A-Rod handed 211-game ban; eligible pending appeal

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New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez was one of 13 Major League Baseball players who were suspended on Monday for receiving performance-enhancing drugs from a shuttered Miami wellness clinic, the league announced.

Rodriguez received a 211-game punishment from the league, which would be effective on Thursday and last through the end of the 2014 season. He is appealing the ban, the league said, and is eligible to play until an appeals verdict is rendered.

“I’m fighting for my life,” an emotional Rodriguez said at a press conference just after 6 p.m. “I have to defend myself. If I don’t defend myself, no one will.”

Rodriguez called the last seven months “a nightmare” and refused to admit he used performance enhancing drugs.

The bans to the other players linked with the Biogenesis clinic are effective immediately, which knocks out those players for virtually all of the remaining games this regular season. They would be eligible for the postseason, should their teams reach and the terms of their suspensions end.

“As a social institution with enormous social responsibilities, baseball must do everything it can to maintain integrity, fairness and a level playing field,” MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. “We are committed to working together with players to reiterate that performance-enhancing drugs will not be tolerated in our game.”

MORE: A-Rod’s suspension is crazy and should be reduced

Rodriguez said in a statement on Monday that he planned to fight his suspension through the appeals process.

“I am eager to get back on the field and be with my teammates in Chicago tonight,” Rodriguez said. I want to thank my family, friends and fans who have stood by myself through all this.”

Rodriguez also spoke to the media in a pair of news conferences over the weekend. He declined to discuss the case in details, citing an ongoing investigation, but he seemed to hint that forces were conspiring to keep him from playing.

“There is more than one party that benefits from me not ever stepping on the field,” Rodriguez said Friday night. “It is not my teammates, it is not the Yankees fans. People have been trying to get creative trying to cancel my contract.”

The Yankees took the unusual step of distancing themselves from the league’s investigation of Rodriguez, saying that they agreed with the punishment but did not help the inquiry.

“The New York Yankees in no way instituted and/or assisted MLB in the direction of this investigation; or used the investigation as an attempt to avoid its responsibilities under a player contract; or did its medical staff fail to provide the appropriate standard of care to Alex Rodriguez,” the team’s statement said.

MLB Players Association head Michael Weiner agreed with the 50-game punishments but took issue with Rodriguez’s suspension, saying that Selig was not acting within his rights under the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and union.

“Mr. Rodriguez knows that the Union, consistent with its history, will defend his rights vigorously,” Weiner said.

MORE: MLBPA believes Selig acted improperly

Rodriguez’s attorney David Cornwell, echoed the union’s sentiment.

“It is regrettable that the Commissioner’s office has taken this unprecedented action,” Cornwell said in a statement. “Major League Baseball has gone well beyond the authority granted to its Joint Drug Agreement and the Basic Agreement. Consequently, we will appeal the discipline and pursue all legal remedies available to Alex.”

The full list of suspended players is: Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers; Everth Cabrera, San Diego Padres; Jhonny Peralta, Detroit Tigers; Francisco Cervelli, New York Yankees; Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners; Jordany Valdespin, New York Mets; Sergio Escalona, Houston Astros; Fautino De Los Santos, San Diego Padres; Cesar Puello, New York Mets; Fernando Martinez, New York Yankees; Antonio Bastardo, Philadelphia Phillies; Jordan Norberto, free agent.

MORE: Several Biogenesis players are stunningly equally ashamed of themselves

Cruz, who is a free agent after this season, said in a statement that he began using PEDs to recover from illness that caused him to lose 40 lbs before the 2012 season. Concerned that he would not recover quickly enough, he said he began doping.

“Faced with this situation, I made an error in judgment that I deeply regret, and I accept full responsibility for that error,” he said. “I should have handled the situation differently, and my illness was no excuse.”

A’s pitcher Bartolo Colon, Blue Jays outfielder Melky Cabrera and Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal also were connected to the clinic by several reports, but all three were suspended for positive tests over the past year — which reportedly overlaps with MLB’s Biogenesis records — so another suspension would be considered double jeopardy. Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun accepted a 65-game ban last month for his involvement with the clinic.

Selig lauded the success of the league’s drug policy, which succeeded despite only one known positive test: Braun was caught for a PED violation before the 2012 season but won his case on appeal. Players suspended Monday were done so for non-analytical positives, which occur when the league has evidence of a player’s use despite not having a positive test.

In this case, the league received cooperation from Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch, who agreed to cooperate and share evidence in exchange for the league’s dropping a lawsuit against him, indemnifying him against further damages and paying some, or all, of his legal fees according to ESPN. MLB had no comment about its involvement with Bosch.

MORE: MLB statement on the Biogenesis suspensions

“This case resoundingly illustrates that the strength of our Program is not limited only to testing,” Selig said. “We continue to attack this issue on every front – from science and research, to education and awareness, to fact-finding and investigative skills.

The allegations against Rodriguez and others were first revealed in late January, when the Miami New Times published a report that connected them to Bosch and his clinic. Bosch reportedly provided a group of MLB players with human growth hormone and steroids as early as December 2011. The New Times story, along with reports by Yahoo! Sports and ESPN, reportedly spurred MLB’s investigation.

“Despite the challenges this situation has created during a great season on the field, we pursued this matter because it was not only the right thing to do, but the only thing to do,” Selig said.

Bosch faces a federal inquiry into whether Biogenesis illegally distributed steroids to high school students and major leaguers, according to reports by ESPN and the Miami Herald. Bosch’s lawyer, Susy Ribero-Ayala, has not responded to messages left by NBC Sports.

The matter reportedly is being handled by Jeff Novitzky, the federal agent who directed investigations of BALCO, a clinic in the Bay Area that was found to have distributed steroids to athletes.

Rodriguez, 38, is fifth on MLB’s career home run list, with 647 spread over two decades with three teams. Barry Bonds holds the record, with 762, but many fans believe that mark to be illegitimate because of Bonds’ tie to BALCO.

Rodriguez admitted in 2009 that he used steroids for three years, from 2001-03, while he was a member of the Texas Rangers. His name also appeared on a list of 104 players who tested positive for PEDs in a 2003 MLB survey, according to a report by Sports Illustrated.

The survey, which was confidential, reportedly was done to measure the extent of baseball’s problem with performance-enhancing drugs, not to determine who was actually using them. So Rodriguez’s alleged positive test could not have resulted in punishment.

Rodriguez has yet to play this year after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left hip in January. His recovery efforts stalled in mid-July, when he strained his left quadriceps. Rodriguez claimed he was ready to return. The Yankees said he was not.

Rodriguez sought a second opinion from a New Jersey doctor, who examined an MRI of the slugger’s leg and proclaimed him fit both over the telephone and in a subsequent media blitz. The Yankees were displeased that Rodriguez sought a second opinion without informing them in writing first, according to ESPN.

Adrian Beltre may not return to the Rangers until June

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Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre is nursing a calf injury, an issue that plagued him starting early in spring training. At first, the hope was that he’d be ready by the regular season, then at some point in April, then at some point in May. According to MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan, however, even a May return is looking “murky.”

Manager Jeff Banister said, “It’s at the point where we didn’t necessarily see the progress results we thought we would see. We decided to take a step back and get him back to where the soreness and [swelling] is out of there. We weren’t progressing forward at the rate we wanted to.”

Fortunately for the Rangers, Joey Gallo has performed admirably in place of Beltre at third base. The 23-year-old has played solid defense while hitting .232/.361/.623 with seven home runs and 16 RBI in 83 plate appearances. Gallo will continue to man the hot corner until Beltre is healthy enough to return.

Beltre is sitting on 2,942 career hits. His reaching the 3,000-hit milestone was expected to be one of the highlights of the 2017 season.

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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I’m taking the day off to go down to Kentucky to watch horses do horsey things (watch for me photobombing equestrian types on NBC Sports Network). Bill will be along later today and Ashley will be here this evening, but I can’t leave you without the recaps because that’s what I do.

Don’t do anything dumb while your mother and I are out. We’ve marked all the bottles. We’ll know if you’re lying to us.

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Dodgers 5, Giants 1: It was 1-1 until the 11th inning thanks to Julio Urias, making his 2017 big league debut, and the Dodgers’ bullpen and Matt Moore and the Giants’ bullpen takin’ care of business. The Dodgers got tired of it being close in the top of the 11th, however, beating up on Corey Gearrin, Steven Okert and Hunter Strickland for four runs. Andrew Toles knocked in the go-ahead run with a single. A sac fly, single and a bases-loaded walk finished the scoring. The Giants wouldn’t have even scored the one run if it wasn’t for the Dodgers throwing the ball around.

Nationals 16, Rockies 5: The Nats came into Colorado and scored 46 runs in four games. Which, damn. They put up 11 runs in the seventh inning here, with Bryce Harper hitting a three-run shot. Trea Turner hit for the cycle on Tuesday, finished a triple shy of another cycle Wednesday and hit a double and two singles and driving in two here. Harper is hitting .418/.535/.823 with eight homers and 25 RBI. That’s a 59 homer, 184 RBI pace. I know Harper has a habit of putting up big Aprils and that injuries have derailed him in the past, but this is shaping up to be a really special year for this guy.

Cardinals 8, Blue Jays 4; Cardinals 6, Blue Jays 4: The first game of the twin-bill ended in spectacular fashion with Matt Carpenter hitting a walkoff grand slam in the 11th inning. They wouldn’t have even gotten to extras, however, if it wasn’t for Randal Grichuk‘s two-run homer with two outs in the ninth which tied it up. So much drama in game 1 it’s a shame they had to suit up for fame 2 rather than just go out for drinks. But they did play game 2 and it went swell for St. Louis. Dexter Fowler, Greg Garcia and Matt Adams each had three hits. Fowler hit a dinger. The Blue Jays are a total mess. But they’re not the only mess in the bigs right now because . . .

Braves 7, Mets 5: M-E-S-S Mess! Mess! Mess! Six losses in a row and 10 of 11. They’re not scoring. Everyone is getting hurt. Just a disaster. The last time the Mets were this screwed up was just after the All-Star break in 2015 and you know what happened then. Oh, wait, they won the pennant. Eh, let’s let the New York press and Mets fans freak out. Maybe it’s actually warranted this time. Who knows. All I know is that Kurt Suzuki hit a big three-run homer here and when the Braves make you look bad, you’re not living your best life.

Mariners 2, Tigers 1: Justin Verlander and Hisashi Iwakuma battled. Verlander battled a tad better — allowing only an unearned run in seven innings while striking out eight while Iwakuma allowed only one unearned run in five and two-thirds — but the Mariners got the win anyway. The go-ahead run came thanks to a Ben Gamel RBI single off of Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth. Can’t trust the Tigers bullpen in a close game. Ever.

Phillies 3, Marlins 2Jeremy Hellickson allowed one run over six innings as the Phillies win their sixth straight. Hellickson is 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA on the year. Philly is doing OK right now, but if they aren’t in contention come July, he’s going to be a pretty attractive trade target.

Indians 4, Astros 3: Down 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh, Francisco Lindor hit a two-run bomb. And I mean bomb. The thing was estimated to be over 450 feet. Corey Kluber struck out ten over seven innings. In addition to being one of the best shortstops around, Lindor is hitting .301/.368/.614 on the year and he’s on a 40-homer pace. That $100 million deal he reportedly turned down is gonna look positively quaint.

Yankees 3, Red Sox 0: Masahiro Tanaka tosses a Maddux. You do know what a Maddux is, right? In case you forgot, it’s a complete game shutout in which the starter throws fewer than 100 pitches. Here it was a three-hitter in which he only allowed one runner to reach second base. Chris Sale was no slouch himself, striking out ten in eight innings. He’s pitched great this year but he’s not getting any help. They’ve only scored four runs in his five starts. Boston has scored  only 13 runs in their last seven games. They’ve been shut out three times in the past seven.

Diamondbacks 6, Padres 2: Taijuan Walker struck out 11 and Chris Ownings hit a pair of solo homers. Yasmany Tomas had a two-run homer.

Angels 2, Athletics 1: I had a dream last night that I owed the Oakland A’s $30,000 in medical bills. Something in the dream made it make sense — baseball teams ran hospitals or something — and for whatever reason, my family had used theirs and I was responsible for the bills. My family, by the way, included Ronald Reagan, who was treated at A’s hospital. Insurance wouldn’t cover a lot of his bills because a man had come out of the woodwork claiming to have been his lover, and the insurance company had a right to discriminate based on sexual orientation. What I’m sayin’ is that a lot was going on in this dream and I’m a little upset with the A’s over it right now.

Oh, by the way, Ricky Nolasco allowed one runs in five and two-thirds and four relievers combined to shut the A’s out the rest of the way. The Angels scored both of their runs in the first.

I probably do need that day off, eh? See you Monday.