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Houston Astros fire manager Bo Porter
HOUSTON (AP) The Houston Astros fired manager Bo Porter on Monday, saying the dismissal had less to do with the team's 59-79 record than the need for "new direction" and a "united message throughout the entire organization."
Porter was in his second season with the Astros and was succeeded by interim manager Tom Lawless, who worked in Houston's minor league system. Lawless' first game in charge is Tuesday night at home against the first-place Los Angeles Angels.
Bench coach Dave Trembley also was let go.
Porter joined the Astros after working as a third-base coach for the Washington Nationals. The Astros went a franchise-worst 51-111 in his first season for their third straight 100-loss season.
General manager Jeff Luhnow said the decision was not based on "our current level of competitiveness." The Astros entered Monday in fourth place in the AL West with the second-worst record in the league.
"I recognize that our win-loss record is largely a product of an organizational strategy for which I am responsible," Luhnow said in a statement. "Rather, I made this decision because I believe we need a new direction in our clubhouse."
Luhnow refused repeatedly to get into more detail about why Porter was let go as he fielded questions for almost 25 minutes on Monday afternoon. He did say that he had been mulling the move for a few weeks and that he made the final decision on Sunday.
"Once you make a decision it is in everyone's best interest to move it along," he said. "It's easier to wait until the end of the season in some respects, but it's not fair to Bo and it's not fair to us."
Owner Jim Crane said the firing was "not an easy decision to make." It comes following recent reports citing sources who said Luhnow and Porter were not getting along. Luhnow wouldn't address those rumors other than to say that there were "numerous inaccuracies" in the reports.
Porter issued a statement Monday afternoon.
"During my time in Houston I dedicated myself to do everything I could to help this organization win, in the short-term and for the long-term," he said in the statement. "I am proud of what we were able to accomplish in Houston with an organization in transition. I'm gratified we were able to bring some excitement to this city as a result of our improvement from 2013 to 2014."
Starting pitcher Scott Feldman lamented Porter's firing and noted the care and concern he showed when Feldman's father died earlier this season. He said he spoke to Porter on Monday and thanked him for the way he treated him throughout the season and particularly in that difficult time.
"I hope he realizes that he was doing as well as he could given the circumstances," Feldman said. "It's tough to see, but Bo's a strong guy and I'm sure he'll be back on his feet and back in the game whenever he wants to be."
Whoever is hired as full-time manager will be the team's fourth since 2007, not including those who held the job on an interim basis. Luhnow said they hope to hire someone quickly.
"What we will seek going forward is a consistent and united message throughout the entire organization," Luhnow said. "It is essential that as an organization we create an atmosphere at the major league level where our young players can come up and continue to develop and succeed.
"Ultimately, I am responsible for creating that culture, and I will do everything in my power to do so - even when it means making difficult moves like the one we made today."
Porter was the first managerial hiring in Luhnow's tenure, and he was unhappy it didn't work out.
"It is a disappointment in that any time you bring in a new leader of any department ... you hope that the individual is going to be there for the long haul," he said. "In no way did we intend to hire someone for a short-term (transitional) period. As we look forward to the next hire, we're looking for someone for the long haul."
He said many people will help in the hunt for a new manager and noted that Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, who re-joined the team in February as a special assistant following a stint with the Rangers, will be among them.
The firing is the latest development in months of trouble surrounding the Astros that includes being the victim of hackers who accessed team's servers and published months of internal trade talks on the Internet, and failing to reach a deal with No. 1 overall draft pick Brady Aiken.
"It's been a challenging summer for me personally and for us as the Astros organization," Luhnow said. "A lot of things happened not the way we scripted them to happen and we've had to react. That's part of the job."
Lawless was the interim manager at Triple-A Oklahoma City this season when manager Tony DeFrancesco was on medical leave. Adam Everett, who was also working in the minors, will replace Trembley as bench coach.
Mon, 01 Sep 2014 22:22:00 +0000
Djokovic tops Kohlschreiber at U.S. Open
NEW YORK -- Playing mostly mistake-free tennis, top-seeded Novak Djokovic reached the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open for the eighth year in a row - and at a 22nd consecutive Grand Slam tournament overall.
Djokovic, the 2011 champion at Flushing Meadows, made only 19 unforced errors, saved both break points he faced, and breezed past 22nd-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany 6-1, 7-5, 6-4 Monday.
The last time Djokovic was eliminated before the quarterfinals at a major was a third-round loss to Kohlschreiber at the 2009 French Open. But Djokovic has now won their four head-to-head matchups since then.
Employing his court-covering defensive style to perfection, Djokovic repeatedly forced Kohlschreiber to hit an extra shot, and the German wound up with nearly twice as many unforced errors, 36.
Still, Kohlschreiber - who eliminated the last American man in the field, 13th-seeded John Isner, in the third round at Flushing Meadows for the third straight year - had a chance to make Monday's match far more intriguing. Ahead 5-4 in the second set, with Djokovic serving, Kohlschreiber hit a forehand winner and then forced a rare backhand error at 30-all to earn a set point.
But Djokovic fended that off with what he later called a "really good" forehand passing shot winner to get to deuce, then held serve for 5-all and broke in the very next game to regain control.
"Managed to win that set, which was crucial," Djokovic said.
Next up for the Serb, who reached the U.S. Open final each of the past four years, will be a match against 2012 U.S. Open champion Andy Murray or ninth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Mon, 01 Sep 2014 19:52:00 +0000
Gronk promises he will play Sunday; Dolphins ready
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Star tight end Rob Gronkowski stood in front of his Gillette Stadium locker Monday and announced he will be playing in the New England Patriots' opener at Miami this Sunday.
Meanwhile, the news hardly caught the Dolphins by surprise.
"I'm super excited," said Gronkowski, who didn't play in any of the four preseason games as he completed his recovery from December right knee surgery. "I won't have to see my teammates grind all week - (I'll) go back out there with them, get in the huddle, break the huddle with them.
"It's going to be an honor to be back out there with my teammates. Super pumped, super excited and just preparing for the game."
The pronouncement came as a bit of a surprise in a locker room not known for players "breaking news."
"Yeah, yeah, I'm just getting it out of the way there," Gronkowski said. "Every single day this week (he would have been asked about returning) - get it out of the way now."
"It just feels good in my mind to know that I'll be out there with my boys, working hard, grinding with them, being out there."
The Patriots are 6-0 all-time when Gronkowski plays against the Dolphins, but Miami has kept him in some check of late. Gronkowski's last two games against Miami resulted in a total of only four catches.
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said his team was "fully prepared" for a Gronkowski sighting.
"He's an excellent player," Philbin said Monday. "He's been a very very productive player throughout his career. We'll have a good plan in place, but he's certainly an important part of their offense, and a productive part of it. We'll be ready for him, for sure."
Gronkowski, who tore his right ACL and MCL last Dec. 8, is a two-time Pro Bowler and was an All-Pro in 2011. He has 226 catches with 42 touchdowns in 50 regular-season games. Last season, coming off multiple surgeries and an arm infection, he appeared in seven games, catching 39 passes, four for touchdowns, before going down on a hit by safety T.J. Ward, then of the Cleveland Browns.
Asked if he feels ready, Gronkowski said, "Definitely. I feel mentally and physically ready, for sure, no doubt about it."
"Just the way we just worked throughout all camp and the last few weeks, everything's just been going well," Gronkowski added. "There's been no setbacks, just more and more (work) every single day.
"Now I just have to focus on the Miami Dolphins, just keep focusing on getting better and getting stronger."
Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said he's been working under the assumption Gronkowski would be ready for Week 1.
"He's also been a big target for them in the red zone," Coyle said. "If he plays, and how much he plays, we don't know how much that will be, that's not going to change what we do."
Gronkowski says he doesn't expect to play "every single snap" Sunday, but is ready for "whatever the coaches have."
"It's been long and tiring for sure," he said. "But you just got to be patient and everything comes along well. That's the way I've been - just keep working hard and it will all come."
Last week, the Patriots traded veteran guard Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay for tight end Tim Wright, who has been added to provide depth.
"So far, he's been working hard. It's been great seeing him improving every single day, learning everything, and it's always fun with a new guy that wants to work hard," Gronkowski said.
NOTES: WR Josh Boyce, cut Saturday, was one of 10 players signed to the taxi squad, a list that includes DL Charley Hughlett, who is being signed for the second time as a long snapper after the release of Danny Aiken. DE-LB Rob Ninkovich is currently the only long snapper on the roster. ... Also re-signed were DL Jake Bequette, LBs Ja'Gared Davis and Deontae Skinner, S Kanorris Davis, RB Jonas Gray, OL Chris Martin and DB Daxton Swanson. The club also added quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, last with San Francisco. ... Late Monday, the Patriots announced that they claimed safety Don Jones off waivers from Miami and released offensive lineman Chris Barker.
AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Davie, Fla. contributed to this story.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL
Tue, 02 Sep 2014 00:11:00 +0000
Azarenka tops qualifier Krunic to reach US Open QF
NEW YORK (AP) Trailing against a woman trying to become the first qualifier in the U.S. Open quarterfinals since 1981, Victoria Azarenka needed every ounce of experience and skill to advance.
Twice a major champion, and twice a runner-up at Flushing Meadows, Azarenka took four of the last five games Monday night to come back and win 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, ending the surprising, out-of-nowhere run by 145th-ranked Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia.
"Obviously, I didn't have a lot of data on her," the 16th-seeded Azarenka said about her 5-foot-4 (1.63-meter) opponent. "I was a little bit surprised that she's not that tall, and she hits the ball and unleashes her forehand with so much power."
The varied game played by Krunic, a 21-year-old from Serbia, worked wonders earlier in the tournament, when she used her mix of spins and speeds to eliminate two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the third round, and 27th-seeded Madison Keys in the second.
That run of success, which followed three victories in qualifying rounds, meant that Krunic, as she described it, "started maybe loving myself a little bit more."
"Everybody can hit forehand or backhand or serve," Krunic said. "Yeah, it's more about how you get it all together."
By making it to the fourth round, she earned a check for $187,300 - nearly matching her career take coming in. Asked if she knew what her U.S. Open prize money would be, Krunic replied: "No. I know it's 30 percent tax. That makes me very sad."
Her ranking would have been the lowest for a quarterfinalist in U.S. Open history, although other women - such as 2009 champion Kim Clijsters - have made it that far without any ranking at all because of a lack of activity.
And the crowd showered Krunic with loud support throughout the 2-hour, 19-minute match under the lights in Arthur Ashe Stadium, something she said surprised her.
Azarenka, who lost to Serena Williams in the 2012 and 2013 U.S. Open finals, took a more aggressive approach in the latter stages of the match, pushing forward to win nine of 10 points at the net in the final set.
Azarenka was down 3-2 in that set, but broke to go ahead 4-3 with a backhand winner down the line off one of Krunic's many attempted drop shots.
When the match ended, and Azarenka was pulled aside for an on-court interview, Krunic stuck around so the players could walk off together - the sort of thing that rarely happens at the U.S. Open.
Next up for Azarenka is 17th-seeded Ekaterina Makarova of Russia, who advanced earlier Monday by beating No. 7 Eugenie Bouchard 7-6 (2), 6-4.
Azarenka has won the Australian Open twice and used to be ranked No. 1, but she has struggled during an uneven 2014 because of health problems.
She entered Monday having played 20 matches all season, including one from January to June because of a left foot injury, and only four in the time between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open because of a bothersome right knee.
She bristled at her news conference when a reporter used the word "suffered" while referencing Azarenka's problems.
"You're making it sound like ... I almost died and, you know, there was 10 sharks, and I got attacked, and I survived. And, you know, I saved a dolphin, as well," Azarenka said. "It's not that complicated, really. What I enjoy is to play tennis. To be talking about what happened with my injuries, I mean, it's useless already."
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich
Tue, 02 Sep 2014 03:46:00 +0000
Murray beats Tsonga in three sets at Open
NEW YORK -- An hour-and-a-half into his stay at the U.S. Open, Andy Murray had to wonder whether it would end quickly.
A week later, the same guy who hobbled through head-to-toe cramps in his first-round match looked strong on a day that was even more hot and humid - and now he's in the quarterfinals. The eighth-seeded Murray beat No. 9-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-5, 7-5, 6-4 in 2 hours, 35 minutes on Monday.
"I don't feel like I'm that far away from playing my best tennis," Murray said.
He hasn't reached a tournament final since back surgery late last year. Coming into the U.S. Open, Murray felt he was playing well but lamented that he was struggling to close out matches.
In a tight one against a tough opponent Monday, Murray won enough crucial points to pull out the victory in straight sets.
Tsonga had three break points to go up 3-0 in the third, but Murray fought them off to swing the momentum. He promptly broke in the next game to get the set back on serve, and then closed out the match with another break.
Murray, who still isn't sure why the cramps struck so early in his opening match last Monday, drank too many fluids this time and gave himself a stomachache.
It was a tough draw for both players - and gets even tougher for Murray, who next faces No. 1 Novak Djokovic. That matchup feels much more like a Grand Slam title match than a quarterfinal, and for good reason. Murray and Djokovic have met five times in major tournaments, with four coming in the finals; the other was a semi.
Tsonga rolled into the U.S. Open full of confidence after beating Djokovic, Murray and Roger Federer in Toronto to win the title. In Tsonga's 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4 victory over Murray in early August, he was the one winning the key points in a close match.
"Tennis, it's never a straight line. It's always like this," Tsonga said, tracing peaks and valleys with his hand. "So today it was like this maybe at the wrong moment."
Murray hasn't been back to a final since becoming the first British man in 77 years to win Wimbledon in July 2013. He beat Djokovic to clinch that title and also defeated him at the 2012 U.S. Open for the first Grand Slam championship by a British man in 76 years.
"Great memories from that match," Murray said in an on-court interview. "Hope we can play another top-level match."
After beating 22nd-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-1, 7-5, 6-4 earlier Monday, Djokovic called the prospect of facing Murray or Tsonga a "very tough, tough draw."
Murray, he said, "knows how to play center court U.S. Open where he played some great tennis and we had some great matches."
They went to five sets twice in 2012, in Djokovic's win in the Australian Open semis and Murray's breakthrough victory in the U.S. Open.
"Long games, long rallies, long points, because we do a lot of the same things well," Murray said.
When Murray's ranking slipped after the surgery, it left him vulnerable to this sort of draw: He could potentially play Tsonga, Djokovic, Australian Open champ Stan Wawrinka and 17-time major winner Roger Federer in the last four rounds. Wawrinka beat 16th-seeded Tommy Robredo 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2 on Monday.
Murray may finally be playing well enough to make that run sound plausible.
"It's still obviously a long way from trying to win the tournament," he said, "but it's only nine sets now, three matches. ... Maybe five, six days away from potentially winning another Grand Slam."
Tue, 02 Sep 2014 01:09:00 +0000