Friday, February 16, 2007

Kieth Foulk Retires

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Reliever Keith Foulke, on the mound when Boston ended its 86-year World Series drought, retired Friday just as he was about to begin competing for a closer's job with the Cleveland Indians.
Foulke signed a $5 million, one-year free agent contract with the Indians in January. The right-hander had battled injury problems the past two seasons, and last year he was replaced as Boston's closer by rookie Jonathan Papelbon.

The 34-year-old recently had elbow soreness and informed the Indians of his decision Thursday when the club's pitchers and catchers reported to Winter Haven, Fla.
"While we are disappointed that Keith will not be pitching for the Indians this year, I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and the way he went about this decision," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "Keith clearly demonstrated a great deal of integrity and character in this matter and we wish him success in his future endeavors."
Foulke's departure leaves Joe Borowski as Cleveland's most experienced closer, and the one likely to begin the season pitching the ninth inning. The Indians recorded a major league-low 24 saves last season and Shapiro spent the offseason rebuilding his suspect bullpen.
Foulke went 3-1 with a 4.35 ERA but no saves in 44 games in 2006, and he missed two months with elbow tendinitis.
A stretch of 11 straight scoreless appearances in September gave the Indians hope he could fix their problems at closer. Foulke, who had 190 career saves, passed a physical with the club in January.
The Indians had planned to have Foulke and Borowski go head-to-head for the closer's role this spring. Borowski, who had 36 saves in 43 chances last season for Florida, will likely begin the season as Cleveland's closer.
Cleveland has to hope Borowski's health holds up. Before he signed a one-year, $4.25 million deal with the Indians, the 35-year-old had reached a preliminary agreement with Philadelphia, but the Phillies backed off because of concerns over medical tests on his right shoulder.
The Indians' closer situation has been a mess since the club traded Bob Wickman to Atlanta before the July 31 deadline last season. Wickman had 15 saves before he was dealt, and in the season's second half, Cleveland used Rafael Betancourt, Fausto Carmona and Tom Mastny to finish games -- with mixed results.
Shapiro signed Foulke and Borowski as well as relievers Roberto Hernandez, Aaron Fultz and Cliff Politte this winter.
In 2004, Foulke helped the Red Sox win their first World Series since 1918.
After saving 32 games during the regular season, Foulke went 1-0 with three saves and a 0.64 ERA in 11 postseason appearances. In Boston's sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, Foulke closed all four wins.
In the ninth inning of Game 4, Foulke retired Scott Rolen on a fly ball, struck out Jim Edmonds and then gloved Edgar Renteria's comebacker before throwing to first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz for the final out.
Foulke also pitched for San Francisco, the Chicago White Sox and Oakland. He was an All-Star in 2003 when he led the AL with 43 saves for the Athletics.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hansen Getting Closer

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When Craig Hansen opened the message from his brother and found a link to a website, he was puzzled by what popped up on the screen: a house in Colorado, and the fact that it was for sale.
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Huh? For the reliever, who stays away from television and newspapers, it was a mystery. Until he learned that it was a reaction to the recent Todd Helton trade rumors, in which his name was mentioned. But that seems to be behind Hansen. And instead of focusing on shifting his life to the Rocky Mountains, he can concentrate on improving upon a 2006 season in which he struggled mightily, its low point a demotion to Pawtucket after he gave up 10th-inning homers to Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada in a loss Aug. 20 to the Yankees.
"I think that can help me more than probably, say, a good season," Hansen said yesterday of his 6.63 ERA in his first extended time in the big leagues. "Basically, I go into the offseason pretty angry at myself for not having the season that I would like, and it showed me what I did wrong and what I have to work on."
After an offseason spent mostly in Boston -- where he got to explore some of the better restaurants and get a feel for navigating the city -- Hansen feels the studying he's done will better prepare him for his ultimate challenge this spring, making the team. Even with the closer's spot unsettled in the wake of Jonathan Papelbon's anticipated move to the starting rotation, Hansen is far from a lock to make the roster out of spring training, especially given manager Terry Francona's recent comments, which could portend a minor league stint.
"This kid needs to pitch a little," Francona said Feb. 6. "If we were convinced he could do it [close] -- and I hope we do reach that decision -- we would have a heck of a decision to make. I hope that happens."
Meanwhile, Hansen has been talking to new pitching coach John Farrell, though they're still in the getting-to-know-you stage, in an effort to revert to the success he had at St. John's, where he was a dominating closer. And to get there, it's back to basics.
"Pitching-wise, it's, you know, basically mechanics," Hansen said, emphasizing his need to keep his pitches low in the strike zone and get ahead of hitters. "You can always work on mechanics, no matter how many years you've got in this league. That's your bread and butter.
"There was a lot of mirror work involved [in the offseason] where I was able to see myself and basically pinpoint what I was doing wrong. A lot of video work where I was able to see certain outings where maybe I didn't do so well or maybe I had a good outing. I was able to see the difference between the two. One thing was just speeding up. Like the veterans say, you've got to slow down the game. The ball's in your hands. You're the pitcher and you control the speed, the pace of the game."
Now all he's got to do is prove to the Red Sox that he can control that speed (and get batters out) at the major league level.
Media frenzy Media relations director John Blake said that about 120 Japanese media members requested credentials for spring training, along with approximately 150 media members from the United States. The team credentialed 80-85 Japanese media. Blake said the numbers were approximately twice those he dealt with in his former role as the Rangers' media relations director . . . With lefthanded pitcher Lenny DiNardo being claimed off waivers by Oakland yesterday , J.D. Drew was finally added to the 40-man roster in anticipation of his arrival with the rest of the position players by Tuesday. The 27-year-old DiNardo, who spent much of last season (May 24 to Aug. 31) struggling with a neck injury, went 1-2 with a 7.85 ERA in 13 games (six starts) in the major leagues in 2006. He came to the organization as a Rule 5 draft choice in 2003 from the Mets . . . Javier Lopez and Mike Burns were the only new faces to arrive at camp yesterday . . . Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield, and Mike Timlin were in Daytona Beach last night for the unveiling of the partnership between the Red Sox and Roush Racing -- Sox owner John Henry bought a 50 percent stake in the team. Beckett left from Fort Myers, while the others came from their homes

Lazar's Career Night not Enough to upend Rebels

OXFORD, Miss. — LSU got the kind of offensive help it has sorely needed for Glen Davis on Wednesday, as senior Darnell Lazare turned in the best scoring game of his career.
Lazare was noticeably more aggressive with the ball in his hands and finished with a career-high 22 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the floor. He produced 12 points in the first half
“I just wanted to come out and do what I could to help the team win,” said Lazare, who had never scored more than 16 in an Southeastern Conference game.
“They weren’t guarding me at first, so I was taking advantage of some opportunities. Then when they started guarding me I wanted to get the ball to the open man.”
Despite his outburst, Lazare didn’t walk away satisfied.
“We still didn’t get the ‘W,’ and at the end of the day that’s all that matters,” he said.
3-point trouble
Defending the 3-point arc was just as much a problem Wednesday on LSU’s second visit to Mississippi as it was when the Tigers ventured to the Magnolia State 11 days earlier.
Ole Miss peppered the LSU defense with seven 3-pointers in the first half, one fewer than Mississippi State had Feb. 3. The Rebels cooled off collectively over the final 20 minutes, hitting 2-of-11 to finish the night 9-of-27.
Clarence Sanders’ red-hot hand never cooled down. The 6-foot-1 senior guard rifled in five 3s in the first half and two more in the second, matching his season- and career-high with seven makes outside the arc. His biggest shot, of course, was the 18-foot dagger from the right corner inside the final second that spurred Ole Miss to the 71-70 victory.
Up next
The Tigers come home to host Mississippi State at 2 p.m. Saturday. The Bulldogs (14-10, 5-6) used a late run to break open a back-and-forth tussle with LSU on Feb. 3 and claimed an 85-78 win in Starkville, Miss. On Wednesday, State trounced Arkansas 84-60, which matched the Bulldogs’ widest margin of victory all season.
Although the Bulldogs are stuck in the clump of West Division teams battling for survival, they aren’t far from being in the top spot. Four of MSU’s league losses have come by four points or less — 64-60 at Kentucky, 70-67 to No. 1-ranked Florida, 66-63 to South Carolina and 80-79 to 19th-ranked Alabama last week.
State has lost four of its last five games in Baton Rouge and hasn’t swept the Tigers since 2004.
LSU is 0-6 in SEC road games this season after winning six league games away from Baton Rouge last season and four in 2004-05. … Tigers guard Terry Martin finished with no points for the third time this season and second time in SEC play. He missed the only two field goals he attempted in 31 minutes. Martin is LSU’s third-leading scorer with 10.5 points a game. … The Tigers (14-11, 3-8) have more regular-season losses this season than they have finished with in any season since 2001-02. … LSU scored only five points over the final 5:36 after taking a 65-59 lead. The Tigers shot a season-best 60.9 percent from the field (28 of 46) but missed two of their final three shots. … Ole Miss committed a season-low four turnovers, its 10th game this season with single digits in giveaways. No Rebel had more than one turnover, while LSU’s starting backcourt of Garrett Temple and Martin had six and five, respectively.

Sanders Shot at Buzzer Tops Tigers

Ole Miss guard Clarence Sanders didn’t have a girlfriend going into the Rebels’ game with LSU on Valentine’s night, but after the senior guard hit a dramatic last-second shot to give the Rebels a 71-70 win, that could quickly change.Sanders single-handily led the Rebels past the Tigers Wednesday by scoring a season-high 29 points on a 11 of 19 shooting night, including a sizzling 7-for-13 from behind the 3-point arc. While Sanders had several memorable shots in the come-from-behind win, the one that pleased the announced crowd of 7,368 fans at C.M. “Tad” Smith Coliseum the most was his off balance, fall-away jumper with under a second left that put the Rebels up for good.Steal sets up Sanders’ shotAfter Rebel reserve guard Brian Smith got a steal with six seconds left in the contest, point guard Todd Abernethy found Sanders in the corner, and the senior from Phenix City, Ala., hit the shot that sent the crowd into a raucous frenzy that was very reminiscent of their win over Alabama on Saturday.“He won the game for us, it’s as easy as that,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said about Sanders’ game Wednesday. “Cla was obviously on top of his game offensively. He didn’t do anything else tonight. He didn’t get a rebound or play great defense, but he made every shot he needed to. We were flat out there as a team, but I said ‘O.K., Cla you’re obviously into it, go win the game.’ And he did.”Sanders’ shot lifted the Rebels to 17-8 overall and an even more important 6-5 in the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers, who are now 1-6 in games decided by four points or less this year, fell to 14-11 and 3-8 just one year removed from a Final Four appearance.“To me, it was just another game that we won. We’re doing big things, we’re No. 1 in the West, but we have five more games left, and we’re just trying to stay hungry and win them all,” Sanders said. “I knew I hit (shot) when I let it go because it was almost an open shot. (LSU) came at me real late, so it was an open shot. I just had to hit it. I felt great tonight. I went home and got two hours of sleep before the game. I do that before every game, but there was just something about this game. I was just on.”Thankfully for the Rebels Sanders was so dominant because they were on the losing end of almost every major statistical category. LSU outshot Ole Miss 60.9 percent to 45.3 percent. The Tigers had 14 more rebounds (37 to 23) than the Rebels and seven blocks compared to none for Ole Miss. Fewer turnovers helps RebsBut the things Ole Miss has done well at all year like not turning the ball over and getting key steals in key situations continued against LSU, while the things that the Tigers don’t do well like finishing games continued to hurt them down the stretch.“We don’t have to have our A game to win games now. I think we have shown that the last two games against two pretty good teams,” Kennedy said. “We knew LSU was a wounded animal coming in here, and you don’t want to mess with a wounded animal. I don’t know if we matched their intensity, and I know for sure that we didn’t match their execution. We were fortunate, but that’s what you have to do to get a run like this, and I think that speaks to what we have evolved to.”LSU coach John Brady was as frustrated as he has ever been this year after the loss. Looking down at the stat sheet during his time with the media after the game, Brady went into an honest, no-holds bar assessment of how his team loses games.“I’ve said this last year, and I’m saying it again this year, the difference in a significant season and an O.K. season is the ability to win close games. We won on of these this Saturday, and we had this one done, but it was a gift. We gave them this game,” Brady said. “We outplayed them all over the floor except for the last three seconds. It was done. We went out and ran the inbounds play for Glen Davis to have the ball, and why he threw it back to Garrett Temple, I have no idea. Why we just didn’t dribble the ball up (the floor), I have no idea. I feel for our team, they did everything they were supposed to do.”Davis, who strained his quadricep muscle in the win over Arkansas, was a force inside for the Tigers. He scored a team-high 26 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the loss, but his bad pass that was intercepted by Smith proved to be the difference in the game. Ole Miss led 39-36 at the half, and while the Rebels led most of the game, the Tigers wrestled the lead away from them with an impressive second half run. Both teams traded leads in the final 20 minutes, but the Tigers really gained an advantage at the 8:13 mark when Davis scored deep in the paint. Davis’ basket put LSU up 59-57, and the Tigers then went up by as much as five points (67-62) on a layup by Darnell Lazare, who finished with a career-high 22 points.Ole Miss stopped the Tigers’ momentum by scoring five straight points. Abernethy, who was the only other Rebel in double figures with 11 points, hit a key jumper during the run, while a steal by Abernethy led to a dunk by Sanders with 1:34 left in the game that tied it 67. Davis put LSU back on top with an inside bucket at the 1:07 mark, while Tasmin Mitchell added to the lead with a free throw with 34 seconds left. Bam Doyne missed a 3-pointer to tie the game with 15 seconds left, but Kenny Williams followed his missed shot with a follow-up dunk that cut the lead to one (70-69). Davis then had his passing miscue nine seconds later to set up Sanders’ dramatic finish.Mitchell finished with 11 points for the Tigers, who will host Mississippi State Saturday.Ole Miss will take another step toward winning the West Saturday when it travels to Arkansas.