Newsday (N.Y.): Michael Pineda gets first win since April 6

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

OAKLAND, Calif. — Michael Pineda stood taller, literally, extending his body to the maximum, which is considerable for someone who is 6-7. And also figuratively, finally looking like the pitcher he and the Yankees believed he was.

It had been a difficult seven starts for Pineda, who was winless in each of them. But he came to the mound at Coliseum on Sunday after working on standing more erect, which would help him throw sliders to the bottom of the strike zone.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2016 Newsday. All rights reserved.


Newsday (N.Y.): Rob Refsnyder gets big hit, but will he be staying with Yankees?

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

OAKLAND, Calif. — The question was inevitable. So was the answer.

Rob Refsnyder had the big hit Saturday, proving that on this day, at least, he deserved to be on the Yankees. But not unexpectedly, the present seemed less important than the future — the immediate future.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2016 Newsday. All rights reserved.


S.F. Examiner: Curry Flurry buries the Thunder

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

It was desperation. No matter the mantra from the Warriors. They had to win that game or they were finished. They couldn’t lose the first two at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder and expect to win this series, not to mention another NBA championship.

It was desperation, but then it was Steph. And in the end it was elation.

Read the full story here.

©2016 The San Francisco Examiner




And then there was Steph — who else?

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — Steph. Who else? The game wasn’t supposed to be that close. But it was. The Trail Blazers wouldn’t fade, wouldn’t recognize they were beaten, even when they were. The Blazers just kept coming, like blazes, if you’ll accept the line.

There they were, within two points. And then there was Steph. Swish. We’ve seen it before. We’ll see it again.

A three-pointer. A step-back 26-footer with 24.9 seconds left. A dagger. “I mean, Steph is Steph,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “I think our fans are used to it. I’m used to it. He makes these incredibly difficult shots.”

Makes them when the team needs him to make them.

“He makes big-time shots,” said Blazers coach Terry Stotts. “That last shot he made was well defended. He’s a special player who can do special things.”

He’s the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for a second straight year, a unanimous choice this time, for the first time in history. He got the trophy in ceremonies before the game, and then with that basket, which put the W’s ahead by three, he helped get a thrilling, nerve-wracking 125-121 victory Wednesday night at Oracle.

So the Warriors, the defending champions, take the Western Conference semifinals as they took the first round, four games to one, and now will face the winner of the San Antonio-Oklahoma City series for the right to get to the NBA finals once more.

It wasn’t just Steph Curry, however, on this night that started late — tipoff was just before 8 p.m. — and ended very late, around 10:45. It was also the man who had been carrying the Warriors when Curry was out with a bad knee, Klay Thompson, who was 13 of 17 from the field and had 33 points. And it was Draymond Green, hustling, rebounding (11), scoring (13) and screaming, as he so often does. And it was Shaun Livingston, a sub once more, with 10 points.

“Klay’s shooting was incredible tonight,” affirmed Kerr. “Then the way Steph finished the game, that step-back shot to put it to a five-point lead, was probably only a shot he can make.

“It was like we were running on fumes a bit at the end, between Draymond’s ankle (Green was limping late in the fourth quarter) and (Andrew) Bogut’s not playing in the second half (he had a strained adductor). But we talk about our depth all the time.”

And display it all the time. “Strength in Numbers” is more than a slogan on all those gold T-shirts given to the fans. Curry was out for three games. Livingston got bounced two games ago on two technicals. Green plays forward — and center. And guard. Andre Iguodala is indispensable. Marreese Speights hit a big three-pointer.

The way the Warriors came back from the huge deficit Monday in game four at Portland — that TV shot of Blazers billionaire owner Paul Allen, who looked like he swallowed a lemon, told it all — one might have figured the Blazers wouldn’t be competitive Wednesday. Wrong, so wrong.

For so long, Portland, with Damian Lillard scoring 28 and C.J. McCollum scoring 27 — add Klay and Steph, and what a foursome of guards — was in charge, going in front by 11 points and hanging tough against a hostile crowd and a favored Warriors team.

“That’s a terrific basketball team,” Kerr said of the Blazers, and he was absolutely right. Portland led at halftime of games two, three, four and five. “That’s a tough team to guard and a tough team to play against.”

So, of course, are the Warriors, with their three All-Stars (Curry, Thompson and Green) and their relentless style. It’s just that against the agile, mobile Blazers, the W’s weren’t always effective with the defense that forces missed shots and enables the W’s to flow.   

“It wasn’t our best stuff,” agreed Kerr, “but we got it done.”

Which is what the best teams do, the best individuals do. Overcome the mistakes, the questionable officiating, the frustration and win.

“We know what it takes to win in the playoffs,” said Thompson. “It’s extremely hard. Give (the Blazers) credit. They’re an offensive powerhouse. It wasn’t an individual thing when Steph went out (with the injury). We did it collectively ... I’m just proud of my focus on defense ... I’m just trying to get myself in the flow of the offense.

“I’m not going to go out there and try and take the ball from Steph when he’s in the zone.”

Which he almost always is.


Giants: Hard to win when you don’t score

By Art Spander

Bruce Bochy was talking about the little things, about moving a runner, about laying down a bunt. It’s the big thing that’s beating the Giants, an inability to score, whatever which way, a ground out, a home run. And when you can’t score, you can’t win. That’s a sporting truism. And right now, a San Francisco Giants flaw.

Everyone was so worried about Matt Cain, the Giants starter, winless since the middle of last season. What happens if Cain gets battered around as he did in his last start against the Rockies? The question was academic. San Francisco’s offensive woes seem to be endemic. Cain had his best game of the year. So encouraging. The Giants, beaten 4-0 by Toronto on a chilly, Candlestick-type Tuesday night at AT&T Park, had another scoreless round — shut out for the second time in three games.

Three runs over the last four games for the Giants — who somehow won one of those games, but none of the last three. “We ran into some well-pitched games the last two nights,’’ said Bochy. No question. It was lefthander J.A. Happ on Tuesday night for the Blue Jays. He was within one out of his first complete-game shutout in six years. It was righthander Aaron Sanchez on Monday night in the 3-1 win.

“We just need one critical hit,“ said Bochy, “one at bat that works.” Nothing is working for the Giants when they have a bat in their hands. The heart of the order, Buster Posey (0-for-4 including a double play), Hunter Pence (1-for-4) and Brandon Belt (0-for-3 with a walk) seem mystified.

Three days ago, there was near-panic about the fourth and fifth pitchers in the Giants’ rotation, Jake Peavy and Cain. Peavy made it through five innings on Monday night. Not without problems, yet he allowed only three runs. Then Cain was very effective Tuesday, going eight innings — his hadn’t gone more than six in his previous 18 starts — striking out seven, walking none and allowing six hits.

And the Giants couldn’t get a single run. Just as on Sunday they couldn’t get a single run.

In order, the Giants lost 2-0 to the Rockies, 3-1 to the Blue Jays and 4-0 to the Blue Jays. The Bad News Bears weren’t that bad.

“We’ve got to find a way to beat them,” said Bochy. One way is to get people across home plate.

It's hard to knock your pitcher when he’s decent on the mound and botches something when he’s at bat, but in the bottom of the sixth the Giants had runners on first and second with nobody out and their pitcher, Mr. Cain, coming up. Everyone from McCovey Cove to Cooperstown knew he would sacrifice, and he tried, without success.

Cain’s bunt was fielded by Happ, who forced the runner (Jarrett Parker, who had walked). Then leadoff man Denard Span grounded into a double play, the sequence of a team for which everything of late goes wrong — and nobody goes home.

Cain was as upbeat as someone can be when the ballclub is losing.

“I felt like I limited my mistakes,” he said. “We did a good job of keeping those to a minimum. This is something to build off of and carry into the next one.”

Unfortunately, he’s now 0-5 and is winless in 14 consecutive starts.

The bunt? “I didn't get the angle right to third," Cain said. “That's our job as pitchers. We need to be able to execute. That could have changed the game.”

That’s the Giants right now, talking about what might have been, could have and would have. If this had happened... but what did happen was another defeat, and with the homestand ending Wednesday with yet another game against the Blue Jays, San Francisco has a losing record, 17-18.

“I’ve tried to shake things up,” said Bochy, who had Duffy batting sixth instead of second (he was 0-for-3 with a walk). “But our big hitters are cold.”

Maybe they can sign Steph Curry to bat cleanup.