Orioles

American Pharoah wins Belmont, first Triple Crown in 37 years

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American Pharoah wins Belmont, first Triple Crown in 37 years

NEW YORK (AP) -- At long last, the Triple Crown drought is over.

American Pharoah led all the way to win the Belmont Stakes by 5 lengths on Saturday, becoming the first horse in 37 years to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes -- one of the sporting world's rarest feats.

"Wow! Wow!" jockey Victor Espinoza said moments after crossing the finish line. "I can only tell you it just an amazing thing."

The bay colt with the unusually short tail defeated seven rivals in the grueling 1 1/2-mile race, covering the distance in 2:26.65 to end the longest stretch without a Triple Crown champion in history.

American Pharoah is the 12th horse and first since Affirmed in 1978 to win three races on different tracks at varying distances over a five-week span. He won the Derby by one length on May 2 and then romped to a seven-length victory in the rainy Preakness two weeks later before demolishing his rivals Saturday.

"I still can't believe it happened," said Bob Baffert, at 62 the second-oldest trainer of a Triple Crown winner.

Baffert and Espinoza ended their own frustrating histories in the Triple Crown. Baffert finally won on his record fourth Triple try, having lost in 1997, 1998 (by a nose) and in 2002. Espinoza got it done with his record third shot after failing to win in 2002 and last year on California Chrome.

Sent off as the overwhelming 3-5 favorite, American Pharoah paid $3.50, $2.80 and $2.50.

"I feel so good," Espinoza said, "I say, `I hope American Pharoah feels like me."

Frosted returned $3.50 and $2.90, while Keen Ice was another two lengths back in third and paid $4.60 to show.

Mubtaahij was fourth, followed by Frammento, Madefromlucky, Tale of Verve and Materiality.

American Pharoah delivered a victory for Egyptian-born owner Ahmed Zayat, who bred the colt and put him up for sale before buying him back for $300,000. His name came courtesy of the family's online contest, in which a woman from Missouri submitted the winning moniker, but the misspelling wasn't noticed until the name was already official

"I can't believe it happened," said Justin Zayat, racing manager for his father's stable. "It's amazing. Oh my God."

American Pharoah joined the exclusive club of Triple Crown winners Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed.

"I'm thrilled," said 93-year-old Penny Chenery, who owned Secretariat and watched from the stands.

A sign with American Pharoah's name and silks was quickly put up in the infield next to the 11 other Triple Crown winners.

The crowd of 90,000 -- capped to avoid overcrowding and long lines from last year's total of 102,199 -- roared as American Pharoah turned for home still in front.

As he neared the finish line, drinks were tossed in the air and fans jumped up and down in celebration, many holding their camera phones aloft to capture history on a sunny, 75-degree day at Belmont Park. It's unlikely the champion heard them since American Pharoah wears ear plugs to block noise that might get him worked up.

American Pharoah extended his winning streak to seven races. He matched the accomplishment of his grand-sire, Empire Maker, who won the 2003 Belmont, spoiling Funny Cide's Triple Crown bid.

Since 1978, the rigors of the Triple Crown had done in 13 other horses who won the Derby and the Preakness -- with 12 losing the third leg and I'll Have Another scratched with a leg injury in 2012. Their failures left the sport and its fans craving a worthy successor to the 11 previous champions.

American Pharoah -- his tail shortened after being bitten off on a farm when he was a youngster -- turned out to be that horse. He awed observers with his speed and a fluid, springloaded stride in which he appeared to float over the ground.

He was 2-year-old champion last year, and virtually cinched similar honors for his achievements as a 3-year-old this year.

Unlike Affirmed, who dueled Alydar in all three races, American Pharoah didn't have a specific rival since he was only horse to run in all three Triple Crown races. Going into the Belmont, American Pharoah had beaten all of his seven challengers before.

Five of his rivals lost to him in the Derby, then skipped the Preakness to await the Belmont, a competitive advantage to horses that didn't endure the three-race grind. Tale of Verve finished second in the Preakness to American Pharoah, who had beaten Madefromlucky in the Rebel Stakes in March.

American Pharoah became the first horse since Afleet Alex in 2005 to run in all three races and win the Belmont, known as "The Test of the Champion."

He passed, with flying colors.

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Who is Mike Elias?

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Who is Mike Elias?

Where to begin after a team loses 115 games? That’s the main question settling into Mike Elias’ future when he takes over the Baltimore Orioles' beached ship.

Multiple reports have pegged Elias as the Orioles new general manager. He’s yet another front office member of the Houston Astros to be plucked by an outside organization for a larger role. He’s young, comes from an analytics-fueled front office and walks into a job where there only seems to be one direction to go following last season. 

Elias also has local ties. The 36-year-old is a graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria. He went to Yale where he worked four seasons as a left-handed pitcher. Elias jumped into scouting for the St. Louis Cardinals directly after graduation.

Similar to Nationals manager Mike Rizzo, Elias moved up from a scouting baseline to a prominent decision-maker in the front office. Elias was ported from St. Louis to Houston when the Astros hired Jeff Luhnow to become general manager in 2011. The duo, and rest of the front office took over a team that was about to embark on three consecutive seasons with 100 losses or more. The organization became notable around the league for its fervent reworking of approach and willingness to absorb losses to vault to the top of the annual draft.

In 2012, the Astros selected Carlos Correa No. 1 overall. Elias, then a special assistant to the general manager, has received a large amount of the credit for taking a shortstop who became Rookie of the Year and an All-Star. Nine of the Astros’ 14 selections that year made it to the major leagues. Not all with the Astros. Not all with a large degree of success. But, they made it.

Houston selected burgeoning All-Star Alex Bregman with the No. 2 overall pick in 2015. 

However, the Astros’ high-end draft history wasn’t perfect with Luhnow and Elias in place. They selected Stanford starter Mark Appel with the No. 1 overall pick in 2013. Just 27, he is out of baseball after never making it past Triple A. The Astros took Brady Aiken with the top overall pick in 2014. He never signed. 

Yet, the organization continued to turn. Bregman developed into a star. Jose Altuve won the MVP award, Lance McCullers, also part of the 2012 class, became an All-Star. Four years after Luhnow arrived to reverse the organization’s course, the Astros had a winning season and reached the postseason. Two years later they won the World Series.

Hiring Elias signals the Orioles, long viewed as one of the stodgier organizations in baseball, are shifting to the modern era. Baltimore was known more for its reticence to embrace analytics as opposed to its use of the information. The move may also calm the ongoing rotation of the front office bosses. Elias will be the organization’s fourth general manager since the Nationals started playing baseball again in the District in 2005. 

Among Elias’ initial tasks is finding a new manager. The Orioles fired Buck Showalter after 8 ½ seasons. Three of them led to the postseason. But, the mess of last season forced a change.

They also need to hit in the draft. The Orioles hold the 2019 top overall pick.

Elias will try to conjure a way to resuscitate the Orioles while fighting the expansive cash flow of the New York Yankees and World Series champion Boston Red Sox within the division. 

He’s been part of turnarounds before. This one would fully be in his hands.

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Morrissey avoids suspension for Oshie body slam in a decision that makes little sense

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Morrissey avoids suspension for Oshie body slam in a decision that makes little sense

The Department of Player Safety announced Thursday that Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey was fined $8,467.74 for his body slam of T.J. Oshie in Wednesday’s game. It is a punishment that falls well short of the standard the DPS itself set earlier this season.

Late in Wednesday’s game between the Caps and Jets, Oshie skated to the corner of the offensive zone after the puck while locked in a physical battle with Morrissey. Morrissey checked Oshie into the boards, then, as he was falling back, Morrissey slammed Oshie down to the ice. Oshie appeared to be dazed after the play which is troubling given his history of concussions.

There is nothing wrong with the initial hit. Both players were battling for the puck making Oshie eligible to be hit. The problem is after the hit when Morrissey slams him to the ice afterward, which is unnecessary and dangerous.

Oh, c’mon, you may be saying, Morrissey was just finishing his check! That’s not an argument anymore considering the DPS already suspended a player for doing the exact same thing earlier this season when Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson slammed Vancouver Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson to the ice. Matheson was suspended two games for the play.

Matheson’s suspension was a matter of some debate within the hockey community not just because some argued Matheson was finishing his check on a hockey play, but because it was made to look worse by the fact that Pettersson is only 176 pounds, nearly 20 pounds lighter than Matheson. The DPS didn’t buy it and Matheson was suspended.

If you compare the Morrissey and the Matheson hits, they are very similar. Matheson hits Pettersson with a legal check, just as Morrissey did with Oshie. Matheson then slammed Pettersson to the ice after the initial check, just as Morrissey did with Oshie. One can quibble somewhat with the fact that Petterrsson’s skates came off the ice making the throw down more violent, but the two plays are similar enough that, in my opinion, it is fair to compare them and the corresponding punishment. In fact, one could easily argue that the Morrissey hit is worse considering he and Oshie are both listed as 195 pounds. Oshie didn’t go down to the ice because of a size disparity, Morrissey had to physically slam him down.

In addition, Morrissey is considered a repeat offender after getting suspended in the 2018 playoffs for a crosscheck to Minnesota Wild forward Eric Staal. To be fair, being a repeat offender is not supposed to affect the DPS’s decision on whether a play is worthy of a suspension or not, it is only meant to be taken into consideration when determining the length of a suspension.

But the remains that the DPS was presented with two very similar plays within one month of each other and came up with two completely different punishments. That is more than a little head scratching.

The DPS has one of the toughest jobs in hockey. No matter what they do, most people are going to be unhappy with the decisions they make. It’s the nature of the job when it comes to determining supplemental discipline. Having said that, the one thing people should be able to expect from the DPS is consistency. The Morrissey hit on Oshie seemed like a slam-dunk considering a very similar play happened a month before and resulted in a two-game suspension.

But hey, Caps fans can at least take comfort in the fact that Morrissey was issued the maximum fine allowed by the CBA. So there’s that.

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