In Sports from United Press International

April 23, 2002 at 8:08 PM
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Rangers recall Rocker; Rodriquez on DL

ARLINGTON, Texas, April 23 (UPI) -- John Rocker's exile to the minor leagues actually never happened as after deciding not to report for that assignment, the controversial relief pitcher was recalled Tuesday byr the Texas Rangers.

Just six days ago, the tumultuous career of Rocker took another turn for the worse when the closer was optioned to Class AAA Oklahoma of the Pacific Coast League. But Rocker never reported to Oklahoma, instead seeking the advice of former Rangers pitching coach Tom House to try to find solutions for his ineffective performances on the field this season.

The lefthander has an 0-1 record, one save and a 9.53 ERA in 5 2/3 relief innings. He was given the closer's job when righthander Jeff Zimmerman was placed on the disabled list with an elbow injury.

Rocker was acquired in the offseason from the Cleveland Indians for minor league pitcher David Elder. Cleveland acquired him from the Atlanta Braves last June and gave him the closer's role before Bob Wickman regained the job. The 27-year-old Rocker came under intense criticism for remarks on racial, ethnic and sexual minorities in a Sports Illustrated article in December 1999 while with the Braves.

Rocker struggled with the Indians, going 3-7 with a 5.45 ERA in 38 games and converting just 4-of-7 save opportunities. Former Indians general manager John Hart resigned after last season to take the same position with the Rangers and traded for Rocker.

The Rangers on Tuesday also placed perennial Gold Glove catcher Ivan Rodriguez on the 15-day disabled list with a herniated disc in his lower back. He is expected to miss four to six weeks.

Rodriguez, 30, began to experience lower back pain last Monday, when he was scratched from the lineup against Seattle. He skipped the team's West Coast road trip and underwent three days of treatment but began to experience pain down his legs on Thursday. He was examined Friday by team spinal consultant Dr. Drew Dossett.

A 10-time All-Star, Rodriguez is hitting just .222 with five RBI in 12 games. Journeyman Bill Haselman will fill in as the Rangers' No. 1 catcher.

Report: Keenan contacts Rangers

NEW YORK, April 23 (UPI) -- Florida Panthers head coach Mike Keenan went out of his way to contact New York Rangers general manager Glen Sather about the team's vacant coaching position, according to a published report Tuesday.

The New York Post, quoting a "well placed source," reports Keenan approached Sather to express an interest in returning to New York because circumstances in Florida had changed since joining the team last December.

The newspaper said it was Sather who then informed Keenan that the conversation they were having was inappropriate and that he would need to obtain permission from the Panthers to speak with him.

When Keenan approached Florida owner Alan Cohen about speaking with Sather, he was denied permission.

When contacted by United Press International, the New York Rangers declined to comment. Messages left with the Florida Panthers were not returned.

Over the weekend, Keenan told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel that the Rangers had gone through the process of obtaining permission to talk to him. However, Cohen said he never spoke with anyone from New York and suggested that the Rangers had tampered with his coach.

While National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman said the league will look into the matter, the Post said Cohen stopped short of filing official tampering charges against Sather.

The newspaper added that an investigation will show Keenan to be at fault and that could result in disciplinary action against him. In 1994, the NHL fined Keenan $100,000 and suspended him for 60 days after orchestrating a series of events which saw him leave the Rangers and become the head coach and general manager of the St. Louis Blues.

Hall of Famer Sam Francis dead at 88

LINCOLN, Neb., April 23 (UPI) -- Sam Francis, a star fullback at Nebraska and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, died Tuesday at his home in Springfield, Mo. He was 88.

Francis was an All-American in both football and track during his collegiate career and finished second to Larry Kelley of Yale in voting for the 1936 Heisman Trophy. He helped Nebraska post a 19-7 overall record and a pair of Big Six Conference titles in three seasons of football.

The top overall pick in the 1937 NFL draft, Francis played four seasons of professional football with the Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers and Brooklyn Dodgers.

Francis was inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1977.

Corretja moves on; Enqvist out

BARCELONA, Spain, April 23 (UPI) -- Seventh-seeded Alex Corretja advanced Tuesday in the second round of the claycourt Open Seat Godo 2002, but No. 8 Thomas Enqvist of Sweden was ousted.

Corretja, a native of Barcelona, recorded a 7-6 (7-5), 7-5 victory over fellow Spaniard Galo Blanco. Enqvist, who is one of nine players in this event with a tennis title in 2002, was defeated by Gaston Gaudio of Argentina, 6-4, 6-2. The top eight seeds received byes in the first round.

Ninth-seeded Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador advanced to the second round with a 6-4, 6-0 triumph over Austria's Stefan Koubek on Tuesday. No. 12 Carlos Moya joins Lapentti in the second round as he beat Daniel Melo of Brazil, 6-3, 6-3. Melo replaced Germany's Nicolas Kiefer, who withdrew with flu-like symptoms.

Spain's Albert Costa, the 15th seed and 1997 champion, cruised to a 6-2, 6-3 win over countryman Fernando Vicente. No. 16 David Nalabandian of Argentina routed Romania's Adrian Voinea, 6-1, 6-2. Spanish wild card Sergi Brugera began his 13th appearance in this event with a 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 victory over 18-year-old countryman Carlos Cuadrado, who is the youngest player in the tournament.Qualifier Cedric Pioline of France, who at 32 is the oldest player in the event, got past Switzerland's Michel Kratochvil, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

In the remaining first-round matches Tuesday: Spain's David Sanchez posted a 6-4, 7-6 (12-10) win over Argentina's Mariano Zabaleta; Argentina's Augustin Calleri routed Christophe Rochus, 6-1, 6-2; Andrea Gaudenzi of Italy beat French qualifier Michael Llodra, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2; and France's Arnaud Clement got by Paul Henri Mathieu, 7-5, 7-5.

Hornets look to take two-game lead over Magic

CHARLOTTE, N.C., April 23 (UPI) -- Tuesday could be the final game for the Charlotte Hornets in North Carolina.

The Hornets can grab a commanding lead in their NBA Eastern Conference first-round series with a victory over the Orlando Magic in one of two NBA playoff games on Tuesday night. The Sacramento Kings host the Utah Jazz in a Western Conference affair.

The fourth-seeded Hornets rallied for an 80-79 victory in the opener of the best-of-five series on Saturday, but only 9,505 showed up at the 24,000-seat Charlotte Coliseum to see a team that likely will be moving to New Orleans at season's end.

The Jazz nearly pulled off a huge upset on Saturday, but John Stockton missed two three-pointers in the final seconds and the Kings escaped with an 89-86 win.

Chris Webber had 24 points and 12 rebounds for the Kings, who swept the regular-season series with the Jazz by an average of 22.8 points per contest.

Pistons' Williamson named NBA's Best Sixth Man

NEW YORK, April 23 (UPI) -- Corliss Williamson of the Detroit Pistons Tuesday was named winner of the 2001-02 NBA Sixth Man Award, honoring the league's premier player in a reserve role.

Williamson received 56 of a possible 125 votes from a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. Bobby Jackson of the Sacramento Kings finished second with 30 votes and Quentin Richardson of the Los Angeles Clippers was third with 20 votes.

Williamson averaged 13.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 21.8 minutes per contest while coming off the bench in 71 of the 78 games he played this season.

Williamson flew past the competition to earn his first Sixth Man Award. In his eighth NBA season out of Arkansas, he helped lead the Pistons to their first Central Division championship since 1990, and a return to the playoffs after a two-year absence. He was third on the team in points per game, ranked seventh in the NBA in field goals made per 48 minutes (11.6), and finished ninth in the league in both field goal percentage (.510) and points per 48 minutes (30.0).

The native of Russellville, Ark., was selected by the Sacramento Kings with the 13th pick of the 1995 NBA Draft. He played five seasons in Sacramento before being traded to the Toronto Raptors for Doug Christie prior to the 2000-2001 season.

Williamson joined the Pistons on Feb. 22, 2001 when he, Tyrone Corbin, Kornel David and a future first-round draft choice were sent to Detroit for Jerome Williams and Eric Montross.

He is the first Detroit Pistons player ever to win the NBA Sixth Man Award.

Devils look to draw even with Carolina

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., April 23 (UPI) -- The New Jersey Devils will try to even their NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Carolina Hurricanes at two games apiece Tuesday when they square off at Continental Airlines Arena.

New Jersey posted its first win of the best-of-seven series Sunday with a 4-0 victory after enduring a pair of 2-1 defeats in Raleigh--one in overtime.

The Devils hope to continue producing on the power play. They went 3-for-7 with the man advantage after a 1-for-10 performance in the first two contests. New Jersey even had a rare overtime power play in Game Two.

Carolina heads into Game Four hoping its top line puts up some points. Ron Francis, Sami Kapanen and Jeff O'Neill have only one assist in the three games after combining for 85 goals and 210 points in the regular season.

Rod Brind'Amour, Bates Battaglia and rookie Erik Cole have accounted for Carolina's goals. Carolina also may be concerned about goaltender Arthurs Irbe, who gave up three goals on 12 shots in less than 21 minutes against the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions on Sunday.

The series returns to Carolina for Game Five on Wednesday.

Elsewhere, it's the New York Islanders, trailing two games to none, trying to stay alive for another day when they host Toronto; Boston entertaining Montreal, with that series tied at a game each; Chicago hosting St. Louis, needing a win to even that series at two apiece; Los Angeles, trailing two games to one, looking for its second straight win over Colorado after beating the Avalanche, 3-1, Monday night; and the surprising Canucks, leading two games to one, looking to take a stranglehold on Detroit when they host the Red Wings in Vancouver.

Pirates' Ramirez suspended

NEW YORK, April 23 (UPI) -- Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Aramis Ramirez was suspended for seven games and fined an undisclosed amount for his part in a benches-clearing incident last Wednesday against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Ramirez, the Pirates' leading hitter with a .348 average, sprained his ankle in the fracas and has not played since. He will not appeal the suspension and is eligible to return May 1 against Colorado.

Milwaukee starter Ben Sheets hit Ramirez with a pitch in the top of the third after Brewers leftfielder Geoff Jenkins was hit in the bottom of the second. Ramirez charged the mound and hurled his batting helmet at Sheets.

Both Ramirez and Sheets were ejected. Sheets was not suspended, but was fined an undisclosed amount by baseball Vice President Bob Watson for intentionally throwing at Ramirez. This is the second time Ramirez has been suspended for charging the mound. As a 19-year-old rookie in 1998, he confronted Javier Vazquez of of Montreal.

Rob Mackowiak has started each of the last three games at third base for the Pirates and is 4-for-12 in that span.

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