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Counsell replaces Roenicke with Brewers after 7-18 start

MILWAUKEE (AP) Former Milwaukee infielder Craig Counsell was hired Monday to manage the Brewers, about 12 hours after the team fired Ron Roenicke.

A major league-worst 7-18, the Brewers lost 40 of their final 56 games under Roenicke. The skid included a late-season collapse last year, after they led the NL Central for nearly five months, and a 2-13 start this season.

Counsell, a 44-year-old Milwaukee-area native, spent the final five seasons of his 16-year big-league career with the Brewers, retiring after the 2011 season. He has no previous managing or coaching experience.

"It's an honor, and it's humbling, but I feel like this is what I was meant to do," Counsell said. "I think I'll be better at this than I was at playing."

Counsell was given a contract through the 2017 season.

"He played the game with a chip on his shoulder and he played the game to win," general manager Doug Melvin said during a news conference. "He has a real edge for preparation."

A two-time World Series champion, Counsell scored the winning run for Florida in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 1997 World Series and was MVP of the 2001 NLCS for Arizona.

Milwaukee is 38-65 since last July 1. The Brewers have won consecutive games on just three occasions since Sept. 1.

"You think you could win two games in a row by mistake, where the other team's playing bad," Melvin said. "That's not acceptable, and it's hard to understand why."

Counsell became a special assistant to Melvin in 2012 and also was a part-time broadcaster for Milwaukee last season. Counsell was among the candidates last offseason to succeed Joe Maddon as Tampa Bay's manager.

"Are we a contending team right now? We're not," Counsell said. "We can't start over. Our record is our record. ... We can start being the team that we want to be."

Counsell had a .255 average in the big leagues. He knows something about struggling, going hitless in 45 consecutive at-bats in 2011.

The new manager's father, John Counsell, was a former minor league outfielder and worked for the Brewers from 1979-87, running the speaker's bureau and then becoming community relations director.

Milwaukee started 20-7 last year and spent 150 of the regular season's 183 days alone in first or tied for the NL Central lead, including every day from April 5 through Aug. 31. The Brewers skidded to a 9-22 finish and wound up third in the division, eight games back of St. Louis and two behind Pittsburgh.

Roenicke became the first manager fired 25 games or fewer into a season since 2002, according to STATS. Detroit's Phil Garner (six games), Milwaukee's Davey Lopes (15), Colorado's Buddy Bell (22) and Kansas City's Tony Muser (23) were all let go quickly that year.

On March 19, Milwaukee exercised its 2016 option on Roenicke. But Melvin met with team owner Mark Attanasio on the off day last Thursday and discussed a possible change.

"It didn't feel good," Melvin said. "Slept on it for a day or so, and then just decided to make the change."

In 2011, in his first season as a major league manager, Roenicke led the Brewers to a 96-66 record - the best in team history - and the NL Central title. The Brewers beat Arizona in the first round and lost to St. Louis in the league championship series.

Milwaukee was 83-79 in 2012, 74-88 in 2013 and 82-80 last season.

"We have good players," Counsell said. "I hear it from other teams that we have good players."

Mon, 04 May 2015 16:32:00 +0000
Kane leads Blackhawks past Wild 4-1

CHICAGO (AP) Patrick Kane scored two goals, Corey Crawford made 30 saves and the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild 4-1 on Sunday night to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.

Patrick Sharp had a goal and an assist as Chicago improved to 5-0 at home in this year's playoffs. Jonathan Toews also scored in the second after a big play by Marian Hossa.

Game 3 is Tuesday night in Minnesota.

Defenseman Matt Dumba scored for the Wild, who are winless in eight postseason games at Chicago. Devan Dubnyk finished with 27 saves.

Minnesota trailed 2-0 after two, but got back in the game when Dumba's power-play shot 1:20 into the third went off Crawford's glove and into the top of the goal. Dumba's second playoff goal came with Michal Rozsival in the box for interference.

Dubnyk then made a couple of stops on Duncan Keith and Teuvo Teravainen before Sharp scored at 7:39 right after Wild captain Mikko Koivu got out of the box following a tripping penalty. Kane added an empty-netter as Chicago improved to 28-0 when leading after two periods, including three such games in the playoffs.

Chicago and Minnesota combined for six goals in the first 29 1/2 minutes of the series opener, and Teravainen sent the Blackhawks to a 4-3 victory with his first career playoff goal in the final minute of the second. Game 2 was a much different story, with shots at a premium and solid work by each goaltender for the first part of the night.

Minnesota got its first power-play opportunity when Andrew Shaw was sent off for cross-checking at 10:45 of the second. But it turned into a disaster for the Wild when Hossa stole the puck from defenseman Ryan Suter alone the boards, skated in and fed Toews for his fourth goal of the playoffs. Toews' shot went off Dubnyk, popped up in the air and then went off the goaltender's stick before barely trickling over the goal line.

The Wild then made a frantic push for the tying goal, but Crawford made a terrific stop on Kyle Brodziak on a breakaway and a couple of stellar saves on prime opportunities for Zach Parise. Crawford also used his left and then his right pad to make a pair of great saves on Thomas Vanek in the first.

Chicago increased its lead to 2-0 when Keith made a long stretch pass right to Kane's stick, and the All-Star winger beat Dubnyk with a perfectly placed shot off the inside of the left post at 19:40. It was Kane's fourth goal of the playoffs.

NOTES: Wild RW Chris Stewart was shaken up after he was taken down by Blackhawks D Johnny Oduya midway through the second. He slammed hard into the boards on his right side and went back to the locker room, but returned later in the period. ... Kane's first goal was his 100th career playoff point in 101 career games. ... Wild LW Erik Haula made his first appearance of this postseason, subbing for F Justin Fontaine (lower body). Haula had three goals and two assists in last year's playoff series against Chicago.

---

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

Mon, 04 May 2015 03:33:00 +0000
Beal leads well-rested Wizards past Hawks 104-98 in Game 1

ATLANTA (AP) Bradley Beal shook off a sprained ankle to score 28 points and the Washington Wizards remained unbeaten in the postseason, knocking off the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks 104-98 Sunday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Taking advantage of a week off since their sweep of Toronto in the opening round, the Wizards wore down the Hawks in the fourth quarter. Otto Porter scored a couple of big baskets coming down the stretch and Marcin Gortat sealed it with a lay-in off a pass from John Wall with 14.6 seconds remaining.

The Hawks needed six games to beat eight-seeded Brooklyn and had to open this best-of-seven series with about a 36-hour turnaround. After racing to a 37-26 lead after the first quarter, Atlanta couldn't make anything in the fourth.

Even with plenty of good looks, the Hawks shot just 5 of 28 in the final period.

Sun, 03 May 2015 19:37:00 +0000
Espinoza on a Derby roll with 2nd straight wins, 3 overall

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Victor Espinoza is getting pretty good at winning the Kentucky Derby.

The jockey who calls himself the "the luckiest Mexican on Earth" won his second straight Derby and third overall on Saturday, guiding favorite American Pharoah to a one-length victory over Firing Line before a record crowd of 170,513 at Churchill Downs.

Espinoza won last year's Derby aboard another favorite, California Chrome, and with War Emblem in 2002. Two of his wins came for trainer Bob Baffert, with American Pharoah and War Emblem.

The 42-year-old became the seventh jockey to win three Derbies and the sixth to win in back-to-back years - Calvin Borel being the most recent with Super Saver in 2010 and Mine That Bird in 2009.

Winning, Espinoza said, "never gets old."

"There's been a lot of great trainers that haven't been able to win it because they just didn't have the horse, but every great jockey wins the Kentucky Derby," Baffert said in praising his jockey.

American Pharoah was the 3-1 favorite in the 18-horse field. After winning last year's race, Espinoza said Baffert congratulated him with this message: "You and I, next year."

"What were the odds?" Espinoza asked Saturday. "We were just joking around."

Espinoza, among the nation's leading riders, describes himself as nervous and hyper, yet was calm throughout the week. Even his wife said he seemed unexpectedly relaxed.

It's understandable why Espinoza felt strongly entering the Derby: American Pharoah had won four straight stakes races by 22 1/4 lengths combined.

"It's all about confidence," he said. "I went into this race with so much confidence in American Pharoah. The way he was running, the way he was winning."

American Pharoah cruised to a dominating eight-length win in the Arkansas Derby on April 11 that made him the horse to beat.

The horse and Espinoza now prepare for the trip to Baltimore in two weeks for the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown. Espinoza won the Preakness after winning his first two Derbys, but fell short in winning the elusive Triple Crown each time in the Belmont Stakes.

Just before the race, the wife of American Pharoah owner Ahmed Zayat promised she'd make Espinoza dinner if he won.

After he held up his end, she told the crowd at the post-race news conference, "I owe you dinner."

Espinoza answered, "I hope you know how to make Mexican food."

Sun, 03 May 2015 01:57:00 +0000
American Pharoah gives trainer a long-awaited 4th Derby win

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Three times in seven years, Bob Baffert left the Kentucky Derby empty-handed. Two seconds and a sixth-place finish by the wagering favorite.

After a while, those close calls started taking a toll. Even for a three-time Derby winner.

"When you get beat like that, all these seconds, you get to a point in your life, maybe it's not just going to happen for me," said Baffert, 62, who suffered a heart attack in Dubai three years ago. "And then they sent me this horse. And I thought, `Wow, here's my chance. Don't mess it up, Bob."'

On this first Saturday in May, Baffert knew he had the best horse in American Pharoah. Still, he needed a dynamic performance and some old-fashioned racing luck.

He got it all - and then some - with a horse that even rival trainers suspect could be a threat to win racing's first Triple Crown in 37 years.

Sent off as the 5-2 favorite by the record crowd of 170,513, American Pharoah rallied in the stretch to beat Firing Line by a length and deliver Baffert's first Derby since 2002.

"There's a certain aura about him, and he has caught everybody's attention," said a joyous Baffert, surrounded by three older sons from a first marriage and his youngest, 10-year-old Bode, who jumped up and down and waved his arms in celebration.

Owner Ahmed Zayat grabbed the gold winner's trophy - his first after a trio of second-place finishes in the $2.1 million race.

"Finally, no more seconds," he said, laughing.

Baffert trained two of Zayat's runners-up: Pioneerof the Nile in 2009, the sire of American Pharoah; and Bodemeister, named for Baffert's son, three years ago.

"This is for the Zayats, who have suffered so much running these seconds," Baffert said. "We know what it is to just get punched right in the face."

Baffert also saddled third-place Dortmund, the other part of his lethal 1-2 punch in the 141st Derby. Firing Line finished second.

"We were ready to rumble," said Baffert, who went 1-3 in 1998, when Real Quiet won and Indian Charlie was third. "I just love what I saw today from both of my boys."

Dortmund set a leisurely pace with Firing Line tracking him closely in second. American Pharoah sat comfortably in third down the backstretch.

That trio made it a three-horse race in the stretch, with none of the closers able to make up ground. American Pharoah angled outside and fought off a persistent Firing Line as Dortmund tired along the rail, his six-race winning streak about to end.

"Coming for home I thought I might get there, but it wasn't to be," said Gary Stevens, who rode Firing Line.

Now, the moment of truth. Could American Pharoah justify Baffert's belief that he was an exceptional colt?

"I was on pins and needles all week," the white-haired trainer said. "I know I was coming in here with the best horse."

American Pharoah proved him right.

Still, it was a long road to the winner's circle for the colt with the unusually short tail - having had it chewed off by another horse on the farm - and the misspelled moniker courtesy of a fan contest.

American Pharoah missed his first big test last year when he was scratched from the Breeders' Cup with an injury. He returned with two easy wins this year against lesser competition. Dortmund and several other Derby contenders had beaten much tougher fields, raising questions about whether American Pharoah could mix it up in a 20-horse field.

Victor Espinoza won his second consecutive Derby a year after being aboard California Chrome, and third overall. He and Baffert teamed to win with War Emblem 18 years ago.

"He's been a special horse since I first rode him," Espinoza said. "I feel like the luckiest Mexican on Earth."

American Pharoah ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.02.

Baffert tied D. Wayne Lukas and Herbert "Derby Dick" Thompson for second on the career win list.

American Pharoah paid $7.80, $5.80, $4.20.

Firing Line returned $8.40 and $5.40 at 10-1 odds, while Dortmund was another two lengths back in third and paid $4.20 to show.

Zayat took a pre-Derby blow Friday, when one of his other horses, El Kabeir, was scratched because of a sore foot. Mr. Z, his third entry, finished 13th.

Trainer Todd Pletcher's trio of Materiality, Itsaknockout and Carpe Diem finished sixth, ninth and 10th.

Frosted was fourth, followed by Danzig Moon, Materiality, Keen Ice and Mubtaahij. Itsaknockout was ninth on the same day Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao fought in Las Vegas.

Carpe Diem was 10th, followed by Frammento, Bolo, Mr. Z, Ocho Ocho Ocho, Far Right, War Story, Tencendur and Upstart.

Sun, 03 May 2015 01:32:00 +0000

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