Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The NBA Finals: Why the Warmth is going to gain the championship

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — This pick doesn’t make much sense.

The best scorer on the Miami Heat might be a baby-faced rookie. The best player had never been past the second round of the playoffs before this season. The starting center wasn’t good enough to make a USA Basketball World Cup team that went to China last year and managed to only finish seventh. And the Heat have been the NBA’s best team this season in basically two categories: true shooting percentage (which is good) and double-digit leads blown (which is not).

Hey, it’s 2020. Nothing makes sense.

And that’s why this is the pick: The Miami Heat are going to win the NBA championship.

RELATED: The NBA Finals: Why the Lakers will win the championship

For the 25 years that Pat Riley has been in Miami and running the Heat, the franchise has lived by a code that he came up with. Their mandate, every day, is to be “the hardest-working, best-conditioned, most-professional, unselfish, toughest, meanest, nastiest team in the NBA.”

Riley had no idea that he was writing the blueprint for how a basketball team could thrive inside a bubble during a pandemic, of course.

The Heat were made for the bubble. The bubble rewarded toughness, both of body and mind. It tested players and teams in ways nobody thought possible; the isolation from the outside world, the isolation from family, the inability for multimillionaire athletes and coaches to come and go as they please and do whatever they want, with whomever they want, whenever they want.

Miami embraced all that. Jimmy Butler, with a baby at home and whose entire circle is a very tight knit group of family and friends that aren’t in the bubble, tried to relax by opening what started as a faux coffee shop for teammates that might actually become a real business opportunity. He didn’t want his family in the bubble even when guests were allowed; he wanted that edge that comes from not having loved ones around, that responsibility he feels to make up for his absence by bringing them a championship.

Butler made it past the second round for the first time. Tyler Herro, a rookie in name only, takes and makes big shot after big shot. Bam Adebayo, who came into this season with a soul on fire after he felt he was snubbed by USA Basketball, has shown the world what the Heat already knew: He’s a superstar and about to get paid like one.

Erik Spoelstra is about to coach in the finals for the fifth time in 10 years. The job he has done in the bubble is nothing short of masterful. Kendrick Nunn and Meyers Leonard were starters for this team all season. They’re not in the rotation now, after the Heat changed the way it plays for the playoffs, a move that most coaches wouldn’t have the courage to make. Not Spoelstra. The Heat are always all-in on one thing: finding a way to win it all.

Beating the Los Angeles Lakers in this series won’t be easy. They — like every other NBA team — do not have a way of silencing LeBron James, who will be highly motivated to beat his former team. James and Anthony Davis are the best two players in this series. The finals are typically a showcase for stars; the team with the most stars usually wins.

Nothing’s typical about 2020.

The Lakers have the talent. The Heat have the chemistry. If there’s one lesson learned from this pandemic world that now exists, it should be to trust science.

Chemistry wins. Heat in six.

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The NBA Finals: Why the Lakers will win the champion

LeBron James believed he could win every time he advanced to the NBA Finals.

A couple occasions, he realistically had little chance. His first and last appearances in Cleveland ended in sweeps, overmatched Cavaliers teams routed by San Antonio in 2007 and Golden State in 2018.

In his 10th NBA Finals, he sees his first opportunity with the Los Angeles Lakers the same way he viewed his trips in Cleveland and Miami.

RELATED: The NBA Finals: Why the Heat will win the championship

“The game is won between the four lines, not won on paper,” James said. “At the end of the day, when I’ve lost in the finals, the better team won because they played well, they were more prepared and they did what they needed to do to win those four games.”

This time, that’s going to be his team.

With Anthony Davis alongside James, the Lakers are armed with the same type of firepower they had when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant led them to the first of three straight titles 20 years ago.

The two first-team selections to the All-NBA team have combined for 60 or more points 20 times in their first season together, and the Lakers have won 19.

They are now set up to win the Lakers’ first title in a decade.

“Now we want to make sure that we finish this thing off right,” Davis said.

James shows almost no drop-off at 35, tying his career high with four triple-doubles in these playoffs. He is averaging 26.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists, numbers no player has ever reached through his first 15 games of a postseason.

Davis has been just as dominant, right about at his career postseason average of 29.6 points that trails only Michael Jordan (33.4) and Allen Iverson (29.7) among players who have appeared in at least 25 games.

The Heat, with Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler anchoring a strong defense, might be able to take one of them away. Nobody is stopping both.

The Lakers’ role players give them plenty of support, from playoff-tested veterans Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard and Danny Green, to newcomers such as Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso. Los Angeles is shooting 49.8% as a team, tops in the postseason.

The Lakers are also limiting teams to 106.5 points, third-lowest in the playoffs, and the Heat might be the least explosive squad they will have faced. Portland had Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Houston followed with NBA scoring leader James Harden and Russell Westbrook, and Denver boasted Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, the top two players in total points in the playoffs.

Los Angeles knocked all three teams out in five games.

Once they did, thoughts turned to the proper way to cap off what’s been a challenging season for the Lakers. A preseason trip to China turned turbulent following Houston general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet supporting democratic protesters in Hong Kong. Bryant, a franchise icon, was killed in a helicopter crash in January. The coronavirus pandemic halted the season and forced players to be away from their families for months when it resumed.

Four more wins and the Lakers can go home to them.

“Every day since we been in the bubble it’s been like, man, this is a great opportunity. Take full advantage of it and stay in the moment,” Howard said. “You know, even after we won the Western Conference finals, I wanted to be like, all right, this is not the goal just to win the Western Conference finals. The goal is the win the championship.”

They will. Lakers in five.

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Rockies Mailbag: Will Prick Monfort fire GM Jeff Bridich? Irritated supporters want modification at 20th as well as Blake.

Denver Post sports writer Patrick Saunders with the latest installment of his Rockies Mailbag.

We had a number of questions — and a lot of rants and long-winded complaints – from frustrated fans regarding Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich. I’m going to limit the discussion to two.

After another atrocious season, Bridich is firmly cemented as the worst executive in baseball, and possibly in major North American sports. How many more years do you think he has before (owner Dick Monfort) realizes what the rest of us have known for years, and sends Bridich packing?
— Will, Erie

If the Rockies are going to make a switch and fire Bridich, how soon can we expect it? If not, how soon can we expect them to tell us he’s staying? Any idea on his contract?
— Blake, Denver

Will and Blake, I’m going to handle your questions together.
First of all, I do not think Monfort is going to fire Bridich. Would I be shocked if it happened? No, but I would be surprised.

As for Bridich being “the worse executive” in North American sports, I don’t think that’s true and there is no way to measure it. I think that’s hyperbole from a frustrated fan.

Anyway, here are a few reasons why I think Bridich will remain as the Rockies GM:
1. Monfort is very loyal and thinks of the team as his family. He likes continuity and normalcy in his operation. He doesn’t like change. I’m not saying this is always wise, but I think it’s the current reality.
2. The Rockies went to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons in 2017-18, something the franchise had never done before. I believe that bought Bridich a lot of good will. My contention, however, is that the Rockies failed to capitalize on their window of talent and opportunity. We all know that is why Nolan Arenado was upset with the organization. But a lot of that rests on Monfort’s shoulders. He holds the purse strings.
3. Despite Colorado’s poor showing over the last two seasons, the abbreviated, 60-game season bought Bridich some time, at least in Monfort’s eyes.

As for Bridich’s contract, I don’t know the money of the deal or the length of it. I don’t think anyone in the media has that information.

How’s that Rockies monument to runners left in scoring position in front of Coors coming along?
— Jeff, Elizabeth

Jeff, what were you thinking? Replace the baseball statue near Gate D at 20th and Blake? Maybe they could introduce new “RISP Hotdog” at Coors Field — all bun, plenty of mustard, but no meat.

I kid because I care.

But there is no question that lack of key hits doomed the Rockies in 2020. A handful of big hits could have turned the season around. They would have taken the pressure off and produced a few more wins. That’s all it would have taken to get the Rockies into the expanded postseason this fall.

Patrick, thanks for your coverage of this team. It had to be particularly hard this year.

Question 1: How will the reduced revenue from COVID-19 affect the Rockies (and other “have-nots”) as compared to the Dodgers (and other “haves”)?
Question 2: How do other MLB organizations view the Rockies?
— Tony Frey, Highlands Ranch

Tony, let’s start with question No. 1. The Dodgers annually lead the majors in attendance, so having no fans might hurt them more than the Rockies. But I don’t think the virus will tip baseball’s financial landscape much in either direction. More and more, baseball teams make their money through TV and internet streaming deals.

Your second question is very broad and difficult for me to answer. I think the Rockies are considered a first-call organization and I know that manager Bud Black is well-liked and well-regarded around the game.

Agents have told me that the Rockies can be difficult to deal with, but agents always have an agenda, so I take that with a grain of salt.

How much has the perceived void left by Keli McGregor’s untimely death set the Rockies back? It feels like Monfort is extremely loyal to his charges, which is to be admired, but there’s also no one in his ear that he trusts, telling him change is needed.
— Kevin M., Littleton

Kevin, McGregor died more than 10 years ago, so I don’t think we can still talk about a “void.” However, I have said for some time that I believe Monfort should hire a team president — from outside the organization – to add a fresh and different point of view. I also think it would take some duties off of Monfort’s shoulders.

Hi Patrick, I read your very good analysis Sunday of what went wrong with the Rockies both this year and last and I value your insight. Your analysis of the lack of effectiveness of Bridich was spot on. I was hoping for a similar analysis as to the effectiveness of Black. It seems to me that sportswriters give him a pass. Why?

My view: Black is a gentleman, knows his X’s and O’s, knows all the clichés and is very good at stating the obvious. But there is little evidence I can see that he holds his players accountable for bad base running, missing the cut-off man or getting picked off first. At times they looked like a high school team. Black is a players’ coach to a fault and too much old school. How many times this past year did he leave a starter in until the opponent scores five or six runs, all the while his team was struggling to score? Or, not sitting Arenado or Charlie Blackmon or Story down when it was obvious they needed a break but the player didn’t want it. I think a change is needed. We need fresh ideas. Thanks.
— Bruce Dickinson, Louisville

Bruce, you’re not the first one to accuse me, and other writers, of giving Black a free pass. I think there is some validity to that charge. Black is a friendly, charismatic man and he’s good at answering questions without making waves. He does that on purpose.

Having said that, I have spoken with Black enough times off the record, and off camera, to know that he has a fiery side and I know that he’s not afraid to take players to task. Black, however, is never going to throw one of his players under the bus in public. He sees no benefit in doing so.

Believe me, when Ramiel Tapia misses a cutoff man or Ryan McMahon throws to the wrong base, they hear about it. We just don’t hear about it. Kyle Freeland has told me that Black can be pretty harsh when it’s needed.

Black was not perfect this season. I believe, given how bad some of the Rockies relievers were, that he should have pushed the envelope with his starters a little more. I wondered why he stuck with Daniel Murphy at first base as long as he did when it was apparent to me that Murphy is no longer a dynamic fielder and was hurting the team with his poor defense.

You mention that he should have sat Arenado, Blackmon and Story more often, but I would counter with this question: what were his alternatives?

Is it time for a total rebuild? Outside of Story, Tapia, Josh Fuentes, Tony Wolters, Garrett Hampson, Freeland, German Marquez, Antonio Senzatela and Jon Gray, is there anyone else in their future plans? Yes, I left off Arenado (who doesn’t want to be here), Blackmon (DH only) and David Dahl (injuries).

The most important addition should be a team president. What coaches will not be invited back? Thanks for another great year of coverage in the most difficult of situations.
— Robert Emmerling, Parker

Robert, I’ll start with the last things first. As I mentioned above, I do think the Rockies should hire a team president, though I have no idea if that will happen. As for dismissing coaches, I’m sure there will be some turnover, there almost always is. The hitting coaches, Dave Madigan and Jeff Salazar, might be under the gun given Colorado’s poor offensive production, but I’m not going to speculate on their jobs.

As far as future plans, I’m betting the Rockies will attempt to re-sign Kevin Pillar. He’s exactly the kind of player the team likes and he showed he can handle the spacious outfield at Coors. Right-handed reliever Mychal Givens will be back and is arbitration eligible.

As for Arenado, I think he’s in limbo. There are no guarantee the Rockies will trade him or even attempt to do so. He’ll make $35 million next season and you have to wonder if a team will want to pick that up, particularly since Arenado can opt out after 2021. He also has a no-trade clause in his contract.

I would imagine it would be difficult to sign Story to an extension, while keeping Arenado. Is it fair to assume the Rockies are more inclined to trade the player that’s not happy with the organization’s current state? What are the odds this happens this offseason? Are the interested teams going to be the usual suspects? (Cubs, Cardinals, Dodgers, etc.)
— Jon, Aurora

Jon, as I mentioned above, the Arenado situation is in limbo. Story, due to make $17.5 million next season, could be the more tradeable player. But, as Black likes to say, “It takes two to tango,” so predicting trades is very difficult. If the Rockies were able to pull off a decent trade for Arenado and get some quality pieces in return, I believe they would do so. That could open the door for a long-term deal for Story, who is a free agent after 2021. But does Story want to stay in Colorado or would he prefer to test the open market and have more control of his destiny? I don’t know that answer to that.

In retrospect, the Rockies were only three wins away from entering the playoffs. Why did they not exhibit a sense of urgency, as seen by using unproven players?
— Judy Frieman, Denver

Judy, I’m going to disagree with you on this. The reason the Rockies tried so many “unproven players” is because they did feel a sense of urgency. They were trying to figure out a lineup that could produce runs on a consistent basis. The proven players, such as Arenado, Story and McMahon failed to come through with runners in scoring position. Murphy slumped after a hot start, as did Blackmon. If Black had found a productive lineup, he would have stuck with it. As it happened, one of the “unproven” players who ended up having one of Colorado’s best seasons was rookie first baseman Fuentes.

Hi Patrick, I know pitching at altitude has always been blamed but what are the records of someone like Clayton Kershaw, Johnny Cueto (when SF was good), Randy Johnson (with Arizona), etc., at Coors Field? Guys from other NL West teams that have pitched here a lot throughout their career. I’d be curious if it affects them or if they’re better pitchers on better teams and therefore win more at Coors Field. My hunch tells me it’s the latter. Conversely, are our “best” pitchers that much better on the road than at home? Lots of variables here but still curious about your take. Thanks for hanging in there with the coverage these past two seasons. Great job as always!
— Joe Covell, Denver

Joe, let me start off by providing you with some data:

  • Kershaw is 11-5 with a 4.44 ERA in 23 career games at Coors Field. Good, but hardly dominant.
  • Johnson was 7-5 with a 4.01 ERA in 13 career games at Coors. OK, but not great.
  • Cueto is 5-2 with a 3.29 ERA in nine career starts at Coors. That’s pretty darn good.
  • I’ll give you one more to chew on. Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, who hated pitching in Denver, was 8-2 with a 5.19 ERA in 14 starts here. Not exactly a picnic.

I do think the aforementioned pitchers won, in part, because they pitched for better teams. But they are also guys who knew how to battle, altitude or no altitude.

As for the Rockies, the overall numbers tell you that yes, their pitchers are better on the road than at home, at least statistically.

But that is not always the case, and the bottom line, at least from the Rockies’ perspective, is that their starter outperforms their opponent’s starter.

  • Anyway, consider Colorado three best starters from 2020:
  • German Marquez was 1-4 with a 5.68 ERA at home vs. 3-2 with a 2.06 ERA on the road.
  • Antonio Senzatela was 3-0 with a 2.10 ERA at home vs. 2-3 with a 4.62 ERA on the road.
  • Kyle Freeland was 1-1 with a 4.46 ERA at home vs. 1-2 with a 4.18 ERA on the road.
  • By the way, all three were hurt by lack of run support.

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Keeler: Profession Trevor Story? Leave Mountain Ranges GM Jeff Bridich along with a rebuild? Not on your life.

Remember that scene from “Star Wars” when our heroes landed inside one of the Death Star’s trash compactors? The walls are closing in on the Rockies from all sides now.

They’re wading in trash water, trying not to get flattened, while that water has a snake thingy swimming in it, unseen, tickling their ankles. Jeff Bridich is C-3PO.

They won’t — can’t, won’t, it doesn’t matter — spend to supplement their core. Their two best players can pull the rip cord and parachute into the open market after next season. David Dahl just went under the knife. The farm system, or what we last saw of it, is drying like a raisin in the sun. If COVID-19 couldn’t move the Dodgers, nothing will. The Padres finally turned the corner. They’re not going anywhere.

For the time being, neither should Trevor Story.

At least, not unless he forces the issue. And no one would blame the Rockies’ shortstop if he did.

To put it another way, let’s have a show of hands:

Who trusts Bridich, the Rockies’ stone-faced general manager, with a complete tear-down and rebuild? Right now?

OK, you can put your arm down, Dick. I see it. We all see it.

Make no mistake: It’s going to be tempting. And the calls are coming, if they haven’t come already.

Heck, you can already hear the arguments, those soft whispers from the Yankees front office. Hey, man, be real. You’re the fourth-best team in your division. You don’t look any closer to making an expanded postseason bracket then you did a traditional one. Let’s help each other.

If the table feels threadbare, the cupboard is cobwebs. At the start of the month, MLB Pipeline ranked Colorado’s minor league stock at No. 28 out of 30 clubs. Bleacher Report slotted the kids on the farm at 29th, ahead of only Washington.

Trading Story for a boatload prospects might change that. Or parts of it. Alas, it’s going to take several Storys to fix all that ails Blake Street right now.

Nolan Arenado is the Rockies’ biggest chip at the table, but with a $35 million salary in 2021, very few franchises, post-COVID, are looking to bite on a 30-year-old third baseman with a bum left shoulder.

Story makes half that, is two years younger, and plays a position where elite offensive skill sets are at a premium. I ask for the moon. Twice over.

Arenado seems to be counting the days toward the inevitable. Early 2021 looks just as uncertain, financially, as the last six months. This franchise is going to need a face, an anchor. Especially as Charlie Blackmon, who’ll turn 35 next July, fades gracefully into the sunset.

“I love being here,” Story, who led National League in steals and ranked ninth among Senior Circuit position players in Baseball-Reference WAR, told reporters Sunday. “These guys drafted and developed me, and it’s fun playing here. So I try not to think too far ahead. I’m always the guy who’s going to cross that bridge when it gets here.”

Granted, as offseason plans go, slapping It’s 2020, We’ve Got To Slash Payroll on the front of the binder makes more sense than Everybody Just Has To Play Better And We’ll Be Fine. An ownership group that genuinely cared about winning, cared about perception and cared about its fan base would’ve sent Bridich packing first thing Monday morning.

The Dodgers are going to keep hammering, keep spending money until they get over the hump. The Padres have finally arrived. The Giants almost made the postseason field with a new skipper and a patchwork of parts.

Only three National League teams opened 2020 with rosters whose average age was younger than the Dodgers’ 28.0 years. Colorado was one (27.6). Pittsburgh (27.8) and San Diego (26.7) were the others. If you’ve got a bad feeling about this, to paraphrase Han Solo, join the club.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Durango QB excited for provide from CU Buffs

Growing up in Colorado, Jordan Woolverton has often dreamed of playing college football in Boulder.

When the opportunity came to him last week, he was thrilled.

A 6-foot-2, 195-pound senior quarterback at Durango High School, Woolverton was recently offered a chance to become a preferred walk-on with the Colorado Buffaloes next season.

“It’s super exciting,” Woolverton said. “(Coming from) a 3A school down here in the corner of Colorado, even to get that interest as a PWO from such a great school such as CU, it’s a real blessing.”

Durango’s Jordan Woolverton has completed 72.1 percent of his passes for 4,525 yards, 47 touchdowns and seven interceptions during his prep career.

Woolverton has five scholarship offers from Division II schools, including CSU-Pueblo, but hasn’t been on the radar of Football Bowl Subdivision schools. The coronavirus pandemic prevented him from showcasing his skills at camps or on recruiting visits this spring and summer.

“For the 2021 class, there’s a lot of guys, especially here in Colorado, who are still out there trying to prove themselves to receive that scholarship offer they want from whatever school they want,” he said. “It hurt a lot that we weren’t able to get in front of coaches at these camps and go on these junior day visits and really put ourselves in front of them and show them what we really can do out there on the field.”

That didn’t stop Woolverton from working, though.

“I used the time in quarantine as a very helpful time to focus in on some things and really better myself as a football player, as well,” he said, adding that he sharpened his throwing motion, studied the game and learned more about reading defenses.

All the work has paid off when CU quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf noticed his film.

Woolverton, who has completed 72.1 percent of his passes for 4,525 yards and 47 touchdowns, with only seven interceptions, in three seasons at Durango, got a message on Twitter one day from Langsdorft.

“Then, it was just casual back and forth,” he said. “He called me (last week) and gave me the PWO offer.

“It’s been my dream to play at a Power 5 school and go to a place such as CU.”

CU already has a scholarship waiting for a class of 2021 quarterback (Drew Carter of Portland, Ore.), and the Buffs’ class is nearly full, so there wasn’t a scholarship available to Woolverton. He is an intriguing prospect, however.

In 2019, Woolverton led Durango to an 8-4 record and trip to the Class 3A quarterfinals. He completed 73.6 percent of his passes (128-of-174) for 1,941 yards, 23 touchdowns and three interceptions. He also ran for 1,005 yards and 15 touchdowns, averaging 9.7 yards per carry; recorded 35 tackles and three interceptions on defense; averaged 40.7 yards on 11 punts; and made 15-of-20 extra point kicks.

Woolverton also averaged 11.5 points and 4.9 rebounds for the Demons’ basketball team last winter.

Woolverton, who will graduate in December and enroll at a college in January, said he’s still mulling his options and figuring out what’s best for him, but the opportunity from CU will be tough to pass.

“I love CU,” he said. “It’s been a dream to play there. I’m very excited to be able to receive that and have the opportunity to maybe go up there and prove myself.”

But first, he’s got unfinished business at Durango, which opens its season next week.

“I’m going in with one common goal with my team here at Durango and that’s to win a state championship,” he said. “I’m ready to play my last season with these guys I’ve been playing with since third grade.”

3-star OL looking out of state

One player who likely won’t suit up at CU is Connor Jones, 6-foot-7, 285-pound tackle from Palmer Ridge High School.

A three-star prospect in the class of 2022, according to, Jones, has six scholarship offers, including from Michigan, Indiana, Northwestern, Virginia and Colorado State. Jones hasn’t been able to attract much attention from CU, however, and said he’s likely to play for an out-of-state school.

“(CU) is missing a lot of boxes I want to be checked,” he said. “They don’t have the degree plan I want to go into and the interest level … I need to know they’re interested and they’re ready to go and part of that is the offer. The colleges have a board (of top recruits). Something that a lot of recruits I don’t think understand is we have to have a board, too.”

CU doesn’t appear to be on Jones’ board, but he’s currently rated the No. 7 in-state prospect for 2022 by 247Sports.

“My goal (this fall) is to produce the best film I can possibly produce,” he said. “We’re going to push it to every school that’s interested and every school I want to go to. I’m so pumped to start the season. Physically I feel great and mentally I’m ready to go.”

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Woman refutes tried kidnapping of Joe Montana grandchild

LOS ANGELES — A 39-year-old woman was charged Tuesday in what authorities say was an attempted kidnapping of the 9-month-old granddaughter of Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana from his Southern California home.

Sodsai Predpring Dalzell of Los Angeles pleaded not guilty in LA County court to felony counts of attempted kidnapping of a child under 14 and burglary.

The 64-year-old Montana told sheriff’s deputies that the girl was asleep Saturday in a playpen in his house in Malibu when a woman he did not know entered and picked up the child.

Montana and his wife, Jennifer, confronted her, tried to de-escalate the situation and asked her to give back the baby, authorities said.

After a brief struggle, Jennifer Montana pried the girl away, and Dalzell fled from the home, authorities said. She was later arrested nearby.

No one was hurt.

Emails to Dalzell’s attorney and possible relatives seeking comment were not immediately returned. She was being held on $200,000 bail and was told to return to court Oct. 20. She has no previous criminal record.

“Scary situation, but thankful that everybody is doing well,” the former San Francisco 49ers star tweeted on Sunday.

Montana played 13 years of his 15 year-career with the 49ers, who won four Super Bowls with him as starting quarterback. He retired in 1994 after two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.

He and Jennifer Montana, a philanthropist and former model, have been married since 1985 and have four adult children. It is not clear which of the children is the girl’s parent.

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Hall of Famer Barry Larkin's postseason bat labels ensure recuperation

NEW YORK — Barry Larkin is gladly giving Major League Baseball a helping hand in these playoffs.

Two of them, actually.

Look closely at the bats being swung and you might notice something on the knobs: a label with a graphic design of Black and white hands clasped over the words “Heal” and “Unite.”

They’re the product of Larkin’s Project Unity, an initiative headed by the Hall of Famer to draw people together on the diamond and beyond.

“Everything is being so polarized,” the Cincinnati Reds great told The Associated Press on Monday. “Police brutality, protests in the streets and rioting, the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and others.

“I don’t want to be political,” he said. “But I just couldn’t sit around and not try to do something.”

The former winner of the Roberto Clemente Award for his humanitarian efforts developed the program this year. Later, the Black shortstop voted the NL MVP in 1995 came up with the bat labels.

Endorsed by MLB, the stickers were sent in team colors to every clubhouse in advance of the playoffs.

“My hope is that they’re embraced by many players,” he said from his home in Orlando, Florida.

Cleveland star Francisco Lindor and Dodgers infielder Edwin Rios work out with Larkin, so they figure to be on board. So might the players on one specific team — “the Reds, I think they will,” he said.

In a year when games in all sports have been postponed to focus attention on racial injustice, and in a season when baseball has put messages about social issues on uniforms, scoreboards and stadiums, MLB put its stamp on the project.

“As our country navigates a global pandemic and addresses social injustices, we have seen our players and clubs step up in extraordinary ways. On behalf of Major League Baseball, we are proud to support Barry Larkin and his Project Unity to advocate for healing and uniting our communities through baseball,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.

“Historically, our game has played a unique role in uniting our country during challenging times. We hope our support of Project Unity and the other steps we have taken can play a small role in helping to make a difference,” he said.

The players’ union, the Hall of Fame, Phoenix Bats, Wilson Sporting Goods, Louisville Slugger and the music industry joined in backing Project Unity.

Larkin also is raising money for several groups, including the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation. MLB will support the initiative with its diversity programs, such as the Hank Aaron Invitational.

“It’s a conduit to kindness. It’s a conduit to peace,” the 56-year-old Larkin said. “The end goal is to heal and unite.”

Starting with a symbol that hitters will bring into the batter’s box.

“It’s huge for MLB to allow players to do this in the postseason, I’m very appreciative,” said Larkin, who helped lead the Reds to the 1990 World Series championship.

Larkin realizes that not every player might attach a label. He completely understands that.

“Some guys are very particular about their bats,” he said.

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Bubble hockey champs: Tampa florida Bay Super gain Stanley Mug


EDMONTON, Alberta — The Tampa Bay Lightning are the champions of bubble hockey.

Brayden Point scored his playoff-best 14th goal and the Lightning beat the Dallas Stars 2-0 on Monday night to win the Stanley Cup and finish off the most unusual NHL postseason in history, staged nearly entirely in quarantine because of the pandemic. The clock hitting zeros in an empty arena nonetheless set off a joyful celebration for a team that endured years of playoff heartbreak and two months in isolation.

Goals from Point and Blake Coleman and a 22-save shutout by Andrei Vasilevskiy in Game 6 were enough to power the Lightning to their second championship after winning it in 2004. That also came with the league on the verge of a labor stoppage, a lockout that wiped out an entire season, and similar uncertainty hangs in the air now because of the coronavirus.

Questions about the future were put off for a celebration, by the Lightning and the NHL. Getting this done was a triumph of sorts, financial woes notwithstanding. The NHL is the first of the four major North American professional sports leagues to crown a champion since the start of the pandemic.

Tampa Bay’s core group closed out the final with an almost poetic display of what got the Lightning to this point over the past several years and months. Their new star in Point scored a power-play goal in the first period with assists from longtime standouts Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman, key addition Coleman killed a penalty and scored on an odd-man rush in the second, and Vasilevskiy did his job on a relatively slow night in net.

It was more of a coronation than a challenge as the dominant Lightning outshot the Stars 29-22 and looked like the powerhouse they’ve been for much of the past decade.

In the final alone, Tampa Bay’s power play was clicking and turned the series around. Point’s goal made it 7 for 16 over the past five games to decimate the Stars, who were undone by their lack of discipline and couldn’t get enough “Dobby” magic from goaltender Anton Khudobin.

The Stars simply ran out of gas after injuries piled up. Rick Bowness, an assistant for Tampa Bay for five years who was part of their 2015 run that fell short in the final, faced his own uncertain future as interim head coach.

The Lightning did to the Stars what Chicago did to them in the ’15 final, when injuries built up. Tampa Bay had Point and No. 2 center Anthony Cirelli playing hurt this time, didn’t have injured captain Steven Stamkos for almost all of the playoffs — and still survived.

The painful playoff losses look like mile markers now — losing four consecutive games to Chicago after going up 2-1, blowing 3-2 series leads in the Eastern Conference final in 2016 and 2018, and last season’s jaw-dropping, first-round sweep by Columbus after the Lightning had tied the NHL single-season wins record and won the Presidents’ Trophy.

Coach Jon Cooper thought the attitude needed to change from wanting to beat every opponent 9-0 because that’s not realistic in playoff hockey. His team went 12-3 in one-goal games this postseason.

Commissioner Gary Bettman was on hand to present the Lightning with the Stanley Cup exactly 200 days after his dismal if hopeful announcement that the season was being put on pause with 189 games left unplayed.

The league and players’ union worked for nearly four months to iron out where, how and when to play so 2020 wouldn’t join 1919 and 2004 as a year in which the Cup wasn’t awarded. The plan they came up with was unusual. Like the NBA, it called for walling off teams from the public for months on end. Unlike the NBA, it called for doing it in two spots — Toronto and Edmonton, while the U.S. grappled with spiking coronavirus cases in too many places for NHL leadership to feel comfortable.

And it worked. After more than 31,000 tests, there were zero positive coronavirus cases reported among players, coaches and staff inside the bubbles and just a handful among hotel, arena or restaurant employees. There was nothing close to a breakout.

Bizarre as it was with no fans and manufactured crowd noise and light shows, the hockey was often top notch. The expanded, 24-team playoffs meant there was hockey nearly every day, sometimes from midday until past midnight, including a five-overtime marathon that was the second longest in modern hockey history. And in this unprecedented postseason, there were even two elimination games on the same day in the same arena.

By the conference finals, Rogers Place, a nearby JW Marriott and the rest of a heavily fenced bubble in downtown Edmonton became the center of hockey for fans thousands of miles away with Dallas and Tampa Bay, two of the southernmost teams in the league, settling the Cup in the NHL’s northernmost arena.

In all, the NHL played 130 games in a bubble, 25 of them going into overtime, before the final horn set off a celebration by Tampa Bay that simply had to do with no fans in the stands, and few loved ones allowed on the ice to share the moment.

NOTES: Tampa Bay is the first team to win the Cup without a captain dressed for the clinching game since the 1977 Montreal Canadiens Yvan Cournoyer missed the playoffs because of back surgery. … Kucherov’s 27 assists are the third most in a single postseason behind only Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. … Alexander Volkov made his NHL playoff debut in the clincher for Tampa Bay.

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Monday, September 28, 2020

IMAGES: Loss shades are popping at the moment throughout the hills

We hope you got out for a hike, bike or liesurely jaunt this weekend, because the fall colors were stunning. If you haven’t hit the trail yet, you’ve still got a little time — and this year’s fall colors are particularly vibrant. (Head to The Know Outdoors to see a slideshow of fall colors from this weekend.)

Not sure where to go for the best show? Try one of these leaf-peeping suggestions from an expert, have a bite at a restaurant with a great view or check out one of these 20 spectacular Colorado fall hikes.

And most importantly, be prepared for crowds in areas of real fall foliage glory, so remember your mask and try to hit the trail outside of peak times.

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DJ LeMahieu, Juan Soto batting champs in fastest season in century

NEW YORK — DJ LeMahieu became the first player to win undisputed batting titles in both leagues and Juan Soto the youngest NL champion as Major League Baseball’s shortest regular season since 1878 ended Sunday.

Home runs were down from last year’s record level in a mini-season of diminished offense. The .245 big league batting average was the the lowest since .237 in 1968 and down from .252 last year.

Indians ace Shane Bieber finished with a 1.63 ERA, the lowest figure to lead the American League since Luis Tiant’s 1.60 for Cleveland in 1968, a year of pitching dominance that caused baseball officials to lower the mound the following year.

The average time of a nine-inning game set another new high, at 3 hours, 7 minutes, 46 seconds, up from 3:05:35 last year. While a three-batter minimum was instituted, active rosters expanded from 25 to 28 for the 60-game season and gave managers more pitching options.

LeMahieu hit .364 for the New York Yankees, the highest for an AL batting champion since Minnesota’s Joe Mauer hit .365 in 2009 and well ahead of 2019 AL batting champion Tim Anderson of the Chicago White Sox, who finished second at .322. LeMahieu won the NL batting title with Colorado in 2016.

“I wish it were over 162 games. I wish there were fans in the stands but it is what it is,” LeMahieu said. “I’m definitely proud of it.”

He became just the fourth Yankees player to lead the majors in batting average after Lou Gehrig in 1934, Joe DiMaggio in 1939 and Mickey Mantle in 1956. Despite the shorter schedule, no one approached becoming the first .400 hitter since Ted Williams batted . 406 in 1941.

Ed Delahanty hit .410 for the Philadelphia Phillies to win the NL batting championship in 1899 and is credited by some researchers with the 1902 AL crown at .376, while others accept Nap Lajoie as winning that title at .378 despite lacking the plate appearances required in more modern times.

Luke Voit joined Babe Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Roger Maris and Alex Rodriguez as New York Yankees to top the majors in home runs. Voit’s total of 22 was the fewest for a major league leader since 1918 at the end of the dead ball era but extrapolates to 59 over a full season.

LeMahieu and Voit became the first teammates to win batting and home run titles in the same season since the Milwaukee Braves’ Hank Aaron (.355) and Eddie Mathews (46) in 1959. They are just the fifth pair of teammates to do it, a group that includes Cincinnati’s Cy Seymour and Fred Odell in 1905, Philadelphia’s Billy Hamilton and Delahanty in 1893 and the Chicago White Stockings’ Cap Anson and Jimmy Ryan in 1888.

“Obviously, everybody wishes this year wouldn’t have been so weird,” Voit said. “You’ve got to just roll with it.”

Soto batted .351 for Washington and at 21 years, 11 months, 2 days became the youngest NL batting champion. He surpassed Pete Reiser, who was 22 years, 195 days when he won for Brooklyn in 1941. Al Kaline is the youngest batting champion, winning the 1955 AL title for Detroit at 20 years, 9 months, 6 days. Soto walked and singled Sunday, then came out of the game with a lead over Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman, who finished second at .341.

“It’s a little different, because we just played 60 games — and I didn’t get to play all the 60 games,” said Soto, who tested positive for the coronavirus on opening day. “You just feel good about it, because you see how consistent you’ve got to be to win it. It means you’ve got to be consistent the whole two months. So it just feels good. I’ve never won one in 162 games, so I can’t tell you if it feels the same.”

Atlanta’s Marcell Ozuna led the NL with 18 homers and 56 RBIs. José Abreu of the Chicago White Sox led the major leagues with 60 RBIs after topping the AL last year with 123.

After strikeouts set a record for the 12th straight season last year at an average of 8.81 per team per game, they declined slightly to 8.68.

But the gap between hits and strikeouts got even wider despite the short season. Strikeouts had a 189 advantage when they exceeded hits for the first time in 2018, the gap grew to 783 last year and to 1,147 this year despite only 37% of a normal season’s games.

With no fans in ballparks and a revised schedule that restricted teams to their geographic regions — East vs. East, Central vs. Central and West vs. West — home teams had a bigger advantage than usual. Home teams went 500-398 for a .557 winning percentage, the highest since .559 in 2010, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Bieber and the Chicago Cubs’ Yu Darvish tied for the major league lead in wins with eight. The previous low of 14 was set in the strike-shortened 1981 season.

Cincinnati’s Trevor Bauer led the NL with a 1.73 ERA.

Bieber topped the AL with 122 strikeouts, the fewest to lead since Lefty Grove’s 116 in 1925. With 104, Jacob deGrom topped the NL for the second straight year and had the lowest total for an NL leader, 18 fewer than Louisville’s Jim Devlin during the league’s first season in 1876.

Bauer, the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole, Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola and St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright had two complete games each, matching the lowest total for a leader set two years ago. Bauer was the only pitcher with two shutouts; the record-low leader was set when 19 pitchers had one each in 2018.

Cleveland closer Brad Hand led the major leagues with 16 saves and Milwaukee lefty Josh Hader topped the NL with 13, both lows since saves became an official statistic in 1969.

Kansas City’s Adalberto Mondesi had 24 stolen bases, the lowest total for a major league leader since Luis Aparacio swiped 21 for the Chicago White Sox in 1956. Trevor Story’s 15 for Colorado was an all-time low for an NL leader.

There were 45 games postponed for COVID-19-related reasons but just two were not made up, between St. Louis and Detroit. In order to accomplish that, there were 56 doubleheaders, the most since 76 in 1984. About 12% of games were part of doubleheaders, the highest percentage since 13.6 in 1978.

Twenty games were played on Sept. 4, including five doubleheaders, the most since 20 were played on Aug. 4, 1974, when there were nine doubleheaders.

Playoffs were expanded from 10 teams to 16, and Milwaukee and Houston (29-31) both had the lowest winning percentage for a playoff team at .483. The previous low was the 2005 San Diego Padres at 82-80 (.506). While Kansas City reached the playoffs in 1981, it was based on the Royals’ 30-23 record in the second half of the season, not their 50-53 record overall.

There were 78 extra-inning games, and in the first season in which each extra inning started with a runner on second base, the longest by innings were a pair of 13-inning contests at Houston, won by the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 29 and by Oakland on Aug. 7. Every previous season since 1901 had at least one game of 15 innings or longer.

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