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NEW YORK (AP) -- Palace Malice took charge on the turn for home and won the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, holding off Preakness winner Oxbow and Kentucky Derby winner Orb.

The win gave Todd Pletcher his second Belmont winner in six years, and vindicated the trainer's support of a 3-year-old who came into the final leg of the Triple Crown with only one win.

Palace Malice, who finished 12th in the Derby and skipped the Preakness, covered the 1 1/2 miles in a slow 2:30.70 on a fast track following a 24-hour downpour.

Palace Malice, ridden by Mike Smith and sent off at odds of 13-1, returned $29.60, $11.20 and $6.70. The colt was one of a record five entries by Pletcher.

Saturday, 08 June 2013 17:57
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PARIS (AP) - Serena Williams won her 16th Grand Slam title and her first French Open championship since 2002 when she beat familiar foil Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-4 on Saturday.

The victory completed the No. 1-ranked Williams' rebound from a shocking loss to 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano in the first round at Roland Garros a year ago. Since that defeat she's 74-3, including titles at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the London Olympics and the season-ending WTA Championships.

Williams whacked 10 aces, including three in the final game, to extend her career-best winning streak to 31 matches. She improved to 14-2 against Sharapova, with victories in their past 13 meetings and four of the wins this year.

At 31, Williams became the oldest woman to win a major title since Martina Navratilova at Wimbledon in 1990 at age 33. Her 11-year gap between Roland Garros titles is the longest for any woman.

Sharapova completed a career Grand Slam by winning Roland Garros last year.

In an all-Spanish final Sunday, Rafael Nadal will try to become the first man to win eight titles at the same Grand Slam event when he plays first-time major finalist David Ferrer.

The women's final, the first between No. 1 and No. 2 at a Grand Slam tournament since 2004, wasn't as close as their rankings. It has been 12 years since the most recent three-set women's title match at Roland Garros.

Both players swung with their typical aggressiveness from the baseline, and Williams' superior serve and defense proved the difference. She silently ran side to side whipping groundstrokes with little apparent strain, while Sharapova often found herself lunging after the ball to stay in the point, with each shot accompanied by her familiar shriek.

When Williams once summoned a grunt herself to match Sharapova's volume and pound a winner, the crowd responded with a laugh.

Playing in hazy, warm weather, the finalists took ferocious swings from the start. With fans perhaps fearful that Williams would win quickly, they began shouting encouragement toward Sharapova after she lost the first two points.

She overcame four break points to hold in the opening game and led 2-0 before Williams began to assert herself. It took Williams 17 minutes to win a game, but then she swept four in a row.

After Sharapova took the next two for 4-all, Williams surged at the end of the set, taking the lead for good by winning eight of the final 10 points.

Sharapova had to dig in again to hold at the start of the second set, fending off five break points, and it was all downhill for her from there. Williams easily held serve all the way to the finish.

She improved to 16-4 in Grand Slam finals. She leads all active women with her 16 major titles and is sixth on the all-time list. Margaret Court holds the record with 24.

Williams improved to 43-2 this year, including 23-0 on clay. Now comes the switch to grass, and she'll be a heavy favorite to win Wimbledon for the sixth time.

 
Saturday, 08 June 2013 10:39
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Brad Evans saved the United States from another deflating Worl Cup Qualifier on the road.

After Jamaica's Jermaine Beckford tied the score in the 89th minute, Evans scored an unlikely goal in the second minute of second-half stoppage time following an excellent pass from Michael Bradley, giving the U.S. a thrilling 2-1 win over Jamaica at Kingston on Friday night that solidified the Americans' chances of qualifying for next year's World Cup.

"It makes traveling a little easier," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said.

Jozy Altidore scored for the second straight game, putting the Americans ahead in the 30th minute. They had scored the first goal in four of five previous road qualifiers under Klinsmann, but were only 1-2-1 in those matches.

It looked as if they would drop points again when an unmarked Beckford beat goalkeeper Tim Howard with a close-range header from Rodolph Austin's 40-yard free kick. In wasting an early lead during in the semifinal round last September, the U.S. allowed both Jamaica goals off corner kicks.

But just over a minute into four minutes of stoppage time, Bradley quickly played an American corner kick to Graham Zusi. He gave the ball right back, and Bradley faked around Alvas Powell and slid a pass to Evans.

With three Jamaicans about 5 yards from him, Evans spun and beat goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts from about 10 yards. It was the first international goal for Evans, starting at right back because Steve Cherundolo is resting after a knee injury sidelined him from December to April, and Timmy Chandler tore a left knee ligament last month.

"They're dire moments." Evans said. "I think we can do better at certain moments, and I think everybody will tell you that from the top down. So there's still work to be done. But three points, on the road, in a place we haven't won, is pretty special."

Starting a stretch of three qualifiers in 12 days, the U.S. (2-1-1) improved to seven points in the 10-game final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region, trailing Costa Rica (2-1-1) on goal difference and ahead of Mexico (1-0-4) on goals scored. Costa Rica won 1-0 at home against Honduras on a goal by the New York Red Bulls' Roy Miller, and Mexico tied 0-0 at Panama (1-0-3), which has six points.

Honduras (1-2-1) has four points and the Reggae Boyz (0-3-2) have two, with little chance of reaching next year's tournament in Brazil.

"We are obviously disappointed," Jamaica coach Theodore Whitmore said.

The Americans host Panama on Tuesday on Evans' home field with Major League Soccer's Seattle Sounders, then play Honduras on June 18 at Sandy, Utah. The top three nations qualify for next year's 32-nation tournament in Brazil, and the No. 4 team meets New Zealand in a playoff for another berth.

The U.S. had been 0-4-1 in qualifiers at The Office, as Kingston's stadium is known.

"It's a very, very difficult place to come in," Klinsmann said. "The game was a real fight."

Coaching his 28th game since taking over from Bob Bradley in July 2011, Klinsmann started the same lineup in consecutive matches for the first time with the U.S. But three in a row won't happen.

Jermaine Jones, the tough American midfielder, sustained a concussion when elbowed by Daniel Gordon during a corner-kick scramble early in the 56th minute, and Altidore walked off gingerly in the 83rd minute and pointed to his left hamstring. Zusi was given a caution for his foul 40 yards out that led to Austin's free kick and Jamaica's goal, and he will be suspended Tuesday for yellow-card accumulation.

Bradley nearly scored in the second minute, sending a 20-yard right-footed shot off the post to the right of Ricketts.

Altidore's goal came after Zusi streaked down the right side, got by left back O'Brian Woodbine and crossed. Altidore split Gordon and Powell and beat Ricketts with a header from just inside the 6-yard box.

It was the 15th goal in 58 appearances for Altidore, who combined with Zusi on the first goal in Sunday's 4-3 exhibition win over Germany at Washington, D.C., Altidore's first goal for the national team since November 2011.

Austin hit a post to Howard's right in the 39th.

 
Saturday, 08 June 2013 10:34
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BOSTON (AP) - Adam McQuaid scored early in the third period, Tuukka Rask posted his second shutout of the series, and the Boston Bruins swept their way to the Stanley Cup finals with a 1-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night.

The Bruins won the Eastern Conference finals 4-0 and held the high-scoring Penguins to just two goals in the stunning sweep.

Boston will face either the Chicago Blackhawks or Los Angeles Kings when the Bruins shoot for their second Stanley Cup title in three years.

Chicago leads that series 3-1 and can advance to the finals with a home win on Saturday night. If the Blackhawks get there, it will set up the first finals matchup of Original Six NHL franchises since 1979.

The Penguins' season ended swiftly and shockingly as the league's highest-scoring team got no points in the series from offensive stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

McQuaid scored at 5:01 of the final period on a 45-foot slap shot from the right over the glove of goalie Tomas Vokoun.

That unleashed loud chants of "We want the Cup!" from the capacity crowd.

The top-seeded Penguins were trying to overcome both the disciplined defense of the fourth-seeded Bruins and history. Only three teams had lost a series after winning the first three games. The last was the Bruins in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Pittsburgh, which never led in any of the four games against the Bruins, was swept for the first time in 47 series. The last team to do it to the Penguins was Boston in 1979.

The Penguins also lost the first three games of their opening-round series last year against Philadelphia before being eliminated in six games.

Rask was solid again with 26 saves, but didn't have to stop many challenging shots. His last save came with his glove at the final buzzer on Matt Niskanen's shot from 40 feet.

The Penguins had been shut out just twice in their previous 147 games before being blanked twice in the four games against the Bruins. Pittsburgh lost Game 1 at home 3-0.

McQuaid scored his second goal of the playoffs after the defenseman managed just one in 32 games during the regular season.

Brad Marchand held the puck along the left boards in the offensive zone and waited for McQuaid to skate up ice. Marchand fed the puck toward the blue line where McQuaid, with no Penguins player close to him, unleashed the winning shot.

There was little sustained offense in the first two periods when Pittsburgh outshot Boston 20-17.

Boston's Kaspars Daugavins hit a post at 2:56 of the second period during his first appearance in the series. Daugavins replaced injured center Gregory Campbell, who broke his leg in the second period of Boston's 2-1, double-overtime win in Game 3 on Wednesday night.

At 10:56 of the second on Friday, Vokoun made a save with his right pad against streaking Tyler Seguin from the left side.

The Bruins got this far by beating the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the first round and then taking out the New York Rangers in five to reach the East finals.

Boston rallied from a three-goal deficit in the third period of Game 7 against Toronto just to reach the second round.

The Penguins topped the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators to reach the NHL's final four.

NOTES: John Krasinski, star of "The Office" and a native of nearby Newton was in the stands with his wife, actress Emily Blunt. ... William and Patricia Campbell, whose daughter Krystle died in the Boston Marathon bombings, waved the "Fan Banner," a traditional part of pregame activities. ... Campbell's father, Colin, was a defenseman on the 1979 Penguins, who were swept by the Bruins. Gregory Campbell gave a wave to the crowd when he was shown on the arena video board.

Friday, 07 June 2013 22:10
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CINCINNATI (AP) - Adam Wainwright pitched seven innings for his ninth win, and every Cardinals starter had a hit in a 9-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night that gave St. Louis a four-game lead in the NL Central, its biggest of the season.

Wainwright (9-3) gave up two runs and seven hits as the Cardinals improved the major leagues' best record to 40-21.

Slumping Pete Kozma drove in three runs, David Freese and Jon Jay knocked in two apiece, and four Cardinals extended long hitting streaks against a pitching staff in a downturn. Mike Leake (5-3) lasted only five innings for the Reds, who have given up 26 runs while losing their last three games.

St. Louis has won the last four series between the teams.

Friday, 07 June 2013 22:04
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ST. LOUIS (AP) - Shelby Miller hit his first career home run and also pitched six sharp innings, leading the St. Louis Cardinals over the Arizona Diamondbacks 12-8 Thursday night.

Matt Adams and Daniel Descalso homered in an eight-run fourth inning off Ian Kennedy. Matt Holliday and Matt Carpenter also connected for the Cardinals.

Miller (7-3) allowed two runs and six hits. He struck out nine and walked none.

Kennedy (3-4) was tagged for 10 runs and 13 hits in four innings.

Arizona scored three times in the ninth, and Edward Mujica got two outs for his 18th save in 18 chances.

The Cardinals hit five homers in a game for the first time since last July 27. The previous time they did it at home was June 24, 2005, at the former Busch Stadium.

David Freese extended his career-best hitting streak to 16 games for St. Louis. Descalso scored twice in the big fourth and finished with three hits, including a double.

The first five batters in the St. Louis starting lineup all got two hits, as did Miller.

Kennedy nearly escaped the fourth with giving up just one run, but his throw off on Yadier Molina's comebacker pulled shortstop Didi Gregorius wide of second base. What could have been an inning-ending double play instead led to Adams' three-run homer and Descalso's two-run shot.

The Cardinals greeted reliever Matt Reynolds with back-to-back home runs in the fifth from Miller and Carpenter for a 12-2 lead.

Arizona scored twice in the first on an RBI groundout by Paul Goldschmidt and a single by Miguel Montero.

Gerardo Parra had three hits, including an RBI single in a three-run seventh for Arizona. The Diamondbacks scored three more in the ninth when rookie Keith Butler gave up a hit to Cliff Pennington and a double to Wil Nieves before walking three consecutive batters.

NOTES: The Cardinals have gone 9-0-3 in their past 12 series. ... Goldschmidt has an RBI in six consecutive games. ... Carpenter extended his career-best hitting streak to 15 games. Allen Craig has a 10-game streak. ... Miller was 2 for 25 at the plate entering the game. He singled in the second for his first hit of the season. ... Cardinals LHP Kevin Siegrist came in the seventh to make his major league debut after being recalled from Triple-A Louisville earlier Thursday. He struck out four in 1 2-3 innings, allowing one hit.

Friday, 07 June 2013 11:23
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LOS ANGELES (AP) - When Bryan Bickell's shot slipped out of Jonathan Quick's usually inescapable glove and trickled into the Los Angeles net early, the Chicago Blackhawks figured Game 4 might be their chance to snap the Kings' daunting streak of home dominance.

When Marian Hossa's shot eluded Quick for the go-ahead goal two periods later, the Blackhawks knew they had cracked their foe's star goalie and the formula for winning at Staples Center.

The Kings are teetering in the Western Conference finals - and Chicago needs just one more win to topple the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Hossa scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period, and the Blackhawks moved to the brink of the Stanley Cup finals with a 3-2 victory Thursday night, ending Los Angeles' 15-game winning streak at home.

"They were playing so well at home, and to finally break that streak, we're happy about it," Hossa said. "We knew about it. We talked about it before the game. We were hoping to break it, and we got it."

Corey Crawford made 19 saves, and Patrick Kane tapped in the tying goal as Chicago rallied from a second-period deficit to beat the Kings. Los Angeles hadn't lost in its rink since March 23, including eight playoff games. Bickell had a goal and an assist for the top-seeded Blackhawks, who took a 3-1 series lead even without suspended defenseman Duncan Keith.

After losing Game 3 in listless fashion, the Blackhawks had a solution to every dilemma, from the Kings' two early leads to the absence of Chicago's ice-time leader and top defenseman.

"We knew our defense was going to step up, and they did," Bickell said. "We had a good feeling coming in. We had a bitter taste from the last game. They had a big start, but we stuck with it and eventually got it back."

Game 5 is Saturday night in Chicago.

Slava Voynov and Dustin Penner scored for the Kings, who had the NHL's longest home postseason winning run since 2009. The champs know they are in trouble after failing to hold on to a late lead in front of their Conn Smythe Trophy-winning goalie.

"It's an incredibly skilled team," Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said of Chicago. "We're not getting into something we didn't know. When you turn the puck over like that at the blue lines, with the skill they have, it's only a matter of time before they put one on the scoreboard. Hopefully we learned our lesson, and we've got to win the next one."

The Blackhawks thrived without Keith, who served a one-game suspension for high-sticking Jeff Carter in the face during the second period of Game 3. Sheldon Brookbank filled in while Chicago played strong team defense in front of Crawford, allowing just two shots by the desperate Kings in the third period.

"Right from the first couple shifts, we were moving our feet, playing with speed," said defenseman Brent Seabrook, who led Chicago with 26:20 of ice time. "We were getting in on the forecheck and making good plays. It was big for our group to come back with a good effort."

Los Angeles hadn't lost a playoff game at home since Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals last season, winning nine straight overall. The Kings also had been outstanding when playing with a lead in front of Quick, who stopped 25 shots, but Los Angeles uncharacteristically surrendered that 2-1 lead late in the second period.

The high-scoring Kane ending his seven-game goal drought in a quiet postseason by charging into the crease to tap home the tying goal on a rebound of Niklas Hjalmarsson's shot and Bickell's deflection late in the second period. Hjalmarsson finished with two assists.

After Los Angeles killed a penalty to open the third period, Michal Handzus caught the Kings napping and set up a break with the speedy Hossa, who ripped a precise shot for his seventh goal of the postseason.

"That's one thing that (coach) Darryl (Sutter) has been hard on us for right now," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We're making too many turnovers, in the neutral zone especially. That was a cause of two of the goals. We made turnovers and they came back down on odd-man rushes and scored. If we want to win, it's something we can't be doing."

The Kings played their third straight game without center Mike Richards, who has an apparent concussion after a big hit from Chicago's Dave Bolland in the series opener. Richards was the Kings' leading postseason scorer with 10 points when he got hurt.

Los Angeles' unbeaten stretch at home ended in unusual fashion with the blown lead, and the low-scoring Kings' title defense could be over in two days. The NHL hasn't had a repeat champion since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998, and Los Angeles has managed just eight goals in four games against the powerful Blackhawks.

"They didn't have many great scoring chances," Crawford said. "We mostly kept them to the outside. It was great for us to shut them down."

Chicago needs one win in three games to advance to its second Stanley Cup finals appearance since 1992. The Blackhawks have been mostly rolling since their 5-2 victory in the season opener at Los Angeles in January, ruining the Kings' banner-raising ceremony.

The Blackhawks hadn't won a playoff round in the past two seasons since their Stanley Cup triumph, replenishing their roster on the fly around their talented young core.

Just nine players remain from the championship team, but it's safe to say the rebuild is complete for a team that won its second Presidents' Trophy with a 36-7-5 regular season, followed by a gutsy rally from a 1-3 series deficit against Detroit to escape the second round.

The Kings opened Game 4 with the same urgency they showed two days earlier, forcing their way into Chicago's zone and preventing the Blackhawks' usual slick passing. Los Angeles' fourth line created the first goal just 3:28 in when Kyle Clifford passed from behind Chicago's net to Voynov, who skated in alone for a slap shot past Crawford.

The goal was Voynov's sixth of the postseason, extending his single-season playoff record for Kings defensemen.

Chicago responded, easily killing a penalty while holding Los Angeles without a shot for about 11 minutes. The Blackhawks evened it on an innocent-looking play by Bickell, whose wobbly shot somehow got out of Quick's glove for his eighth goal of the postseason.

Bickell is on a remarkable playoff run before unrestricted free agency this summer, scoring a goal in each of the past three games and five of seven overall.

The Kings went back ahead early in the second period on another strong shift by their newly assembled big line featuring Carter, Penner and rookie Tyler Toffoli, who has taken Richards' place in the lineup. They also victimized the Blackhawks' third defensive pairing: Carter drove the net while Chicago's Nick Leddy failed to knock him off the puck, and Penner swept home the rebound of Carter's backhand when Brookbank couldn't move him out of the crease.

Chicago tied it late in the period when Hjalmarsson launched a long shot through Bickell's screen and past Quick. Kane tapped it home for a much-needed boost for the prolific scorer who had managed just two goals in the playoffs after getting 23 in the regular season.

After Hossa scored his second goal of the series, Quick made an exceptional glove save on Kane later in the third period. But Quick and the Kings have yielded 10 goals in the series - the same number they gave up in six first-round games and seven second-round games.

"It's a loss. They're all the same," Quick said. "We've just got to win one game. That's all we've got to do."

NOTES: The Kings lost at home in regulation just four times in the regular season. ... Brookbank played only 6:50 and was a minus-2, but coach Joel Quenneville praised his work. ... Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown has one goal in the last nine games, none in the conference finals. Top scorer Anze Kopitar has one goal in 13 games, also none in this series. Brown and Kopitar tied for the NHL playoff scoring lead last season with 20 points apiece.

Friday, 07 June 2013 11:15
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MIAMI (AP) - One by one, Tony Parker was confronted by Miami's Big Three, surrounded even as the shot clock ticked toward zero and his San Antonio Spurs clung to a two-point lead.

And just when Parker appeared to have nowhere to go, when everything was going wrong for the speedy French point guard, he did what he's done these entire playoffs, and his entire career for that matter. He found a way.

Parker's leaning, twisting, step-through bank shot with 5.2 seconds left lifted the Spurs to a 92-88 victory over the Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night, a massive first step toward the franchise's fifth championship.

"It was a crazy play," said Parker, who finished with 21 points and six assists. "I thought I lost the ball three or four times. And it didn't work out like I wanted it to. At the end, I was just trying to get a shot up. It felt good when it left my hand. I was happy it went in."

The shot punctuated a triumphant return to the finals for the Spurs, who haven't been here since 2007. Capturing title No. 5 may be the most difficult task yet for these ageless Spurs, who handed the star-studded Heat just their fifth loss at home this season.

James and the Heat had slashed a seven-point, fourth-quarter deficit to two with 30 seconds remaining, and that's when Parker pulled out practically every trick in a bag stuffed full of them over a 12-year career to clinch Game 1.

The 31-year-old engine of the Spurs was face-to-face with Chris Bosh after a screen near the top of the key to start the possession. Parker immediately scooted past him to the right, leaving one Heat All-Star in the dust. He then avoided a swipe at the ball from Dwyane Wade as he headed toward the baseline.

Nice try, All-Star No. 2.

When he got close to the baseline, Parker was met by James, the reigning MVP. He lost the handle when James came to help, but was able to pull the ball back in and maintain possession as he turned his back to the basket and frantically searched for space.

When Parker tried to turn the corner on James and face the basket, he slipped and fell down to his knee, the precious seconds on the shot clock disappearing far too slowly for Heat coach Erik Spoelstra's liking.

"That seemed like a 26-second possession," Spoelstra said. "But we played it all the way through. That's probably what this series is about. It's going to go down to the last tenth of a second. Every single play you have to push through all the way to the end, and we didn't."

And Parker did.

"It seemed like forever, too," he said.

Somehow he gathered himself, stood up, pivoted twice and stepped through an outstretched James' arm. He let the shot fly a split-second before the shot-clock buzzer went off and the ball hit high off the glass, bounced twice on the rim and dropped through the net.

Au revoir, All-Star No. 3.

"Tony did everything wrong and did everything right in the same possession," James said. "He stumbled two or three times. He fell over. And when he fell over, I was like, 'OK, I'm going to have to tie this ball up. ... That was the longest 24 seconds that I've been a part of."

Just the way coach Gregg Popovich drew it up.

"We were very fortunate," Popovich said. "It looked like he lost it two or three times. But he stuck with it. He kept competing. He gained control of it again. He got it up there on the rim. Great effort by Tony, and as I said, we were fortunate."

In some ways, that play represented the entirety of the Spurs' effort in Game 1. The Heat led for most of the first three quarters, shooting 50 percent from the field and threatening to blow the game open on several occasions. But Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have all been here before.

They didn't get rattled by the white-clad crowd's roar. They didn't back down when James and Wade barreled toward the rim. They kept their cool, remained focused and never lost hope, even when it seemed to be evaporating all around them.

As Parker dropped to one knee on San Antonio's final possession, Duncan said he had no idea what to think. The seconds were disappearing and James and the Heat were charging, and all Duncan could do was hope his unflappable teammate would find a way.

"I see him go down and I'm just praying he gets a shot off," said Duncan, who had 20 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks. "Obviously, Tony makes an unbelievable play. He does just about everything in the book that he had. He fell to the ground, pump-faked, stepped through, and still got it off the ground. It was just amazing."

Friday, 07 June 2013 11:03
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NEW YORK (AP) -- Don't count on Alex Rodriguez giving up his Yankees pinstripes any time soon.

Vilified by fans for his poor performance in the playoffs. Pursued by Major League Baseball in yet another case involving performance-enhancing drugs. Called out by his employer for not behaving like a Yankee should.

A Lightning Rod for all the wrong reasons, none of the off-field distractions - and there have been plenty - have seemed to have had any effect on A-Rod in the past.

It shouldn't be any different this time.

As MLB ramps up its investigation into the Florida anti-aging clinic linked to the sale of performance-enhancing drugs to Rodriguez and more than a dozen major league players, the three-time AL MVP quietly rehabs his surgically repaired hip at the Yankees' minor league facility in Tampa, Fla., with plans to return in the second half of the season with "a lot of unfinished business."

Even as a solitary figure on a field in Florida, Rodriguez is a bother in the Bronx.

Earlier this week, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told ESPN he didn't think the 14-time All-Star third basemen could live up to his record $275 million, 10-year contract that runs through 2017. A day later managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner piled on, saying "there have no doubt been times when we've been disappointed in him and we've conveyed that to him and he understands that."

There's been plenty to be disappointed about.

After winning his second MVP and earning his fourth of seven All-Star nods with the Yankees in 2007, Rodriguez opted out of his contract during the World Series, rankling baseball executives. Two years later he admitted using steroids while with the Texas Rangers from 2001-03. He's also been investigated for participating in illegal poker games.

Rodriguez is as careless as Yankees captain Derek Jeter is discreet. A-Rod has been repeatedly splashed on the gossip pages with Madonna, Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz and Torrie Wilson. He caused a stir when he was seen with a stripper in Toronto and at a swingers' club in Dallas. For a magazine spread, he was photographed kissing his reflection in a full-length mirror - no one loves Alex more than Alex.

And that's just off the field.

Last October, he was benched in three of nine games and pinch-hit for in three others - after being removed from Game 1 of the AL championship series, he was caught flirting with fans in the stands. His next hit against a right-handed pitcher will be his first in 19 at-bats. He was 0 for 18 in the postseason against righties. With each of his outs, fans booed more loudly and were more decisively convinced that he was done as a player.

But there is no end with A-Rod.

And there's little the Yankees can do about it - and the remaining $104 million of Rodriguez's contract.

There was a time when Rodriguez was touted as the star who would restore credibility to the record book. Now MLB wants to throw the book at him.

And the Yankees might prefer it if he just goes away.

Even if MLB suspends Rodriguez for 50 or 100 games for his connection to Biogenesis of America and its founder Anthony Bosch, the Yankees can't use that to void his contract because of language in baseball's drug agreement.

Yankees ace CC Sabathia said he and his teammates are behind Rodriguez no matter what comes out of the investigation.

"There'll be nothing but love and support in here," he said.

But the drug agreement does allow for a team to void a contract if it is proven that a player's injury was a direct result of his use of performance enhancers.

The physician who performed Rodriguez's surgery in January, Dr. Bryan Kelly of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, debunked that theory. He said the condition, known as femoral acetabular impingement, was caused by genes, not by steroids.

"This is a developmental, genetic predisposition to a certain shape of the hip joint that occurs during the first 15 years of development," Kelly said. "Steroids don't change the shape of your bones, of your hip joint."

That leaves the Yankees in the position of hoping the soon-to-be 38-year-old Rodriguez will retire - a big money saver for the team - or can have a resurgence similar to the one he had in 2009, when he returned from his first hip surgery and nearly single-handedly led the team to its first World Series title since 2000.

Of course, that New York love-in for Rodriguez didn't last long. The following spring he was tied to Anthony Galea, the Canadian doctor who was indicted in part for illegal possession of human growth hormone with intent to distribute. The team made it known they never authorized Rodriguez to be treated by Galea.

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Thursday, 06 June 2013 12:04
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MIAMI (AP) -- Before reaching the top of basketball, LeBron James was run over by the San Antonio Spurs.

The Spurs swept James' Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2007 NBA Finals, so long ago that the winning game plan focused on exploiting James' weaknesses. Those are nearly impossible to find now, and James essentially warned the Spurs that they shouldn't bother looking.

The Spurs already know.

"He'll be a lot more of a problem than he was in `07, that's for sure," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Wednesday.

Tim Duncan told the beaten James minutes after that series that the league would someday belong to him, and he was right. The NBA's MVP guided Miami to last year's championship and the league's best record this season.

Now the Spurs will try to take it back.

But James is now the best player in the game, is surrounded by more talent in Miami than he ever had in Cleveland, and still carries the memory of the beating the Spurs laid on him six years ago.

"I have something in me that they took in `07. Beat us on our home floor, celebrated on our home floor. I won't forget that. You shouldn't as a competitor. You should never forget that," James said.

He joined the Heat in 2010, experienced more finals failure a year later, then was finals MVP last year when Miami beat Oklahoma City in five games. Another title now would put him halfway to the four that Duncan and Popovich have won together.

"That's what I'm here for," James said. "I'm here to win championships, and you're not always going to be on the successful side. I've seen it twice, not being on the successful side."

He was just 22 at the end of his fourth year in the league when he carried to the Cavs to their first finals appearance. But there were holes in his game, from an unreliable jump shot to an undeveloped post game, and the Spurs took advantage of every one of them.

James shot 36 percent in the series, including a ghastly 10 for 30 in Game 4, and committed 23 turnovers.

"Well, LeBron is a different player than he was in `07," Popovich said. "That was like ancient history. He was basically a neophyte at the time, wondering how all this stuff worked and how it's put together. We were very fortunate at that time to get him so early. But at this point he's grown."

James wasn't interested in discussing much of that series, but he recalled the way the Spurs' strategy kept him from getting into the paint and dared him to shoot jumpers.

There's no blueprint now that would encourage a guy who made 56.5 percent of his shots this season to shoot the ball.

"If you go under my pick-and-roll now, I'm going to shoot. And I'm confident I'm going to make every last one of them," James said. "I'm just more confident in my ability to shoot the ball.

"But at the same time, I also have a lot more weapons this time around going against this team, where in `07 they loaded three guys to me a lot on the strong side of the floor. So like I said, I'm a better player, and you can't dare me to do anything I don't want to do in 2013."

Duncan and James probably wouldn't have thought it would take so long to see each other in the finals again after their meeting in the hallway of Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena. San Antonio had built a quiet dynasty, winning four titles in nine years, and the core of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili would keep giving the Spurs chances.

But they couldn't get out of the West even while finishing with the best record in the conference the last two years, just as Cleveland couldn't in the East during James' last two seasons there.

"I hoped to be back here. Whether he would he here or not, I couldn't predict that," the 37-year-old Duncan said. "Knowing the player that he was then and the trajectory he was on, I had no doubt he would be back here. I had no doubt he would be tops in this league at some point. And I'm glad and honored to be back here playing against him."

The Spurs have been off since finishing a sweep of Memphis on May 27. The Heat were forced to overcome a rugged Indiana team and the struggles of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in a seven-game series that wrapped up Monday.

That set up a finals between teams built in decidedly different ways but with mutual respect. While others around the league seethed, Popovich even called Pat Riley to offer congratulations after the Heat architect signed James and Bosh in 2010.

It gives James a chance to pay the Spurs back for their 2007 romp, when they forced the Cavaliers into the worst offensive performance in finals history.

"I believe that after that finals he probably always obviously wanted to get back again. But I think he probably always wanted to get back and play them," Wade said. "So obviously having this opportunity right now is probably something he always dreamed of, of getting back to the finals and playing the Spurs again."

The Spurs' Big Three didn't have to endure the same wait to win. Duncan won a title in just his second season, and Parker was only 21 when he earned his first. Yet eventually they stalled, so they're as eager for this opportunity as James.

"When I was 21 and I won my first one, it was kind of fast and we think it's going to happen every year. We think it's easy. But after a lot of years in the league, you realize it's really hard to go to the finals," Parker said. "Now we take nothing for granted. We appreciate every moment, and we'll see what happens." ---

Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: HTTP://WWW.TWITTER.COM/BRIANCMAHONEY © 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.
Thursday, 06 June 2013 12:01
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