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Giroux, Hayes help Flyers to win over first-place Penguins
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PHILADELPHIA – Claude Giroux had two goals and an assist, Kevin Hayes gave Philadelphia a rare early lead, and the Flyers skated to an easy 7-2 victory over the first-place Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night.

Joel Farabee had a goal and two assists and Shayne Gostisbehere, Wade Allison and Robert Hagg also scored for the Flyers, who snapped a three-game skid and won for just the sixth time in the last 16.

Sidney Crosby and Jason Zucker scored for the Penguins, who are tied atop the East Division with Washington. Each has 71 points, but the Capitals have four games left while Pittsburgh has three.

Evgeni Malkin returned to the lineup for Pittsburgh after missing 23 games with a lower body injury. The Penguins didn’t miss a beat without the four-time All-Star, winning 16 of the contests during his absence. Malkin had an assist on Crosby’s tally.

Alex Lyon made 35 saves for his first victory in his fourth start.

The Flyers were thought to be a Stanley Cup contender at the season’s outset, and that didn’t change after starting the season with a convincing two-game home sweep of the Penguins. But Philadelphia (23-22-7, 53 points) has been in a free fall since the end of February, were eliminated from the playoffs last Thursday and are just trying to stay about .500 with four games remaining.

The Flyers probably wish they had more games against the Penguins, though. Philadelphia improved to 5-2 against Pittsburgh with one of its best performances of the season.

The Flyers jumped out to a 3-0 first-period lead for the first time this season.

Hayes’ tally 5:58 into the contest to give Philadelphia a rare early advantage. The goal wasn’t whistled on the ice as it looked like Casey DeSmith made a remarkable glove save on Hayes’ wraparound shot, but replays showed that DeSmith’s glove actually was over the goal line and was awarded after an officials’ review.

It was the first time in 11 games and just the second time in the last 22 contests that Philadelphia scored first.

Gostisbehere’s slap shot from the point through traffic on the power play made it 2-0 with just under 5:52 left in the period. And Giroux notched his 15th 1:04 later. Sean Couturier sent the puck behind the net, Konecny tipped it to the slot and Giroux fired it past DeSmith’s glove.

Lyon made a remarkable save with 10 ½ minutes left in the period to keep the Penguins off the board. Lyon stopped Kasperi Kapanen’s long shot, but it knocked the stick out of Lyon’s hand. The puck trickled behind Lyon and toward the goal, but he sprawled around and used his hand under his blocker to stop the puck just before it crossed the goal line.

Crosby netted his 21st of the season and 47th in 76 career games against the Flyers 2:30 into the third when he tipped Kris Letang’s pass over Lyon’s left shoulder from the side of the net. Zucker pulled Pittsburgh within 4-2 with 11:36 remaining when he tipped John Marino’s shot past Lyon for another power play goal, but Farabee dashed any hopes of a Pittsburgh comeback with his team-leading 17th goal with 8:23 left.

Tristan Jarry replaced DeSmith in goal at the start of the third.

The teams close out their season series with the second game of a back-to-back on Tuesday night in Philadelphia.

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McGuffey on verge of another program first after win
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Waynesburg learned a wonderful lesson Monday night.

Don’t give McGuffey’s baseball team room to breath or the Highlanders might just blow you away.

Waynesburg led 1-0 into the second inning but made some errors, giving the Highlanders’ offense a chance to revive itself.

McGuffey exploded for four runs in the second and then scrounged up four more runs the rest of the way too take an 8-1 victory from Waynesburg at Wild Things Park and leave it one win shy of another first in program history.

The Highlanders are 9-0 in Section 4 of Class 3A, and a win against Waynesburg in a game scheduled for today would make them undefeated section champions. McGuffey wrapped up the first section title in school history last week.

Undefeated section champions?

Well, who would have believed it a little more than a month ago, after an 11-5 loss to Ringgold in the first game of the season, a nonsection game?

“I would have liked them to produce a little better at the plate but that didn’t happen,” said McGuffey head coach George Linck. “These guys know how to play baseball. It’s a pleasure to work with them and I can’t say enough about them. We want to play pressure offense and our guys did a good job of putting the ball down. You have to put the ball in play and make the other team make mistakes.”

The game turned on a weird second inning when Waynesburg committed four errors and McGuffey scored four times.

Luke Wagner started it off with a ringing single to center field. With Logan Seibert at the plate, Wagner broke for second. Waynesburg catcher Matt Ankrom made a strong throw to second base but no one covered the bag and the ball sailed into center field, sending Wagner to third.

Seibert walked to put runners on the corners with no outs. Kyle Brookman struck out but Logan Hatfield walked. Jake Ross tried a suicide squeeze. Waynesburg starting pitcher Ross Jones fielded the bunt and appeared to have a play on Wagner, who was headed to the plate.

But Jones dropped the ball for an error, then picked it up and threw it down the right-field line trying to get Ross at first base. A pinch-runner and Hatfield scored. Brock Wallace singled to score Ross. The inning mercifully ended when Austin Beattie lined out to left.

But McGuffey had scored four times on just two hits and were helped by three Waynesburg errors.

“Some errors hurt us,” said Waynesburg head coach Jamie Moore. “Their guy threw well. I expected us to hit better. We’ve been hitting well all year. I expect to get more hits and more baserunners but it didn’t work out for us tonight.”

Meanwhile, Orr was setting down Waynesburg batters almost as fast as they could come to the plate. After struggling through the first inning, Orr did not allow a hit through the game’s final six innings, striking out 12 batters, including the side in the second and fifth innings.

“I had good command of my pitches today,” said Orr. “The guys made plays behind me and when they do, it’s pretty easy to win a game.”

Gardner-Webb recruit Tyler Switalski, who fought one off toward the handle of the bat, had one of Waynesburg’s two hits. Switalski, battling his way back from a sprained wrist, finished 1-for-3 with a flyout to right field and a groundout to short.

Waynesburg got off to a promising start, using two McGuffey errors to take a 1-0 lead. Switalski singled to center and moved to third on a ball that went over the glove of first baseman Luke Wagner by Hudson Boris for the Raiders’ last hit of the game. Boris tried to steal second and the throw by catcher Logan Seibert went into center field, allowing Switalski to score.

Brock Wallace went 2-for-3 with 2 RBI for McGuffey and Hatfield went 1-for-1 with two runs and walked twice.

Analysis: After draft, some obstacles ahead for NFL in 2021

With a successful in-person draft in Cleveland behind it, the NFL inexorably moves on.

What’s ahead might not go so smoothly as the selection process did on the shore of Lake Erie.

For one, the league and the players’ union likely will be hassling over offseason programs for, well, the rest of the offseason.

For another, while commissioner Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners rather loudly are embracing the idea of full stands come the regular season, there are far too many uncertainties with the COVID-19 pandemic that are still a significant factor.

As for major storylines for the teams, no need to look beyond Green Bay up north and Houston down south.

Offseason programs

This one could get ugly, and relatively soon.

Although the NFL pushed back in-person attendance for meetings and OTAs, which are optional anyway, until later this month, the NFL Players Association wants to do something virtually no else does: Go back to 2020. At least when it comes to mandatory events, particularly minicamps.

Last year, the offseason programs were all done virtually and training camp was pushed back because of the pandemic. This year, organized team activities can begin May 24 for 10 sessions, and minicamps can be held until June 18.

NFLPA President JC Tretter, a center with the Browns, has campaigned for eliminating all of that.

“The good news for our sport is that while the NFL season looked and felt noticeably different from previous years,” Tretter has written on the NFLPA website, “we learned that the game of football did not suffer at the expense of protecting its players more than ever before.

“Our process is to follow the science on what is safest for our guys, and many of the changes this past year – like no in-person offseason workouts/practices, the extended acclimation period before training camp and no preseason games – gave us a year of data that demonstrates maintaining some of these changes long term is in the best interest of the game.”

The battle lines could be drawn for June’s minicamps. The union could advise its members not to attend, but the teams can hand down hefty fines to those players who, basically, opt out.

Preseason games

The owners make too much money off these exhibition games to totally eliminate them. Getting them to drop from four to three per team (not counting the Hall of Fame game) took adding a 17th regular-season game.

Coaches want them to help set their rosters and find their starters. Rookies need them to become acclimated to the pros before the real stuff kicks off. Free agents joining new teams are helped in their adjustments by preseason matches.

At least that’s what we are told.

If the union is to make a stand about the work schedule, minicamps are more likely to be the focal point than boycotting preseason games. Revenues from preseason games are factored into the salary cap, so fewer games means less revenue all around.


Goodell and the league’s medical staff wisely and repeatedly make their decisions regarding practice facilities, stadiums and games based on the latest medical science and municipality health rules. His bosses – that would be the team owners – can be more pushy as far as getting people in the stands.

It’s unlikely that the commissioner would back down in this area, even if a franchise in a “more open” state such as Texas or Florida, pushed for attendance beyond what the league itself deems appropriate and safe.

Citing Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, and his staff, Goodell often refers back to their work in getting the 2020 schedule and postseason completed on time. Don’t look for him to abandon that approach regardless of the potential pushback from one or several clubs.

A-Rod & Deshaun

If you think things are cold in Green Bay in December, try the icy atmosphere right now. Aaron Rodgers reportedly wants out, the Packers say they have no intention of trading the 2020 league MVP – and their only chance of competing for a title in 2021. Not that the star quarterback’s contract is easy to deal, nor are there many (any?) contenders who could make the move.

Would Rodgers want to finish off a career that will eventually get him to Canton, Ohio, with an also-ran and no shot at another ring?

Stay tuned.

As for Houston’s Deshaun Watson, there’s been talk of him being suspended or placed on the commissioner’s exempt list after 22 women filed lawsuits alleging they were sexually assaulted or harassed by the quarterback.

Oh yeah, he also asked for a trade away from the Texans, whom the oddsmakers who handle such things say should be the NFL’s worst team this year.

Yes, there are substantial financial implications in a trade here, too. But they pale in comparison to the off-field situation with Watson.

Stay tuned here, too.

Minors primer: What's new as MiLB returns in 2021?

NEW YORK – They’ve waited for the Wahoos, stood by for the Sod Poodles, bided their time for the Biscuits and Trash Pandas.

After more than a year of uncertainty and empty ballparks, fans in minor league cities are finally getting baseball back.

“Small town baseball, it’s the fabric of the United States,” Brooklyn Cyclones manager Ed Blankmeyer said. “It’s a culture.”

Minor league teams across the country are set to open their seasons Tuesday, returning baseball to communities denied the old national pastime during the coronavirus pandemic. Capacities will differ by jurisdiction, but for most, it will be the first opportunity to see pro players in person since the entire 2020 season was canceled.

Of course, much has changed since the last affiliated games were played in 2019. There are fewer teams and leagues and Major League Baseball has introduced plans to use the minors as a testing ground for new rules that could improve pace of play or reduce player injuries.

Much will remain the same. Family-friendly prices, offbeat giveaways and outlandish team branding – more on those Trash Pandas below – remain key pillars of the minor league experience.

But for those wondering what will be different, here’s a primer:

Who goes where?

The biggest change, of course, is that MLB contracted the minors from 160 affiliates to 120.

Commissioner Rob Manfred’s office assumed full control of the minors after deciding this offseason not to renew its agreement with the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the body that operated minor league ball.

That gave MLB latitude to reshape the minors, and it acted fast. The short-season leagues were eliminated, as were several full-season affiliates, to take 40 clubs out of the equation.

What remains are four levels – Triple-A, Double-A, High-A and Low-A – each with regional names. No more Pacific Coast League, for example – it’s just Triple-A West. Several leagues with over 100 years of history, including the International League (established in 1884), Texas League (1902) and Florida State League (1919), are no more.

Three previously independent franchises – the St. Paul Saints, Somerset Patriots and Sugar Land Skeeters – were brought into affiliated ball, meaning 43 clubs lost their connection to the pro ranks. Many of those were folded into new summer leagues for college players, draft hopefuls or independent leagues, keeping baseball in those communities in some form. Some, though, folded entirely.

Several have also rebranded, and just like before the pandemic, they’ve done it with minor league baseball’s signature eye-raising creativity.

The Mobile BayBears moved to Madison, Alabama, and became the Rocket City Trash Pandas – Rocket City for the area’s ties to the space industry, and Trash Pandas as a nod to the area’s clever, mischievous racoons.

Other clubs with new monikers: Kannapolis has transformed from the Intimidators to the Cannon Ballers, Wichita inherited a team from New Orleans and named it the Wind Surge, and Fort Myers now goes by the Mighty Mussels.

On the field

The minors will be a testing ground for several rules experiments MLB is considering, including an automated strike zone, restrictions on defensive positioning and larger bases.

An automatic ball-strike system will be used at some Low-A Southeast League games, the highest level yet for the robo zone that’s already been tested in the independent Atlantic League and the Arizona Fall League. The system has received mixed reviews from players, including complaints about how the system grades breaking pitches down in the zone.

At Double-A, infielders will have to keep both feet in the infield at the start of every play, although there won’t yet be a ban on shifting three or more infielders to either side of second base – MLB hasn’t closed the door on banning the shift, though.

The bases at Triple-A will be expanded from 15 by 15 inches to 18 by 18, which MLB hopes will improve player safety and modestly increase stolen bases and infield hits.

The most impactful change could come at the lower levels, where MLB will limit pitchers’ ability to hold baserunners. At High-A, pitchers will be required to fully disengage from the rubber prior to throwing to a base, under penalty of a balk. In Low-A, pitchers only get two pickoff attempts per plate appearance. If they try for a third and don’t record an out, it’s a balk.

The Low-A West league will also adopt on-field timers previously used at other levels with additional regulations to reduce game length and improve pace of play.

On the roster

At least 1,000 roster spots were eliminated when MLB contracted 40 clubs, but those that remain are at least getting a pay raise. MLB decided prior to the pandemic to boost minor league wages between 38% and 72% – a bump introduced three years after MLB successfully lobbied Congress to exempt players from federal minimum wage laws.

Players at Class A will see their minimum weekly pay raised from from $290 to $500. Double-A will jump from $350 to $600, and Triple-A from $502 to $700.

For most, opening day will be their first competitive game since the end of the 2019 season. More advanced players may have gotten reps last season at alternate training sites, but the bulk of players reported to spring training in late March after scrambling to stay sharp in 2020.

Their experiences varied, with a lucky few maintaining access to training facilities and other resources throughout the pandemic. Others got creative – power lifting with truck parts, box jumping on electrical units, constructing makeshift bullpens in their back yards.

At the other end of the spectrum, some Venezuelan players, unable to return to their conflict-stricken home country, were locked into team housing and unable to leave for months, even to grocery shop.

“If you have young guys that need to play baseball, they’ve been void of it for almost two years now, they’ve got to get out there and play,” Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “This is one time I am really going to be paying attention to minor league reports coming up. I want to see and hear how our guys are doing.”

Players say they expect pitchers to be a good deal sharper than batters early on, especially among those who didn’t go to alternate training sites. Pitchers adapted during the shutdown, using that time to build velocity and develop new pitches. Hitters, meanwhile, were hamstrung without the chance to get regular at-bats against high-level pitching.

“Definitely, pitchers are a little bit ahead right now,” Mets third base prospect Brett Baty said.

“I’ve just been telling guys to throw strikes,” said teammate and right-hander Matt Allan, who has been telling his fellow pitchers to challenge hitters early and often.

Players are understandably eager to get back into the minor league grind, competing against other teams and playing in front of fans.

About the only thing they aren’t excited for?

“The nine- or 10-hour bus rides,” Allan joked.