The West play-in race may be decided by slimmest of margins

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Tiebreakers won’t factor into who qualifies for the Western Conference play-in series. The four remaining teams in the race for those two spots will all play a different total of games in this coronavirus-interrupted season, meaning none of those clubs can finish with identical records.

So, winning percentages will decide everything.

And the margins there could be razor close — just about the slimmest possible.

A season like none other in NBA history may get a finish like none other, at least in the West. An analysis by The Associated Press shows there are two scenarios where the final difference between teams in the play-in race could be less than 0.001% — yes, less than one thousandth of a percent.

Memphis, Portland, San Antonio and Phoenix — the still-unbeaten-in-the-bubble, 6-0 at Disney Suns — are the last four teams standing in the race for the last West spot. The margin between the eighth-place Grizzlies and 11th-place Spurs, entering Tuesday, is just one game, and all four clubs have two games remaining.

By Thursday night at the latest, it’ll be known who the two clubs are that will be headed to the best-of-two play-in series, where the ninth-place finisher will have to beat the eighth-place finisher twice to advance.

That series starts Saturday on ABC. Game 2, if necessary, is Sunday on ESPN. And by then, finally, someone will be able to start preparing for a West first-round series against the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers.

The super-close scenarios are mind-blowing.

If Portland finishes 2-0 and Memphis finishes 1-1, then the Trail Blazers would finish eighth and the Grizzlies ninth — separated in the standings by 0.00075 percentage points.

The other is this: Should Phoenix and San Antonio both win their final two games, it would see the Suns finish ahead of the Spurs by 0.00096 percentage points.

A look at the field:


Record entering Tuesday: 33-37, 8th in the West

Remaining games: Boston on Tuesday, Milwaukee on Thursday

Outlook: Not only do the Grizzlies control their own destiny, but they catch the bonus of their last two opponents having absolutely nothing at stake. Boston is locked into the No. 3 seed in the East, Milwaukee the No. 1 seed. For Memphis, the math is very simple. If the Grizzlies win one game, they clinch no worse than a play-in spot. Win two, they’ll finish eighth and hold the upper hand in the play-in series. But if they go 0-2, the door opens for others.


Record entering Tuesday: 33-39, 9th in the West

Remaining games: Dallas on Tuesday, Brooklyn on Thursday

Outlook: Getting Dallas on the second half of the Mavericks’ back-to-back Tuesday isn’t the greatest news, especially since the Mavs can still get to the No. 6 seed and Luka Doncic — who didn’t play Monday — sounds as if he could play Tuesday. The Nets are locked into the No. 7 spot in the East, meaning they’ll face defending champion Toronto in the first round. A 2-0 finish would assure Portland a spot; a 1-1 finish means the Blazers would need some help. And Portland could go 0-2 in its final games and still get in, but San Antonio and Phoenix would have to both go 0-2 as well for that to happen.


Record entering Tuesday: 32-39, 10th in the West

Remaining games: Philadelphia on Tuesday, Dallas on Thursday

Outlook: The Suns are the story of the bubble, 6-0 at Disney so far — but even 8-0 might not guarantee them a spot in the play-in game. They play Philadelphia on Tuesday, a 76ers team that will be without Ben Simmons (knee) and Joel Embiid (ankle). The Suns would get into the play-in series with two more wins — combined with at least one Portland loss or an 0-2 finish by the Grizzlies. If the Suns go 1-1 in their final two games, Portland would have to go 0-2 to give Phoenix a chance at the play-in. An 0-2 finish would have the Suns going home before the weekend.


Record entering Tuesday: 31-38, 11th in the West

Remaining games: Houston on Tuesday, Utah on Thursday

Outlook: There is a way for San Antonio to get to the No. 8 seed with a 2-0 finish, and there’s also a way for the Spurs to miss the play-in series entirely — also with a 2-0 finish. Any loss would all but doom the Spurs’ chances; going 1-1 would leave them with a .451 winning percentage. Memphis won’t fall below that (the worst the Grizzlies can do is .458) and Portland and Phoenix would both exceed .451 by simply going 1-1. The Spurs are playing for what would be a 23rd consecutive playoff appearance, something no NBA franchise has ever accomplished.


Laureano says Astros coach insulted mother, sparking fracas

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Oakland outfielder Ramon Laureano says Houston Astros hitting coach Álex Cintrón made a crude remark about his mother that prompted a benches-clearing incident Sunday, and Athletics manager Bob Melvin wants Cintrón punished harshly by Major League Baseball.

Laureano said Monday he regrets charging toward Houston’s dugout to fight Cintrón after the two exchanged words during the seventh inning of a game Sunday in Oakland. Speaking before a game against the Los Angeles Angels, Laureano said Cintrón began jawing at him when Laureano reacted angrily after being hit by a pitch from Houston rookie Humberto Castellanos.

“I should have kept my cool because I wasted my time with that guy,” Laureano said. “Right now, I don’t look like a smart guy, but when you are emotional and someone says something about your mother, I don’t think anyone would take that lightly.

“Whatever decision comes about a suspension, hopefully it is not as many games as people think.”

Laureano and Cintrón are expected to be suspended by MLB, but no announcement was made Monday regarding punishment.

Houston manager Dusty Baker said he had a short meeting with his coaches to discuss the incident, but he declined to go into details about what he said to Cintrón.

“He was remorseful, I’ll say that, that the whole thing happened,” said Baker, who was ejected earlier in Sunday’s game and wasn’t on the bench for the fracas. “And we hope it won’t happen again.”

Laureano was hit three times by Houston pitchers during the weekend series, including twice by Castellanos on breaking pitches. Laureano sarcastically motioned to Castellanos on how to properly throw his slider after Sunday’s plunking. Laureano said he wasn’t going to charge the mound and was trying to move on until he heard Cintrón as he approached first base.

They exchanged words in Spanish, and Cintrón emerged from the dugout and appeared to challenge Laureano to fight. Laureano threw off his helmet and sprinted toward Cintrón but was tackled by Astros catcher Dustin Garneau en route.

Players streamed from the dugouts and stands, violating social distancing guidelines amid the coronavirus pandemic. Laureano said Garneau’s tackle kept the incident from intensifying further, praising Garneau for protecting his former teammate at the bottom of a building dog pile.

Melvin said he believes Cintrón was the chief culprit of the scuffle, which came amid strict rules banning players from leaving the dugouts to maintain player safety amid the pandemic.

“Ramon’s remorseful about what he did,” Melvin said. “There are a lot of reasons, but my opinion is it was instigated from the other side. I know I’ve always talked to my coaches not to get on the player’s case on the other side.”

“I think everyone needs to handle things differently this season. With the virus, it almost feels like we are playing against all odds to continue playing. MLB stresses that. It’s our job as coaches and managers to stress things like that.”


Trump, coaches push for college football as cracks emerge

President Donald Trump on Monday joined a U.S. senator and a number of coaches calling to save the college football season from a pandemic-forced shutdown as supporters pushed the premise that the players are safer because of their sport.

There was speculation two of the five most powerful conferences — the Big Ten and the Pac-12 — might call off their seasons and explore the possibility of spring football.

The Mountain West became the second conference in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivison to do just that, joining the Mid-American Conference in giving up hope on playing any sports in the first semester. Back east, Old Dominion canceled fall sports, too, becoming the first school in college football’s highest tier to break from its league; the rest of Conference USA is going forward with plans to play.

A Big Ten spokesman said no votes on fall sports had been taken by its presidents and chancellors as of Monday afternoon. The conference’s athletic directors were scheduled to meet later in the day, but it’s the university presidents who will have the final say on whether football is played. In the Pac-12, presidents were scheduled to meet Tuesday, a person familiar with the meeting told AP condition of anonymity because the meeting was not being made public,

The powerful Southeastern Conference made clear it was not ready to shutter its fall season.

“Best advice I’ve received since COVID-19: ‘Be patient. Take time when making decisions. This is all new & you’ll gain better information each day,’” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey posted on Twitter. ”Can we play? I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying.”

A growing number of athletes have spoken out about saving the season, with Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence among a group posting to Twitter with the hashtag #WeWantToPlay. Trump threw his support behind them Monday.

“The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled,” the president tweeted.

That didn’t help the Mountain West, which announced all fall sports including football were postponed. Though Air Force would be permitted the opportunity to play the other service academies, Army and Navy.

Old Dominion dropped out earlier in the day. The Virginia school, a relative newcomer to major college football, canceled fall sports less than a week after C-USA set out a plan to play a football season.

“We concluded that the season – including travel and competition – posed too great a risk for our student-athletes,” ODU President John Broderick said.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh took a different stand, saying the Wolverines have shown that players can be safe after they return to school. He cited Michigan’s COVID-19 testing stats, including 11 positives out of 893 administered to the members of the football program and none in the last 353 tests.

“I’m not advocating for football this fall because of my passion or our players desire to play but because of the facts accumulated over the last eight weeks since our players returned to campus on June 13,” Harbaugh wrote.

Nebraska coach Scott Frost made similar claims and said if the Big Ten doesn’t play, that might not stop the Cornhuskers.

“Our university is committed to playing no matter what, no matter what that looks like and how that looks,” Frost said. “We want to play no matter who it is or where it is.”

Ohio State coach Ryan Day said the Buckeyes might look elsewhere for games, too, and Penn State coach James Franklin on Twitter implored Big Ten leaders to have patience, delay and seek clarity.

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, picked up on the safer-with-football theme in a letter to the presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten.

“Life is about tradeoffs. There are no guarantees that college football will be completely safe — that’s absolutely true; it’s always true,” he wrote. “But the structure and discipline of football programs is very likely safer than what the lived experience of 18- to 22-year-olds will be if there isn’t a season.”

Michigan’s situation falls in line with what many medical staffers are seeing on their campuses.

“We’ve seen it spread thus far within roommates and outside of our facilities primarily. We haven’t seen a lot of spread within athletic facilities themselves,” said Dr. Kyle Goerl, medical director at Kansas State.

Doctors and epidemiologists outside of college sports are less convinced that big-time college football programs decrease the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19.

“This is a very convenient, self-serving narrative for people who want college football to happen whether to score political points or for revenue purposes,” said Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist with Oxford College at Emory University. “But I’ve yet to see anyone of them do it with actual data.

“Estimate the risk for me of what would have happened with these students were they not to play college football versus what’s going to happen to them if they do? That’s actually a really complicated, really difficult question to answer. I don’t think we know for sure.”

The number of confirmed infections in the U.S. is more than 5 million, the most in the world.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, said only an NBA-type bubble can really protect college athletes more than the general population and keep the season from being disrupted by the virus.

“If we’re going to try and minimize the risk of the virus, it’s really that the setting of the country as whole is the issue, not really actually the sport,” said Adalja, a member of the NCAA’s COVID-19 advisory panel.

The number of cases per day has declined recently, but not for long enough to say the pandemic has been controlled, said Lucia Mullen, an epidemiologist and analyst for the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security.

Mullen hears echos of the nation’s debate over reopening schools in the case made by football players and coaches. Structure and support is healthy for young people, she said.

“The worry with the U.S. is, and this is something I put to the sports as well, we all do want sports back, but it’s going to be incredibly aggravating if we try and bring it back and we have to cancel the season because it’s not working,” she said. “And that it delays us for yet another year and we can’t have any sports for the rest of the year because our virus outbreak is too uncontrollable.”

Adalja said the window for a college football season is closing.

“Because of the fact that we cannot solve these simple problems in a larger community of testing, tracing and isolating,” Adalja said. “If we can’t solve those problems there, it’s going to be very hard to do that in a college campus atmosphere.”


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No shortage of points scored inside the NBA’s bubble

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — The last time there was a slate of five or more NBA games on the same day, with every team scoring at least 110 points, was more than 32 years ago.

That is, until the opening of the league’s so-called bubble amid the coronavirus pandemic — where it already has happened twice.

Scoring numbers are soaring inside the NBA’s bubble, where the restarted season is happening at Walt Disney World. Through Sunday, 15 of the 22 teams inside the bubble were exceeding what had been their scoring averages before the season was suspended on March 11 because of COVID-19.

Games on average have seen nine points more than what had been the norm this season. The number of 3-pointers in each contest — which had been on a record clip when the season got suspended — is up as well. And Indiana’s T.J. Warren, not even a top-50 scorer when the pandemic hit, is leading the bubble in points per game so far, averaging 34.4 and nearly doubling what was his season average.

“T.J. Warren is on a different planet right now,” Pacers guard Victor Oladipo said.

He’s not alone. The bubble is working for just about everybody, or so it seems.

There was a six-game NBA schedule on Feb. 21, 1988, and all the teams playing that night scored at least 110 points. That hadn’t happened, on a day of five or more games, again in the NBA until July 31 — the second day of bubble games. It happened again Saturday.

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle says there might be multiple reasons why the numbers are up, but foremost on the list is that the NBA has created an environment where players are comfortable.

“We came from a situation at home where players could only do individual workouts, you know, with a coach with a mask on and rubber gloves,” Carlisle said. “When you walked in the practice facility, you had to clean your shoes. You had to fill out a form, you had to take your temperature, you had do a lot of things and that was before serial testing began. So a lot has gone into this.”

It’s paying off.

Maybe this should have been expected, even after teams went 4 1/2 months without playing a real game during the suspension. Hostile fans aren’t screaming at and distracting shooters in the bubble. Nobody is weary from a long flight the night before. And the conditions inside the three different game arenas at Disney — from the lighting to the temperature — are relatively close to identical.

“Obviously, even though we are playing on different courts, they all kind of feel like the same arena,” Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez said. “It’s not like we’re going from Milwaukee to Philly, Miami, back to Milwaukee or anything like that. It’s pretty consistent in that regard.”

A team that is among the few exceptions to the bubble scoringfest right now is the Los Angeles Lakers, who have the No. 1 seed for the Western Conference playoffs but are managing a restart-low 100.8 points per game at Disney.

“It’s a very weird dynamic,” Lakers star LeBron James said. “I haven’t played in an empty gym in a very, very long time. It’s been a very long time since no one has been watching me play the game. I’m just trying to find that rhythm and lock in.”

Put simply, it is taking a ton of points to win. Entering the bubble, San Antonio had been 58-5 under coach Gregg Popovich when scoring 125 points or more; the Spurs are 0-2 at Disney when scoring that many. And through Sunday, there had been 61 games completed in the bubble — with the winning team scoring at least 100 points in all 61 of them.

“I think shooting travels,” New Orleans’ J.J. Redick said. “If you can make shots, you can make shots. … I’ve shot in high school gyms. I’ve shot in civic centers. I’ve shot in arenas. I’ve shot in basements of Catholic administrative buildings. If you can make shots, you can make shots.”

Carlisle has another theory or explanation that can’t be argued: Wherever they are, bubble or no bubble, pandemic or no pandemic, NBA players in this era can score from practically anywhere.

“To me, it’s just the level of aggression of the players,” Carlisle said. “And the fact that, you know, the skill sets of NBA players are increasing exponentially by the month. I mean, it’s just getting harder and harder to guard these guys. There’s a high level of enthusiasm. The closeness of the games has been crazy to watch. It’s just been a very special time here — even though it’s been quite unusual.”


New PGA champion Morikawa’s toughest moment came after round

If all you saw were the highlights of how Collin Morikawa beat back the biggest names in golf and walked off with the PGA Championship, you’d conclude he did it the old-fashioned way.

The 23-year-old Californian delivered a 6-under 64 in the final round, including a signature shot that fans will be talking about for decades. He hit more fairways and greens, and picked up more strokes with the putter over four days than anyone else in the field. He even arrived at TPC Harding Park with some built-in advantages, in top form after winning twice on tour during this re-jiggered season, and he knew the course well from his days playing college golf at nearby Cal-Berkeley.

He parlayed all that into a two-shot victory Sunday over third-round leader Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey. Two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka talked a good game, but crashed in his effort to three-peat with an uncharacteristic closing 74. After a turn-back-the-page opening round, Tiger Woods finished tied for 37th, feeling all of his 44 years and heading home before the fireworks on the back nine exploded.

What Morikawa said afterward sounded familiar, too. Asked whether he expected to win his first major this soon, he looked puzzled for the first time all day.

“Of course,” he began. “Why not? If you believe in yourself — and I believe I can do it —why not have it as one of my goals?

“It’s crazy,” Morikawa added a moment later, “because it feels like this is where I’m supposed to be.”

Chalk that up to youth if you like, but something about this kid’s demeanor suggests that he’s built for the long haul. Like most of the current players at the top of the game, and many of the highly touted amateurs who’ve debuted on tour in recent years, Morikawa packs plenty of power.

But despite his limited experience, Morikawa also possesses one of the most complete all-around games on display at the moment, giving him the freedom to apply new solutions to the same old problems that derailed everyone else coming down the stretch.

By the tie Morikawa faced his third shot in front of the 14th green, there were seven names tied atop the leaderboard at 10-under, the kind of traffic jam that happens only every so often in a major. The safe shot would have been a low-running chip to the ridge between him and the flag, hoping the ball trickled down close to the hole. Instead, Morikawa opened up the blade of his 60-degree wedge and improvised a high-risk, high-spin variation that landed on that same ridge, grabbed the turf briefly and slid straight into the cup for the outright lead.

Two holes later, at the 294-yard, par-4 16th, Morikawa forgot about finesse and bombed a driver to within 7 feet of the flag. His only regret? No spectators on the course because of the COVID-19 pandemic meant he initially had no idea how good it turned out.

“This is one time I really wish there were crowds,” Morikawa said. “I was just praying for a straight bounce … and then after it bounced, it kind of got behind a tree that we couldn’t see around the corner. So once it bounced, I was like ‘OK, I will take it anywhere.’

“I peeked around right and looked around the tree, and it looked really, really good.”

It was. He coolly drained the eagle putt from 7 feet and carried the 13-under cushion all the way to the scoring tent without much more drama.

The closest he came to losing his cool, not surprising, came in a post-round press conference when the first question thrown his way came from NBA star Steph Curry, usually employed by the Golden State Warriors, but working on this occasion for an outlet he identified as “Underrated Media.”

Curry wanted to know whether Morikawa kept an eye on the leaderboard during those tense moments down the stretch.

“Wow! My caddie is a huge Warriors fan … but yeah, I did,” Morikawa said. “I knew where I stood.”

And he doesn’t plan to climb down from that perch anytime soon.


Players unite in push to save college season, create union

Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds saw the tweets from Trevor Lawrence and other college football players, pushing for the opportunity to play this season, despite the pandemic.

Reynolds, one of the organizers behind a players’ rights movement in the Big Ten, didn’t like the way some on social media seemed to be pitting Lawrence’s message against the efforts of #BigTenUnited and #WeAreUnited.

“There was a lot of division,” Reynolds told AP early Monday morning.

Reynolds got on a call with Lawrence and the star quarterback’s Clemson teammate, Darien Rencher, and within a matter of hours the summer of athlete empowerment found another gear.

College football players from across the country united Sunday in an attempt to save their season and ensure they will no longer be left out of the sport’s biggest decisions.

Lawrence, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Oklahoma State All-America running back Chuba Hubbard, Alabama running back Najee Harris and numerous other players from Florida State to Oregon posted a graphic on social media with #WeWantToPlay and #WeAreUnited.

“We came to the conclusion, We Want to Play, their message might have been conveyed differently but at the end of the day the message wasn’t too far off from what Big Ten United wanted to promote,” Reynolds said. “Which is we all want to play sports this fall. Every athlete, I’m pretty sure, wants to play their sports. They just want to do so safely.”

The #WeAreUnited hashtag was used a week ago by a group of Pac-12 players in announcing a movement they say has the support of hundreds of peers within their conference. They have threatened mass opt-outs by players if concerns about COVID-19 protocols, racial injustice in college sports and economic rights for athletes are not addressed.

#BigTenUnited arrived on the scene a couple days later, a movement that claimed the backing off 1,000 Big Ten football players. Their demands were more targeted, strictly related to health and safety in dealing with COVID-19.

Sunday night, the call with Reynolds, Rencher and Lawrence led to a Zoom meeting — of course — with some of the Pac-12 players involved in “WeAreUnited.”

Washington State defensive lineman Dallas Hobbs got to work on a graphic and now the movement is officially nationwide.

“Just started bouncing ideas off each others’ heads and kind of discussing where we go from here and we ended up coming up with that statement,” said Reynolds, a senior from South Orange, New Jersey.

Under the logos of each Power Five conference — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — the players pronounced their platform:

—We all want to play football this season.

—Establish universal mandated health & safety procedures and protocols to protect college athletes against COVID-19 among all conferences throughout the NCAA.

—Give players the opportunity to opt out and respect their decision.

—Guarantee eligibility whether a player chooses to play the season or not.

—Use our voices to establish open communication and trust between players and officials: Ultimately create a College Football Players Association.

All of this capped a weekend during which the adults who run college sports seemed to be moving toward shutting it all down because of the pandemic.

A day after the Mid-American Conference became the first of the major college football leagues to cancel the fall season, Power Five conference commissioners met Sunday. They discussed mounting concerns about whether a season can be safely conducted with the pandemic still not under control in the United States.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said no decisions on the season have been made, but conceded the outlook has not improved.

“Are we in a better place today than two weeks, ago? No, we’re not,” he said.

Bowlsby cited “growing evidence and the growing pool of data around myocarditis.”

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart and it has been found in some COVID-19 patients. There is concern it could be a long-term complication of contracting the virus even in young, healthy people, a group that has usually avoided severe cardiovascular symptoms.

Also Sunday night, the Big Ten’s university presidents and chancellors held a previously unscheduled meeting, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was not announced by the conference.

Another person with direct knowledge of the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no votes were taken or decisions made about the college football season.

The final call on whether major college football will played this season rests in the hands of the university presidents who oversee the largest conferences.

With doom and gloom hanging over college football, Lawrence, who has become the face of the sport in a summer of strife, tried to push back the tide with a series of tweets.

“People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play,” Lawrence posted. “Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract covid19.”

Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth had a similar message, and the parents of Ohio State football players weighed in, too.

Reynolds wants athletes to have a say in the meetings that are deciding the fate of their sports — starting now.

”All college athletes through unifying and not being afraid to speak our minds and having social media to kind of mobilize, I think that box on a Zoom call is something that is pretty attainable,” he said. “Especially, in the near future.”


Baby Cow Escapes Slaughterhouse, Then Unlikely Woodland Animals Adopt Her As Their Own

Every now and again, you run across a story about pigs, ponies, and other farm animals who have made a break for it during round ups for slaughter. Bonnie the cow managed that same escape, but then opted for what we’ll call the “scenic route.”

Last fall, she and the rest of her herd were living at a farm in Holland, New York, but it was about to close. They were all going to be sold at auction and eventually slaughtered, but Bonnie’s the delicate sort and all those cries and bellows were too much for her young ears. Spooked, she took off and disappeared into a nearby forest.
She was just four months old at the time and residents in the surrounding area searched high and low for weeks, fearing she wouldn’t survive once the ground was covered with thick blankets of snow.
But that forest is also home to deer, and somehow she managed to form an unlikely alliance with one herd. They not only welcomed her, but provided all the warmth and companionship a little calf could need.

But the people who were out looking for her didn’t know any of this until a couple months after she disappeared, when hunters spotted her on their wildlife cameras.

The arrangement with the deer was working now but would not be beneficial forever. So one of the town’s residents, Becky Bartels, took pity on the poor little orphan and made it her mission to bring her to safety.

All the neighbors were kind of talking about how she was in the woods and winter was coming … They started talking about how sad it was, like she’s all alone and she’s going to have to fend for herself, she’s probably going to starve for the winter. And so people were saying, “Someone should feed her,” and Becky became that someone.
So Becky spent the entire winter working her charm and bringing her gifts of food and bedding, until the little calf started approaching her willingly. (She also named her, taking the name from the infamous outlaw Bonnie Parker, of Bonnie & Clyde fame.)

This went on for about six months. But going out every day to hand feed a cow who’s taken up with a herd of wild deer couldn’t go on forever. So earlier this month, Becky got in touch with the folks over at the Farm Sanctuary, and a rescue crew spent more than a week trying to capture the wayward calf.

They loaded up two trailers full of supplies and transportable gates, which they used to create a temporary pen around the area where she was already coming to eat.

It was a long and arduous process, but the rescue crew led her onto the trailer and from there, to her new home at a sanctuary in Watkins Glen.

She’s in isolation for now, but once she settles down and gets her bearings, she’ll be introduced to the main herd. It won’t be long before she’s entertaining everybody around the food bins, and telling the calves bedtime stories about her life with the deer that year in the woods.

“I can’t even tell you how many tears were shed when she was finally on the trailer,” one of the crew members said. “We were so, so, so relieved that we got her.


Marlins’ 6-1 start is reminiscent of the 1899 Perfectos

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly was talking about this week’s doubleheader sweep at Baltimore that involved a parade of relievers, including several newcomers rescued from unemployment, and after naming three of them he drew a blank.

“I’ve got to remember who all we used,” Mattingly said. “Who else pitched today? I don’t know.”

For the Marlins, this season has been a bit of a blur. It was halted for eight days because of a coronavirus outbreak that sidelined more than half the team, and even now, five games into the resumption of play, there’s cause for eye-rubbing.

The Marlins are in first place in August, a first for the franchise. In fact, at 6-1 they have the best record in baseball, staging a one-year turnaround not seen since the 1899 St. Louis Perfectos.

“I’m going to have to write a book after this,” Mattingly said. “You get tested, and you persevere.”

Following a decade of sub-.500 seasons, the Marlins reported for spring training with something close to a swagger in Year 3 of their rebuilding project under CEO Derek Jeter. They still sounded confident even after the virus sidelined three-fifths of their rotation, eight relievers and six other players.

“We’re ready to win games,” rookie outfielder Monte Harrison said. “A lot of people don’t understand that we’ve got some people here that can play. Whatever they want to call us — the bottom feeders or whatever — there’s a rude awakening that is going to be happening.”

Harrison spoke boldly even though he has one career hit, a scratch single Thursday in the Marlins’ 8-7 win at Baltimore. That completed Miami’s first four-game series sweep in more than four years.

Coming off a 57-105 season, the Marlins are the first team to win at least six of its first seven games after losing 105 or more the previous year since the Perfectos began 7-0 in 1899. That’s according to @StatsbySTATS.

And the Perfectos didn’t have their season disrupted by a virus.

After only three games, the Marlins became stranded for a week in Philadelphia. The infected players were bused back to Miami, while the holdovers were confined to their hotel rooms and searched for ways to stay sane and in shape.

“I would line up the mattress and set up the chairs as hitters,” closer Brandon Kintzler said, “and I would throw for about half an hour every day.”

Meanwhile, management scrambled for reinforcements, and came up with a mix of veteran castoffs and minor leaguers. Jeter refused to panic and promote top prospects who aren’t ready; instead, Miami called up such farmhands as 30-year-old infielder Eddy Alvarez, a former Olympic silver medalist in speedskating.

Alvarez, who joined the Marlins’ system last year, started both games of Wednesday’s doubleheader. He’s 0 for 5 so far as a big leaguer, but he’s also undefeated and said the team’s record is no fluke.

“The public doesn’t understand our culture here in the Marlins organization, a culture I’ve been extremely blessed to be a part of,” Alvarez said. “I didn’t quite understand what it is to have a winning culture. Derek Jeter takes the lead role. That’s the captain, and we can feel that.”

There’s a curious cohesion and chemistry to the patchwork team, including the infected players, who were represented in absentia in Baltimore with cutout images propped in seats near the dugout.

Among the quarantined players back in Miami cheering the club on was shortstop Miguel Rojas, who fired off more than a dozen tweets during the latest win, a seesaw affair.

“I’m sweating,” he wrote, “and I don’t have fever.”

On the subject of pennant fever, it should be noted that four of the Marlins’ six wins have come against the Orioles, who lost 108 games themselves last year. It should also be noted that the 1899 Perfectos faded after their fast start to a fifth-place finish in the National League.

The Marlins going from 105 losses to the playoffs in one season despite a wave of virus infection would be crazy, right?

But it would also be so 2020.


Brady learning new playbook, excited to get started in Tampa

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Tom Brady isn’t content with making the Tampa Bay Buccaneers relevant again. The six-time Super Bowl champion is hungry to win another title.

And the Bucs, who’ve missed the playoffs 12 consecutive seasons, feel they have a supporting cast talented enough to help the 43-year-old quarterback accomplish that mission.

“Everybody sees football a little bit different. It’s about how we all see it together and how we can all be on the same page as we move forward,” Brady said Tuesday, speaking for the first time since reporting to training camp with his new team.

The three-time NFL MVP talked among other things about the challenge of learning a new playbook for the first time in 19 years, as well as doing it without the benefit of a normal offseason routine due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Ultimately, my goal is to go out there and do what I’ve always done, (which) is to be best the best I can possibly be for the team,” Brady added during a video conference call. “I’ve tried to catch passes in my career, I’ve tried to make blocks, I’ve had a few runs, but I’m not very good at any of those. I think my best ability is reading defenses and throwing the football.”

Brady, who turned 43 this week, signed a two-year, $50 million deal in free agency after leading the New England Patriots to nine Super Bowl appearances, 13 AFC championship games and 17 division titles over the past 20 seasons.

He’s not the only high-profile addition to an offense that led the NFL in passing last year with talented but mistake-prone Jameis Winston at quarterback.

At Brady’s urging, coach Bruce Arians and general manager Jason Licht also traded for tight end Rob Gronkowski, who ended a year-long retirement from the Patriots.

Six-time Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy is onboard, too, agreeing to a one-year contract after winning a Super Bowl as a backup with Kansas City last season.

The returning cast is impressive, too, beginning with Pro Bowl receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate — easily the best collection of targets Brady has had to throw to in more than a decade.

“It’s a good, hard-working group, really smart players,” Brady said. “Again, it’s going to be up to all of us to come together to see how we can make it all work.”

McCoy, who’s 32 and entering his 12th season, worked out with the Bucs for the first time Tuesday. He’s been on some teams that have scrimmaged against New England in the past. Actually practicing with Brady was different.

“As he’s throwing the ball, I heard a couple of the guys whispering, ‘Dang, how many years do you think he’ll play?’ That’s how good he looked, seriously,” McCoy said. “Me and Gronk talked about it — his will to win, his will to go out there and still keep doing it. … He’s like a coach with a helmet on.”

With NFL training facilities shut down and normal offseason programs canceled because of the pandemic, Brady got a head start on getting to know some of his teammates by organizing small group workouts at a local high school. The sessions continued even after the NFL Players Association advised players to not participate in informal practices.

The 67-year-old Arians, who has also worked with Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer during a long coaching career, noted that’s just one of example of what makes Brady such a strong leader.

“I think the desire to excel every single day, every play. If the ball is not where he wants it or the receiver’s not where he wants him, it’s nonstop grind with him. It was the same way with Peyton,” Arians said.

“I think they all have the same qualities of willing themselves on other people to win and making them accept it quickly,” Arians added. “All the good ones, they all had it. When they talked, everybody listened, and Tom has that for sure.”

Winston threw for a league-leading 5,109 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2019. But the 2015 No. 1 overall draft pick also undermined the team’s chances of making the playoffs by tossing 30 interceptions, seven of which were returned for TDs. Winston’s 35 turnovers overall were 12 more than any other quarterback.

Brady, a four-time Super Bowl MVP, has never thrown more than 14 interceptions in a season. He had 29 combined over his last four years with the Patriots.

“The reality is the clock is ticking on everybody, and we’re going to have to work as hard as we can and not waste any minutes of any day trying to get used to one another, embrace the challenge and see it as an opportunity to see what we can become,” the quarterback said.

“Mentally I feel like I have all the ability. … There’s no play I haven’t run, there’s no defense I haven’t seen. It’s just physically are you still able to execute your job,” Brady added. “I’m very fortunate to still be able to do that.

“I know it’s a contact sport, and there are things that are out of your control, but that’s a pretty good lesson for life, too.”