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MLB THREATENING AROD WITH A LIFETIME BAN

Wednesday, 31 July 2013 23:17 Published in Sports

NEW YORK (AP) - Major League Baseball is threatening to kick Alex Rodriguez out of the game for life unless the New York Yankees star agrees not to fight a lengthy suspension for his role in the sport's latest drug scandal, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday on condition of anonymity because no statements were authorized.

Whether Commissioner Bud Selig would actually issue a lifetime suspension was unclear and a permanent ban could be shortened by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz to about 200 games, the person said.

The number of players likely to be disciplined stood at 14 Wednesday.

Front and center is Rodriguez, baseball's highest-paid player and the most prominent one linked in media reports over the past seven months to Biogenesis of America, a closed Florida anti-aging clinic that allegedly distributed banned performance-enhancing drugs.

The Yankees expected Rodriguez to be accused of recruiting other athletes for the clinic, attempting to obstruct MLB's investigation, and not being truthful with MLB in the past. Baseball has considered suspending him for violations of its labor contract and drug agreement.

Even if he is banned from baseball, there is precedent for a shortened penalty: When pitcher Steve Howe was given a lifetime ban in 1992 in his seventh suspension for drug or alcohol use, an arbitrator reduced the penalty to 119 days.

A three-time MVP, Rodriguez acknowledged four years ago that he used performance-enhancing substances while with Texas from 2001-03 but repeatedly has denied using them since.

He's been sidelined all season since hip surgery in January and then a quadriceps strain during a minor league rehabilitation assignment in July. The Yankees say he'll start another rehab Friday - Double-A Trenton appeared to be the likely destination.

"Hopefully Alex will be back shortly thereafter," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said.

Rodriguez didn't stop to talk with reporters after his workout Wednesday at the team's minor league complex in Tampa, Fla.

At first, MLB and the union thought talks on the Biogenesis probe could be completed by Friday, but negotiations to avoid grievances are likely to push back announcements until at least Saturday or Sunday.

Others accused in media reports of receiving performance-enhancing drugs from Biogenesis include a trio of 2013 All-Stars: Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz, San Diego shortstop Everth Cabrera and Detroit shortstop Jhonny Peralta.

Most of the players face 50-game bans as first offenders. Both sides felt urgency to complete the process because by the middle of next week, teams will have fewer than 50 games left. And that would force players to complete suspensions during the playoffs or at the start of next season.

Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski protected against a possible suspension of Peralta by acquiring slick-fielding infielder Jose Iglesias from Boston in a three-team trade Tuesday night.

"If it were a 15-day thing, like a typical injury, I think we could have comfortably dealt with it with the players we already have," Dombrowski said Wednesday. "But when you start to talk about 50 days and a possible playoff run, we feel better going ahead with Jose."

While MLB told the union which players it intends to suspend, it hasn't issued formal notices of discipline. Because of that, the countdown hasn't started under baseball's Joint Drug Agreement, which says the suspensions are effective on the third business day after the notice is issued.

The sides also haven't decided whether suspensions for first-time offenders who challenge the penalty can be announced before an arbitration decision.

If some stars knew their seasons were about to be cut short, they weren't letting on Wednesday, at least publicly.

"I can't talk about nothing right now. Just wait for the news," Cabrera said Wednesday before playing against Cincinnati.

Peralta thinks he shouldn't be on the list of players linked to Biogenesis.

"It's wrong," he said. "But whatever happens, I need to fight and try to move on."

Toronto outfielder Melky Cabrera, Oakland pitcher Bartolo Colon and San Diego catcher Yasmani Grandal were all suspended for 50 games last year for positive tests for elevated testosterone. MLB informed the union they won't receive additional discipline for that violation, two people familiar with the probe said. They also spoke on condition of anonymity because no statements were authorized.

"Nothing's been told to me," Melky Cabrera said. "I served my suspension last year, but MLB has never told me that it's OK now. I'm seeing it in the press, but I don't know."

Texas was unable to find a replacement bat to fill a void a suspension of Cruz would create.

"I don't think anybody's comfortable losing a significant part of your club, but it's out of our control," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "We explored some deal like that. They just didn't come to a head. It wasn't for lack of interest or lack of effort. It was more lack of supply and lack of fit, really."

PIRATES SWEEP CARDS IN DOUBLEHEADER

Tuesday, 30 July 2013 23:03 Published in Sports

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Andrew McCutchen clubbed his 15th homer of the season and the Pittsburgh Pirates completed a doubleheader sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals with 6-0 victory on Tuesday night.

Brandon Cumpton (1-1) allowed three hits over seven innings to pick up his first major league win. The sweep propelled the Pirates into first place in the NL Central. Pittsburgh is a season-high 22 games over .500 (64-42).

Tyler Lyons (2-4) gave up four runs, three earned, in six innings. The rookie struck out five and walked one but received no help from a reeling offense. The Cardinals have dropped six straight and have scored five runs in their last 56 innings.

St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina left in the fourth inning with a right knee strain.

The Pirates took the opener 2-1 in 11 innings when Alex Presley's sharp grounder deflected off the glove of pitcher Kevin Siegrist and rolled into shallow left field, allowing Pittsburgh's Russell Martin to score from second.

The fortuitous bounces kept coming a couple hours later. The Pirates took a 1-0 lead in the second when a rare passed ball by Molina let Jose Tabata sprint across the plate. Molina was done for the night in the top of the fourth when the right knee pain he's been battling for the better part of a month flared up again. He was replaced by Rob Johnson.

The absence of their leader further weakened the Cardinals, and things quickly fell apart.

While Cumpton kept the NL's top offense in check, Pittsburgh poured it on with a little help from St. Louis left fielder Matt Holliday. The Pirates took a 2-0 lead on Jordy Mercer's RBI single before McCutchen stepped in. He drilled Lyons' pitch deep to left but Holliday appeared ready to track it down at the wall. Instead, the ball caromed into the stands.

Lyons placed both hands on his head in shock while the packed bleachers let Holliday have it. Holliday's night didn't get any better an inning later when he overran Josh Harrison's flyball to the wall, allowing Harrison to make it all the way to third.

Harrison never made it home, but by then Cumpton had all the backing he would require.

The rookie, who made a couple of spot starts earlier this season, needed just 87 pitches to get 21 outs. He received a loud ovation as he headed to the dugout, the latest in a series of unheralded Pirates pitchers to rise from obscurity and help propel the franchise into the midst of a pennant race.

The staff takes its cue from ace A.J. Burnett, who worked seven emotional innings in the opener. Burnett struck out nine and walked three while allowing one run on three hits. He was long gone, however, by the time Presley stepped in with Martin on in the 11th.

"It's a battle, it's fun," Burnett said. "Let's roll from here. Let's keep going."

NOTES: The series continues on Thursday. Adam Wainright (13-6, 2.51 ERA) starts for the Cardinals against Jeff Locke (9-3, 2.15) ... St. Louis sent struggling reliever Marc Rzepczynski to Cleveland on Tuesday in exchange for minor league infielder Juan Herrera. Rzepczynski had a 7.84 ERA in 10 1-3 innings this season with the Cardinals ... Pirates 2009 first-round pick Tony Sanchez went 0 for 3 with an RBI in his first major league start at catcher.

PIRATES CRUSH CARDS 9-2

Monday, 29 July 2013 23:04 Published in Sports

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Clint Hurdle grabbed the brim of his cap and ducked his head. When pressed about what pleased him the most about Pittsburgh's 9-2 win over St. Louis on Monday, a romp that propelled the resilient Pirates within a half-game of the NL Central lead, the manager thought for a moment and sighed.

"Getting a little picky aren't we?" he asked with a smile.

Hurdle isn't. Neither is his team as it tries to shrug off two decades of misery and mediocrity.

Francisco Liriano allowed one run over seven dominant innings, Pedro Alvarez hit his NL-leading 27th home run and the Pirates kicked off a pivotal series by sending the Cardinals to their season-high fourth straight loss.

Liriano (11-4) continued his midcareer renaissance by striking out eight and walking just two to win his fifth consecutive start.

"It's been a good run for him being able to watch, and that's pretty much what I've been doing," Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. "I don't get a lot of action when he's on the mound. It makes it a lot easier for the defense."

Having some help from an underachieving offense helps. The Pirates came in hitting just .221 with runners in scoring position, the worst mark in baseball. Clint Barmes smacked two doubles and drove in two runs and McCutchen added two hits as Pittsburgh went 5 for 13 with runners on second or third to continue its mastery over St. Louis starter Jake Westbrook.

The veteran right-hander fell to 1-8 against Pittsburgh in his otherwise solid resume. The Pirates touched Westbrook (7-5) for four runs in the first inning, capped by Alvarez's three-run homer into the first row of seats in right field.

"It was a battle from pitch 1 -- and it showed early on," Westbrook said. "It's not really how you draw it up with a walk and a hit batsmen and a single and a homer. Put us in a bad spot against a good team and against a guy who's throwing the ball really well."

Hurdle stressed the need to not place too much focus on a late-July series, pointing out two more months remain after the five-game set wraps up on Thursday.

Maybe, but with the Pirates chasing their first playoff berth in 21 years and a chance to make inroads on the team with the best record in baseball, the game had an electricity typically reserved for early fall in cities far away from the one that hasn't fielded a winner since 1992.

Lower-lever tickets were fetching $100 or more hours before the first pitch, and Liriano did not disappoint the largest Monday-night crowd (32,084) since the park opened.

The left-hander, whose path to stardom veered off track after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2007, had little trouble with the most explosive offense in the majors. He retired the first 10 batters he faced and kept the best-hitting team in the National League on its heels while dropping his ERA to 2.16.

"Frankie can answer," Hurdle said. "He's been in big matchups before."

So has Westbrook, who still hasn't figured out a way to handle the Pirates. He was touched for four runs in the first inning of his previous start at PNC Park in April. The game was eventually washed out.

The weather couldn't save him this time. Neither could Westbrook's usually solid control. He issued three walks and hit three batters and never appeared comfortable.

"He's going to go out there and give us whatever he's got every time and for whatever reason this team's just given him a tough time and he's had a hard time in this stadium," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said.

Westbrook survived a bases-loaded jam in the second to stay close, but by then Liriano had all the support he would need. His only real mistake came in the sixth, when pinch-hitter Tony Cruz led off with a triple and scored on Carpenter's single up the middle. A strikeout and a double play followed, and the Pirates broke it open in the seventh against relievers Marc Rzepczynski and Fernando Salas.

Garrett Jones started it with Pittsburgh's first sacrifice fly to the outfield since May 27 and Barmes clubbed a two-run double as the Pirates batted around.

Even with its best offensive showing since the All-Star break, Hurdle isn't so sure the Pirates made a statement.

"We're a confident team," he said. "I think we're a team whose confidence isn't built on its last game. It's not shattered by a losing streak. You continue to push through and that's what we've done from Opening Day until now."

NOTES: Pirates LF Starling Marte did not start after getting a planned day off in favor of Alex Presley, recalled from Triple-A on Monday after C Mike McKenry went onto the disabled list with a sprained knee. Marte entered in the seventh as a pinch hitter and singled. He is hitting just .131 (5 for 38) since July 20 ... The series continues with a doubleheader Tuesday. A.J. Burnett (4-7, 2.96 ERA) faces Lance Lynn (12-5, 3.98 ERA) in the opener with the Cardinals' Tyler Lyons (2-3, 5.51) starting the second game. The Pirates will not name a starter for the second game until Tuesday morning. ... Lynn was originally supposed to start the second game, but Matheny moved him into the matchup against Burnett because he wanted a more experienced pitcher to take on  the pirates ace.

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