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'Ass' backwards: Joey Votto reverses his harsh words about Canada

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Saying his comments came from an "absolutely silly, short-sighted, selfish place," Cincinnati Reds slugger Joey Votto apologized Wednesday for saying that he doesn't care about Canada, Canadian baseball or his hometown of Toronto.

Votto, who played for Canada at the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classics and won the Lou Marsh Award as Canada's athlete of the year in 2010 and 2017, distanced himself from his home country in an interview with Yahoo Sports' Major League Baseball podcast.

"I don't care almost at all about Canadian baseball," said Votto, who was also the National League MVP in 2010. "I wasn't raised inside of Canadian baseball really. I'm coming up on half of my life being in the United States working and being supported by American baseball."

Votto later issued a statement saying he was "terribly ashamed," and apologized for the comments again Wednesday on a conference call.

"I cringed hearing it because I'm so embarrassed by what I said," Votto said. "I feel very strongly that it couldn't be less in line with how I feel about Canadian baseball, Toronto and [Seattle Mariners left-hander] James Paxton."

'I am saddened … that I offended so many people'

In an email posted on the Canadian Baseball Network website after the Reds lost 5-3 to the San Francisco Giants Tuesday night, Votto said he is "terribly ashamed" of his comments and called them "ridiculously selfish and short-sighted."

Votto added: "I am saddened that I was so flagrant with my remarks and more importantly that I offended so many people that mean so much to me."

Votto's initial comments came after he was asked about Paxton of Ladner, B.C., throwing his recent no-hitter against the Blue Jays in Toronto, becoming the first Canadian in MLB history to do so on home soil.

"As far as Toronto, and Canadian baseball, and the country of Canada, and [James Paxton] being Canadian, I don't care at all," said Votto. "[Paxton], or the Jays, or Canada, in general, may disagree with that, but I really couldn't give a rat's ass about that."

Votto did clarify in the podcast that he was happy for Paxton as a baseball player, but not as a fellow Canadian.

'Side of jealousy'

In his apology, Votto said being asked about baseball in Canada, the Blue Jays and the Paxton no-hitter recalled his resentment for not making Team Canada or being drafted by the Blue Jays out of high school, and not being picked for the Olympic team while in the minors.

"Clearly my reply came out of a side of jealousy for a Canadian baseball athlete being celebrated in the city of Toronto. It was an odd reply and one I am terribly ashamed of," he wrote.

"I go back to Toronto each off-season and feel renewed every time I cross the border to my home and native land. I would not be where I am now without the efforts of so many Canadian baseball people and the fans of Canadian baseball.

"To James Paxton, the Blue Jays, the Toronto fans, the women and men all across Canada that work so hard to promote and support Canadian baseball, I am sorry for my selfish comments and I humbly ask for your forgiveness."

Social media lit up as news of the comments circulated Tuesday night. Outfielder Dalton Pompey of Mississauga, Ont., currently with triple-A Buffalo after a stint with the Blue Jays, posted a reply on Twitter to a Yahoo story link.

Comments 'cringe-worthy'

"Damn Joey, tell us how u really feel. Smh [shake my head]," Pompey tweeted.

Votto took questions for about 15 minutes on a conference call Wednesday before the Reds' afternoon game at San Francisco. He called his podcast comments "a complete miss by me."

"It couldn't have been more cringe-worthy," he said. "I just did everything wrong and it came from a bad place. I am so regretful."

Drafted by the Reds in 2002 out of Toronto's Richview Collegiate Institute, Votto made his big-league debut in 2007 and has spent his entire career with Cincinnati.

While in the minor leagues, Votto played for the national team at the World Cup. He also made appearances for Canada at the World Baseball Classic in 2009 and 2013.

Perennial MVP candidate

Baseball Canada national teams director Greg Hamilton said Votto is a great teammate who has been "tremendously supportive" of the program.

"I've always judged people by their actions and not so much their words," Hamilton said from Ottawa. "His actions have showed complete care and respect. He's been heavily involved with who we are and with our national team program, and been very consistent in doing it."

Votto, a five-time all-star, has finished in the top 10 in MVP voting in each of the last three years.

Last month, Votto was presented with the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame's Tip O'Neill Award for the seventh time in eight years. The honour is given annually to the Canadian player judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to baseball's highest ideals.

"There's a home and a place here for Joey at any time where Joey is available and able," Hamilton said. "We would love to have him in any context. We value him obviously as a player and we value him every bit as much as a human being and a person.

"Personally my view is he's a really good caring person that does get it. That's my personal opinion from experiences with him and the actions that he's shown."

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Rockets vs. Warriors: Without Chris Paul, James Harden must flip his playoff narrative with a great Game 6

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It is telling that, in the midst of the giant pickle James Harden and the Houston Rockets find themselves in, I couldn’t help but think of a Winston Churchill quote.

“You never can tell,” Sir Winston said, “whether bad luck may not after all turn out to be good luck.”

I do not expect that the awful, awful luck of Chris Paul’s hamstring injury at the end of Game 5 of the Western Conference finals will turn into good luck.

Paul had been brilliant Thursday night. He’d willed the Rockets to victory on the back of hard-fought defense and a whole bunch of off-balance, end-of-shot-clock, second-half shots that somehow found a way to find the bottom of the net. He’d been the tip of the spear of a physical Rockets defense that’s often been dominant in this series, forcing the Warriors — one of the best-assembled rosters and perhaps greatest dynasties in NBA history — out of their comfort zone. 

And then, with less than a minute left in Game 5, Paul pulled up lame after missing a nine-foot floater. As the Warriors, down one to the Rockets, charged to the other end of the court on the most important possession of both teams’ seasons, Paul stayed in the backcourt and clutched his hamstring. It was as if the basketball gods exacted a price from the Rockets: Yes, we will allow you a shot at upending this dynasty, but you must sacrifice one of your own.

And now Chris Paul, one win away from his first NBA Finals appearance, will watch from the sidelines in Game 6 and potentially in Game 7 … if the Warriors extend the series. His destiny rests in the hands of Harden, the presumptive NBA MVP but someone who has, in the biggest moments of his basketball career, turned into a wilting flower.

Even before Paul’s injury was announced, the Warriors were still the favorites to win the series despite being down 3-2, and the favorites to win the NBA title.

But for Harden and the Rockets, there is always this thought: In the worst of circumstances comes the best of opportunities.

Want to prove your worth in the biggest of situations?

Well, James Harden, here’s your chance.

But it might be time to pray to Saint Jude, the patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes. Because history shows that Harden, when pushed to the brink, has been less than his dominant self.

In Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals last season, when the San Antonio Spurs finished off the Rockets in blowout fashion, Harden simply disappeared. He was 2-of-11 from the field (including 2-of-9 from three). He had six turnovers (after having nine in the game before).

When the Warriors beat the Rockets in five games in the first round of the 2016 playoffs, Harden was decent — he averaged 26.6 points on 31 percent three-point shooting, and averaged 5.2 turnovers per game — but his team got smoked. Three of the four losses came by 26 points or more. That entire series felt like a lost cause.

In Game 5 of the 2015 Western Conference finals against the Warriors, Harden — after a heroic 45-point effort in Houston’s Game 4 win — again struggled, scoring 14 points on 2-of-11 shooting and giving the ball away 12 times.

Hell, his big-spotlight struggles even go back to college. His sophomore year at Arizona State, Harden led the Sun Devils to the NCAA Tournament, and once he got there he laid a massive egg: 1-of-8 for nine points in the first round, 2-of-10 for 10 points in the second round.

It was supposed to be different for him this year, where another future Hall of Famer in the backcourt could ease the scoring burden off Harden, taking off the pressure and allowing him some time to rest. It was different this year: Finally, for the first time since he was a fledgling star with the Oklahoma City Thunder, it wasn’t all on him. And it’s worked. The Rockets have put the Warriors in their most precarious situation since Golden State acquired Kevin Durant.

Now it almost feels like it’s the Rockets, up 3-2, with two shots at making the NBA Finals, who are in the precarious position.

Maybe this will be Harden, Paul and the Rockets’ darkest hour, the part of their career where they get this close — only to have it ripped away.

Or maybe it’s Harden’s biggest opportunity.

Here’s your chance, James. Time to shoot your shot.

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Mariners get Alex Colome, Denard Span in trade with Rays

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Still two months before the deadline, the Seattle Mariners struck first in the trade market in a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, the teams announced Friday. 

The Mariners, seeking their first postseason appearance since 2001 — the longest in the majors — received reliever Alex Colome and outfielder Denard Span from the Rays for right-handed pitcher Andrew Moore and minor league pitcher Tommy Romero.

“This is a trade that makes us a more complete club in the present while also offering impact beyond this season,” said Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto in a written statement. 

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“Alex Colomé brings an all-star resume, fortifying what we believe is an already solid back end of the bullpen. Denard Span adds length to our lineup as a steady and smart player with consistent on-base skills in addition to a veteran presence that enhances our environment.”

Colome, who is 2-5 with 4.15 ERA, served as the Rays closer the past three seasons. He’s converted his last 10 save opportunities for 11 this season. 

Span, a career .288 hitter, of 11 MLB seasons, gives the Mariners an experienced left-handed bat in the lineup. He is batting .238 with 27 runs scored in 43 games. 

The Mariners, 29-20 heading into Friday night, are three games back of the Houston Astros in the AL West. The lost their leadoff hitter Dee Gordon to a fractured toe this week and All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano to an 80-game suspension. 

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Kurtenbach: Why all eyes should be on Steve Kerr ahead of Game 6

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HOUSTON — Rockets guard Paul Chris Paul — the man who effectively willed Houston to a critical Game 5 win and a 3-2 series lead behind a bevy of absurd second-half isolation shots — will not play in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals

His status for a possible Game 7 is up in the air as well.

Some might view Paul’s injury as clearing the way for the Warriors to win back-to-back games and advance to the NBA Finals. It’s an easy viewpoint to have and it’s not entirely misplaced.

If only it were that easy.

The Warriors might cite their triumph in the 2016 Western Conference Finals — when they came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat Oklahome City — as evidence that this 3-2 hole is not as daunting as it might look (an argument that became easier to make with Friday’s news). But that was a different team under different circumstances.

Paul’s injury has not given the Warriors a reprieve. Houston needs to win only one more game in this series (with two chances to do it, one at home) and even without their star guard, the Rockets remain more than capable of fulfilling that requirement. Meanwhile, the Warriors are a team that’s having an offensive identity crisis at the worst possible time.

These next two games will be turned into a referendum for many of the Warriors and the operation as a whole, but amid that scrutiny, the man under the most pressure to perform isn’t Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant.

It’s Steve Kerr.

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr sits on the bench while playing the Houston Rockets during the second quarter of Game 2 of the NBA Western Conference finals at Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, on Wednesday, May 16, 2018. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

Kerr is an exceptional coach when it comes to managing the responsibilities and personalities that come from having an exceptionally talented team — that’s not easy to do — but his performance as a game manager over the last two games has been suspect.

We saw the Warriors run out of gas in the fourth quarter of Game 4 — bizarre rotations and poor time management playing a big role in a 12-point fourth quarter and a stunning loss the evened the series at two games apiece.

In Game 5, we saw a total shift in bench deployment — David West played nearly a full quarter and Quinn Cook was on the floor in crunch time — as well as a continuation of the Warriors’ offensive woes, which unmistakenly manifested themselves in the fourth quarter of the team’s second straight loss.

The loss of Andre Iguodala to a leg injury and the Rockets’ nothing-to-lose physicality created a tricky situation for Kerr to manage over the last two games, no doubt. But it’s hard to say that he passed either test.

His biggest challenge is righting the Warriors’ disjointed offense. That is his area of tactical expertise, after all. Golden State had one of the best offenses in NBA history this season, but over the last two contests, they’ve failed to average a point per possession. If that continues, the Warriors stand little-to-no chance to win this series.

So what did Kerr tell his team after Game 5?

“Well, there are things I tell you guys here, and there are things I tell my team that are private,” Kerr said Friday.

Fair enough.

At the same time, Kerr is clearly talking to his team through the media — pushing a message of relentless positivity amid the most trying moment this team has faced since Durant joined it in July 2016.

There is something to be said about finding the silver linings in a loss. But then there was Kerr’s approach after losing Game 5 on Thursday and falling behind 3-2 in the series. If you had not watched the game, you could have easily interpreted Kerr as saying “Yes, we’re down 3-2, but we have the Rockets right where we want them.”

We’ll see if that bold strategy pays dividends.

Golden State Warriors' head coach Steve Kerr talks with Stephen Curry (30) in the first quarter of Game 4 of the NBA Western Conference finals against the Houston Rockets at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, May 22, 2018.
Golden State Warriors’ head coach Steve Kerr talks with Stephen Curry (30) in the first quarter of Game 4 of the NBA Western Conference finals against the Houston Rockets at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. 

Regardless, the truth remains that the Warriors exhausted their margin for error in this series with Thursday’s loss. They might not feel they need any leeway — that they are on the precipice of putting everything together against a team they can no longer consider a worthy adversary with Paul sidelined at least for one game.

But the fact that the Rockets missed 30 — yes, 30 — uncontested shots (per the NBA’s tracking data) Thursday night, with James Harden missing all 10 of his uncontested attempts, and still won cannot be ignored.

The Warriors have banked on the Rockets’ offensive inefficiency in recent games, but it only takes a few extra uncontested Houston shots to fall for the Warriors’ season to end.

That is if the Golden State offense doesn’t break through.

It’s upon Kerr to find a way to mesh the Warriors’ offense, which currently looks like it’s in a battle with itself over what it wants to be. It’s a challenge that could go a long way to defining this team’s legacy and his as a coach.

In Games 4 and 5, Golden State appeared to have two diametrically opposed offenses, fighting for supremacy possession by possession. There was the Kevin Durant-is-the-fulcrum isolation game — which advanced the Warriors to these Western Conference Finals — going up against the Warriors’ traditional ball-movement attack, led by Stephen Curry.

It’s easy to propose that the Warriors go all-in on a Curry-led attack — it looked better in Game 5 — but that’s simply not possible. The Warriors need Durant and what he brings, too. He’s a perfect counter to Houston’s defense.

But Durant’s isolations have become predictable and direct to a fault. And juxtaposing that attack with the Warriors’ ball-moving sets hasn’t created a challenge for the Rockets’ defense, it’s merely created dysfunction for the Warriors.

Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) is congratulated by head coach Steve Kerr, left, after their win over the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of the NBA basketball Western Conference Finals, Monday, May 14, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) is congratulated by head coach Steve Kerr, left, after their win over the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of the NBA basketball Western Conference Finals, Monday, May 14, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) 

“Last night wasn’t his best game, but I thought he still carried us at times,” Kerr said of Durant, who had zero assists in Game 5 and has only 10 in this series.

“Houston’s doing a great job defensively. They’re doing what we do. When you switch everything, it makes ball movement more difficult, and it makes player movement more difficult. That’s why you do it. That’s why they’ve built the roster they have, and that’s why we’ve built the roster we have. Everybody’s saying why aren’t you guys moving the ball? Well, it’s good defense. So we’re lucky we have Kevin, because Kevin is the ultimate answer against switching defenses. He’s had a great series.”

It’s not on the players to figure out this puzzle as they go. We’ve seen how that has gone over the last two games. Kerr was imploring Durant to trust his teammates in Game 5, but if that message resonated, it certainly didn’t manifest on the floor.

It needs to happen Saturday in Game 6.

Kerr has earned a reputation as a great coach after winning two titles in his first four years. I’m not here to debate that. I will say, though, that at least part of Kerr’s generally sterling reputation is on the line in Game 6, and, if the Warriors prevail, Game 7.

Somehow, someway, Kerr needs to find a balancing point in the Warriors offense that allows the Warriors to maintain a steady energy while also utilizing Durant’s elite one-on-one skills.

If he can’t, the Warriors will again be at the mercy of the Rockets and the presumptive NBA MVP, Harden. And this time, they just might take advantage.

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