful coach’s challenge by Mike Sullivan.Grubauer allowed two goals on nine shots.NOTES: LW Carl Hagelin returned to the Penguins’ lineup after being out since March 10 with a lower-body injury. … Washington D Karl Alzner remained out with an upper-body injury, though coach Barry Trotz said Alzner was close. Three-plus minutes later, Crosby went down to block Justin Williams’ shot, slid the puck go Guentzel while still on his belly to jumpstart the 2-on-1 and the rookie from Omaha, Nebraska beat Holtby clean to make it 3-1 Pittsburgh.That marked the end of Holtby’s night after two periods as the 2016 Vezina Trophy winner was again not at his best as Fleury stole the show. Oshie hooked him from behind.When Backstrom won a puck battle in the corner, Niskanen answered right back 54 seconds later with a power-play goal to tie it.Then the quick-strike Penguins were at it again.Crosby’s between-the-legs move made Alex Ovechkin, Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov converge on him, leaving Kessel wide open for a snipe from the faceoff circle at 13:04. Pittsburgh RW Patric Hornqvist left the game in the first period after blocking a shot by John Carlson and did not return. It was his playoff-leading seventh goal.After outshooting the Penguins 35-21 in their Game 1 loss, the Capitals came out firing with 10 of the first 11 shots Saturday night. Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 34 of the 36 shots he faced in his second consecutive strong performance and Phil Kessel and Jake Guentzel scored twice to put the Presidents’ Trophy winners in a historically difficult hole. To attempt their own comeback, the Capitals might turn back to Holtby for Game 3 Monday night in Pittsburgh after backup Philipp Grubauer allowed two goals on the first four shots he faced in relief.Holtby had surrendered three goals on 14 shots before getting the hook after the second period Saturday. RW Paul Carey replaced Brett Connolly in the Capitals’ lineup. With Sidney Crosby continuing his brilliance for the Penguins and Braden Holtby not having the same response in net for the Capitals, the second-round series between the NHL’s top teams has tilted in Pittsburgh’s favour.Crosby set up two goals and the Penguins chased Holtby in a 6-2 victory Saturday night in Game 2, taking a commanding 2-0 lead back home.

Techera goal lifts Whitecaps over Impact for first away win

“I just wanted to get a good connection on it and see what happened, not just hit it as hard as I can.”Montreal had sustained pressure for most of the second half, but the Whitecaps got the winner when Jacobson played a ball in a wide open area for Techera, who made a deft move to elude the sliding Laurent Ciman and fire a low shot past Evan Bush.The Impact, who reached the Eastern Conference final last season, are in danger of falling out of the playoff race early if they can don’t find ways to get some wins.Right back Chris Duvall said the team needs a dose of intensity.“Eight games played and one win is a little concerning,” he said. Cristian Bolanos’s shot was played out to the edge of the area where Jacobson lobbed a perfect volley over the crowd in front and under the crossbar for his first of the season.“I knew I wouldn’t have time to take it down,” said Jacobson. The Vancouver Whitecaps were due for a road win and it came at the expense of their struggling Canadian rivals the Montreal Impact.Even though the Impact scored the first goal of a game for only the second time in eight outings, Andrew Jaconson tied it with a subtle volley and Cristian Techera got the game-winner in the 80th minute as Vancouver topped Montreal 2-1 on Saturday afternoon. But we need to find that consistency in our game that’s not there right now. We didn’t want to fly so long to go back home with no points.”Midfielder Marco Donadel scored for Montreal (1-3-4), which has been done in by spotty defensive play since the start of the season.“I’m very concerned,” said coach Mauro Biello, whose team lost both starting striker Matteo Mancosu (thigh) and his replacement Anthony Jackson-Hamel (cramps) to injuries during the game. Their goalie made some big saves in the second half. United next Saturday. The Whitecaps’ first away win in four attempts this season came at a key time with the 3-4-1 club playing the second game in a stretch of four straight on the road.“We want to start building our confidence by winning,” said centreback Kendall Waston. It’s my job to figure it out and get the team on the right track.”There was no immediate word on the severity of the injuries.Vancouver felt good about their game even though they lost 2-1 loss in Portland last week. They wanted to keep up that strong play in Montreal. “Right now certain things are not working and I find that we still need to do a better job of not giving up easy goals.“We did create, so there is that positive. “I think we have the right pieces but we need to have the right mentality.“We need to be more ruthless and, when we have our foot on someone’s throat, we need to put them away.”The Impact gave Ballou Tabla his third start of the season and the 18-year-old had three scoring chances in the second half, only to be stopped by Ousted.He was joined on the field in the 68th minute by another promising teenager, the Whitecaps’ 16-year-old Alphonso Davies, who subbed in for Tony Tchani.With Hassoun Camara (concussion) and Victor Cabrera (ankle) out, Fisher started in Montreal’s central defence.The Whitecaps made no changes from last week’s starting 11.Vancouver’s next stops are Friday in Colorado and May 12 at Houston.Montreal is on the road to face D.C. They are now 1-3-0 away from home, but one road loss was in a snowstrom at Salt Lake and another came after goalie David Ousted was shown a red card.The 19,597 watching at Saputo Stadium on a sunny afternoon saw the Impact strike in the ninth minute after a series of passes just outside the Vancouver box. “That’s the only way we can be in the playoffs at the end of the year.“And winning on the road is good. Patrice Bernier finally playing the ball back to Donadel for a low shot from distance that Jackson-Hamel dummied before it rolled inside the left post.Vancouver responded with steady pressure and forced a free kick when Kyle Fisher took down Jacobson to the left of the Montreal goal.

Cleveland Browns take Myles Garrett with first pick at NFL Draft

While Trubisky comes with some question marks due to inexperience, Garrett was the consensus top player available in this year’s draft of the best U.S. The Cleveland Browns selected defensive end Myles Garrett with the first pick of the National Football League Draft in Philadelphia on Thursday before the Chicago Bears made a stunning call by trading up for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.The Bears, slated to draft third behind the 49ers, sent three other picks to San Francisco to swap first-round places and leapfrog them to select the North Carolina quarterback. college football players.The 21-year-old Garrett, who played for Texas A&M and is considered an elite edge rusher with rare explosiveness, joins a Browns team that went a league-worst 1-15 last season.NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made the announcement after being showered with boos during his welcome words for the estimated 70,000 that packed the road stretching from the main stage in an open-air theater built on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.Garrett, who has drawn comparisons to longtime NFL standout Julius Peppers, had 11.5 sacks as a freshman and the next season was a finalist for the Lombardi and Hendricks Awards as college football’s top defender with 12.5 sacks and five forced fumbles.Despite a knee injury early in 2016, Garrett still registered 15 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks in 11 games.The first big surprise of the night did not take long as the Bears handed the Niners their third-round pick (67th overall) and fourth-round choice and Chicago’s third-rounder next year to guarantee they could add Trubisky to their roster.“I didn’t see it coming at all, it’s been a mystery,” Trubisky told NFL Network. “I’m so happy to be a Chicago Bear.”Trubisky made only 13 career starts at North Carolina, throwing 41 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his college career.The 49ers then took defensive end Solomon Thomas, who played his college career at nearby Stanford.The Jacksonville Jaguars followed by claiming powerful running back Leonard Fournette of LSU and the Tennessee Titans took wide receiver Corey Davis from Western Michigan.Another team eager for a quarterback produced the next big shock, Kansas City Chiefs moving up 17 places in a deal with the Buffalo Bills to take Patrick Mahomes of Texas Tech with the 10th selection of the round.

Judge certifies class action lawsuit against Ontario Hockey League

A class action lawsuit against the Ontario Hockey League got the green light Thursday.The suit contends that OHL players have been paid less than the minimum wage required by law in their regions and asks for $180-million in back wages, overtime and vacation pay.Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell granted certification to the lawsuit with some conditions. He ruled players with the OHL’s three U.S. teams should be resolved by the U.S. teams were exempt from the class action. Sam Berg, a former Niagara IceDogs forward, and Daniel Pachis, a former member of the Oshawa Generals, were recognized as the representative plaintiffs.The suit argues the standard agreements players sign pay them as little as $35 per week for between 40 to 65 hours of work.The OHL’s position is the players are “amateur student-athletes” and says it cannot afford to pay the players minimum wage on top of the benefits they receive, which include post-secondary scholarships.The allegations have yet to be proven in court.Parallel class actions are pending in both the Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League brought forth by Lucas Walter, a former player in both.The three major junior hockey leagues, featuring a combined 60 teams of players between the ages of 16 and 20, fall under the umbrella of the Canadian Hockey League.The lawsuit against the OHL will proceed under claims of breach of employment law, but not under breach of contract, Perell said in his ruling.“It is not a surprise that parts of this suit were certified and allowed to move forward as a class action given the current state of the law in Canada on this procedural issue,” the OHL said in a statement.“We are pleased that the court recognized the preferability that claims against our U.S. courts.”The OHL maintained players are not employees and the benefits the players receive from the league and teams “far exceed the employment standards benefits sought in the claim.”During certification hearings last month in Toronto, the OHL said that some teams would fold and others would have to reduce or eliminate some player benefits if the plaintiffs won their case.

Nastase says comments about Serena Williams were ‘spontaneous’

“At the press conference I was asked what opinion I had about Serena being pregnant. I don’t know why the match was suspended.”Nastase earned the nickname “Nasty” for his on-court outbursts and gamesmanship in his playing heyday in the 1970s. He’s a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. I then found out for the first time (she was pregnant) and my reaction was spontaneous,” said Nastase, who is the captain of Romania’s Fed Cup team.Nastase also said Williams was “one of the greatest players of all times and I know how much work goes into achieving these results.”Williams is black and her fiancé, Alexis Ohanian, is white.Nastase was also criticized for swearing at player Johanna Konta and Britain captain Anne Keothavong during a Fed Cup match. He said he would not try to “defend my words, but I assure you that behind them was my desire to defend the interests of the Romanian team and Romanian tennis.”Romania won the best-of-five series 3-2, but Nastase was banned by the International Tennis Federation.Nastase called tennis not a sport but “my life,” saying his outburst meant “I managed to do what I didn’t imagine was possible, to feel that tennis was slipping away from me.”“I know that nothing can really excuse my words, nor a high-level match, not the non-conformist attitude I am now known for, not the unfortunate amplification of the situation,” he said. Ilie Nastase responded to the backlash from his comments about Serena Williams and his Fed Cup outburst, saying his remarks about the pregnant tennis great were “spontaneous” and his tirade inexcusable.The 70-year-old tennis Nastase posted a statement on Facebook a week after he speculated about the skin colour of the baby Williams is expecting. “My life remains dedicated to tennis and its public and I ask you to accept, as much as is possible, my apologies.”Despite the apology, he also took another shot at Konta.“I think what happened was exaggerated from all sides. “I asked her in a civilized way for some explanations and she sent me to the tribune where I was removed as captain. Nonetheless, Johanna Konta should not have spoken with the chair umpire, that’s what the team captain does,” Nastase said. But it also described his game, which earned him two Grand Slam singles titles and more than 100 ATP titles. After this, the umpire suspended the match.

Bruno Caboclo leads Raptors 905 to NBA D-League title

Troy Williams led the Vipers with 23 points. Raptors 905 is affiliated with the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, and Rio Grande with the Houston Rockets. Bruno Coboclo led Raptors 905 to the NBA Development League title Thursday night, scoring 31 points and adding 11 rebounds in a 122-96 victory over the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.Raptors 905 won the best-of-three series 2-1, taking the last two at home after dropping the opener at Rio Grande.Caboclo was 13 for 19 from the field, going 5 of 7 from 3-point range. Fred VanVleet added 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting and 14 rebounds, and Pascal Siakim had 17 points.

Kelly: No more moral victories; Raptors’ defining moment is now

You are inclined to agree. The Raptors no longer have the excuse of experience. Whatever the Raptors are right now, they are. No two players can be in form at the same time. In its way, it’s worse than being bad, because there is reasonable hope for improvement in the midst of awfulness. Just as long as Tucker doesn’t spend too much time on the face. There’s a difference.They proved it again on Thursday night, handing back every bit of a 25-point third-quarter lead that turned the final seconds into a panicked scramble. This time it was Norm Powell. As long as they take a game or two (as they did last year) this can all be held up as a game effort – gone down swinging. The Jays are, if not good, interesting – something the Raptors often aren’t. The Raptors fall headlong into them like quicksand and begin trashing about in search of a vine. Your long-term disability insurance is decent. The roster is overflowing with it. The Leafs are already hogging all the attention and will only take more of it next year. This is that point. “No, no,” Casey said, in rebuttal to some imaginary demur. The Bucks did that for them.As such, it may have been the most unconvincing win since the Dunkirk evacuation.Having escaped with the series and, more important, their dignity, the players were leaning hard on the up-and-at-’em clichés.“Ready for the next one. Ready for the next one,” DeRozan said, though I’m not sure what about a near-miss like Thursday’s proves you are ‘ready’ for the defending champions.Casey returned to his frequent invocations of the Jake LaMotta School of Tactics: “We’ve got some fighters and scrappers …We make it hard on ourselves sometimes, but at the end of the day we’re going to go down swinging.”One wonders if there is something Freudian about Casey’s suggestion that it’s better to lose the right way, even when there is still a chance of winning.If you were to sum up what has defined the Raptors during this recent run of success, it is that ability to absorb punishment. Then the playoffs start, and you’re reminded how little the regular season matters. They’re the one who stands in the middle of the ring, arms dangling, daring you to swing freely.Everything is difficult for the Raptors, especially the easy things. And a few weeks in hospital would be a sort of vacation. Tucker, he will fight you,” Casey said. Every advantage must be quickly surrendered.Every once in a while, they will string together a nice run of regular-season wins that suggest they’ve finally figured it out. There is none in the purgatory of just-okayness.So enough with the moral victories, the plausible excuses and losing the right way. He gives passing praise to reliable shooters, passers, ball-handlers, hardwood thinkers and the like. You might get lucky with a fringe player, but it’s smarter to assume you won’t.While the Raptors stand still, the civic landscape around them is shifting. They can’t say they lack the horses, since their two key cogs have five all-star appearances in the past three years.More to the point, it’s not going to get a whole lot better than this.In the off-season, barring calamity, Toronto will sign Lowry to a long-term deal alongside DeRozan. Powell is not going to become Kawhi Leonard, no matter how early he shows up at the gym. If all professional athletes are fighters in the general sense, this team is the wrong sort. The defining players of the Casey Era are DeMar DeRozan (tentative), Kyle Lowry (brittle) and Jonas Valanciunas (stubbornly shy of both hard contact and progress). “He will actually fight you.”For a horrible second, you imagine that Dwane Casey is talking about you in particular. But it’s the unglamorous plodder and enthusiastic belligerent he most appreciates. And then ready for the next one (in a year’s time).At some point, that can’t be good enough. If Casey ran a Fortune 500 company, the janitor would be employee-of-the-month every time.He’s never had that sort of lineup in Toronto. It may already have been.So while the Raptors may not allow themselves to think of it this way, the coming series against Cleveland is a defining moment for basketball in Toronto.The Raptors could be good in a tedious way for several more years to come, but where’s the juice in that? It’s easy to imagine this team being swamped by the local competition. More than any other league, the NBA is prone to ‘That’s just the way it is’ thinking. They were saved in the end by poor decision making from Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who opted for an uncontested dunk in a situation where only a three-point basket had value. A few days ago, Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey pointed to one of his late-season additions on the practice court and began to muse on him.“Now P.J. At the very end, the Raptors didn’t beat the Bucks. No lead is safe (from themselves). Well, okay, fine. Both are well into their primes.In the middle-term, the top-end personnel is not improving. That trick probably won’t work twice.Nothing about the way they beat the Bucks suggests a change in that core identity.After three previous successive seasons of playoff dithering, that will have to happen now.The accepted line is that the Raptors have no chance against a Cleveland Cavaliers team running at full power. Other top teams lean into the postseason. Orbital bones don’t always heal right.During his six years in Toronto, the will to combat has been Casey’s overarching and as-yet-unachieved theme. To differing degrees, all of them have fight, but none of them are fighters. If the Raptors are ever going to find their inner combatant, this is the moment to do so. “A lot of guys in this league will pretend-fight you, but he will fight you.”Tucker is the size of industrial fridge, has a stare that bends spoons and, most important, has the history.

Blue Jays bullpen springs a leak (again) in loss to Rays

This time it started with Jason Grilli, who allowed a home run to Evan Longoria, the first batter he faced, to tie the game.Dominic Leone fared worse, entering the game with one on. “Mechanics were good, the ball came out easy. In baseball, there can be lots of baggage – and most of it is not good.So you knew it was not a favourable sign upon entering the Toronto Blue Jays’ clubhouse on Friday afternoon, before their game against the Tampa Bay Rays, to see a pile of luggage at Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s locker.Among the paraphernalia were two large duffle bags that Saltalamacchia was cramming his belongings into. So it’s back to hopefully the schedule as planned.”That plan calls for Sanchez to get the start Sunday against Tampa Bay in the finale of the three-game set, his first outing since April 14.Gibbons said there is still no timeline for the return off the disabled list of either Josh Donaldson (calf) or Troy Tulowitzki (hamstring) but both players will relocate to Toronto’s training facility in Dunedin, Fla., over the weekend to continue their rehab. “We weren’t getting much of that.“In all fairness to him, he wasn’t playing steady enough to get it going.”You could also say that collectively of the Blue Jays bullpen, which imploded once again on Friday night, serving up five late runs that allowed the Rays to escape with a 7-4 victory.And with the limited depth of bullpen arms within the organization, Gibbons will just have to try to grin and bear it and hope things do an abrupt 180.“These are our guys, keep running them out there,” Gibbons said after the game. There were two other bags, bearing Blue Jays insignia, which were also being utilized, along with an oversized cardboard box. It’s like any part of the game, you get in some certain spots and you struggle.”Toronto starter Marcus Stroman, who has two complete games under his belt this season, deserved a better fate. Howell, the third Toronto reliever, brought in Tampa Bay’s final run in the ninth.Kevin Pillar continued his torrid hitting for Toronto, going 4-for-4, including two doubles and a home run in the seventh that put Toronto ahead, temporarily, 3-1.To replace Saltalamacchia the Blue Jays selected the contract of Luke Maile, whom Toronto grabbed off waivers in early April from the Rays. He allowed two Tampa Bay runs and five hits and struck out a season-high 10 batters over 7 1/3 innings.He departed in the eighth inning with his team leading 3-2, but once again the porous Toronto bullpen sprung a big leak. No pain around the finger. There was even a box containing a designer pillow, presumably the better to travel with.The Blue Jays’ backup catcher had just received word that his services were no longer required by the listing American League team.It is funny how hitting .040, one single in 25 official at-bats, along with 16 strikeouts, over the first month of the season can have that affect.Saltalamacchia, an off-season free-agent signing to back up Russell Martin, was designated for assignment by the Blue Jays, which likely means his short, sorry tenure with the team is over.“We brought Salty in here, we were looking for some offence,” is the way Toronto manager John Gibbons tried to soft-sell the axing of Saltalamacchia. No pain around any of the nail. He served up a home run by Logan Morrison that moved the Rays in front 5-3 as the howls of protest from frustrated fans began to ring out from the stands.Leone was victimized by another home run, from Derek Norris in the eighth, before a wild pitch by J.P. “They’re all capable, they’re all good. Maile was batting .195 with the Buffalo Bisons, the club’s Triple-A affiliate.And while Saltalamacchia was busy packing up at one end of the clubhouse, Maile was busy unloading his gear from a Bisons’ duffle into his new locker – so new that his name plate had not yet arrived.Maile got the start against his old team but his presence as the backup catcher will not be the answer to what ails Toronto, who entered the weekend series against Tampa with the worst record in the majors.The team is winless in its first seven series of the year, a franchise worst, and the Blue Jays have yet to even win back-to-back games through 22 outings.Besieged by injuries to key personnel, the Blue Jays are starting to see some faint light at the end of the tunnel.Starter Aaron Sanchez, the AL’s earned-run champion from 2016, threw a successful side session on Friday and proclaimed himself fully recovered from his April 17 surgery to remove a troublesome fingernail on his right throwing hand.“Everything was good,” Sanchez said. They each bore the logo of the Detroit Tigers, for whom the well-travelled veteran played for last year.

Tarasenko scores two, Blues beat Predators to even series

… Obviously, I thought we played a decent game but probably didn’t deserve to win that one and obviously didn’t win that one.”Lehtera tied it at 7:39. Louis in 116:09 of the series.“It ended up actually going off a stick and in, but I’m not taking anything away from him (Tarasenko),” Predators goalie Pekka Rinne said. Parayko’s shot came loose in front of the net and Patrik Berglund took a whack at it before Lehtera buried it for his first goal of the post-season.Neal gave the Predators a 1-0 lead at 7:49 of the first period. “We were bound to lose a game. We lost the first game, we couldn’t lose this one.”It was the first lead for St. “I think we need to be more simple.” Vladimir Tarasenko was at the right place at the right time to take advantage of a lucky bounce and help the St. It came after Nashville’s Vernon Fiddler received a 5-minute major and game misconduct penalty for kneeing Parayko, who limped to the locker room but returned in the second period.“That’s a dangerous play,” Blues forward Paul Stastny said. Ellis took the shot from the point and it deflected off Colton Sissons and then Neal before deflecting over Allen and into the net.Tarasenko tied it 1-1 with a power-play goal with 19.4 seconds left in the opening period. St. On the go-ahead goal, Jaden Schwartz led the rush and initially tried to pass it to Joel Edmundson, but the pass was off the mark and Edmundson kicked it right to Tarasenko’s stick.“It’s a great play by Schwartzy and then I probably scream for Eddy to give it to me and he made a good play,” Tarasenko said. “He’s always working hard, he’s shoving pucks in and he’s always making our team better.”Ellis put the Predators ahead 2-1 at 3:07 of the third period as he took advantage of a turnover by Vladimir Sobotka and fired a slap shot past Allen.“I don’t think we expected to win 16 games straight and walk to a Stanley Cup,” Ellis said after Nashville’s first loss of the post-season. I think for such a big guy, I think he’s a fluid mover so when he does get hit in different positions like that he doesn’t stiffen up.”It was the Blues’ lone power-play goal in five chances. Rinne finished with 17 saves.Game 3 is Sunday at Nashville, Tennessee.Tarasenko, who scored 39 goals in the regular season, had scored just once in the Blues’ first five playoff games.“He’s just a big game player and those kinds of guys find ways to make big plays at big times,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said. “He has a great shot for a reason.”Jori Lehtera also scored for the Blues, and Jake Allen stopped 22 shots — including 14 in the third period.Ryan Ellis had a goal and an assist and James Neal also scored for the Predators, who had their franchise-high five-game post-season winning streak snapped. “We’re fortunate that (Parayko) didn’t’ get too banged up. Louis Blues get a big win.Tarasenko scored twice, including the tiebreaking goal with 3:51 left to give the Blues a 3-2 victory over the Nashville Predators on Friday night, tying their Western Conference semifinal series at one game apiece. And he has shown me that he hasn’t done that.”Blues defenceman Colton Parayko said Tarasenko should be measured by more than just goal-scoring.“He’s always doing the little things right,” Parayko said. “It’s a good goal for us. Louis is just 2 for 21 with the man-advantage, last among all post-season teams.“I think we just get too excited to go on the power play and everybody tries to be too nice and tries to make good plays,” Tarasenko said. “My only concern was that if he continued to play well and didn’t get rewarded that his game would drop.

Talbot stellar in goal as Oilers beat Ducks to take 2-0 series lead

After that, they played like a team that expected so much better than this. They put heavy pressure on Edmonton in the third period on Friday night, and in one short stretch had a shot clank off the crossbar and a puck trickle behind Talbot and come within inches of going in before it was swept away.“Moving forward we are going to be a lot better,” McLellan said.At one point in the second period, the home crowd booed the Ducks for the sluggish play. One came from Ryan Kesler came from point-blank range. Talbot had 39 saves. “He was wearing the big boy pants tonight. Mark Letestu had two power-play goals on Wednesday and has three so far in postseason.“I think it is fun to see guys rewarded that have worked so hard all year,” Larsson said. Leon Draisaitl, who had a goal and three assists in Wednesday’s 5-3 victory, was likewise held scoreless. “Cam was tremendous ,” Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. Now they have lost two in a row.The Oilers finished off the Sharks in Game 6 in the first round by beating them in San Jose.Maroon became the fifth different player to have a winning goal in six postseason victories for the Oilers, joining Zack Kassian (2), David Desharnais, Anton Slepyshev and Adam Larsson. Tickets cost $5, with proceeds going to the organisation’s community foundation. They had easily swept Calgary in the first round in four games.Back home in Edmonton, spectators were alternately cheering wildly and holding their breath at a road-game watch party at Rogers Place. Another, from Antoine Vermette, came on a power play from a distance of about a stick-length. Anaheim won the NHL’s Pacific Division for the fifth straight year, and had won eight straight in their home arena before Wednesday’s first game of the series. He had 12 points in six games against the Ducks heading into Friday.On Thursday, Larsson was remarking about how the Oilers were getting goals from somebody other than McDavid or Draisaitl. It gave the Oilers a 2-0 lead. They were 29th in the NHL last season, and are now two wins away from advancing to the semifinals.Crazy things are happening for them.For the Ducks? Well, as fans filed out of their arena, their organist was playing The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow. Once, a blistering shot caromed off Talbot’s helmet and seemed to leave him dazed.McDavid was more active than in any of his previous seven post-season games but was unable to score. He is our go-to guy.”Games 3 and 4 will now be played in Edmonton on Sunday and Wednesday. “It is exciting for our city, and great for our brand.”Talbot kept the Oilers on top by thwarting Anaheim shooters throughout the contest. “You need that depth in scoring if you are going to go a long way in the payoffs.“When guys who don’t score much during the regular season start getting goals, that gives you a little jump,” Maroon said.After four days in Anaheim, the Oilers are heading home, unexpectedly with a 2-0 lead. The big forward deflected a shot by Jordan Eberle past John Gibson with 13:19 left in the second period. The Swedish defenceman, who had four goals in 79 regular-season games and 13 in his entire career, scored twice in Edmonton’s victory on Wednesday. It was the first two-goal game he has ever had.Andrej Sekera, an unsung defenceman whose stellar play has been overshadowed by first-liners Larsson and Oscar Klefbom, put Edmonton ahead only 1:05 into Friday’s game. The Oilers did it again Friday night, winning a third straight-playoff game on the road and taking a commanding 2-0 lead in their second-round Stanley Cup series with Anaheim.Patrick Maroon, who played for the Ducks for five seasons before being acquired by Edmonton on Feb. Three of the remaining contests – if the series goes seven – would be at Rogers Place.Nobody would have expected the Oilers to leave Southern California with two victories at Honda Center. They held on 2-1 thanks to exceptional play from Cam Talbot, an undrafted goalie who played his college hockey way off the beaten track in Huntsville, Ala. Another 3,500 people watched on TVs in the rink’s entrance hall and beer garden.“It was just like the game was being played there,” Bob Nicholson, the chief executive of the Oilers Entertainment Group, said Thursday about the fast ticket sales. The Ducks’ last loss in regulation time had been March 10. 29 of last year, had the winning goal. As fans cheered a hard hit behind the net on Oilers captain Connor McDavid, Sekera blasted a wrist shot past Gibson on the first shot of the game.The Ducks, who have advanced to the second round in three of the last four years, can head the 2,800 kilometres to central Alberta feeling one of two ways: in a heap of trouble or exceedingly unlucky after carrying the play but still managing to lose twice on home ice.They outshot and outhit the Oilers substantially in both games, and were far better at face-offs. To escape elimination, the Ducks will have to win four times against a team that has beaten them in five of seven meetings this season. Yet they still have nothing to show for it. The Oilers sold out 18,500 seats in 30 minutes on Thursday to fans that wanted to watch on the arena’s giant scoreboard screen.

Rough day: Cardinals sweep doubleheader from Blue Jays

After Fowler and Garcia hit back-to-back singles, Matt Carpenter plated a run with a groundout and Stephen Piscotty hit an RBI sacrifice fly. Subban, who had a goal and two assists in his team’s 4-3 win over the St. Louis scored three times in the first inning of the nightcap. Lynn won his last two starts, against the Pirates and Brewers, allowing just one run on six hits over 13 innings. Louis Blues in the opener of their second-round playoff series Wednesday night, sat near the Blue Jays’ dugout on his team’s off day.TRAINER’S ROOMBlue Jays: RHP Aaron Sanchez (blister on right index finger) is expected to throw a side session on Friday and could start Sunday against Tampa Bay. Dexter Fowler, Greg Garcia and Matt Adams each had three hits as the St. Piscotty had an RBI fielder’s choice in the fourth to make it 6-0.Adam Wainwright (2-3) got the win in the nightcap while Matt Bowman (1-0) won the opener.Ryan Tepera (1-1) and Casey Lawrence (0-3) took the losses.In the opener, the Cardinals scored four times off Toronto’s bullpen in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings to tie the score, capped by Randal Grichuk’s homer off Roberto Osuna.Yadier Molina led off with a double and Grichuk connected two outs later, giving Osuna his third blown save.Mat Latos, making his second start of the season for Toronto, scattered three hits over six shutout innings, striking out four and walking four.Carlos Martinez allowed three runs on five hits in six innings, with eight strikeouts and three walks.Russell Martin hit a solo homer in the second, his third of the year.IN THE CROWDNashville Predators defenceman P.K. Randal Grichuk followed with an infield single and scored on Matt Adams’ opposite-field double into the left field corner.Fowler added a solo home run, his third of the season, in the second inning. Matt Adams had an RBI single in the third. Stroman is coming off a complete-game win over the Angels where he allowed two runs on seven hits.Cardinals: RHP Lance Lynn (2-1, 2.70) opens a three-game series against the visiting Reds. If Sanchez starts Sunday, RHP Marco Estrada will pitch Monday.UP NEXTBlue Jays: RHP Marcus Stroman (2-3, 3.10) will face the visiting Tampa Bay Rays. Louis Cardinals beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 6-4 on Thursday night to sweep a day-night doubleheader.The Cardinals won the opener, 8-4, in 11 innings on Matt Carpenter’s grand slam.St.

‘I told myself not to cry’: South Africa’s Gift Ngoepe makes MLB history

He found himself facing veteran Cubs pitcher Jon Lester, a perennial all-star whose salary is $25-million this season. Last year he led the International League as the shortstop with the highest fielding percentage.When he reached first base with his first hit as a major-leaguer, his memories came flooding back as he tried to contain his tears. He lives with giraffes and lions. In 2015, he became the first African to be selected to a major-league 40-man roster. television broadcasters who mispronounced Ngoepe’s name. It was a top story on radio and television broadcasts and on social media. Come on. Yet baseball has slowly made inroads in Africa in recent years, sometimes sponsored by U.S. Despite the obstacles of poverty and equipment shortages, baseball has become the East African country’s fastest-growing sport.Uganda was the first African country to send a team to the Little League World Series in 2012, and its team was so dominant at the latest Europe-Africa regional finals that it swept its five games by a combined score of 67-2. “I was holding it back,” he said. South Africa is sports-crazy, but dominated by soccer, rugby and cricket. “I told myself not to cry.”The 27-year-old middle infielder, regarded as a slick fielder but light hitter, made his first plate appearance later in the same inning. He ended up with a single and a walk in three plate appearances.Ngoepe’s teammates on the Pirates were thrilled. His family moved to Johannesburg and his mother got a job as a cook and cleaner for the Randburg Mets, a local baseball club. church groups and American philanthropists.Major-league baseball now holds an annual training camp in South Africa for elite groups of teenaged players from across the continent. “I thought about where I’ve come from, what I’ve been through, all the struggles of the minor leagues for almost nine years,” he told reporters later. (His younger brother, Victor, has also been signed by the Pirates organization.)Growing up in a country with little tradition of baseball, Ngoepe had to overcome obstacles that others don’t face: a late start in the game, a shortage of good teams to compete against, and a lack of top-calibre coaching. But there could be more African names on major-league rosters in the future. Ngoepe’s breakthrough was big news in his homeland on Thursday, dominating the airwaves and sparking a buzz on social media. Garth Iorg, a former Toronto Blue Jay player, was impressed by the African prospects when he coached them at the training camp in December.“You will not find better people in the world than these kids,” Iorg told The Globe and Mail. Born in the final years of apartheid, the son of a Johannesburg domestic worker, he had toiled in the minor leagues for nearly nine years after first learning the sport in a country where baseball is an obscure and largely foreign game. Players from eight African countries were invited to the latest training camp near Johannesburg last December. On a 3-1 count, Lester threw him a cutter at 89 miles an hour, and Ngoepe slapped a sharp grounder into centre field.In the dugout, his teammates shouted “For the motherland!” They retrieved the ball as a souvenir for him, while first-base coach Kimera Bartee hugged him. “He’s from Africa. Let’s go!”Baseball is still a novelty in most of the African continent, where soccer remains by far the most popular sport. But it meant even more for Ngoepe. “The clubhouse was my house and the field was my backyard,” he told a South African radio network.At the age of 17, he was invited to a major-league training camp in Italy, where a Pittsburgh scout noticed him, and he was soon signed. “Guys get called up all the time, and it’s special, but this is just different,” shortstop Jordy Mercer told a Pittsburgh newspaper. “And finally to be here and get a base hit.”In South Africa, news of his breakthrough game caused a sensation on Thursday. Major-league scouts often attend the camp to hunt for potential major-league prospects.Uganda is the African country where baseball has enjoyed the greatest popularity in recent years. In exchange, she was given a room in the team’s clubhouse, and Ngoepe grew up with baseball all around him.From the age of 12, he spent all his spare time on the diamond. “They are fun, they are eager.” He has told interviewers that he sometimes wanted to abandon the game when the frustrations in the minor leagues seemed too daunting.But he persevered. It came as a rare glimmer of good news in a country struggling with economic and political crises: a South African has crossed a historic barrier by becoming the first African to reach baseball’s major leagues.Gift Ngoepe’s landmark debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates was a boost for baseball’s global ambitions, adding another potential market to its checklist for world expansion. South Africans, needing a reprieve from a stagnating economy and endless corruption scandals, were ecstatic that one of their citizens had made history in the United States.They laughed at the U.S. In each of the past five seasons, he was rated as the best defensive infielder in the Pirates system. South Africa, meanwhile, succeeded in qualifying for the 18-and-under world cup of baseball in 2015.Ngoepe’s journey to the major leagues began when he was born in Polokwane, in Limpopo province, not far from the Zimbabwean border. Video clips of his historic first hit – a single up the middle against the Chicago Cubs – swiftly went viral here, shared by everyone from cabinet ministers to ordinary citizens, as the country celebrated.To add to the drama, Ngoepe’s debut came in the early hours of a national holiday known as Freedom Day – the anniversary of South Africa’s first free election, when Nelson Mandela was elected president after the end of apartheid.“It’s a dream come true for me, because it’s been my dream since I was a 10-year-old boy, but it also means so much to the people of South Africa and baseball in Africa,” he told reporters before the game, just hours after being promoted from Pittsburgh’s minor-league affiliate in Indianapolis.He later admitted he was on the verge of tears when he entered the game in the fourth inning as a substitute second baseman. Even basketball is more popular than baseball here.