Thursday, February 22, 2024

Tuesday’s Sports In Brief

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BASEBALL

MIAMI (AP) — Shohei Ohtani emerged from the bullpen and fanned Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout for the final out in a matchup the whole baseball world wanted to see, leading Japan over the defending champion United States 3-2 for its first World Baseball Classic title since 2009.

Ohtani, the two-way star who has captivated fans across two continents, was voted MVP of the WBC.

Ohtani beat out an infield single in the seventh inning as a designated hitter before walking down the left-field line to Japan’s bullpen to warm up for his third mound appearance of the tournament. Flashing his 100 mph heat, Ohtani walked big league batting champion Jeff McNeil to begin the ninth before getting Mookie Betts to ground into a double play.

Trout, the U.S. captain and a three-time MVP, then ended the game by striking out on a full-count breaking ball. Ohtani’s only other save was in a Japan postseason playoff game in 2016.

Ohtani batted .435 with one homer, four doubles, eight RBIs and 10 walks as Japan joined the Dominican Republic in 2013 to become the only unbeaten champions of baseball’s premier national team tournament. Ohtani, the 2021 AL MVP was 2-0 with a save and a 1.86 ERA on the mound, striking out 11 in 9 2/3 innings.

Japan went 7-0 and outscored opponents 56-18, reaching the final for the first time since winning the first two WBCs in 2006 and 2009. No other nation has won the title more than once.

MIAMI (AP) — The World Baseball Classic will return for its sixth edition in March 2026, with organizers concluding spring training remains a better time than after the World Series or in the middle of the major league season.

Speaking before Tuesday night’s final between the United States and Japan, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said MLB owners and general managers have to be pursuaded to make more star pitchers available to national teams.

Since its launch in 2006, the WBC has been played in March, ahead of club opening day in MLB, Japan and South Korea.

Many MLB teams blocked pitchers from participating, wanting them to concentrate on preparing for the season’s start.

Manfred is open to returning to Puerto Rico or possibly playing in the Dominican Republic. Every WBC edition has includes games in Japan. Puerto Rico hosted in 2006, ’09 and 13, Mexico in ’2009 and ’17, Taiwan 2013 and this year and South Korea in 2017.

MIAMI (AP) — Major League Baseball’s new pitch clock is going to undergo some timing adjustments before it is turned on for games that count.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred called the changes “significant” but also described them as “clarifications” based on input from players. The alterations are likely to be announced Wednesday, eight days before opening day.

Baseball’s 11-man competition committee, established in the labor agreement last March, adopted the pitch clock and shift limits last September over the opposition of the four players on the panel. MLB set the pitch clock at 15 seconds with no runners and 20 seconds with runners.

MLB also is limiting pickoff attempts and requiring two infielders to be on either side of second and all infielders to be within the outer boundary of the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber.

Players have talked about the need to accommodate certain plays that delay a pitcher from getting on the mound, such as after backing up first base.

Further adjustments may be made during the season.

NBA

NEW YORK (AP) — Willis Reed, who dramatically emerged from the locker room minutes before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals to spark the New York Knicks to their first championship and create one of sports’ most enduring examples of playing through pain, died Tuesday. He was 80.

Reed’s death was announced by the National Basketball Retired Players Association, which confirmed it through his family. The cause was not released, but Reed had been in poor health recently and was unable to travel to New York when the Knicks honored the 50th anniversary of their 1973 NBA championship team during their game against New Orleans on Feb. 25.

The Knicks tweeted a photograph picturing Reed from behind walking onto the floor as his teammates were warming up for the 1970 finale, one of the most memorable moments in NBA and Madison Square Garden history.

Nicknamed “The Captain,” Reed was the undersized center and emotional leader on the Knicks’ two NBA championship teams, with a soft shooting touch from the outside and a toughness to tussle with the era’s superstar big men on the inside. He was remembered Tuesday perhaps more for the manner he led the Knicks than how superbly he played for them.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Paul George went down hard in the fourth quarter. He may have taken the Los Angeles Clippers’ championship hopes with him.

George got hurt in Los Angeles’ 101-100 loss to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The star forward hit the court after getting fouled by Luguentz Dort with 4:38 remaining. He lay on his back for several minutes before being helped to his feet. Supported by staff on either side, George headed to the locker room, appearing unable to put any weight on his right leg.

There was no immediate update on George after the game. Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said he was still being evaluated. George later left the arena on the back of a cart with his right leg extended.

Gilgeous-Alexander scored 31 points against his former team. Jalen Williams added 20 points for the Thunder.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Jayson Tatum scored 36 points and the Boston Celtics ended a long road trip on a high note by beating the Sacramento Kings 132-109.

Boston bounced back from blowing a 19-point lead in Utah on Saturday night by knocking off one of the top teams in the Western Conference. It won four of six on the road trip.

Jaylen Brown added 27 points and Derrick White scored 20 to help the Celtics open up a one-game lead over Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division.

Sacramento fell 1 1/2 games behind Memphis in the race for second place in the Western Conference. The Kings are trying to clinch their first playoff berth since 2006 — the longest postseason drought in NBA history.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

NEW YORK (AP) — The video banner above the entrance to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday read: “Welcome Rick Pitino.” More like welcome back for the new St. John’s coach.

Back to The Garden, where he once coached the Knicks. Back to the Big East, the conference that launched his stardom and where he won his last NCAA championship. Back to big-time college basketball after a series of scandals made it seem as if that part of his career was over.

St. John’s introduced Pitino as the Red Storm’s new coach after giving the Hall of Famer a six-year contract to turn back the clock on a program that once stole New York City tabloid headlines away from the Knicks in the 1980s under coach Lou Carnesecca but has been mired in mediocrity for more than two decades.

The Red Storm once played most of their biggest home games at The Garden. Pitino said the goal is to have all their Big East games played there going forward.

Pitino, who was born in New York City and grew up on Long Island, has won 832 games in 34 full seasons as a college head coach, including NCAA championships at Kentucky in 1996 and Louisville in 2013.

The title at Louisville was vacated for NCAA violations, and another NCAA case related to the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball recruiting led to Pitino being fired by Louisville in 2017. The final ruling from the NCAA’s outside enforcement arm on the FBI case came down in November and exonerated Pitino.

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