October 27, 2006

'Counselor at Law' Star Dies at 84
Actor also won a Tony for 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'

Arthur Hill, a veteran actor whose career was punctuated by two distinctly different roles — the weary, abused husband in the Broadway production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and the stalwart attorney in the television series "Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law" — has died. He was 84.

Hill died Sunday of Alzheimer's disease at an assisted-living facility in Pacific Palisades, according to his son, Douglas.

Known for his deep, pensive eyes and soft, calming voice, Hill fashioned a busy career over 40 years. He won a Tony Award for his work in the groundbreaking production of Edward Albee's "Virginia Woolf" and appeared in "More Stately Mansions," the Eugene O'Neill play that was the inaugural production at the Music Center's Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.

Hill's portrayal of Marshall, a small-town attorney, ran on ABC from 1971 to 1974. The show, which featured such up-and-coming actors as Lee Majors and David Soul as Marshall's associates, was modeled after another popular ABC series, "Marcus Welby, M.D.," which starred Robert Young as a small-town doctor.

In fact, the shows had several joint episodes.

According to "The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present" by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, in one episode "Marshall found himself defending the father of one of Dr. Welby's patients against a murder charge." In another episode, Brooks and Marsh note, he defended an associate of Welby's against a paternity suit.

While Hill was perhaps best known for his role as Marshall, he also delivered substantial performances in the TV films "Death Be Not Proud" (1975) and "Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys" (1976). His big-screen credits include work with Marlon Brando in "The Ugly American" (1963), Paul Newman in "Harper" (1966) and a potentially lethal virus from outer space in "The Andromeda Strain" (1971).

Born in the Saskatchewan town of Melfort, Hill was the son of a lawyer. After serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II, he earned his degree from the University of British Columbia. To support himself through school, where he planned to earn a law degree, he found work with the Canadian Broadcasting Co. performing in radio theater, and loved it.

"In acting, I seemed to instinctively know what was going on, while other students worked at it," he told The Times' Cecil Smith some years ago. "And in law, they seemed to take to it instinctively, while I had to work at it."

Hill moved to England with his actress wife, Peggy Hassard, in 1948. There he worked for the BBC in radio plays while expanding his activities to theater and television.

His break in London theater came in the early 1950s in productions of "Home of the Brave" and Thornton Wilder's "The Matchmaker." Hill first appeared on the New York stage in "The Matchmaker" in 1955.

In 1962, he was back in London working on a film when he received a copy of the script for "Virginia Woolf?" from director Alan Schneider. Schneider wanted him to play George, the beleaguered husband in Albee's drama of a long-married couple acting out their love-hate relationship during an evening of heavy drinking and stark profanity at their home on a college campus.

"That script was the size of a telephone book, but I knew I had to be part of it," Hill told a Times reporter in 1967. "Later, when I learned the script would not be cut and that there would be no out-of-town tryouts, I fought to get out of it.

"Fortunately, I didn't."

Cast opposite Uta Hagen as Martha, and with George Grizzard and Melinda Dillon, the play was a sensation and ran for 664 performances from Oct. 13, 1962, to May 13, 1964.

"If the drama falters, the acting of Uta Hagen and Arthur Hill does not," critic Howard Taubman observed in his review of the play in the New York Times. "As the vulgar, scornful, desperate Martha, Miss Hagen makes a tormented harridan horrifyingly believable. As the quieter, tortured and diabolical George, Mr. Hill gives a superbly modulated performance based on restraint as a foil to Miss Hagen's explosiveness."

The production garnered five Tonys, with Hill and Hagen winning for best actor and actress.

In 1967, Hill was part of more groundbreaking theater work, this time in the first English-language production of "More Stately Mansions," at the Ahmanson. His co-stars were Ingrid Bergman and Colleen Dewhurst.

While the play was considered something of a mystery to critics and the casting reflected the importance of name value over story line, Hill, Bergman and Dewhurst all received high marks.

By 1968, Hill had moved to Los Angeles to mine the steadier veins of television and film.

In his memoirs, "Virginia Woolf" director Schneider reflected on Hill's decision to head west.

"The roles he now gets out there are bland/sincere or establishment/hypocritical. That is a loss to American theater, because onstage Arthur Hill, mature and attractive as he was and is, could give us something we do not have. The pram in the hallway does indeed remain the enemy of art."

In Hollywood, Hill appeared in films and some 50 television series, most recently "Murder, She Wrote" in 1990.

His 56-year marriage to Hassard ended with her death from Alzheimer's disease in 1998.

In addition to his son, he is survived by his second wife, Anne-Sophie Taraba; a stepdaughter, Daryn Sherman; a step-granddaughter; and two sisters.

There will be no services.

October 26, 2006

Pittsburgh picked to win the Big East

NEW YORK -- Jamie Dixon didn't hesitate to say his current team would not be able to do what his recent Pittsburgh teams have done.

"We've been a program that every year has exceeded where we've been picked in the preseason poll and we can't do that now," Dixon said Wednesday when the Panthers were selected No. 1 by the Big East coaches for this season. "It's something that doesn't mean anything, but it's still a great thing for our program. It shows where we've come from and where we're at."

The Panthers return eight of the top 10 players from the team that went 25-8 last season, reached the championship game of the Big East tournament and appeared in the NCAA tournament for the fifth straight year.

Dixon is starting his fourth season at Pitt, and his 76-22 career record after three seasons is tied for fourth all-time.

The Big East had a record eight teams in the NCAA tournament last season and that number should at least be matched this season.

Pittsburgh was No. 1 on 10 of the 16 coaches' ballots. Georgetown was second with four first-place votes, while Syracuse, which won the conference tournament last season, and Marquette reach received one and were third and fourth, respectively.

"What makes this conference great is that it's always a different team that's making noise," Dixon said. "Everybody has had their run at the top and that's what different about this conference from the others and that's what makes it the best conference."

Georgetown made the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 2001, with the Hoyas losing to eventual champion Florida in the round of 16. The expectations for national success are back at Georgetown.

"The players have shown the proper mentality to be in position to meet those expectations," third-year coach John Thompson III said. "I think our guys have handled it fine."

The Hoyas will have a familiar name back this season as Patrick Ewing Jr., the son of the center who led them to three Final Fours and a national championship in the 1980s, is eligible after transferring from Indiana.

Syracuse's run to the conference title last season as the No. 9 seed was led by senior guard Gerry McNamara, the hero in all four wins that came by a total of eight points.

"You hope coming into a new season that something like that has an effect on the players who are back," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who welcomes freshman forward Paul Harris, the preseason rookie of the year. "It's always hard to predict because this league is always so balanced. It takes a while to see how everybody plays in games."

Connecticut was picked fifth in the preseason poll but a new vote might see things differently.

The Huskies found out Tuesday night that 7-foot-3 freshman Hasheem Thabeet was declared eligible by the NCAA after questions about his transcripts from his high school in Tanzania were cleared up.

"He will do what a 7-foot-3, 265-pound athlete will do -- have an impact," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. "This is conjecture on my part based upon a few years of experience, he will get in foul trouble, that's inevitable, and he will have an impact. He will be in the top one, two in having an impact, not in the Big East, in the country. He will, at times, make it very difficult to shoot layups. He has the ability to change games."

Louisville was sixth in the voting and was followed by Villanova, DePaul, St. John's, Providence, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Rutgers, Seton Hall and South Florida.

Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese doesn't think the eight bids the 16-team league got last season has to be the record for long.

"I don't think it's a ceiling number," Tranghese said. "Talking to the people who run the tournament and the people on the committee, they assured me there is no ceiling. We're never going to know until it happens but people said you couldn't get eight in and we did it last year."

October 22, 2006

Mr. Spock's Mother Is Dead!

'Father Knows Best' actress Wyatt dies

LOS ANGELES - Jane Wyatt, the lovely, serene actress who for six years on "Father Knows Best" was one of TV's favorite moms, has died. She was 96.

Wyatt died Friday in her sleep of natural causes at her Bel-Air home, according to publicist Meg McDonald. She experienced health problems since suffering a stroke at 85, but her mind was sharp until her death, her son Christopher Ward said.

Wyatt had a successful film career in the 1930s and '40s, notably as Ronald Colman's lover in 1937's "Lost Horizon."

But it was her years as Robert Young's TV wife, Margaret Anderson, on "Father Knows Best" that brought the actress her lasting fame.

She appeared in 207 half-hour episodes from 1954 to 1960 and won three Emmys as best actress in a dramatic series in the years 1958 to 1960. The show began as a radio sitcom in 1949; it moved to television in 1954.

"Being a family show, we all had to stick around," she once said. "Even though each show was centered on one of the five members of the family, I always had to be there to deliver such lines as `Eat your dinner, dear,' or `How did you do in school today?' We got along fine, but after the first few years, it's really difficult to have to face the same people day after day."

The Anderson children were played by Elinor Donahue, Billy Gray and Lauren Chapin, and all grew up on the show. In later years critics claimed that shows like "Father Knows Best" and "Ozzie and Harriet" presented a glossy, unreal view of the American family.

In defense, Wyatt commented in 1966: "We tried to preserve the tradition that every show had something to say. The children were complicated personally, not just kids. We weren't just five Pollyannas."

"In real life my grandmother embodied the persona of Margaret Anderson," said grandson Nicholas Ward. "She was loving and giving and always gave her time to other people."

It was a tribute to the popularity of the show that after its run ended, it continued in reruns on CBS and ABC for three years in primetime, a TV rarity. The show came to an end because Young, who had also played the father in the radio version, had enough. Wyatt remarked in 1965 that she was tired, too.

"The first year was pure joy," she said. "The second year was when the problems set in. We licked them, and the third year was smooth going. Fatigue began to set in during the fourth year. We got through the fifth year because we all thought it would be the last. The sixth? Pure hell."

The role wasn't the only time in her 60 years in films and TV that Wyatt was cast as the warm, compassionate wife and mother. She even played Mr. Spock's mom in the original "Star Trek" series and the feature "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home."

She got her start in films in the mid-'30s, appearing in "One More River," "Great Expectations," "We're Only Human" and "The Luckiest Girl in the World." When Frank Capra chose her to play the Shangri-la beauty in "Lost Horizon," her reputation was made. Moviegoers were entranced by the scene — chaste by today's standards — in which Colman sees her swimming nude in a mountain lake.

Never a star, Wyatt enjoyed career longevity with her reliable portrayals of genteel, understanding women. Among the notable films:

"Buckskin Frontier" (with Richard Dix), "None But the Lonely Heart" (Cary Grant), "Boomerang" (Dana Andrews), "Gentleman's Agreement" (Gregory Peck), "Pitfall" (Dick Powell), "No Minor Vices" (Dana Andrews), "Canadian Pacific" (Randolph Scott), "My Blue Heaven" (Betty Grable, Dan Dailey) and "Criminal Lawyer" (Pat O'Brien).

"Father Knows Best" enjoyed such lasting popularity in reruns and people's memories that the cast returned years later for two reunion movies. She also remained active on other projects, such as "Amityville: The Evil Escapes" in 1989, and in charity work.

When Young died in 1998, Wyatt paid tribute to him as "simply one of the finest people to grace our industry."

"Though we never socialized off the set, we were together every day for six years, and during that time he never pulled rank (and) always treated his on-screen family with the same affection and courtesy he showed his loved ones in his private life," she said.

Wyatt was born in Campgaw, N.J., into a wealthy family in 1910, according to McDonald, her publicist. Her father, an investment banker, came from an old-line New York family, as did her mother, who wrote drama reviews. They gave their daughter a genteel upbringing, with her schooling at the fashionable Miss Chapin's school and Barnard College.

She left college after two years to apprentice at the Berkshire Playhouse in Stockbridge, Mass. For two years she alternated between Berkshire and Broadway, appearing with Charles Laughton, Louis Calhern and Osgood Perkins.

While acting with Lillian Gish in "Joyous Season" in 1934, she got a contract offer from Universal Pictures. She agreed, on condition she could spend half each year in the theater.

During college, Wyatt attended a party at Hyde Park, N.Y., given by the sons of Franklin D. Roosevelt. There she met a Harvard student, Edgar Ward. In 1935 she married Ward, then a businessman, in Santa Fe, N.M.

The family will gather for a funeral mass Friday, followed by a private interment, family members said.

Wyatt is survived by sons Christopher, of Piedmont, California and Michael of Los Angeles; three grandchildren Nicholas, Andrew and Laura; and five great grandchildren.
Army women's team trying to move forward following death of young coach

WEST POINT, N.Y. -- On a rainy September day, coach Dave Magarity invited the Army women's basketball team to his house -- the one that used to belong to Maggie Dixon.

He wanted to be sure the players felt comfortable with him living in the home where they'd spent countless hours with their former coach, friend and mentor, who died April 6 of heart arrhythmia at the age of 28.

To help ease their pain, Magarity took a suggestion from his wife, Rita -- an impromptu backyard memorial service. The team read a poem, planted a flower bed and placed a stone, painted in Army's black and gold, as a centerpiece.

It's adorned with two words: "Maggie's Garden."

"It was something good to have as a remembrance and acknowledge the fact that she is gone and we miss her and wish she could be here," said Micky Malette, a senior captain last season and now the team's director of basketball operations.

Junior Cara Enright, the Patriot League player of the year last season, said she thinks the garden will help the team move on.

"I think it gives us a sense of closure and helps us to keep her in our hearts," she said.

Always in their thoughts, Dixon is buried at West Point Cemetery -- an honor rarely given to civilians.

That was not an easy decision for the Dixon family.

"It was very tough for me and my parents, especially my mom," said her brother, Jamie Dixon, who coaches Pittsburgh's men's basketball team. "The initial thought was to have your daughter as close as possible. As we thought about it, we figured it was the best thing to do as we saw how important it is and how inspirational the cemetery is."

Dixon's family visited the cemetery in June for the first time, coming across a group of strangers on a tour bus who also had made the pilgrimage.

"A couple of the girls have been to her grave," captain Jen Hansen said. "Just to say hi."

Six months after her death, Dixon's grave is just one of the constant reminders of her lone season at West Point.

Take Magarity, an assistant coach for Dixon last season.

He wasn't looking to get back into coaching when he first met Dixon last October. Magarity was at West Point representing the Mid-American Conference at a football game when he ran into Dixon.

"She had such a vibrant energy about her. She had a passion for the game," said Magarity of that initial meeting that lasted four hours. "After calling a few friends, I just knew it's what I wanted to do."

Magarity, who spent 30 years at Marist, Iona and St. Francis (Pa.), never had coached women's basketball before. But the team quickly took to him, joking about his fashion sense and advancing age. He quickly became a father figure to the players and Dixon.

"She really knew what she was doing," Magarity said. "I didn't want to step on her toes. I just wanted to help her along the way."

Before Dixon passed away, good friend and New Orleans Hornets general manager Jeff Bower offered Magarity a job with the team -- director of college scouting and player personnel. But Dixon's death changed everything.

Despite his inexperience with the women's game, Magarity was athletic director Kevin Anderson's clear choice to coach the Cadets this season.

"My biggest fear was Dave not taking the job and someone else fighting the ghost of Maggie," he said.

When the team began practice last week, Magarity smoothed the transition by keeping Dixon's system and staff, which includes Magarity's daughter as an assistant coach. Dixon hired her just days before her death.

"I could never give them what she gave, but what I can give them is some continuity because they knew me," he said.

Magarity has tried to change little from last season's team that went to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.

"Everyone's really pumped for the season, but the team realizes she isn't here," Hansen said. "There's always going to be a different feel to it as you still expect her to walk through the door."

The Cadets, who return four starters, including Enright and rookie of the year Alex McGuire, will open their season Nov. 12 in the Maggie Dixon Classic.

The men's-women's doubleheader will feature the women of Ohio State vs. Army after Pittsburgh's men's team plays Western Michigan.

"Jamie was the motivating force behind it," Magarity said. "He wanted to do something to honor the memory of Maggie."

Jamie Dixon's working to make the Classic an annual women's basketball event at Madison Square Garden.

Before the game, Army will raise its 2006 Patriot League championship banner and a banner honoring Dixon's coach of the year award. The Cadets also will present Dixon's championship ring to her parents.

They'll continue to honor her throughout the season.

The players will keep Dixon close to their hearts, wearing shirts that say "We will ..." referring to a pregame routine -- saying "we will rebound, etc. -- that Dixon brought to the program from her time at DePaul. Also on the shirts are the initials MD inside a clover, similar to Dixon's tattoo.

"I want them to always feel that she's with us," Magarity said.

October 21, 2006

Rookies face off in World Series Game 1

DETROIT - When the Cardinals and Tigers last hooked up in the World Series, the starting pitchers in the opener were Bob Gibson and 31-game winner Denny McLain. When they get together at Comerica Park on Saturday night, Game 1 will have a pair of rookie starters for the first time, with Detroit's Justin Verlander facing off against Anthony Reyes. And the way Reyes sees it, two rooks are better for him than one.

"That's kind of good, knowing he's probably going to have the same feeling as me," he said Friday,

Reyes, 5-8 with a 5.06 ERA in 17 regular-season starts, has the fewest wins of any Game 1 starter in World Series history and is the first with a losing regular-season record since the Mets' Jon Matlack in 1973. He wasn't even on the Cardinals' roster for their first-round series against San Diego.

Verlander was 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA during the regular season. Despite Reyes' poor pedigree, Verlander doesn't think the Tigers are favored.

"I think we view ourselves as the underdogs, personally," Verlander said as the unexpected pennant winners prepared Friday on a cool, overcast day at Comerica Park. "Everybody has doubted us."

Detroit won a seven-game Series from St. Louis in 1968, and the Cardinals' Gas House Gang beat the Tigers 4-3 in 1934.

Back in 1968, the last World Series before playoffs, Gibson pitched a five-hit shutout and struck out a Series record 17 to beat the Tigers 4-0 in the opener at the old Busch Stadium. The Cardinals' Dizzy Dean pitched an eight-hitter to defeat Alvin Crowder 8-3 in 1934's first game at Detroit's Navin Field, as Tiger Stadium was then known.

The 23-year-old Verlander and 25-year-old Reyes have combined for 23 career wins — when John Smoltz opened the 1996 Series for Atlanta, he had 24 victories in that year alone.

The previous low for wins by a Game 1 starter was set by Howard Ehmke for the 1929 Philadelphia Athletics, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He went 7-2 during the regular season, then beat the Chicago Cubs and Charley Root 3-1 in Game 1.

Coming off a draining Game 7 win at New York in the NL championship series Thursday night, the Cardinals pulled into their suburban Detroit hotel at 5 a.m. Friday. By late afternoon, they straggled onto the field at Comerica Park for a workout.

"Maybe that champagne is still stinging their eyes," Tigers reliever Jason Grilli said.

At 83-78, the Cardinals have the second-worst record of any World Series team, trailing only the 82-79 mark of the 1973 Mets. Detroit, which blew the AL Central on the final weekend of the regular season, gives the Series a wild card team for the fifth straight year.

"It's been a little bit weird," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "It's been crazy. It's been tremendous for baseball."

Detroit will be playing for the first time in a week, since completing its four-game sweep of Oakland in the AL championship series. The last six teams that began the World Series with five or more days of rest all went on to win — only twice in history have Series teams with such a long break not won, and both were led by Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.

"I think the game is so mental," La Russa said. "If you sit around and you're mentally strong, you're ready."

Reyes was selected by Detroit on the 13th round of the 2002 amateur draft but stayed at Southern California for his senior year, then was taken by St. Louis in the 15th round a year later.

He pitched just once in the playoffs, starting Game 4 of the NLCS — his first appearance since Oct. 1. He allowed runners in all four of his innings, walked four and threw 86 pitches. But he gave up his only runs on homers by Carlos Beltran and David Wright.

He found out Friday that he'll be starting.

"I'm just trying to not think about it right now, just trying to relax and just get rested up and get ready for tomorrow," he said.

La Russa could have gone with Jason Marquis, who wasn't on his NLCS roster.

"It's not an easy call. We wrestled with this," La Russa said. "Anthony took the assignment in the NLCS. I think he handled himself well. The experience will be helpful tomorrow."

St. Louis will follow with Jeff Weaver, Chris Carpenter and Jeff Suppan. Kenny Rogers will start Game 2 for Detroit, followed by Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman. Rogers pitched 15 shutout innings in the playoffs over two starts — both in Detroit.

"We wanted Kenny to pitch two games at home," Leyland said.

October 18, 2006

Paulus out indefinitely with a foot injury

Duke point guard Greg Paulus is out indefinitely with a foot injury, though it's not known if the Blue Devils captain will miss any games.

The sophomore injured his left foot Saturday, the second day of practice, team spokesman Jon Jackson said. Paulus apparently first injured the foot during high school, and reaggravated it over the weekend near the end of the workout.

Paulus, who was re-evaluated at the Duke University Medical Center on Monday, will not need surgery. Instead, he is expected to follow a rehabilitation plan and make a complete recovery, the school said in a news release.

"This is an unfortunate injury, but Greg is an extremely tough individual and we expect him to make a full recovery," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. "Our medical staff will evaluate Greg's progress continuously and he will return to action when the foot is fully healed."

Losing Paulus for a lengthy period would be a serious blow for a young team already looking for leadership. Paulus joined Josh McRoberts as the first sophomores in program history to be selected as team captains, while fellow captain DeMarcus Nelson is the team's lone upperclassman on scholarship.

The Blue Devils open exhibition play Nov. 2 against Shaw and begin the regular season Nov. 12 against Columbia in the CBE Classic. It's unclear who would play the point if Paulus was unable to play at the start of the season.

Paulus underwent surgery to remove a bone chip in his left wrist in March, shortly after the Blue Devils lost to LSU in the NCAA tournament's round of 16. Paulus played with a brace on his wrist last season and started in all but three games for Duke, leading the Atlantic Coast Conference with 5.2 assists per game.

October 14, 2006

Ordonez powers Tigers into World Series

DETROIT - Magglio Ordonez lofted a high fly ball to left field and when it landed, a most amazing thing: the Detroit Tigers in the World Series!

Written off by the entire baseball world only three years ago, the Tigers made it official Saturday. They're back, and on the prowl.

Ordonez hit his second homer of the game, connecting for a three-run shot with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning that lifted Jim Leyland's Tigers over the Oakland Athletics 6-3 for a startling four-game sweep of the AL championship series.

"I think early on in spring training we had a lot of good players. We didn't have a good team," Leyland said. "And today I can make the statement that we've got a good team, and that's the thing that I'm proudest of."

With the crowd of 42,967 at Comerica Park in delirium, joined by fans watching from distant downtown buildings and all over Michigan, the Tigers rejoiced after their seventh straight postseason win.

The wild-card Tigers now get a week to rest and wait for Game 1 at home next Saturday night against either the New York Mets or St. Louis Cardinals. It will be their first Series appearance since winning it all exactly 22 years ago Saturday on Oct. 14, 1984.

In those days, Sparky Anderson, Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris were among the big names at Tiger Stadium. Leyland, Ordonez and their teammates get their chance to make history.

"Nobody could have expected this. It's unreal," said Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline, currently a team official.

The losingest team in the majors over the past 13 seasons, Detroit was in despair after dropping an embarrassing 119 games in 2003. But in their first year under Leyland, the Tigers projected a winning attitude from the start.

And never has the olde English "D" on the jerseys puffed more proudly than it did after Ordonez homered.

"I knew it was gone as soon as I hit it," Ordonez said. "This is what I've dreamed about my whole career, my whole life. I don't even remember running around the bases."

Members of the Tigers' bullpen rushed in from left field and nearly beat Ordonez to the plate as fans twirled white towels. The guys from Motown were losers no mo'.

Down 3-0 early, the Tigers clawed back to tie it against Dan Haren when Ordonez hit a solo home run in the sixth.

After Craig Monroe and ALCS MVP Placido Polanco singled with two outs in the ninth off Huston Street, and with the entire ballpark on its feet, Ordonez launched a no-doubt drive over the wall.

Ordonez stood to watch the ball sail while Monroe and Polanco began jumping. It was the eighth homer ever to end a postseason series, and it had to be sweet salvation for Ordonez — there were certainly plenty of critics when the Tigers signed the injured All-Star to a multimillion dollar, free-agent deal before the 2005 season.

As the Tigers celebrated at the plate, Leyland walked across the field to Oakland's first-base dugout to congratulate the A's. He had special words for A's slugger Frank Thomas, who went 0-for-13 in the series.

"It was a numbing feeling," Thomas said. "It's my little brother who did it — Magglio. We spent seven years together and I'm happy for him. He's always wanted a ring and he's going to get a chance."

Leyland then slapped high-fives with fans along the box-seat railings before taking part in the festivities in the middle of the field.

Not even a baseball lifer like Leyland — who started out in the Tigers' system as a minor league catcher — could have foreseen this. Heavy underdogs, they lost Game 1 in the first round to the New York Yankees, but have roared back to win seven in a row.

And those last six victories have all been by at least three runs — making Detroit the first team to put together such a streak in the postseason.

Leyland won the 1997 World Series with Florida, but had taken six years off before deciding to accept the Tigers' job. A lot of people figured he was crazy, taking over a team that had endured 12 straight losing seasons.

"I kept getting closer to it and closer to it," he said.

Wilfredo Ledezma, who bailed out the Tigers by retiring Marco Scutaro on a foul pop with the bases loaded to end the eighth with the score 3-all, got the win.

Detroit posted the first ALCS sweep since Oakland chased Boston in 1990. The A's started off strong in this postseason, sweeping Minnesota in the first round, but manager Ken Macha's AL West champions could not get key hits against the Tigers.

"I told the players they can't let this series diminish what they did this year," Macha said. "I thought it was a tremendous year.

"The guys played their tails off and that's all you can ask," he said.

Gimpy Milton Bradley symbolized that best, racing into the right-center field gap to grab Curtis Granderson's drive in the ninth.

Polanco, whose separated left shoulder in mid-August had him worried that his season was over, delivered three more hits and went 9-for-17 in the series.

"I know we had a shot to make it to the playoffs, and I didn't know if I was going to play again," he said. "Like I said before, you don't have this opportunity every year, and I wanted to be part of the team."

Both teams blew chances to break open the game in the late innings.

Detroit had an opportunity in the seventh, loading the bases with one out against relievers Joe Kennedy and Kiko Calero. Desperate to save the season, the A's brought in Street.

The closer has struggled and been hurt, a year after winning the Rookie of the Year award. He did the job this time, getting Carlos Guillen to ground into an inning-ending double play that left it tied at 3.

Jay Payton's solo homer gave Oakland a 3-0 lead in the fourth.

A night earlier, Thomas said the A's needed one big inning to get back into the series. Or at least, as Athletics owner Lew Wolff quipped before the game, "We've got to figure out how to beat them without getting a run."

While they scored, the A's didn't get quite enough.

A's starter Dan Haren, who finished off the first-round sweep of Minnesota, began by pitching four scoreless innings and striking out six with a nasty split-fingered fastball.

The Tigers, it turned out, were just getting warmed up on an afternoon when the game-time temperature was 50 degrees.

Held to a paltry two singles in a 3-0 loss Friday, the A's came out swinging in Game 4. It worked, as Bradley and Eric Chavez hit RBI doubles in the first inning.

The early edge came with a price, however, when Bradley appeared to tweak his quadriceps while running the bases. Checked by a trainer, he stayed in the game — the injury later came back to hurt the Athletics.

Robbed on a nice play by Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge to end the first inning, Payton slammed his helmet to the ground.

The next time up, Payton made certain he wouldn't get cheated again with a home run off Jeremy Bonderman.

The Tigers rallied in the fifth, scoring twice after a leadoff single by Inge. Granderson followed with a liner in the gap and when Bradley was slow getting over from right field, hustled for an RBI double. Monroe tied it with an RBI double that hooked just beyond Payton's dive in left.

Ordonez opened the sixth by hitting Haren's first pitch over the left-field wall to make it 3-all.

Notes:@ Polanco extended his postseason hitting streak to nine games, dating to the 2001 playoff with St. Louis. ... Mark Kotsay made an animated twist of his body, hoping to coax his long drive to stay fair in the A's seventh. It curved foul beyond the pole, and he struck out.

October 13, 2006

Evans quits 'Dancing With the Stars'

LOS ANGELES - Country singer Sara Evans on Thursday announced she was filing for divorce and quitting the "Dancing With the Stars" television competition.

Evans filed for divorce from Craig Schelske in Williamson County, Tenn., where she lives, according to a statement issued by Allen Brown, her representative at Sony BMG Music Entertainment.

"Recent events that shed light on the status of her marriage prompted Ms. Evans to make the filing," Brown said in the statement. He declined to elaborate.

The couple were married in 1993 and have three children.

Evans decided she needed to leave the TV show "to give her family her full attention at this difficult time," Brown said.

She was among 11 celebrities who paired with professional dancers to compete on the third season of the popular ABC reality series.

"Ms. Evans hopes that her fans and TV viewers who've supported her in recent weeks and throughout her music career will respect and understand her need for privacy in the face of these recent events," Brown said.

Evans, 35, was recently nominated for female vocalist of the year honors by the Country Music Association. The Missouri native made her recording debut in 1997 and her 2000 album "Born To Fly" went double-platinum.

October 08, 2006

Detroit 8, NY Yankees 3

DETROIT -- As a reborn baseball town erupted in splashes of orange and blue around them, the Detroit Tigers danced in the infield, kicking up dirt like kids on a sandlot.

They grabbed Jim Leyland, hoisted him on their shoulders and carried him off the field as 43,000 delirious fans screamed as one. The manager's ride was a short one, but the party was just getting started.

The Tigers are still on the prowl. The mighty New York Yankees struck out.

Three years after losing 119 games, they moved back among baseball's biggest cats with an 8-3 victory Saturday in Game 4 over the Yankees, whose $200 million payroll couldn't help them against Detroit's pitching.

"This is the best of the best, to beat the best team in baseball," said Craig Monroe, who hit a two-run homer. "This is baseball for us, right here in Detroit."

Once a punchline, the Tigers punched out the big, bad Yankees.

"You kind of get tired of giving the other team credit," third baseman Alex Rodriguez said after another terrible October. "At some point you've got to look in the mirror and say, 'I sucked."'

Jeremy Bonderman was perfect for five innings and sublime until the ninth as the Tigers moved into the AL championship series against Oakland by eliminating A-Rod, Derek Jeter and the other high-priced, high-profile Yankees.

Given little chance before the series started or when they were down 0-1, Detroit won three straight to stun the AL East champions, who could be facing a colder New York baseball winter than normal.

It all happened faster than Leyland, the Tigers' no-nonsense skipper, or anyone could have ever imagined. The feisty 61-year-old ended a six-year retirement and took over a team that had averaged 100 losses since 2001 and one he figured would fight with Kansas City to stay out of last place in the AL Central.

Instead, Leyland has taken the Tigers near the top.

"I didn't think we'd be here this year," he said. "All we wanted to do was look at our pieces and parts we had and see if we needed to change any. I thought it would be a year or so before we got into a situation like this. This came a little bit quicker than I expected."

And, he used a pinstriped plan to make it happen.

During spring training in Florida, Leyland made his players study the Yankees. He wanted them to emulate their Bronx-born bravado, right down to the way they run onto the field.

"I said, 'That's the level we want to get to, and we've got to get that quiet swagger and confidence that the Yankees got,"' he said. "I used them as an example. It's kind of ironic that we got to play them, and fortunately beat them."

The Tigers' chances seemed slim just a few days ago when they were swept at home on the final weekend of the regular season by the last-place Royals, who denied them a division title. Detroit had to settle for a wild-card berth and a first-round matchup with the Yankees.

It seemed lopsided. It sure was. The Yankees didn't have a chance.

These man-eating Tigers simply devoured New York, outplaying the Yanks in every phase to advance to their first AL championship series since 1987. On Tuesday, the Tigers will play at Oakland in Game 1 of the AL championship series, the first postseason meeting between the clubs since 1972.

"Nobody gave us a shot in this series," Bonderman said. "That motivated us."

The Yankees never found any spark, and for the second straight year the star-studded squad is going home after a first-round exit.

"I'm stunned," New York general manager Brian Cashman said. "This team fooled me to some degree. Detroit was on top of their game and we weren't, and that combination was lethal for us. I'm disappointed where we're at now."

Losing stung and now the Yankees will have to face owner George Steinbrenner's wrath. He may have big changes in store for his underachieving ballclub, which hasn't won a World Series since 2000.

One of the Yankees' offseason moves could be trading Rodriguez, who capped another forgettable October by going 1-for-14 (.071) and going without an RBI for the second straight postseason.

"I have no one to blame but myself," he said. "I know I certainly have to do well for this team to win."

Bonderman allowed just five singles, walking off to a thunderous ovation with an 8-1 lead.

After the final out, the Tigers mobbed each other before turning their affection to Leyland, who began his baseball career in 1963 as a catcher in Detroit's system.

"That was awesome," third baseman Brandon Inge said. "That's so deserving. I don't know how many people have been carried off the field on their shoulders, but I tell you what, if there were a select few that deserve it, he is definitely one of them."

Moments later, the Tigers emerged from their clubhouse armed with champagne bottles and they uncorked them during a victory lap around Comerica Park, slapping hands and spraying fans who danced to Kiss' "Rock and Roll All Night."

"These fans have been here for some of the worst things," Monroe said. "We wanted them to be able to have a party tonight."

Magglio Ordonez and Monroe each homered off Jaret Wright as the Tigers built an 8-0 after six innings and coasted through the final three.

Blanked in Game 3 by Kenny Rogers, the Yankees and their reputed Murderer's Row didn't score off Bonderman until the seventh, snapping a scoreless streak of a season-high 20 2-3 innings. This from a team which scored 930 runs during the regular season but managed just 14 in the series, getting drubbed 14-3 in the final two games.

"You've got to play," Jeter said. "You don't win games on paper. You've got to come out here and perform. And they pretty much overmatched us in this series."

Feeding off a frenzied crowd, Bonderman retired the first 15 Yankees in order before Robinson Cano dribbled a single through the middle for New York's first hit. Bonderman, though, wasn't about to let a big lead slip away like he did last Sunday when the Royals overcame a 6-0 deficit to beat the Tigers, a loss that cost Detroit an AL Central title and home-field advantage in Round 1.

As it turns out, the Tigers and their $80-plus million payroll didn't need any such luxuries.

"I just wanted to go out and attack them," Bonderman said. "I just wanted to leave everything I had on the field, and I think I did. This is the greatest thrill in the world. You can't ask for anything better."


Bernie Williams, who signed with the Yankees 21 years ago, said he wants to take some time before deciding his next move. ... The Tigers' wild clubhouse celebration included Hall of Famer Al Kaline, former Tigers slugger Willie Horton and utility infielder Ramon Santiago dancing to some Latin music. ... The Yankees' scoreless streak was their longest since the 2000 postseason.

October 01, 2006

Pirates' Sanchez wins batting title

PITTSBURGH - For a moment, Freddy Sanchez's unlikely pursuit of the National League batting title got to him for the first time all season. He felt stressed out and nervous, and began swinging at anything to try for a hit.

Sanchez shook off his self-imposed pressure to get two hits and become the Pirates' first batting champion in 23 years, helping Pittsburgh to a 1-0 victory Sunday over Cincinnati that was decided by Xavier Nady's third hit of the game.

Sanchez was a 28-year-old utility infielder beginning only his second full season in the majors and didn't become a starter until early May, yet hit .344 — the Pirates' highest average since Roberto Clemente's .345 in 1969. Sanchez's 200 hits were the second-most by a Pirates player, to Jack Wilson's 201 in 2004, since Dave Parker had 215 in 1978.

"It hasn't sunk in yet, but it's something special," said Sanchez, who beat out Florida's Miguel Cabrera by five points. "There's a lot of relief, excitement and joy."

After the game ended, Sanchez stayed on the field and waved his cap to the crowd, and his teammates crowded around to offer congratulations during a ceremony that included a video tribute to Sanchez's season. Many in the crowd of 25,004 stayed to chant his name and display black-and-gold "Go, Freddy, Go" signs that were handed out all weekend by the Pirates.

Sanchez admittedly felt the pressure on Saturday night, when he went 0-for-4, keeping Cabrera in the race. Sanchez was determined to be more relaxed Sunday and he was, getting hits in each of his first two at-bats. Cabrera was pulled after going 0-for-2 when it became obvious he couldn't catch Sanchez.

"After I got the first hit, it took a load off," Sanchez said. "Last night was the worst feeling. I was so nervous and felt so much pressure. I kind of forced myself to try to get a hit and, and that's not me."

Nady's go-ahead hit in the eighth followed two-out singles by Jason Bay and Ryan Doumit against Todd Coffey (6-7).

The Reds were shut out in their final two games of the season after being eliminated from NL Central contention and finished 80-82, their best record since 2000 but their sixth consecutive losing season.

"It hurts, but not as much as not being in the postseason," manager Jerry Narron said of finishing below .500. "St. Louis winning yesterday definitely took a lot out of us. But these guys battled all year and gave us a chance in the last weekend of the season to get into the postseason."

The Pirates' 67-95 record was identical to that of last season, even though they had a winning record (37-35) after the All-Star break for the first time since 1992.

"Next year, we need to put two good halves together," general manager Dave Littlefield said.

Or a couple of halves at a consistency level like Sanchez's; he hit .300 or better in every month of the season.

Sanchez's title was all the more unlikely because of what he endured to get to the majors. He was born with a deformed foot that needed surgery when he was 1, and some doctors felt he might not walk, much less run. But not only did he reach the majors, he became the Pirates' 25th NL batting champion, the most of any club.

"He is a tremendous overachiever," manager Jim Tracy said.

Sanchez's batting title probably meant more to the Pirates than it would have to most other clubs because they have gone so long without a winning season — 14 years, two short of the major league record. Sanchez's title also illustrates one reason why the Pirates have flopped for so long: their often-curious personnel decisions.

Even after Sanchez hit .291 last year, the Pirates felt he didn't hit enough for power. So they signed Joe Randa to a $4 million contract to play third and moved Sanchez into a utilityman's role. But Sanchez hit so well early in the season that he forced them to make him an everyday player, and he began starting regularly on May 2.

Sanchez also drove in 85 runs despite hitting only six homers; the only player with as many RBIs and so few homers since divisional play began in 1969 was the Indians' Julio Franco with six homers and 90 RBIs in 1985.

Matt Capps (9-1), a rookie making his 85th appearance, got the victory by retiring one batter in the eighth after Shane Youman gave up four hits in seven innings. Salomon Torres pitched the ninth for his 12th save in 15 chances, during his 94th appearance — tying a club record set by Kent Tekulve in 1979. The only pitcher in major league history with more appearances was the Dodgers' Mike Marshall with 106 in 1974.

"Can you believe I would need to pitch in 12 more games to tie him," Torres said. "I certainly have a lot of respect for Mr. Marshall."

Torres struck out Javier Valentin to end the game with runners on first and third — the only time in 18 innings over their final two games the Reds advanced a runner to third.

Both starting pitchers were lifted after pitching shutout ball — Youman after seven innings in his third career start and the Reds' Matt Belisle after throwing a career-high six innings.

Notes:@ The Pirates finished with a winning home record (43-38) for the first time since PNC Park opened in 2001. ... Pirates CF Chris Duffy sat out with a sore hamstring. He was hurt while running the bases Saturday. ... Capps finished one game short of the NL rookie record of 86 appearances by Arizona's Oscar Villarreal in 2003. ... Pirates C Ronny Paulino sat out Sunday, but became the first rookie catcher since Mike Piazza in 1993 to hit at least .310 and play in at least 100 games. ... The Pirates were one of six teams in the majors that didn't draw 2 million, attracting 1,861,549 in 80 dates.