Costa advances to semis at Roland Garros
PARIS, June 4 (UPI) -- For the third time in five matches at the French Open, Albert Costa of Spain rallied back Wednesday to advance to the men's semifinals.
Costa overcame a two-set deficit, victimizing fellow Spaniard Tommy Robredo in the process, 2-6, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2, in the quarterfinals.
The Costa-Robredo matchup assured a Spaniard of reaching the French semifinals for a fourth consecutive year, the longest such streak for Spain in the Open Era.
It appeared Robredo was on the road to knocking off a Grand Slam champion for the third match in a row after beating top-ranked Lleyton Hewitt of Australia in the third round and three-time winner Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil in the fourth round.
In the fifth set, as the match approached the three-hour mark, Robredo was clearly the more fatigued player. He stalled during changeovers, and failed to chase down shots he reached earlier.
Costa, the men's defending champion, took the lead for the first time at 3-2 in the fifth set when Robredo doubled faulted and won the final five games. After a backhand volley winner on match point, Costa fell on his back and screamed in celebration.
Robredo's frustration showed during the fifth game of the decisive set when he threw his racket to the backstop after Costa lobbed a winner over his head.
Costa, 27, spent a combined 11 hours, 56 minutes on the court in the opening three rounds before beating Arnaud Clement of France in straight sets on Monday. Wednesday's match lasted three hours, 29 minutes, and Costa has played 23 sets totaling 18 hours, 32 minutes.
He is attempting to become the seventh man to successfully defend his title. Kuerten was the last player to accomplish the feat in 2001.
NBA title series commences Wednesday
SAN ANTONIO, June 4 (UPI) -- The long-waited NBA Finals finally start Wednesday night in San Antonio, where the Spurs will host New Jersey in Game One of the best-of-seven series.
It will be the first NBA action since the Spurs won the Western Conference Finals by ousting Dallas on May 29, ending that series in six games.
"I thought about this (Tuesday) when I was shooting around," said San Antonio forward Stephen Jackson. "It's kind of weird to going from playing day after day, then, going to a long layoff. I think it's going to be something new for both teams. We're going to have to come out with a lot of energy at the beginning to shake that off so we won't get behind early."
The Nets, who have won 10 straight playoff games, have not played since capping off a four-game sweep of Detroit on May 24.
New Jersey reserve guard Lucious Harris does not think the Nets will be affected by their long layoff.
"I think we're going to be relaxed," Harris said. "That's how we're going to have to play. We have to come out aggressive and not play to lose and come out to win. Last year, we came out here and didn't know what to expect. It was overwhelming. Now, it's like we came here last year and this year, I think it's totally different. We're used to all this. You go through your whole career to get to this point, and here I am two years in a row to try to win a ring."
Veteran guard Steve Kerr, who helped the Spurs shoot down the Mavericks in the critical Game Six, thinks his team has momentum.
"I think it does (work to our advantage)," Kerr said. "We had about nine days off one year with the Bulls when we played Seattle in the Finals, and we struggled, the first couple games. I don't think it helps at all to have that kind of time off and I like our position, having four or five days since the Dallas series."
Game One is set for an 8:30 p.m. Eastern time tipoff. Game Two is Friday night at San Antonio. The series shifts to New Jersey on Sunday.
Sosa ejected for using corked bat
CHICAGO, June 4 (UPI) -- It looks like superstar slugger Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs may not have to worry about questions regarding steroid use any longer.
He was ejected by plate umpire Tim McClelland in the opening inning of Chicago's 3-2 victory when his run-scoring groundout to second base resulted in a broken bat that contained cork in the barrel.
Sosa's bouncer to second base in the opening inning of Tuesday's game with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays opened a whole new can of worms.
Plate umpire and crew chief Tim McClelland picked up the bat, took it out of play, and ruled Sosa out, costing the Cubs a run. Sosa was ejected immediately, and could be facing a lengthy suspension.
"I didn't know what had happened," said Cubs Manager Dusty Baker. "Tim came over, took the bat and confiscated it."
Sosa's explanation was that it was a simple mistake. He took his batting practice bat accidentally and brought it to the plate.
"I used that bat for batting practice, not in the game," said Sosa, who held a news conference following the game. "It is a mistake, and I apologize to everyone, everyone who is embarrassed by this."
Sosa explained that batting practice is for the fans, and he feels compelled to deliver.
"Batting practice is a show for the fans and I like to put on a show," Sosa said. "I just picked the wrong bat heading to the plate."
Sosa, among the greatest power hitters ever, has been dogged by questions regarding steroids and performance enhancers. He has vehemently denied the accusations, which may die down following this incident.
"People right now will think what they want," Sosa said. "I have broken a lot of bats in my life and never had anything like this happen."
Despite his show of contrition, Sosa can expect a penalty that could cost him more than a week. The sport has dealt harshly with players who doctor bats, and with a player the magnitude of Sosa, a stiff penalty is likely.
In 1997, Wilton Guerrero of Los Angeles was suspended eight games for using a corked bat. A year earlier, Cincinnati's Chris Sabo was hit with a seven-game ban for the same reason.
Among the more celebrated bat incidents involved Houston's Billy Hatcher, who was penalized seven games in 1987, and Cleveland's Albert Belle, who was suspended seven games in 1994. While Hatcher and Belle were found with cork, New York Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles had a broken bat that revealed six super balls in 1974.
Sosa, 34, hit his 500th homer of the season on April 4. The third-youngest player in history to reach the plateau, behind only Jimmie Foxx and Willie Mays, Sosa is the first Latin player to accomplish the feat.
Selby traded to St. Louis
CLEVELAND, June 4 (UPI) -- Five days after designating infielder Bill Selby for assignment, the Cleveland Indians traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday.
In return, the Indians got minor league catcher Clint Chauncey.
Selby, 32, was batting just .103 (4-for-39) in 26 games before being designated for assignment last Friday.
Chauncey, 22, had been with Single-A Peoria of the Midwest League, and was hitting .294 (10-for-34) in 15 games.
Schilling out with broken hand
PHOENIX, June 4 (UPI) -- The injury-plagued Arizona Diamondbacks have learned that righthander Curt Schilling will be sidelined indefinitely because of a broken right hand.
Schilling suffered the injury when he was hit in the hand twice in Friday's start at San Diego. He remained in the game after being hit by a comebacker by Ramon Vazquez in the first inning, but left the contest when he was struck on the back of the hand by a line drive by Sean Burroughs in the seventh.
An MRI Tuesday revealed Schilling sustained a hairline fracture of the third metacarpal and a chip off the fourth metacarpal.
"It is what it is, you have to accept it, deal with it, and do whatever you can on a daily basis to get better," said Schilling, who was on the disabled list earlier this season when he underwent an appendectomy.
The team's official Web site reported that head athletic trainer Paul Lessard declined to speculate on when Schilling, who is wearing a removable splint, would be able to return to action.
"All I know is Doc Sheridan said to keep that immobile for three weeks so we'll do that," he said. "We can still do the shoulder work and the leg work and all that fun stuff to keep in condition, so at the end of that timeframe he'll be able to move along better than starting from Point A."
"I can't really tell you exactly when we can expect to see him back on the field," said Manager Bob Brenly. "Optimistically, maybe a little before the (All-Star) break. Pessimistically, a little after."
Losing Schilling is another blow for the two-time defending National League West champion Diamondbacks, who already are without reigning four-time Cy Young Award winner Randy Johnson. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on May 1, and is not expected back before the end of June.
"People don't realize the extent of the surgical procedure he had," Lessard told the Web site. "There's sections of his knee right now that are bone on bone, so you're going to get some swelling from time to time. The problem is when you get some swelling you're going to fall back a little bit strength-wise. I don't think he'll be ready in three weeks."
The five-time All-Star is 4-3 with a 3.04 ERA this season. He has surrendered 53 hits and struck out 82 in 71 innings.
Arizona (27-31) is in fourth place in the West, 8 1/2 games behind division-leading San Francisco.
"I don't care what time of the year, 9 1/2 games is 9 1/2 games," Schilling said before Tuesday's 2-1 win over the Chicago White Sox. "I think we'll know rather quickly in the next couple weeks how legitimate our chances of getting back into it are."
Brenly remains hopeful.
"I've seen a lot of teams come back from huge deficits a lot later in the season than we are right now," Brenly said. "I still believe that once we get all of our pieces back together, if we can just stay within shouting distance, we've got a good run left in us."
Rockies add Greg Vaughn
DENVER, June 4 (UPI) -- The Colorado Rockies have purchased the contract of outfielder Greg Vaughn from Triple-A Colorado Springs of the Pacific Coast League.
The purchase was made following Tuesday's game against the Cleveland Indians.
Vaughn, 37, one of just 10 National League players to hit 50 home runs in a season, signed a minor league contract with the Rockies on April 9 after being released by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Vaughn batted .295 with 10 homers and 32 RBI in 34 games for Colorado Springs.
"We're looking for a little more of a bat, not just here (Coors Field), but to take with us on the road," said Colorado Manager Clint Hurdle. "This guy's got experience. He's another guy who has credentials, and he's a solid guy off the field as far as leadership."
The Rockies own the best home record in the major leagues at 22-8, but they are just 7-22 on the road.
To make room for Vaughn, the Rockies optioned outfielder Gabe Kapler to Colorado Springs.
Acquired from the Texas Rangers at last year's trade deadline, Kapler hit just .224 with no homers and four RBI in 39 games this season for the Rockies.
"We're just trying to give him an opportunity to go down and get some consistent at-bats and get on some kind of offensive roll so he can help us in the future," Hurdle said of the decision to demote Kapler.
Urlacher gets long-term deal from Bears
CHICAGO, June 4 (UPI) -- Brian Urlacher, who has been hailed as the Chicago Bears' next greatest linebacker, Wednesday signed a long-term contract with the team.
Urlacher, a Pro Bowler in each of his three NFL seasons, signed a nine-year contract. He had been eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2004 season.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Urlacher, regarded along with Ray Lewis as the NFL's best interior linebacker, established a club single-season record with 214 tackles in 2002, becoming the first Bears defender to eclipse 200 tackles and besting the previous mark of 190 set by Butkus in 1972.
At age 25, Urlacher is already an icon in Chicago. His replica No. 54 was the top selling jersey in the NFL last season, and he was the leading vote getter by fans among defensive players in Pro Bowl balloting.
Love to play despite family tragedy
POTOMAC, Md., June 4 (UPI) -- PGA Tour money leader Davis Love III is scheduled to play in the $3.6 million Capital Open Thursday after dealing with the tragic death of his brother-in-law.
Golfweek Magazine reported this week in its latest edition that Love's brother-in-law, Jeffrey Knight, was being investigated for stealing money from Love, then killed himself after the FBI questioned him.
Love found the dead body on May 16 in a hunting lodge about 25 miles from his home in St. Simon's Island, Ga. Knight died of a gunshot wound to the head.
Irregularities in Love's accounts prompted several banks to file reports of suspicious activity, and the FBI began investigating in December. The agency first questioned Knight in May, according to the magazine report.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that, upon his arrival at the TPC at Avenel course on Tuesday, Love could not wait to get out on the course, and practice in a drenching rain.
He said it was "somewhat therapeutic."
"What (the account of the incident) was in the paper ... is very factual," Love told the paper. "The only thing I would add is that my brother-in-law was a great guy and very important to our family -- my kids, his kids, our whole family. His job was to make our lives easier. He did a lot of good things. Mentally, he just lost his way. Our families did a lot of good things together. He was a good friend. You're not going to get over it, but you have to go do your job, play golf. My son asked the best question after about 10 days: 'When is it going to go back to normal?' Well, it's not. It's going to be a new normal. We just have to go day by day, keep praying, being strong, getting through it."
Most of the top players are resting before next week's U.S. Open. Love, Tiger Woods, and Mike Weir have each won three tournaments this year, but Love has failed to crack the top 15 in his last two appearances after winning the MCI Classic in April.
Woods, Weir, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, and Kenny Perry, who has won the last two PGA tournaments, are among the numerous notable players not entered this week with the PGA's second major scheduled for next week in suburban Chicago.
Funny Cide draws Post 4 for Belmont
BELMONT, N.Y., June 4 (UPI) -- A mere six horses will break from the gate on Saturday when Funny Cide tries to become just the 12th winner of the Belmont Stakes.
It is the last leg of horse racing's Triple Crown.
When Funny Cide won the Preakness on May 17, it appeared that the field for the Belmont would be in double digits, but a steady stream of defections has left the 135th running with just a half dozen horses, the smallest field since Tabasco Cat won against a field of the same size in 1994.
"I thought there would be about 12," said a relieved Barclay Tagg, the trainer of Funny Cide. "The problem with having the extra six horses is there are more horses out there, maturing at different times, who can beat you. I'd rather have one of six than one of 12."
Funny Cide, again with Jose Santos aboard, drew the fourth post, and was installed as an even-money morning-line favorite.
The toughest competition is expected to come from Empire Maker, who finished second as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby, and skipped the Preakness. Empire Maker will break from the rail as the 6-5 second choice with Jerry Bailey aboard.
The post positions for the draw are not nearly as important in the Belmont Stakes because of the grueling 1 1/2-mile distance, and the expansive turns at Belmont Park.
"Our position is fine," Bailey said of breaking from the rail. "It's really not relevant here. We could have been 10 of 10."
The field was expected to include Best Minister, who won the Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard, and was expected to provide a challenge to Funny Cide. Best Minister is trained by Ken McPeek, who last year saddled Sarava, the biggest long shot winner in Belmont Stakes history.
Best Minister was coughing Wednesday morning, and a scope did not come up clean, prompting McPeek to withdraw the horse.
"In this game, timing is everything," McPeek said. "Unfortunately, this is very poor timing."
Dynever, a lightly-raced colt who has won three straight stakes races in impressive fashion, is the third choice at 5-1. The horse will break from the fifth post with Edgar Prado aboard.
Outside of Funny Cide, the only other horse who will race in all three Triple Crown races is Scrimshaw, a 20-1 choice from the third post with Gary Stevens aboard.
Ten Most Wanted, who was ninth in the Kentucky Derby, is 10-1 from the sixth post with Pat Day aboard. Supervisor, a 50-1 long shot, completes the field. The horse has the second post with John Velazquez aboard.
The improbable ride by Funny Cide has set the stage for one of the most anticipated running of the Belmont Stakes in history. The storyline is perfect -- a New York-bred horse returns to his home track and tries to become the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.
"This is a dream world we're talking about," said Jack Knowlton, the managing partner of Sackatoga Stable, which owns Funny Cide.
Should Funny Cide fall short, it would ensure the longest Triple Crown drought in history.
There was a 25-year gap between the wins by Citation in 1948 and Secretariat in 1973. Historically, a small field has been an advantage. None of the 11 Triple Crown winners faced more than seven opponents in the Belmont. Sir Barton and Count Fleet each beat two horses; Gallant Fox and Whirlaway three; Omaha, Secretariat, and Affirmed four.
War Admiral and Assault each beat six horses, and Citation and Seattle Slew each bested seven.
The Belmont Stakes has had a recent streak of good luck.
Funny Cide is the fifth horse in the last seven years to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Sixteen horses have failed in the Belmont after winning the first two legs. The most recent case was War Emblem, who never recovered after stumbling out of the gate.
The main question will be if Funny Cide can handle the mile-and-a-half race, a distance rarely run on any track.
"I've done everything I can for this horse," Tagg said. "We'll see what he can do."
Funny Cide can become the first New York-bred horse and the first gelding to win a Triple Crown. A victory on Saturday will bring a $5 million bonus for Funny Cide, and push his all-time earnings to $7,489,385, which would make him the winningest gelding in history.
Standing in the way will be trainer Bobby Frankel, who failed in the Preakness with Peace Rules, and will come back with Empire Maker for the Belmont. Empire Maker was second to Funny Cide in the Kentucky Derby, but beat Tagg's horse in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 12.
"Funny Cide beat him twice, and I know Empire Maker is coming for revenge," Santos said.
Post time is 6:38 p.m. Eastern time.