TORONTO — It’s only one game of 162 and the Toronto Blue Jays could be a .500 team by Saturday evening.
In other words, it’s a long season and outlining wins in April as “big” or “important” would be best described as reactionary and a touch sensational.
But this was one for the psyche.
An important ‘W’ for a young team trying to prove it should be taken seriously as a World Series contender and not just as a collection of exciting talent on the come up.
Great teams have a knack for emerging victorious in the close ones, doing the little things right — fundamentals were not this club’s strong suit in 2020 — and that’s exactly what the Jays were able to do as they kicked off a season with expectations as high as they’ve been in half a decade.
Beating Gerrit Cole is rare. For anyone.
His Houston swansong in 2019 saw the Astros go 26-7 in Cole starts, sending him towards a well-deserved, massive $324 million payday in free agency.
In his first season in pinstripes, the Yanks were 8-4 in his starts.
That means his team has a 76 per cent chance of winning on days Cole starts.
But to begin 2021, they’re 0-1.
Earning $36 million this season alone, each of the Yankees ace’s starts is worth well over a million bucks.
Last year, Cole faced the Jays twice and beat them twice.
The combined score in those games?
Yankees 25, Jays 3.
Not good for the psyche to say the least. They erased those memories Thursday afternoon in front of 10,850 human fans. Disappointed ones.
No matter if it’s April 1 or September 1, a win is a win is a win and beating this Yankees team in a Cole start — a horse they’ll have to face in key divisional games for years to come — is a confidence-builder that can only help later on down the line.
It’s worth repeating: This one is all about the psyche.
But they only got two runs off him and Cole looked as dominant as ever with eight punch-outs over 5.1 innings, you say?
Pounding the big righty is never the expectation.
A couple timely hits — Teoscar Hernandez, who hasn’t stopped crushing baseballs since the summer of 2019 provided the big, game-tying homer in the sixth, a 437-foot shot off a hanging slider from Cole — execution on defence, and winning a close one is the only realistic calculation when facing a pitcher this good, and that’s what the Jays did.
The gloves did their part and the bullpen — even if the five free passes issued by relievers almost killed them — did theirs.
After a shortened 2020 season that was marked by miscues in the field led to an end-of-season promise from the front office to get better defensively, it’s another win for the psyche.
“Our defence was outstanding today,” said Charlie Montoyo, who earned his 100th win as Blue Jays manager. “It was good to see all the things we worked on in spring training carry over into the first game of the season. (Cavan) Biggio was great at third base. (Marcus) Semien with that nice play in the hole. Bo (Bichette) made nice plays at short and Vladdy (Guerrero Jr.) looked really good at first base picking the balls in the dirt. Every inning is high-leverage so you’ve got to play good defence against a good team like the Yankees and we did that today.”
On the opposite side of the pitching equation, everyone knows by now that the Blue Jays’ rotation is a huge question mark.
That makes winning Hyun Jin Ryu’s starts all the more important.
The Jays did that last year, going 9-3 when their ace took the ball, and it led them to a postseason berth.
It’s an easy equation for any team: You expect to win when your ace is on the bump.
While both aces did what was asked of them on this day, each pitching into the sixth inning and exiting with the ball game tied 2-2, it was the Jays clawing their way to a team win and finding a way with pristine fundamental baseball.
Armed with a potent offence, Montoyo’s message to his club to start the year is a simple one, and, for one day at least, the message has been received.
“I told our team, for us to win and get to the playoffs and do well during the season, it’s going to be pitching and defence.”
Blue Jays optimistic Jose Berrios won’t miss next start after abdominal scare – Sportsnet.ca
After the Blue Jays’ 2-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, the team reported that Berrios left the game due to abdominal tightness on his left side and received post-game treatment.
Berrios threw seven innings of one run ball Tuesday, striking out six and allowing only four hits.
“He’s doing fine,” Montoyo said. “He’s doing a lot better than we thought, which is great news. Actually, you might get to see him playing catch in a little bit to see how he’s doing. He did all the tests. Everything looks good.”
The right-handed pitcher who the Blue Jays acquired at the trade deadline is 11-8 on the season, with a 3.43 ERA in 173.1 innings pitched.
The Blue Jays wrap up their series with the Rays on Wednesday at 3:07 p.m. ET/ 12:07 p.m. PT on Sportsnet and SN Now.
France to open Billie Jean King Cup defence against Canada
Reigning champions France will kick off this year’s Billie Jean King Cup Finals in Prague against Canada on Nov. 1, with the final scheduled for Nov. 6, the International Tennis Federation said on Wednesday.
Formerly called the Fed Cup, the women’s team competition featuring 12 nations was originally scheduled to be held in Budapest in April last year before being postponed twice due to the pandemic.
France triumphed in the 2019 edition when a team featuring Kristina Mladenovic, Caroline Garcia and Pauline Parmentier defeated Australia.
This year, Belgium, the 2001 winners, will face 2017 runners-up Belarus on the opening day, while eleven-times winners Czech Republic will play on Nov. 1 and Nov. 4.
The competing nations will each play two group-stage ties to determine the winners of the four three-team groups, who will then progress to the semi-finals. Each tie will consist of two singles matches and a doubles match.
Germany, Spain, Slovakia, Australia, the U.S., Russia and Switzerland will be the other nations competing.
(Reporting by Anuron Kumar Mitra in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis)
Gymnasts Biles, Maroney demand justice in botched FBI sex abuse probe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) –Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney on Wednesday told U.S. lawmakers she feels betrayed by FBI agents, after they failed to investigate former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, despite her telling them he had sexually abused her.
FBI Director Chris Wray told the Senate panel that the actions of the agents who botched the investigation are inexcusable, and he announced that one of the agents “no longer works for the bureau in any capacity.”
“I’m deeply and profoundly sorry,” Wray said.
Maroney is one of four athletes, along with Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols, who testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee as it probes the FBI’s mishandling of the investigation.
Maroney recalled how in 2015 she spent three hours on the phone telling the FBI the details of her story that her own mother had not even heard, including accounts of sexual abuse she endured during the Olympic games in London by Nassar, whom she described as “more of a pedophile” than he was a doctor.
It was not until July of this year, however, that she said the Justice Department inspector general revealed in a scathing report what the FBI actually did with the information she provided: Failing to document it for a year and a half, and misrepresenting what she told them about her experiences.
“Not only did the FBI not report my abuse, but when they eventually documented my report 17 months later, they made entirely false claims about what I said,” Maroney said, with anger in her voice.
Wednesday’s hearing comes after the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz in July issued a scathing report https://oig.justice.gov/sites/default/files/reports/21-093.pdf which blasted the FBI for botching its investigation https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-justice-watchdog-release-report-into-fbi-probe-ex-usa-gymnastics-doctor-2021-07-14 in a series of errors that allowed the abuse to continue for months.
Several of the gymnasts said they were furious that the FBI failed to immediately interview them about the abuse after they had reported it. Once the FBI finally did contact them, they said the agents tried to downplay the severity of the abuse.
“I remember sitting with the FBI agent and him trying to convince me that it wasn’t that bad,” Raisman said.
“It’s taken me years of therapy to realize that my abuse was bad, that it does matter.”
Horowitz also appeared on Wednesday along with Wray.
Horowitz said that the now-fired agent who falsified Maroney’s statement “could have actually jeopardized the criminal investigation by providing false information that could have bolstered Nassar’s defense.”
The FBI declined to name the fired agent, but Senator Richard Blumenthal identified him as Michael Langeman.
Langeman served as a supervisory special agent in Indianapolis, where he led a task force that investigated child sexual exploitation, according to an interview he gave to a local podcast in 2018.
Reuters could not immediately reach Langeman for comment.
The FBI’s investigation into Nassar started in July 2015, after USA Gymnastics President and CEO Stephen Penny reported the allegations to the FBI’s Indianapolis field office.
That office, then led by Special Agent in Charge W. Jay Abbott, did not formally open an investigation. The FBI only interviewed one witness months later, in September 2015, and failed to formally document that interview in an official report known as a “302” until February 2017 – well after the FBI had arrested Nassar on charges of possessing sexually explicit images of children in December 2016.
When the interview was finally documented in 2017 by an unnamed supervisory special agent, the report was filled with “materially false information and omitted material information,” Horowitz’s report determined.
Abbott, who retired from the FBI in 2018, also violated the FBI’s conflict of interest policy by discussing a possible job with the U.S. Olympic Committee while he was involved with the Nassar investigation.
As the FBI delayed its probe, Nassar went on to abuse more victims. At one point in Wednesday’s hearing, Senator Richard Blumenthal asked all four athletes whether they knew of victims who were abused after the July 2015 disclosure to the FBI.
“Yes,” all four of them said.
Neither Abbott nor the other unnamed supervisory special agent who botched the Nassar probe were prosecuted for their actions.
Wray said the case was presented twice for possible prosecution and declined, but he deferred to federal prosecutors to explain their reasoning.
“We have been failed and we deserve answers,” Biles said on Wednesday.
Raisman, meanwhile, expressed frustrations that more has not been done to investigate USA Gymnastics or the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee for covering up Nassar’s abuse for years.
“Why did none of these organizations warn anyone? USAG and USOPC have a long history of enabling abuse by turning a blind eye. Both organizations knew of Nassar’s abuse, long before it became public,” she said.
In a statement, the USOPC said it remains “completely dedicated to the safety and well-being” of its athletes, and it has implemented reforms after hiring a law firm to conduct an independent investigation.
USA Gymnastics did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
Nassar has been found guilty in three separate cases, with one of the prison sentences running up to 175 years. Prosecutors have estimated he sexually assaulted hundreds of women and girls.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Shumaker)
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