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Dodgers’ magic number down to single digits

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Dodgers’ magic number down to single digits

4:34 AM UTC

LOS ANGELES — Start the countdown and put the bubbly on ice. The Dodgers are getting closer to winning the National League West for the ninth time in the last 10 seasons.

Given their dominant stretch over the last two months, it’s been a matter of when, not if, the Dodgers will win the NL West. It hasn’t quite happened yet, but it’s all getting real following a 9-4 win over the Padres on Sunday at Dodger Stadium.

Because the Dodgers locked up the season series against the Padres with their 10th win of the head-to-head matchup, Los Angeles’ magic number to win the division dropped from 12 to nine with the victory. The earliest they can clinch a postseason spot is Friday.

“I didn’t realize it was nine,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “It was just a good series. Obviously, those guys are playing with a lot of urgency. It’s good to see us play well tonight, win a series. Still a lot of baseball, but I’m just encouraged.”

Not only did the Dodgers move closer to reclaiming the NL West, but they did it in emphatic fashion. After dropping the first game of the series on Friday, the Dodgers made quite the statement to wrap up the three-game set. Over the last two games, the Dodgers outscored the Padres by 16 runs (21-5).

Of course, the Dodgers’ dominance this season hasn’t been exclusive to the Padres. Los Angeles leads the Majors with 716 runs, 50 more than the Braves. Even with a plethora of injuries, the Dodgers’ pitching staff has been just as dominant, limiting opponents to 422 runs, 16 fewer than the Astros.

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Sunday’s game was a prime example of what has made the Dodgers so good this season. Bulk pitcher Ryan Pepiot struggled with his command and forced the bullpen to throw more innings than Roberts would’ve liked. Evan Phillips, their best reliever this season, even looked a bit shaky, allowing his first earned run since July 21.

But on a night when the pitching didn’t show its best, the Dodgers’ offense picked up the slack. Will Smith got the Dodgers on the board, smashing his 21st homer of the season in the fourth inning.

Mookie Betts continued to be a one-man wrecking crew with two more doubles, further improving his case to be in the NL MVP discussion. Trea Turner and Justin Turner also chipped in with run-scoring hits.

However, it was Trayce Thompson who delivered the dagger, smacking a three-run homer off left-hander Adrian Morejon. Since being acquired to hit left-handers, Thompson has been significantly better against right-handers, coming into Sunday’s game with a 1.101 OPS against righties as opposed to .539 against southpaws.

With Cody Bellinger and Joey Gallo struggling at the plate, the Dodgers are going to need Thompson to start hitting lefties. Figuring out the outfield rotation is one of the things the Dodgers will need to address over the next month. Hitting a 424-foot moonshot certainly helps Thompson’s cause.

“He’s been huge, man,” Betts said of Thompson. “Playing great defense, timely hitting. He’s been hitting all year, so it’s not luck. He’s a really good player.”

After falling short against the Giants in 2021, the Dodgers learned just how difficult the road in the postseason is when you don’t win your division. It was the first time in nearly a decade they had to navigate through a Wild Card Game. By the time they met the Braves in the NLCS, the Dodgers were gassed.

Coming into this season, the Dodgers’ ultimate goal is to win the World Series. In order to get there, however, winning the division comes first. At 92-41, the Dodgers have positioned themselves better than anybody in the game.

In fact, they are on pace to break the franchise record of 106 wins. If they get really hot, they could come close to the 2001 Mariners’ record (116). Whether the Dodgers set records remains to be seen, but another division title is a certainty. And the countdown has officially commenced.

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“You definitely want to win the division. It gives you a little bit of an easier road in the postseason,” Smith said. “But we just take it one game at a time and not try to look too far away. Just try to win today and tomorrow be back at it.”

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Panthers outlast Hurricanes in 4th OT in 6th-longest game in NHL history

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Panthers outlast Hurricanes in 4th OT in 6th-longest game in NHL history

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers seemed determined to keep playing. And playing. And playing.

The teams opened their Eastern Conference final playoff series with Florida’s 3-2 victory in four overtimes early Friday, with the game ranking as the sixth-longest game in NHL history.

Matthew Tkachuk’s goal came at the 19:47 mark of the fourth OT to end this one, which marked the 15th four-overtime game in NHL history and the longest game in franchise history for each team.

The longest game in NHL history came on March 24, 1936, when the Detroit Red Wings beat the Montreal Maroons 1-0 in the sixth overtime on Mud Bruneteau’s goal at 116 minutes, 30 seconds of extra play.

Florida’s previous record for longest game was 104:31 in Game 4 of the 1996 Stanley Cup final against Colorado. Carolina’s previous record was 114:47 for Game 3 of the 2002 Stanley Cup final.

The only good news for the teams is they had an extended break before this series began. Carolina closed out New Jersey exactly a week earlier, while Florida eliminated Toronto a day later.

But this game ended roughly six hours after Thursday night’s puck drop, and the teams have a Game 2 in less than 48 hours.

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Barcelona says probe found no evidence of corruption by club

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Barcelona says probe found no evidence of corruption by club

MADRID (AP) — The investigation ordered by Barcelona into its controversial payments for refereeing reports found no evidence of corruption by the club, president Joan Laporta said Monday.

Laporta reiterated that the club’s payments over several years to the company owned by the vice president of Spain’s refereeing committee were only for technical reports and not to influence referees. He said he believed there were no ethics breach and that Barcelona was the victim of a campaign to hurt its reputation.

“This is one of the most ferocious attacks in our history,” Laporta said. “I ask FC Barcelona supporters to be as united as ever in defense of our crest, our essence, and our ownership model. No campaign to discredit us will prevent us from continuing to be an organization of reference in the world of sports that is beloved and admired by millions of Catalans and by many more millions of people around the world.”

It was the first time Laporta spoke at a news conference to give explanations after it became public that the club paid 7.3 million euros ($8 million) from 2001-18 to the company of then committee vice president José María Enríquez Negreira. Prosecutors have accused Barcelona of alleged corruption in sports, fraudulent management, and falsification of mercantile documentation.

Barcelona opened the probe to look into the actions of all the different presidential administrations that made payments over the years, including Laporta’s first at the club. The investigation was conducted by an external company.

The club said the probe found that “no conducts of a criminal nature associated to sporting corruption have been identified, nor are there any grounds to investigate any form of criminal activity associated to bribery.” It added there was “official documentation on the invoices and payments” for the services of “scouting and advice regarding referees, which are common practices in the professional sports sector.”

“Consulting on technical-refereeing issues does not constitute any type of illegal act,” Laporta said. “Consulting, as is done by the big clubs, that was carried out transparently, with the corresponding invoices, at least in my first mandate as president.”

The probe found 629 technical refereeing reports and 43 CDs that the club received over 18 years for what Laporta called “market price.” More reports were likely lost over time, he said.

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“I reiterate with all my resolve, I am convinced that FC Barcelona has not committed any crime of sports-related corruption. I hope that sooner rather than later, it is fully exonerated,” he said. “Accusations must be proven. We live by the rule of law, which guarantees among its basic principles the presumption of innocence.”

He said that if there were any irregularities committed by Negreira, Barcelona would be a victim of them. He also said Negreira was not in a position to directly influence referees, and that it was Negreira’s son who actually produced the refereeing reports.

“I dare anyone to show an instance in which Barcelona was favored in a match because of these payments,” Laporta said. “We will allow the justice system to do its work and I’m sure that Barcelona will be cleared. I am fully convinced that FC Barcelona has never performed any act with the intention of altering the competition to gain an advantage.”

The Spanish league, Real Madrid and other clubs have been among those taking part in the legal proceedings against Barcelona. Laporta criticized league president Javier Tebas for making accusations against Barcelona, and also took a shot at rival Madrid.

“Everyone knows that Real Madrid is a club that is historically favored by refereeing mistakes,” he said.

Laporta said Barcelona has always been a club that takes pride in its values, and it would never want to win anything with outside help.

“Throughout its 123-year history, FC Barcelona has always been a model of fair play, both on and off the field,” he said. “If we have won for so many decades, it has undoubtedly been a result of effort, talent and knowledge.”

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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Silicon Valley councilman indicted in 49ers report leak

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Silicon Valley councilman indicted in 49ers report leak

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A Silicon Valley city councilman has been charged with perjury after he allegedly lied about leaking a grand jury report to the San Francisco 49ers last year that detailed a purportedly unethical relationship between the team and the city council, prosecutors said Friday.

Santa Clara City Councilmember Anthony Becker is accused of providing the secret report titled “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Santa Clara City Council” to the team’s former top spokesperson and a local media outlet in 2022, days ahead of its official release.

Becker then allegedly lied to the grand jury about the leak, prosecutors said, prompting the criminal charges.

The 49ers play in Levi’s Stadium in the city of Santa Clara, about 35 miles (56.33 kilometers) south of San Francisco. Santa Clara County is broadly considered home to Silicon Valley.

The city of Santa Clara owns the stadium and leases it to the team; fighting between the two groups has led to ethics complaints, legal disputes and years of bad blood.

Al Guido, the team’s president, and Larry MacNeil, the former CFO who worked extensively on the team’s stadium project, were named in the indictment as witnesses who spoke to the criminal grand jury for Becker’s indictment.

“The 49ers have cooperated fully with the District Attorney’s Office in their investigation, and will continue to do so,” team spokesperson Brian Brokaw said in a statement Friday. “However, because this is an ongoing legal matter, the organization is not able to make any further comment at this time.”

Prosecutors say the team has bankrolled Becker’s political career by spending $3.2 million through independent expenditure committees for his 2020 city council race, which he won, as well as his unsuccessful 2022 mayoral bid.

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The “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” report alleged that Becker and four other councilmembers regularly voted “in a manner that is favorable to the 49ers” and would routinely meet with the team’s lobbyists but not disclose what was discussed.

Becker faces a felony charge of perjury under oath, as well as a misdemeanor charge of willful failure to perform duty. He is scheduled to be arraigned Monday.

Becker did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday, and it was not clear whether he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.

“Councilmember Becker violated the public’s trust,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement. “That an elected official would commit perjury and lie under oath before the grand jury strikes at the very heart of our justice system and requires accountability.”

Representatives for the Santa Clara City Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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