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Former Blue Jays Aaron Sanchez help Astros no-hit Mariners

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HOUSTON — Aaron Sanchez looked like a reinvented pitcher in his Houston debut, throwing six stellar innings to start the Astros on a combined no-hitter Saturday night in their 9-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners.

Sanchez was an All-Star in 2016 and led the American League in ERA, but he’s struggled badly this season and had lost 13 straight decisions to lead the majors with 14 losses. Three days after he was acquired from Toronto at the trade deadline, the 27-year-old right-hander teamed with Will Harris, Joe Biagini and Chris Devenski to shut down Seattle.

“Just trying to have a good first impression,” Sanchez said.

It was the second time in less than a month the last-place Mariners were no-hit by multiple pitchers. The Los Angeles Angels used two pitchers in a combined no-hitter July 12 against Seattle on a night when they honoured late left-hander Tyler Skaggs by all wearing his No. 45 in their first home game since his death.

Sanchez (4-14) was replaced by Will Harris to start the seventh after throwing 92 pitches.

Harris and Joe Biagini, also obtained from the Blue Jays in the same deal that netted Sanchez, each worked one inning before Devenski tossed a perfect ninth. He retired All-Star slugger Daniel Vogelbach on a routine fly for the final out, setting off an Astros celebration on the field.

“This is awesome,” Sanchez said, adding: “You can’t write it up any better than this.”

Sanchez struck out six, walked two and hit a batter with a pitch in his first win since late April.

Houston manager AJ Hinch patted Sanchez on the chest after he finished the sixth, and pitching coach Brent Strom offered a hearty handshake.

The Astros have a history of improving the performance of pitchers they acquire.

“We don’t have magic dust,” Hinch insisted after Sanchez was added.

Still, Sanchez was eager to get going with his new team.

“I’m sure there’s things that are on their mind and things that are on my mind. It’s an open line of communication here,” he said after the deal. “I’m thrilled to see what they’ve got for me. I’m thrilled to kind of share my thoughts with them and bounce ideas off of each other and see where it goes.”

Sanchez plunked Omar Narvaez with two outs in the first inning and retired the next nine batters before walking Vogelbach with two outs in the fourth. Ryan Court hit a soft grounder with two outs in the fifth but first baseman Yuli Gurriel fielded it and tossed it to Sanchez, who dashed to first base just in front of Court for the third out.

Sanchez walked Mallex Smith with one out in the sixth, then retired the next two batters to end the inning.

Harris walked Domingo Santana with one out in the seventh, but J.P. Crawford grounded into a double play.

Mike Fiers pitched the previous no-hitter for Houston against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Aug. 21, 2015. That gem came in his third start with the Astros, just 23 days after they obtained him in a trade, and it was his first career complete game.

Houston used six pitchers in a combined no-hitter at Yankee Stadium in 2003.

Besides the Angels’ combined effort, Fiers has the only other no-hitter in the majors this season, for Oakland on May 7 against Cincinnati.

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Brian Burke considered favourite to replace Don Cherry

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The Canadian Press


Published Tuesday, November 12, 2019 10:56AM EST


Last Updated Tuesday, November 12, 2019 11:09AM EST

TORONTO – Former NHL executive Brian Burke is listed as the heavy favourite to be Don Cherry‘s successor on “Hockey Night in Canada” on one sports betting site.

SportsBettingDime.com has released odds on candidates to replace Cherry after the commentator was sacked by Sportsnet yesterday for a rant about immigrants not wearing poppies on his “Coach’s Corner” segment on Saturday.

Burke, who currently works as an analyst at Sportsnet, is listed as the 3-2 favourite (must bet $2 to win $3) to appear on Cherry‘s longtime “Coach’s Corner” segment on Saturday.

Burke is the 5-4 pick to be the full-time replacement next season.

Sportsnet has not said whether it plans to keep the “Coach’s Corner” segment, which has been a first-intermission staple on HNIC.

Sportsnet hockey commentators Kelly Hrudey, Colby Armstrong and Craig Simpson are among the other betting favourites for Cherry’s job.

The site also is taking odds on what Cherry does next, with working for another media organization the favourite.

If he goes into politics, the odds consider Cherry’s most likely destination to be under Ontario Premier Doug Ford and the Conservative party.

Cherry is listed as a 2,000-1 pick to join the NDP.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 12, 2019.

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Equestrian star Nicole Walker suspended

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In this Aug. 9, 2019, file photo, Nicole Walker competes at the Lima 2019 Pan American Games. Raul Sifuentes/Getty Images

Canada’s equestrian jumping team is likely to lose their invitation to the Tokyo Olympics after rider Nicole Walker tested positive for a banned substance, a cocaine metabolite, at last summer’s Pan American games.

Walker, aged 26, was a top performer at the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru, and her scores helped qualify the four-member jumping team for the Olympic Games. On Tuesday, regulators at the Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI) in Switzerland announced Walker was provisionally suspended from the sport after testing positive for Benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine, in Peru on August 7, after the finals of the jumping competition. Canada placed fourth in the event.

Walker’s positive drug test is being separately investigated by the game’s governing body, Panam Sports. According to sources close to the Canadian equestrian team, who asked to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to speak for the athletes, Walker has told Panam Sports that her failed test stemmed from drinking coca tea, a legal and common pick-me-up in South America. The stakes are high for Canada’s equestrian team, as the positive doping test and cancelled trip to the Tokyo games would mean cuts in funding from the Canadian Olympic Committee and the potential loss of corporate sponsors.

On Tuesday, the FEI said Walker exercised her right to request a hearing before the Panam Sports disciplinary commission. The Swiss group said: “Once the disciplinary commission has made a decision on the disqualification of the athlete, and team Canada’s final placing, the FEI will be in a position to make any necessary reallocation of the Olympic quota place.”

Walker is royalty in horse circles. She went into the Pan Am Games as reigning Canadian show-jumping champion. She is the daughter of auto-parts maker Magna International Inc. CEO Don Walker and his former wife Belinda Stronach, who runs a global horse racing business built by her father, Frank Stronach, a prominent racehorse owner and Magna’s billionaire founder. According to multiple sources in the equestrian community, Walker is a hard-working, grounded athlete who doesn’t use recreational drugs, and has a rational explanation for her positive test. Through a spokesperson, Walker declined to comment on Tuesday.

In this 2018 file photo, Nicole Walker, left, and Belinda Stronach appear at The Stronach Group Chalet in Baltimore, Maryland.

Paul Morigi/Getty Images

In Lima, Walker placed fourth among 50 riders at the Pan Am Games in August, the best individual performance on an otherwise veteran Canadian jumping team. Overall, the Canadian team also placed fourth, with Walker’s scores critical to carrying the entire squad to next summer’s Olympics. Over the years, Canadian equestrians have won five Olympic medals for jumping. The Tokyo games are expected to be an emotional experience for the group, as three-times medalist Eric Lamaze is planning to compete after announcing this summer that he is dealing with a brain tumour. Lamaze was unable to participate in the Atlanta and Sydney Olympics after testing positive for cocaine.

Prior to the Lima games, all of Canada’s athletes were warned that they are responsible for everything they ingest – medication, food and drinks – by event organizers. Inadvertently breaking the rules has cost Canadian athletes in the past. Rower Silken Laumann and three teammates lost their PanAm gold medals in 1995 after Laumann turned in a positive drug test from taking an over-the-counter cold medication.

After the Lima games, doping watchdog Panam Sports said in a press release that 15 athletes tested positive for a banned substance. According to sources close to the team, Walker apologized to all her teammates, and told both colleagues and officials with Panam Sports that traces of cocaine in her urine test came from drinking tea made from coca leaves while she was in Peru. Coca leaves are the source of cocaine.

Coca tea, known in Peru as mate de coca, is a legal drink with a mild kick. It’s common for Peruvian hotels and restaurants to serve a cup of mate de coca to tourists, to combat jet lag and altitude sickness. Medical studies show drinking one cup of coca tea can result in a positive drug test for up to 24 hours.

Positive drug tests from coca tea are a well-document issue for athletes. In 2005, the Jockey Club in Great Britain commissioned a study of the beverage after several jockeys tested positive for cocaine and claimed it was a result of drinking coca tea. The British racing group found a single cup of coca tea can translate into a positive test for cocaine for 24 hours or more. In writing up the Jockey Club’s study, the British Journal of Sport Medicine said: “Although the teabag packaging reports benefits such as increased energy and improved digestion, most people who sample the product report little subjective effect at all.”

In the U.S., a number of government employees, including police officers, blamed coca tea consumption in South America for positive drug tests at work. Some were fired, others had the explanation accepted by employers, and kept their jobs.

Panam Sports has already disqualified seven athletes for doping at the Lima games – three were stripped of gold medals – while athletes appealed the other eight tests. Sources say Walker is one of the athletes who challenged a positive test. Decisions on all eight appeals are expected as early as this month, according to officials at Panam Sports. If the doping authority upholds the positive result, Walker’s scores from this summer’s games in Lima will be dropped from the team’s total, and the Canadian equestrian team will no longer qualify for the Olympics, according to sources close to the equestrian team.

Walker and her horse were the country’s featured jumpers going into the Pan Am Games. “Wearing the red jacket brings added pressure, but it is an incredible feeling to have a whole nation behind you,” Walker said in an Equestrian Canada press release this summer. She pointed out that the country fielded an experienced team and her horse was in good health and said: “Together, I think we can pull off a great result for Canada.”

Walker delivered in Lima. Her fourth-place finish in the individual competition saw her lose PanAm bronze to an American athlete by less than a two second margin, in a four-rider “jump off.” The Canadians qualified for the Tokyo games by placing fourth overall. Brazil’s jumping team won gold, while Mexico took silver and the United States went home with bronze.

There were three other athletes on the Canadian PanAm jumping team, Erynn Ballard from Ontario, Alberta-based Lisa Carlsen and Mario Deslauriers from Quebec. Carlsen and Deslauriers, both aged 54, competed in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and Deslauriers also rode in the 1984 Los Angeles games. Ballard, aged 38, has not competed at the Olympics. She also had a strong showing in Lima.

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Maple Leafs couldn’t afford to wait for Hutchinson’s play to improve

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It finally reached the point where it would have been insane for the Toronto Maple Leafs to keep doing the same thing while expecting a different result.

Either the organization had to change how it deploys the backup goaltender in back-to-back situations. Or the Maple Leafs had to change the backup.

That explains why Michael Hutchinson found himself on waivers Monday, just hours after a 5-4 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. The veteran only received junk-mail assignments this season — going 0-4-1 behind a tired team while closing out back-to-backs for Toronto — but he allowed 23 goals in those games and twice squandered multi-goal leads.

The Leafs were a leaky outfit when Hutchinson played, plain and simple, and will now give farmhand Kasimir Kaskisuo a chance to step into that role with another tough back-to-back set looming later in the week.

“We have [14] back-to-backs this year,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said in Chicago. “You’ve got to get going, you’ve got to get points.”

Kaskisuo was enjoying a strong start to his American Hockey League season, but this promotion arrives entirely because of circumstance. Hutchinson has struggled in the No. 2 role and the Leafs don’t have the salary cap space available to add money for the remainder of the year by acquiring someone from outside the organization.

This was always going to be their next easiest option, with Kaskisuo ($675,000) and Hutchinson ($700,000) basically amounting to a cap neutral transaction.

If this doesn’t work out they’ll have to look for another goaltender in a similar price range, or ship out salary to make room for a more expensive option.

All the team is looking for at this stage is a couple wins on the nights where Frederik Andersen watches from the bench. That basically only occurs during the second half of a back-to-back because Babcock remains steadfast about using Andersen for the first game regardless of opponent, venue or any other circumstance — a strategy that has seen Toronto go 35-8-7 in those situations dating back to 2016-17 compared with 19-28-3 in the second game.

What Hutchinson failed to do in his five starts this season was come up with the one extra save needed to produce a result. He was hung out to dry early in Sunday’s game at the United Center, for example, but saw his teammates mount a feverish rally after going down 4-1 to Chicago.

Then Hutchinson allowed another goal with less than four minutes to play in regulation. They lost by one.

“Obviously, five goals is never great,” he said afterwards. “The fifth goal, looking back on that, that one stings a bit. That’s one, a big save in the third period that you’d like to come up with.

“Knowing how well the guys are pushing in the third period, it’s unfortunate that I wasn’t able to make that save to give us a chance to come away with at least a point.”

The 29-year-old was a popular teammate who grew up nearby in Barrie, Ont., cheering for the Leafs. Everyone involved wanted this to work. It just didn’t.

Remember that Hutchinson was acquired in a trade last December to be the organization’s No. 3 option and may well have occupied that same spot to start this season if Michal Neuvirth’s training camp tryout had gone better.

Now Kaskisuo gets a turn in the Leafs backup role after a four-year apprenticeship in the AHL and ECHL. He led the Marlies to the conference final last season and has a .928 save percentage and 6-1-1 record so far this year.

There’s been a carousel of goalies behind Andersen since he came to Toronto more than three years ago.

Only veteran Curtis McElhinney thrived in the role over parts of two seasons. He was lost on waivers to Carolina last fall so that the Leafs could make room for Garret Sparks, who subsequently struggled and got traded to Vegas in the summer.

Here’s a look at how the Toronto goaltenders have fared behind Andersen:

NameGamesSave %RecordShutouts
Curtis McElhinney32.92517-12-14
Garret Sparks20.9028-9-11
Michael Hutchinson11.8952-7-11
Jhonas Enroth6.8720-3-10
Antoine Bibeau2.9271-1-00
Calvin Pickard1.8570-0-10

Hutchinson’s tenure this season most closely resembled Enroth’s short stint in 2016-17 with one more important difference — he seemed to have the coach is in his corner. Babcock made no secret of the fact he wanted a change when Enroth struggled, but wasn’t nearly so hard on Hutchinson with his public comments.

Even after another five goals against in Chicago, he reserved judgment when asked where his confidence was at with the struggling goalie.

“I think the big thing to do always is after a game, instead of me commenting a whole bunch, I always try to watch the game and see where it’s at and go through every situation,” said Babcock.

Ultimately, time ran out on Hutchinson. They couldn’t wait any longer for things to change and decided to see if the next man up is more capable.

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