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Pirates beat Reds 6-2 in NL wild-card game

Tuesday, 01 October 2013 23:15 Published in Sports

 

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Pirates went 21 years between playoff games. The wait will be significantly shorter this time around.

Russell Martin homered twice, Francisco Liriano was dominant for seven innings and the Pittsburgh Pirates roared past Cincinnati for a 6-2 victory in the NL wild-card game Tuesday night.

In front of a black-clad crowd savoring its first postseason game since 1992, Marlon Byrd also connected and Andrew McCutchen had two hits and reached base four times for Pittsburgh.

"We're for real," McCutchen said. "We're definitely for real."

Liriano scattered four hits for the Pirates, who will face St. Louis in Game 1 of the NL division series Thursday. Liriano struck out five and walked one to win the first playoff game of his career.

"We didn't talk about one and done, we talked about one and run," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Win one and run to St. Louis."

Cincinnati starter Johnny Cueto struggled in his third start since coming off the disabled list last month. Cueto gave up four runs in 3 1-3 innings and appeared rattled by a raucous ballpark that taunted him by chanting his name.

The 36-year-old Byrd, acquired by the Pirates in late August from the New York Mets, celebrated the first postseason at bat of his 12-year career - 1,250 games - by sending Cueto's fastball into the seats to give the Pirates the lead. The shot sent another jolt through an already electric crowd, which began singing "Cue-to, Cue-to" in unison when Martin stepped in.

"This is 20 years of waiting. You're seeing it all come out in one night," Martin said. "Hopefully we can keep this atmosphere till late October."

Martin sent a drive into the bleachers in left field. The Reds never recovered, ending a 90-win season with a six-game losing streak.

Three of those losses came against Pittsburgh at Cincinnati in the final series of the season that determined the site of the win-or-die game.

Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker backed Cueto before the game, saying his ace "thrives on this environment." Maybe, but the right-hander never looked comfortable in front of the largest crowd in PNC Park history, a place where Cueto has dominated.

Cueto, who came in 8-2 at the ballpark by the Allegheny River, even lost his grip on the ball while standing on the mound.

A moment later, he lost his grip on the game.

Martin's 405-foot shot to left-center gave Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead and all the momentum Liriano would require.

Signed on the cheap in the offseason after a mediocre 2012 split between the Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox, Liriano has been reborn in Pittsburgh. He went 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA during the regular season, his devastating slider nearly unhittable against left-handers.

The Reds proved no match. Joey Votto went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. Jay Bruce produced an RBI single in the fourth but Cincinnati never really threatened on a night baseball officially returned to Pittsburgh after a 20-year trek through purgatory.

Shin-Soo Choo homered in the eighth, a drive to right field that was upheld by video review.

Pittsburgh's 94-win regular season reignited a relationship sullied by years of mismanagement and miserable play. When the gates opened two hours before the first pitch, fans - most of them dressed in black at the urging of MVP candidate McCutchen - sprinted to their seats in anticipation of the club's first postseason game since Atlanta's Sid Bream slid into home ahead of Barry Bonds' throw in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 of the 1992 National League championship series.

The victory sent the Braves to the World Series and the Pirates into an abyss it took an entire generation to escape.

The first step came with victory No. 82 on Sept. 9. The next came two weeks later when a win over the Chicago Cubs assured a wild-card spot. The most thrilling yet lifted the team with the 26th-highest payroll in the majors ($73.6 million) into a showdown with baseball royalty.

The Reds, meanwhile, head into an offseason that could be eventful. Baker has led Cincinnati to the playoffs in three of the last four years but the Reds failed to advance each time. They fell to the San Francisco Giants in five games - after leading 2-0 - in the division series in 2012 and were swept in the same round by Philadelphia in 2010.

This time, they didn't even make it that far. Cincinnati spent most of the season as the third team in a three-way race with the Pirates and the Cardinals for the NL Central title.

Cueto, who made three different trips to the disabled list this season with a strained lat, was pressed into service when projected starter Mat Latos discovered bone chips in his right (throwing) elbow.

At the time, it seemed like an upgrade. It wasn't. The Pirates made it 3-0 on sacrifice fly in the third by Pedro Alvarez and Cueto was pulled when Starling Marte doubled with one out in the fourth. Marte sprinted home on local boy Neil Walker's double off reliever Sean Marshall and Walker scored on a fielder's choice by Byrd to make it 5-1.

When Martin hit a drive to left off Logan Ondrusek in the seventh, the party seemingly unthinkable for a team that lost 105 games in 2010 began. Martin's long ball marked only the second multihomer playoff game in team history. Bob Robertson hit three in Game 2 of the 1971 NLCS.

NOTES: Martin is the first catcher to homer for three different teams in the postseason. He previously hit playoff homers for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008 and the New York Yankees in 2012 ... Liriano is the first Pittsburgh left-hander to win a playoff game since John Candelaria in Game 3 of the 1979 World Series ... The Reds have lost four straight playoff games and 11 of their last 13 ... Pittsburgh is the first home team to win since the new wild-card format was introduced last season ... The Pirates went 10-9 this year against St. Louis. ... Byrd is the oldest player to homer in his first postseason at-bat, according to STATS.

Constituents can contact Senators and Representatives

Tuesday, 01 October 2013 11:35 Published in Local News

Residents in the bi-state area were greeted with the news most expected on Tuesday, the bickering on Capitol Hill and ensuing budget stalemate has forced a government shutdown. Those interested in voicing their frustration may want to contact local legislators.

In Illinois residents can contact Senators Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin. Kirk's Washington, D.C. phone number is 202-224-2854, while Senator Durbin's is 202-224-2152.

Illinois Congressmen Bill Enyart's office number is 202-225-5661, while Representative John Shimkus's number is 202-225-5271. 

In Missouri you can contact Senator Claire McCaskill at 202-224-6154 and Roy Blunt at 202-224-5721.  

The delegation of Missouri Representatives includes Blaine Luetkemeyer (202-225-2956), Ann Wagner (202-225-1621) and William "Lacy" Clay (202-225-2406).

INSURANCE MARKETS OPEN TO SURGE OF NEW CUSTOMERS

Tuesday, 01 October 2013 11:03 Published in National News
CHICAGO (AP) — The online insurance marketplaces that are at the heart of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul struggled to handle the volume of new consumers Tuesday, the first day of a six-month open-enrollment period.

Federal officials said they were working to address the website problems as quickly as possible. People contacting the federal call center also reported long wait times.

"We have built a dynamic system and are prepared to make adjustments as needed and improve the consumer experience," Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters said.

State-operated sites also experienced glitches. Rhode Island's site opened as scheduled, but was quickly overwhelmed by visitors and went down. Sites for Maryland and Minnesota were not expected to open until at least midday.

Exchange officials in Colorado said their website would not be fully functional for the first month, although consumers will be able to get help applying for government subsidies during that time.

In Portsmouth, N.H., Deborah Lielasus tried to sign up for coverage but got only as far as creating an account before the website stopped working. She said she expected glitches.

Lielasus, a 54-year-old self-employed grant writer, currently spends about $8,500 a year in premiums and more than $10,000 for out-of-pocket expenses because she has a health condition and her only option was a state high-risk insurance pool. She said she expects those costs to decrease significantly when she's able to sign up for insurance on the marketplace.

As excited as she was to sign up, she said, her anticipation was tempered by dismay over the government shutdown that was led by congressional Republicans who want to block the health insurance reforms.

"I'm really happy that this is happening, that this is being launched ... I feel like it's a child caught in the middle of a really bad divorce," Lielasus said.

Despite the first-day hitches, insurers and advocates pushed the message to consumers about the new health insurance options.

Employees of Independence Blue Cross converged on four of Philadelphia's main train transit hubs Tuesday to distribute information and answer questions about the new exchanges.

At Suburban Station downtown, the company gave out more than 7,000 calendars marked with important insurance-related dates — starting with Oct. 1, the first day consumers can buy policies.

Ralph Kellum took a calendar even though he's already covered through his employer, the local transit agency. He said he knew a lot of people who would be interested in getting insurance.

"A lot of people ... (who) have the pre-existing problems, couldn't get insurance, now they can," Kellum said. "Well, supposedly they can."

The nationwide rollout comes after months of buildup in which the marketplaces have been both praised and vilified.

The shutdown will have no immediate effect on the insurance marketplaces that are the backbone of the law, because they operate with money that isn't subject to the annual budget wrangling in Washington.

The marketplaces represent a turning point in the nation's approach to health care, the biggest expansion in coverage in nearly 50 years.

The Obama administration hopes to sign up 7 million people during the first year and aims to eventually sign up at least half of the nearly 50 million uninsured Americans through an expansion of Medicaid or government-subsidized plans.

But if people become frustrated with the glitches in the computer-based enrollment process and turn away from the program, the prospects for Obama's signature domestic policy achievement could dim.

"The promise of the law is that no one will go bankrupt because of medical bills," said Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, which helped work for passage of the law. "It won't happen in the first day or the first year. But when the law is fully operational, it will provide an economic benefit to roughly 30 million Americans."

Tanden cautioned against rushing to judge the marketplace's success on its first-day performance. Numerous observers had predicted bugs and setbacks. Trained outreach workers in many states are having trouble getting the certification they need to start helping people to enroll.

Many states predicted that an initial surge of interest would test the online system, but they expect most people to sign up closer to Dec. 15, which is the deadline for coverage to start Jan. 1. Customers have until the end of March to sign up in order to avoid tax penalties.

Looming as one of the biggest challenges to the law's success is the ability of insurers to persuade young and healthy people to buy insurance to balance the costs of covering the older and the sick.

"You've got to launch this thing right the first time," said Robert Laszewski, a consultant who worked 20 years in the insurance industry. "If you don't, financially you will never recover."

Under the law, health insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to someone with a pre-existing medical condition and cannot impose lifetime caps on coverage. They also must cover a list of essential services, ranging from mental health treatment to maternity services.

Another obstacle: Nearly three-fourths of people under 65 who lack insurance are unaware that the marketplaces open Tuesday, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey released over the weekend.

Spending money to raise that awareness with ad campaigns has varied vastly, with some Republican-led states doing little or nothing to promote the insurance exchanges. Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, even recently urged residents not to sign up for coverage.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott and key lawmakers have pushed back against implementing parts of the law. The Florida Department of Health recently ordered county health departments to prohibit so-called navigators from signing people up for health insurance at those facilities.

But other states are doing more, such as Kentucky, the only Southern state running its own marketplace. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, was an early supporter of the health law.

The state kicked off an $11 million advertising campaign in June, with ads on TV, radio, Internet and newspapers. It will expand Tuesday and continue through the first three months of next year.

"Frankly, we can't implement the Affordable Care Act fast enough," Beshear said.

___ Associated Press writers Kelli Kennedy in Miami; David Lieb in Jefferson City, Mo.; Kristen Wyatt in Denver; Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia; Erika Niedowski in Providence; Holly Ramer in Portsmouth, N.H.; and Roger Alford in Frankfort, Ky., contributed to this report.

___ AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/CarlaKJohnson

___ Online: https://www.healthcare.gov

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