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Tensions high, suspensions levied in Braves-Jays series

In the hours leading to the final game Thursday night in a contentious home-and-home series between the Braves and Blue Jays, fallout continued from Wednesday’s wild 8-4 win by Atlanta. It included confirmation of Freddie Freeman’s fractured wrist after being hit by a pitch, a two-game suspension for a Toronto player’s use of a homophobic slur, and more criticism of Jose Bautista for his bat-flip and stares at Braves players not at all amused by the antics.

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Toronto center fielder Kevin Pillar was suspended two games by the Blue Jays for shouting a homophobic slur at Braves reliever Jason Motte in the seventh inning, which led to the first of two benches-and-bullpens-clearing incidents (Bautista would cause the second one just an inning later). Major League Baseball is also investigating the incident and could levy further discipline.

Pillar, upset at being “quick-pitched” by Motte — Pillar struck out on the outside pitch to end the inning — shouted the slur at Motte, which was clear to anyone watching the game on television and reading Pillar’s lips, and audible to many fans in the seating sections behind home plate. Both benches and bullpens cleared as players raced onto the field, though no punches or shoving resulted before the scrum was broken up and play continued.

Pillar called Motte after the game to apologize, and on his Twitter account Pillar said he’d used “inappropriate language” and that, “By doing so I had just helped extend the use of a word that has no place in baseball, in sports or anywhere in society today. I am completely and utterly embarrassed and feel horrible to have put the organization in this position.”

Motte didn’t make himself available to reporters following the game or before Thursday’s series finale.

Pillar wrote on his Twitter account that he had “apologized personally to Jason Motte, but also need to apologize to the Braves organization and their fans, and most importantly to the LGBTQ community for the lack of respect I displayed last night.”

Part of the team’s written statement said, “The Toronto Blue Jays are extremely disappointed by the comments made by Kevin Pillar” and that “in no way is this kind of behavior accepted or tolerated, nor is it reflective of the type of inclusive organization we strive to be.” 

An inning later, Bautista repeated behavior that he has, on the other hand, become known for. With similar results as previous incidents, though he didn’t get punched like he did a year ago.

With the Braves leading 8-3 in the eighth inning, Bautista riled the Braves when he homered off Braves reliever Eric O’Flaherty and flipped his bat. As Bautista rounded first base in front of Jace Peterson, the Braves’ fill-in first baseman shouted to Bautista to let him know what Peterson thought of the bat flip and staring at O’Flaherty. Bautista briefly looked as though he were about to stop — Peterson said Thursday it would not have been pretty if Bautista had stopped — before the Blue Jays veteran continued his trot around the bases.

“That’s something that’s making the game tough to watch lately,” O’Flaherty said afterward. “It’s just turned into look-at-me stuff, it’s not even about winning anymore. Guy wants to hit a home run in a five-run game, pimp it, throw the bat around — I mean, I don’t know. It’s frustrating as a pitcher. I didn’t see it at the time, but I saw the video — he looked at me, tried to make eye contact. It’s just tired. We’ve seen it from him, though.”

This wasn’t anything quite like Bautista’s over-the-top bat flip against the Rangers in the 2015 playoffs, when he tossed it at least 20 feet in the air in the direction of the Rangers dugout. But given the game situation — Braves led by five runs and bases were empty — the flip and subsequent hard stares from Bautista irked the Braves.

When Bautista crossed home plate and stared at Kurt Suzuki, the Braves catcher stepped up and told him what he thought of the whole incident, too. As they two exchanged words, the benches and bullpens cleared again. Order was again restored without punches thrown or ejections.

After the game, O’Flaherty delivered a withering line about Bautista: “I’m surprised he’s ready to fight again after last year. But he’s throwing some looks around so … it’s what it is.”

He was referencing a famous punch May 15, 2016, when the Rangers’ Rougned Odor hit Bautista with a devastating right hand, after the Texas second baseman took offense to Bautista’s hard slide and then punished him when Bautista dared shove Odor as things escalated.

If Bautista had stopped at first base Wednesday, the stage was set for a potentially similar incident with Peterson, a former college football defensive back and linebacker who wasn’t about to back down if the situation had gone next-level.

“I’m not out looking to start a fight,” Peterson said. “But for me it’s just about situations, I think different situations you can handle the way the game’s going and do things differently. Bautista’s a great player. I don’t think he did it with intent, but he did it. At that moment it kind of triggered me. I felt like we were disrespected a little bit. Now it’s just time to go on and play baseball.”

In the first inning Thursday, Julio Teheran threw inside on the first pitch to Bautista and hit him in the thigh with the second pitch. This time, Bautista didn’t stare at the pitcher. He trotted to first base.

Pat Signal: Noah Palmer commits to Pitt

Pitt lands a local defensive end.

Proud and very excited to announce that I have fully committed to the University of Pittsburgh #H2P #L1TS8URGH pic.twitter.com/NUh6t28GCu— Noah Palmer (@npalmer_3623) May 18, 2017

Noah Palmer announced via Twitter today that he has committed to Pitt. Palmer is a 6’4” 225 pound defensive end from Jefferson Hills, Pennsylvania. He chose Pitt over offers from a number of MAC schools.

Palmer plays his high school football for Thomas Jefferson, a local powerhouse in the Pittsburgh region. He helped guide the Jaguars to a 12-1 record and a WPIAL championship in AAAA. Palmer posted 43 total tackles and 3 sacks along with two defensive touchdowns. Here is a look of his highlights from his junior season.

Palmer becomes the third commitment for this class, joining tight end Jay Symonds and Quarterback Nick Patti. Historically, Pitt’s recruiting efforts tend to pick up considerably in the months of May and June, and that looks to be the case again this season. Pat Narduzzi and his staff are still waiting to land a big time prospect, and perhaps by landing Palmer could help land his teammate, highly touted defensive tackle Devin Danielson.

Pitt offensive lineman Alex Bookser arrested and facing numerous vehicular charges, possible DUI

Well, this seems like fun:

Pitt offensive lineman Alex Bookser was arrested Sunday morning and charged with eight vehicular charges, including misdemeanor driving under the influence, after he was accused of crashing his SUV into two parked vehicles on campus, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The newspaper indicated Bookser was also charged with accidents involving damages to attended and unattended vehicles, failure to obey stop signs, driving at an unsafe speed, careless and reckless driving and operating a vehicle without an official certificate. He is scheduled to appear in Pittsburgh Magisterial District Court for a preliminary hearing on June 26.

Not good news.

Bookser, of course, is a key figure on Pitt's offense. With the Panthers' offensive line in a partial rebuild with the loss of two starters that were just drafted to the NFL, that unit isn't expected to be as strong as it was last year. Not a train wreck, mind you - just a little weaker.

Bookser is one of the reasons for some optimism on the line because he is a returning starter and played quite a bit two years ago. An experienced player, Bookser adds quite a bit to the line.

I don't want to get into the silly discussion of ranking DUIs/reported DUIs. I know there's going to be a lot of comparisons made to what Tyler Boyd did just prior to his senior season but driving under the influence is a bad situation no matter where you are. Even if it's not a populated area, you run the risk of hurting yourself.

All that being said, this seems like it could have been very, very bad. Hitting cars? Police officers drawing firearms? Yikes. Driving under the influence in Oakland is just a bad deal. Congested streets, one-way streets, and not to mention drunk students milling around all hours of the night. That no one was hurt as seems to be the case is obviously great news.

All eyes will be on Pat Narduzzi for this regarding a suspension. Boyd, you might remember, got a game. But he also had three fewer charges than what Bookser seems up against and Bookser is reported to have hit cars, hit a building, and there's some video of the incident.

The elephant in the room will be if Bookser plays against Penn State in the team's second game of the year. Missing the Panthers' game against Youngstown State wouldn't be as big of a deal. But if he's not there in Happy Valley, that would make winning an already difficult game even tougher.

Regarding that suspension, too, I'm not sure we can expect to hear a decision soon. While Narduzzi can act swiftly if he so chooses, he also didn't announce Boyd's suspension until about two months after the charges were reported - and that was in part because the season was closer to kickoff.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt baseball team on slide after sweep to North Carolina State

As recently as a couple of weeks ago, the Pitt baseball team still had a good chance to make some noise in the ACC standings. But the team has really faltered since then and now sits at 22-27 on the year.

After taking four out of five in non-conference games against SIUE and Maryland Eastern Shore, the team was promptly swept on the road at Georgia Tech. The games were close as Pitt lost by only a combined five runs (including two one-run losses) but a sweep is still a sweep no matter how you look at it.

Then, after managing an extra-inning win over Youngstown State in the middle of the week last week, the Panthers were swept again in ACC competition, dropping three games to North Carolina State this weekend. Those games weren't as close and the series culminated in a 14-6 beatdown.

Things have really taken a nosedive for Pitt, not only lately, but dating back to the beginning of April. Pitt had just taken consecutive series' from Duke and Virginia Tech and looked like they could make some progress in the conference this year. In the five series' since then, however, they've won only two of 15 games. Now, at 8-19 in the conference, they are last in the Coastal Division and tied for last in the entire ACC.

Admittedly, this was supposed to be a down year for the Panthers. But when you haven't yet had a winning season in the ACC (in conference or overall), the losing starts to grow old. Assuming he is back next season, that should be a big one in terms of evaluating head coach Joe Jordano. The ACC is difficult to compete in, there's no doubt about it. But as I wrote at the beginning of the season, at some point the program needs to take a real step forward. They sort of did that last season, finishing a game under .500 overall. However, if they're unable to make any real progress next year, that will make five losing seasons in a row. And if the idea is to be competitive across the board in all sports, that's just not good enough.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Monty Boykins transfers to Pitt

Pitt lands a transfer guard from Lafayette

Excited to officially be committed to play basketball at the University of Pittsburgh next year! #H2P #OaklandZoo #Panthers pic.twitter.com/7NI4ujJQ6W— Monty Boykins (@MontyBoykins32) May 15, 2017

Monty Boykins announced today his intentions to transfer to Pitt. He chose the Panthers over other finalists Penn State and Duquesne. The commitment comes after he visited campus last weekend. He is immediately eligible for one season.

Boykins spent the past four years with Lafayette College in the Patriot League. He was injured for nearly the entire season this past year, but as a junior he averaged 10.7 points per game along with 2.7 rebounds. Here is a better look of the type of player Boykins is.

Boykins is a native of West Chester, Ohio. Out of high school, he chose Lafayette over offers from Duquesne, Lehigh, James Madison, among some other mid-major programs. He was rated as a two-star recruit by Scout.com.

Boykins will likely figure as a bench option for next season, but could compete for the starting shooting guard position. Boykins and incoming recruit Khameron Davis are the only natural off-guards on the roster for now, but it appears they are still approaching other names on the transfer market.

To give an update where things are roster wise, Pitt has Ryan Luther and Jonathan Milligan returning. They have six commitments signed on for next season and will be welcoming St. John’s transfer Malik Ellison into the program. Monty Boykins now gives Pitt 10 scholarship players. Kevin Stallings and company can still add three more players.

Desmond Palmer, Gillian Schriever named to All-ACC First Team

Pitt's track and field teams competed at the ACC Outdoor Championships over the weekend. Neither team fared incredibly well with the men's team finishing 10th and the women's team 12th overall. A few individuals, though, made All Conference teams.

Desmond Palmer and Gillian Schriever both landed on the All ACC First Team. Palmer made the All ACC First Team in both the 110m hurdles and the 400m hurdles (runner-up in both) while Schriever earned her achievement in the 5000m race, finishing thrd. In addition, Matt McGoey made the All-ACC Second Team in the 3000m Steeplechace event by finishing in fourth.

The Pitt men's relay team, often a strong group, nearly finished third to make the podium. They finished one-hundredth of a second too late and fell to fourth.

Next up are the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds on May 25-27.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Tracking the Pitt basketball transfers and their new destinations

I've sort of lost track of all of the Pitt basketball transfers but I had a little time to catch up as I was interested in seeing who landed where.

Cameron Johnson, the biggest guy available, is still sorting some things out. And from what I can tell, Corey Manigault hasn't announced a new home yet. He was said to be visiting Arizona State a while back, but I haven't heard anything since then. But most of the departed Pitt players have found new teams.

Justice Kithcart, who was dismissed midseason, is headed to Old Dominion. Interestingly enough, Kithcart's old coach at Virginia Episcopal seems to allude that his disciplinary issue at Pitt was a little overblown.

"He was a really good kid," said Curtis Staples, Kithcart’s coach at Virginia Episcopal. "Those words made it sound worse than it was. I wish they hadn’t used them but they did."

There are plenty of places to go for talent but this sounds at least one guy that's down on the way Stallings dismissed his former player.

Crisshawn Clark, who never played for Pitt due to injury, is headed to Portland where he'll play for former NBA guard Terry Porter. Meanwhile, Damon Wilson will go to Georgia State and Rozelle Nix is heading to South Alabama. He's headed down a notch but still staying in Division I. Those last two are slightly interesting in that both Georgia State and South Alabama are in the Sun Belt so Nix/Wilson could meet each other on the court.

Former incoming 2017 recruit Aaron Thompson is easily going to the highest-profile spot of this group in Butler. Thompson isn't only going to a quality program, but he expects to play early:

There's an opportunity to get early playing time at Butler and that played a role in his decision making. "I think it factors into it a lot," Thompson said. "I think there is a clear path to playing time at Butler. I feel like that would help me in a great way to play early and get some experience."

Lots of smaller schools here, which is mostly what you'd expect. I wouldn't have been surprised to Wilson land at a slightly bigger program but he also really didn't show too much while here. Seeing Thompson scooped up by a good program isn't surprising since he hasn't even played in his first game yet and I wouldn't be surprised to see Corey Manigault scooped up by a power-conference team. And obviously, Cam basically has his pick of schools.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Former MLB star Doug DeCinces convicted of insider trading

Former major-league third baseman Doug DeCinces was convicted Friday of insider trading after a two-month trial in which he was accused of illegally using private information from a friend to net $1.3 million, the Orange County Register reported.

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DeCinces, who spent most of his 15-year career with the Baltimore Orioles and California Angels, was accused of receiving insider information from James Mazzo, a Laguna Beach neighbor who owned Santa Ana-based Advanced Medical Optics.

In turn, federal prosecutors said, DeCinces passed the inside information on to his friend, David Parker, and other DeCinces family members and acquaintances.

Jurors deliberated for four days before finding DeCinces guilty of 14 felony counts, the Register reported. Parker was convicted of three felonies.

Each count carries a potential maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

DeCinces, 66, stared toward the jury, shaking his head slightly, as the guilty verdicts were read. Jurors were unable to reach a decision regarding an additional 15 counts against DeCinces, deadlocking 8-4 in favor of guilt, the Register reported.

DeCinces’ attorney, Ken Julian, said that he plans to file a motion for a new trial.

“Obviously, this is a disappointment for everybody involved,” Julian told the Register. “This is not the end.”

The judge allowed DeCinces and Parker to remain free pending sentencing after both men promised Guilford that they will return to court. A sentencing date has not been set.

DeCinces began his major-league career in Baltimore in 1973 and joined the Angels in 1982. He finished his career with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1987. He batted .259 with 237 home runs and 879 RBI during his career.

Tom Brady will grace cover of ‘Madden 18’

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has a long list of achievements in his NFL career, including five Super Bowl championship rings. But can he avoid the Madden Curse?

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Brady will grace the cover of EA Sports’ "Madden 18" video game, which goes on sale Aug. 25. According to the Madden Curse, players making the cover of the popular video game have had tough times that particular season. There is evidence to back that up, but some players have had good years, too, ESPN reported.

Brady’s teammate, tight end Rob Gronkowski, was on the cover of “Madden 17.” He missed the postseason after he was placed on injured reserve. The Madden Curse had its origins in 1999, ESPN reported, when the first player to appear on the cover — 49ers running back Garrison Hearst — broke his ankle in a playoff loss to Atlanta.

Since 2001, 13 different “Madden” cover subjects have missed at least part of the season, while others have seen their production dip or their teams suffer shocking ends to the season, ESPN reported.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick broke his leg during his cover season of 2004 and later spent time in prison for his involvement in a dogfighting ring. Seattle running back Shaun Alexander saw his productivity drop after appearing on the 2007 cover. 

Other players have done well. Richard Sherman played great the year he was showcased on “Madden 15,” but the Seahawks lost in the final seconds of the Super Bowl to the Patriots. Calvin Johnson (“Madden 13”) and Ray Lewis (“Madden 2005”) had terrific seasons as "Madden" cover athletes.

Brady, who turns 40 in August, grew up a few miles away from where Electronic Arts opened in his hometown of San Mateo, California, ESPN reported. As a kid, he would work out in the EA gym, in part because the company employed a family friend who lived across the street from him.

Brady downplays the curse.

"There's no such thing as curses," Brady said in a Facebook video. "It's a total myth, OK? I feel you're not really getting it. See? All good."

Ex-NFL receiver Michael Jackson dies in motorcycle accident

Former NFL wide receiver Michael Jackson was killed in a motorcycle accident Friday in his hometown of Tangipahoa, Louisiana, police said.

Jackson, 48, played in the NFL for eight seasons with the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens from 1991 to 1998. 

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Jackson's motorcycle was traveling "at a high rate of speed" around 1 a.m. Friday when it crashed into a car that was backing out of a parking space and into both lanes of the highway, ESPN said, citing a police report.

Jackson was one of the first stars for the Ravens after the franchise relocated from Cleveland in 1996. In the Ravens' first season, he led the NFL with 14 touchdown catches, according to Pro-Football Reference.

In eight NFL seasons, Jackson finished with 353 receptions for 5,393 yards receiving and 46 touchdowns. Injuries curtailed his career, forcing him to retire at the age of 29, ESPN reported.

Jackson served as the mayor of Tangipahoa from 2009 to 2013.

New England’s Bill Belichick, who coached Jackson during the receiver’s first five NFL seasons in Cleveland, issued a statement and said he was “deeply saddened.”

The Ravens also issued a statement, with general manager Ozzie Newsome saying that Jackson was “a vibrant person who became one of the Ravens’ first heroes.”

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