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05/23/2016

Sale On...

Note: Posted Sunday p.m. prior to Warriors-Thunder.  I was away this weekend with friends from high school down at the Jersey shore and let’s just say I am very tired.  I also wasn’t exactly focused on doing a column, to tell you the truth.  So forgive me.

NBA Quiz: With Karl-Anthony Towns of Minnesota winning the Rookie of the Year award, that means Minnesota picked up the last two, teammate Andrew Wiggins being ROY for 2014-15.  They are the first teammates to win the award in consecutive years since which duo?  Answer below.

NBA Playoffs

On Thursday, Cleveland took a 2-0 lead over Toronto in Cleveland, 108-89, as LeBron James had a triple-double, 23 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists.

But then Toronto ended Cleveland’s postseason win streak at 10 with a 99-84 win over the Cavs in Toronto on Saturday.  I caught very little of this one, but Raptors center Bismack Biyombo’s performance was rather remarkable, a team record 26 rebounds, along with four blocks.

In cutting Cleveland’s series lead to 2-1, though, Toronto coach Dwane Casey was far from happy with the fact the Cavs were called for only 10 fouls in the game.  Afterwards he referenced what he believed were non-calls for contact on Biyombo.

“[Biyombo] is not getting the calls,” Casey said.  “We shoot zero free throws in the fourth quarter. Zero.  He’s getting hit.  There’s one play where they almost have a brawl.  He gets killed on that play.”

Game 4 is in Toronto on Monday.

--Wednesday, the Warriors took Game 2 of their series with the Thunder in Oakland, 118-91 after the shocking loss in Game 1 to OKC.

Steph Curry scored 15 straight points in 118 seconds to lead the way.  As coach Steve Kerr said, “Business as usual. This is what he does.”  Curry finished with 28 in 30 minutes.

So Game 3 was Sunday night in Oklahoma City....

--In a surprise move, the Knicks are said to be hiring Jeff Hornacek to be their new coach, a decision basically out of nowhere.  Hornacek coached 2 ½ years at Phoenix before he was fired this year...going 48-34 his first season, 39-43 the next, and then 14-35 amid turmoil with the front office and the dismantlement of the team. 

Everyone seems to like the guy, and he was a helluva player in the NBA, but the bottom line is the Knicks have about three players worth a damn and president Phil Jackson needs to get some new bodies in here.

Hornacek also needs to be able to bring in his own people, no spies for Jackson on the bench in the form of Kurt Rambis.

--Meanwhile, the Orlando Magic and Frank Vogel reached an agreement that will make him the team’s next head coach. The hiring comes just a week after Magic coach Scott Skiles stepped down after his first season with the team and just two weeks after Vogel was let go by the Indiana Pacers.  Orlando was 35-47 last season, though they got off to a 19-13 start.

A lot of us Knicks fans wanted Phil to hire Vogel.

MLB

--The run of spectacular pitching performances in baseball this season continues.  Thursday, Chris Sale became the first since 2008 to win his first 9 starts, pitching a complete game in the White Sox’ 2-1 win over the Astros; Sale allowing the one run on four hits, no walks, 9 strikeouts as he moved to 9-0, 1.58.

Then Friday, the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta pitched seven innings of one-run ball as Chicago beat San Francisco 8-1, Arrieta improving to 8-0, 1.29.

So the Cubs have won the last 22 regular season games Arrieta has started, going back to last year, and he’s 19-0 in that stretch.  Unreal.

--Struggling David Wright had a game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth for the Mets as they defeated Milwaukee 5-4, Saturday.  But owing to the effects of his spinal stenosis, he is batting just .224, with only nine RBIs and a whopping 50 strikeouts in 125 at-bats.

But the big concern among Mets fans is the state of the vaunted starting staff, with Matt Harvey off to a dreadful start, 3-6, 5.77 ERA*.  He is slated to face the Nationals on Tuesday in Washington and if he doesn’t perform, a stint on the disabled list and/or an outright demotion to the minors seems a virtual certainty. All of us believe he is suffering from the effects of throwing 216 innings last year, including the postseason, when his agent Scott Boras was publicly saying he thought Harvey should throw no more than 180.  We all scoffed at Boras’ notion, but today we’re thinking, ‘He may have been right.’

Meanwhile, Jacob deGrom also threw 216 innings last year between the regular season and the playoffs and his fastball doesn’t have the same zip, while Steven Matz has been nursing a sore left forearm and Noah Syndergaard recently visited a doctor to have his right elbow examined in a precautionary move, Syndergaard (aka “Thor”) being the only one of the four not to have had Tommy John surgery.

Sunday, though, Syndergaard threw 7 innings, 0 earned runs, 11 strikeouts, as the Mets completed a sweep of the Brewers to get to 25-18.  Thor now has 76 Ks and just 9 BBs.

*Back to Harvey, the Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Beaton noted the other day that a bunch of Hall of Fame pitchers have gotten off to similar starts at one point in their career.  Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux...all had ERAs above 5.00 after nine starts but finished the year sub-3.75.

--Through Sunday, Yoenis Cespedes had 31 home runs and 79 RBIs in his first 96 games as a Met.  There was a story the other day on the move at last year’s trade deadline that the Mets opted not to make; acquiring then-Milwaukee outfielder Carlos Gomez for Wilmer Flores and pitcher Zack Wheeler. The Mets backed off amid questions over Gomez’ health and then GM Sandy Alderson pulled off the trade with Detroit for Cespedes.

What is Gomez doing these days?  He’s hitting .182 with 0 homers and 5 RBIs for Houston, which is where he ended up being traded to when the Mets said no.

--Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post had a piece on the struggles of the Detroit Tigers (21-22 even after winning six of seven), as owner Mike Ilitch spends nearly $200 million on payroll – trailing only the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox (barely).

“ ‘They look like the Phillies from a few years ago,’ one scout familiar with Detroit’s recent work said.

“That Philadelphia team had to unburden itself of stars Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and others in order to put together a core that, sooner than expected, is outlining better days ahead.  Go through the Tigers’ current roster, and it’s easier to find burdens than hope.

“First baseman Miguel Cabrera and right-hander Justin Verlander are both 33.  Each makes $28 million this season.  Cabrera’s $240-million contract expires, at the earliest, after 2023.  [Ed. Yikes.]  Verlander’s $180-million deal expires, at the earliest, after 2019.

“Designated hitter Victor Martinez is 37. He makes $18 million this season.  His contract expires after the 2018 season.  Kinsler turns 34 next month.  He makes $14 million this season.  His $75 million contract expires after next year – the same season the deal for right-hander Anibal Sanchez, who earns $16.8 million this year, runs out, moving off the books a player the Tigers paid $80 million for five seasons of work.

“To that core, the Tigers added this offseason outfielder Justin Upton, who is earning $22.125 million in 2016, and right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, who is at $18 million.”

Those seven combine to make just shy of $145 million this year.

--I’ll take a look at the Red Sox next time.   Rather impressive lineup...but what is real?  Sunday, Jackie Bradley Jr. extended his hitting streak to 27 games.

The Preakness

Christine Brennan / USA TODAY Sports

“The dream of a second consecutive Triple Crown in horse racing disappeared into the muddy slop at Pimlico Race Course Saturday evening.

“Nyquist will not be the worthy successor to American PharoahExaggerator, the earnest challenger who had lost to Nyquist the four previous times they had raced, the horse who had tried so gamely to track Nyquist down at the Kentucky Derby, finally caught him at the Preakness.

“Everything is back to normal in horse racing.  You may now return to your regularly-scheduled lives.

“A dreary, rainy, chilly, miserable day led to joy for Exaggerator – and disappointment for almost everyone else. We were spoiled last year by American Pharoah’s majestic run to the first Triple Crown in 37 years.

“Now we have been reminded just how difficult that quest was, and why it took nearly four decades to achieve it.

“See you in another few decades, Triple Crown fans.

“Perhaps it won’t be that long. We can only hope. In the meantime, quite a rivalry has developed between the two best 3-year-olds of the year: the talented Nyquist, who arrived at the Preakness undefeated and left with a third-place finish, and Exaggerator, who not only might have received a helpful assist from the weather, but also was the beneficiary of a good bit of local knowledge in the person of his jockey, veteran Kent Desormeaux.

“This was the first time Nyquist ever had run on a sloppy, messy track, while Exaggerator had won in bad conditions at the Santa Anita Derby last month....

“Tragically, there was another story line to his day: In the first four races of the day, two horses died, one of an apparent heart attack after winning the first race, the other euthanized after breaking down in the fourth race....

“(But) the show went on, that’s what happened. That’s what always happens in horse racing. The sport moves right along, and us with it.”

Jerry Brewer / Washington Post

“It was the oddest place to witness death.

“Men came to Pimlico Race Course wearing bright dress shirts, bow ties and trousers held up by suspenders.  Women wore stunning dresses, and their clothing only seemed to complement their meticulously selected hats.  Rapper Fetty Wap performed. Alcohol flowed.  Betting money was tossed around like balls thrown to win state fair prizes.  Even as the rain turned Saturday into a muddy mess, the Preakness Stakes seemed like beautiful, gluttonous American fun.

“They died competing on the undercard of this Triple Crown race day, two tragedies in the first four starts, two fatalities muted by the anticipation of late-afternoon grandeur.

“Their names, in case anyone cares in the aftermath of Exaggerator conquering nemesis Nyquist in the 141st Preakness Stakes: Homeboykris and Pramedya.  Homeboykris was a 9-year-old, Maryland-bred gelding and a former Kentucky Derby entrant.  Pramedya was a 4-year-old filly just five starts into her career.  Her owners were Roy and Gretchen Jackson, the same couple who watched 2006 Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro break his leg on this Preakness track 10 years ago. Barbaro died eight months later.

“That day, I can remember it with vivid detail.  It was my first Preakness, and I hadn’t been back until Saturday. The afternoon was magnificent: sunny and with skies so clear you almost could see the expectations that people had for Barbaro.  He was the horse.  He had won the Derby by 6 ½ lengths, the largest margin in 60 years.  He might have been the best contender that horse racing had in that 37-year Triple Crown drought. He was awesome.

“And then he was gone....

“Five hours before [this year’s] Preakness, the deaths created a somber mood. By the end of the day, Exaggerator’s triumph had engulfed the despair.  Horses die; the next race starts. The sport moves on without significant delay, which is strangely normal most of the time.”

So my group at the shore had a little wagering on the race and I have to give handicapper “Hondo” of the New York Post credit for his pre-race comment on the winner.

“A possible sloppy track favors Exaggerator, because he is without question – and this is the absolute truth – the best mudder in the history of mud.”

Golf Balls

--Congrats to Sergio Garcia for capturing his ninth PGA Tour title at the Byron Nelson in a playoff with Brooks Koepka; his first win in four years after six runner-up finishes in the interim.

--And on the Champions Tour, Bernhard Langer rang up No. 27 in taking a senior major...the Regions Tradition event in Birmingham, AL.

But I was fired up to see college classmate Gary Hallberg, who is struggling just to get a sponsor’s exemption, finish tied for seventh as he seeks to regain full-time tour status.

--Rory McIlroy won his first professional event in Ireland, taking the Irish Open at The K Club.  It was his 13th European Tour title.  He donated his first place check, 660,000 euro, to his foundation, which is rather remarkable.

--Phil Mickelson was named as a ‘relief defendant’ in a complaint regarding insider trading filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission in U.S. District Court in New York on Thursday.

The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York formally charged Thomas Davis, the former chairman of Dean Foods, and Las Vegas gambling legend William “Billy” Walters with insider trading stemming from an alleged illegal disclosure of information in 2012 pertaining to a Dean spinoff of WhiteWave Foods in 2013.

The SEC alleges that Mickelson purchased $2.4 million worth of Dean Foods shares on July 30 and July 31, 2012, and then sold all of them on Aug. 8 after making $931,000 on the quick trade following release of the news of the WhiteWave spinoff that sent the share price up about 40 percent.

The complaint goes on to describe the relationship between Walters and Mickelson as that between a bookie and a bettor.  Mickelson apparently owed Walters over $2 million and repaid him, in part with proceeds from the Dean Foods trade.

Nancy Armour / USA TODAY Sports

Phil Mickelson’s greed is going to cost him.

“There’s the $1 million he has to pay the government for starters, more than the five-time major champion made in his get-rich-quick, too-good-to-be-true stock deal in 2012. Then there’s the hit to his upstanding, squeaky clean reputation, the one that’s made him so appealing to both fans and sponsors.

“Mickelson may not have been charged in the insider trading scheme involving Dean Foods on Thursday, named only as a relief defendant in a civil lawsuit to recoup the ill-gotten gains. But he didn’t exactly get off scot-free, either.

“It was his name being splashed all over the headlines about the case, his financial dealings that federal officials were discussing at a news conference.

“ ‘Mickelson,’ said Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, ‘made money that wasn’t his to make.’

“That’s the thing about greed. It makes people do stupid, reckless things.

“Mickelson and his attorneys tried to paint the golfer as both an innocent bystander and a victim, someone hoodwinked by the promise of easy money. Spend any time around Mickelson, though, and it’s clear he’s as shrewd and savvy as they come – especially when it comes to money.

“He’s closing in on $80 million in tournament winnings, with earnings from endorsements that are probably double that.  According to Forbes, he made $51 million last year alone, putting him at No. 8 on the list of the world’s highest-paid athletes....

“So if Mickelson didn’t know something shady was going on when he was offered some investing ‘advice,’ it’s because he didn’t want to know....

“A statement by Mickelson also said he had already entered into an agreement with the SEC to repay the money because ‘Phil has no desire to benefit from any transaction that the SEC sees as questionable.’  As if it was a $20 bill he’d happened to pick up off the street.”

Mickelson is next expected to play at the Memorial Tournament on June 2-5.  Yes, he is one lucky dude, though this issue is not going away.

--John Huggan / Golf Digest

“It’s a ‘no’ then. To the no doubt complete astonishment of everyone outside golf, the (not-so) Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield have voted against admitting women members.  While most of the 800-strong membership did cast their ballots in favor of change – 64 percent versus 36 percent – they narrowly failed to achieve the two-thirds majority required by the club’s constitution.

“As a result, the R&A has swiftly decided to remove Muirfield, arguably the best course in the Open Championship rota, from consideration for hosting a future Open – or at least until the club’s membership policy is rectified.”

“The R&A has considered today’s decision with respect to The Open Championship.  The Open is one of the world’s great sporting events and going forward we will not stage the Championship at a venue that does not admit women as members,” R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said in a statement.  “If the policy at the club should change we would reconsider Muirfield as a venue for The Open in future.”

Karen Crouse / New York Times

“Maybe the gentlemen of Muirfield who led the charge against admitting women as members are not misogynists, merely misguided. When they think of women on the links, perhaps their reference point is the 1900 Olympics, where the American Margaret Abbott prevailed in the women’s event.  According to the Olympic historian David Wallechinsky, Abbott later told people her path to victory had been paved by an apparent misunderstanding involving her competitors from France, who turned up to play in high heels and tight skirts.

“The 600-plus all-male members of Muirfield Golf Club who failed to reach a two-thirds majority in their vote to admit women would certainly seem to be stuck in a bygone century, one in which men and women didn’t harmoniously coexist in boardrooms and legislative chambers, much less clubhouses.

“In the consummation of the marriage between sporting events and corporate sponsors, a host site sacrifices its freedom to maintain its discriminatory membership practices. The Royal and Ancient was right to remove Muirfield, which has hosted 16 British Opens, from the tournament rotation.  If a club wants to close its doors to a sizable segment of the population, that’s its prerogative. But it can’t have its exclusionary practices and also enjoy the high visibility every few years of hosting a major attended by thousands and viewed by millions.

“The gentlemen of Muirfield who were amenable to change – 64 percent of the 616 members who cast ballots – were thwarted by a group of roughly 30 members, who vigorously dug in their heels.  An article in the daily newspaper The Scotsman revealed the contents of a letter distributed by the dissenters that expressed concerns about slow play and making women “feel uncomfortable” as reasons for upholding its all-male membership....

“The Scurvy Thirty’s rationale that women would clog their course is an antiquated ploy....

“Jason Day and Jordan Spieth can be slower than an uphill putt after a rainstorm.”

Rory McIlroy said of the decision to ban Muirfield from hosting The Open until the club changed its rules: “It’s not right to host the world’s biggest tournament at a place that does not allow women to be members.  Hopefully Muirfield can see some sense and we can get it back on The Open rota.”

Gary Player, who won The Open at Muirfield in 1959, said: “As much as I love and respect Muirfield as a club where I won The Open, I totally agree with the R&A.  Staging the championship at any venue that does not admit women is simply unacceptable.”

Muirfield captain Henry Fairweather [Ed. “Slumbers”... “Fairweather”....what a weird place] stressed that women will continue to be welcome at the East Lothian club as guests and visitors, “as they have been for many years.”

--Phew.  The Wake Forest men’s golf team qualified for the NCAA Championship when it finished fifth at the Tucson Regional, the last slot.  They had to shoot 6-under in Wednesday’s final round to do so.

The NCAA Championship is held May 27-June 1 at the Eugene Country Club in Oregon. All 30 teams will play the first three rounds on May 27-29, before the field is cut to the top 15 teams for the fourth round on May 30. The top eight then compete in match play for the national championship, with the final on June 1. 

Golf Channel will air it live, beginning with the fourth round, which is cool.  Just hope the Deacs can survive until then.

Stuff

--Manchester United won the F.A. Cup final on Saturday, 2-1 over Crystal Palace, thus earning manager Louis van Gaal his first trophy at the helm.

The F.A. Cup is the world’s oldest soccer cup competition and Man U has won it a record-tying 12 times.

But van Gaal is headed out the door, to be replaced by Jose Mourinho soon, according to reports; Mourinho having had tremendous past success, though he was fired by Chelsea in December.

Mourinho won three Premier League titles in two stints at Chelsea, while also winning two Champions League crowns with Porto and Inter Milan in 2004 and 2010, respectively.  And he led Real Madrid to the Spanish La Liga title in 2012.

--Sunday was the first day of the French Open and the schedule was severely hampered by rain.  But the tournament is without Roger Federer, who withdrew on Thursday so he can recover from a back injury. Federer had played in a record 65 consecutive Grand Slam events.  The last one he missed was the 1999 U.S. Open, when he was an 18-year-old ranked outside the top 100.

Novak Djokovic is appearing in his 46th consecutive Grand Slam this week.

--The New York Times’ Victor Mather  was writing about Max Verstappen of the Netherlands, the 18-year-old who won the Spanish Grand Prix last Sunday, becoming the youngest driver to win a Formula One race, and Mather noted other successes in the world of sports for teenagers, such as 19-year-olds Dwight Gooden (17-9 for the Mets in 1984), and Bob Feller (17-11 for the Indians in 1938), both of whom also led the major leagues in strikeouts those seasons.

But regarding the French Open, Michael Chang won it in 1989 at the age of 17, which ended up being his lone Grand Slam title.

I forgot Chang was born in Hoboken, NJ.

Martina Hingis, by the way, became the youngest major winner when she won the 1997 Australian Open at 16.  She won four more majors over the next three years, but none after age 18.

--Two climbers who reached the summit of Mount Everest died on the way down from apparent altitude sickness this weekend, according to reports.

Eric Arnold of the Netherlands reached the summit on his fifth attempt.  He was in a group of more than 40 climbers who accomplished the feat on Friday, according to Reuters.

Employees of the Seven Summit Treks agency in Kathmandu told reporters that Arnold died at Camp IV and had been suffering from weakness and frost bite.

Hours later, another member of the expedition team, Australian climber Maria Strydom, died after showing signs of altitude sickness, the Associated Press reported.

Their deaths were the first confirmed this year on Everest.  It is undecided when and if their bodies would be brought down from the high altitude and it would depend on the team and family members.

--SANTIAGO, Chile – “Two lions were killed after they severely mauled a man who stripped naked and entered their enclosure in an apparent suicide attempt early Saturday, authorities said.

“The man was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment and was said to be in grave condition....

“The 20-year-old man broke into the enclosure, took off his clothes and jumped into the middle, horrifying other visitors who witnessed the attack.

“Zookeepers killed the two lions in order to save his life....

“An apparent suicide note was found in the man’s clothing.”

--Uh oh... “The Burmese python might have to step aside: It’s possible the animal is no longer Florida’s scariest invasive species. Researchers have confirmed that three Nile crocodiles were captured near Miami, and that more of the man-eating reptiles could still be out there, although no one can say for sure.

“The University of Florida researchers’ paper says it’s likely the crocs were brought to Florida illegally. They could be bad news for the Everglades ecosystem....

“The species is responsible for about 200 deaths annually in sub-Saharan Africa.”  [Ed. I’m worried they’ll head up I-95 to Jersey.]

--Lastly, as J. Mac first informed me, “a 3,300-pound walrus killed two people in a Chinese wildlife park by ‘hugging’ them tightly and drowning them, according to reports.

“A male tourist from Liaoning in Northeast China was visiting the Xixiajou Wildlife Park in the Shandong Province when he lost his footing and tumbled into the walrus pool, according to the Shanghai Daily....

“The animal’s longtime trainer jumped in the water to try to save the flailing visitor – but the massive pinniped wrapped its arms around both men and plunged the pair deep underwater.

“Zoo officials told local media that they initially thought the walrus was just demonstrating playful behavior with longtime trainer and didn’t think he was in harm’s way....

“There are currently no barriers at the walrus exhibit, which remains open.”  [Sophia Robinson / New York Post]

Top 3 songs for the week 5/23/64: #1 “My Guy” (Mary Wells)  #2 “Love Me Do” (The Beatles)  #3 “Hello, Dolly!” (Louis Armstrong)...and...#4 “Chapel Of Love” (The Dixie Cups)  #5 “Love Me With All Your Heart” (The Ray Charles Singers...love how a song like this could compete with the British Invasion...)  #6 “Bits And Pieces” (The Dave Clark Five...speaking of which...)  #7 “(Just Like) Romeo & Juliet” (The Reflections)  #8 “Ronnie” (The 4 Seasons)  #9 “It’s Over” (Roy Orbison)  #10 “A World Without Love” (Peter and Gordon)

NBA Quiz Answer: Prior to teammates Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins winning the Rookie of the Year award in consecutive seasons, the last duo to duplicate the feat was Buffalo’s Bob McAdoo and Ernie DiGregorio, 1972-73, 1973-74.

Next Bar Chat, Thursday. 



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Bar Chat

05/23/2016

Sale On...

Note: Posted Sunday p.m. prior to Warriors-Thunder.  I was away this weekend with friends from high school down at the Jersey shore and let’s just say I am very tired.  I also wasn’t exactly focused on doing a column, to tell you the truth.  So forgive me.

NBA Quiz: With Karl-Anthony Towns of Minnesota winning the Rookie of the Year award, that means Minnesota picked up the last two, teammate Andrew Wiggins being ROY for 2014-15.  They are the first teammates to win the award in consecutive years since which duo?  Answer below.

NBA Playoffs

On Thursday, Cleveland took a 2-0 lead over Toronto in Cleveland, 108-89, as LeBron James had a triple-double, 23 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists.

But then Toronto ended Cleveland’s postseason win streak at 10 with a 99-84 win over the Cavs in Toronto on Saturday.  I caught very little of this one, but Raptors center Bismack Biyombo’s performance was rather remarkable, a team record 26 rebounds, along with four blocks.

In cutting Cleveland’s series lead to 2-1, though, Toronto coach Dwane Casey was far from happy with the fact the Cavs were called for only 10 fouls in the game.  Afterwards he referenced what he believed were non-calls for contact on Biyombo.

“[Biyombo] is not getting the calls,” Casey said.  “We shoot zero free throws in the fourth quarter. Zero.  He’s getting hit.  There’s one play where they almost have a brawl.  He gets killed on that play.”

Game 4 is in Toronto on Monday.

--Wednesday, the Warriors took Game 2 of their series with the Thunder in Oakland, 118-91 after the shocking loss in Game 1 to OKC.

Steph Curry scored 15 straight points in 118 seconds to lead the way.  As coach Steve Kerr said, “Business as usual. This is what he does.”  Curry finished with 28 in 30 minutes.

So Game 3 was Sunday night in Oklahoma City....

--In a surprise move, the Knicks are said to be hiring Jeff Hornacek to be their new coach, a decision basically out of nowhere.  Hornacek coached 2 ½ years at Phoenix before he was fired this year...going 48-34 his first season, 39-43 the next, and then 14-35 amid turmoil with the front office and the dismantlement of the team. 

Everyone seems to like the guy, and he was a helluva player in the NBA, but the bottom line is the Knicks have about three players worth a damn and president Phil Jackson needs to get some new bodies in here.

Hornacek also needs to be able to bring in his own people, no spies for Jackson on the bench in the form of Kurt Rambis.

--Meanwhile, the Orlando Magic and Frank Vogel reached an agreement that will make him the team’s next head coach. The hiring comes just a week after Magic coach Scott Skiles stepped down after his first season with the team and just two weeks after Vogel was let go by the Indiana Pacers.  Orlando was 35-47 last season, though they got off to a 19-13 start.

A lot of us Knicks fans wanted Phil to hire Vogel.

MLB

--The run of spectacular pitching performances in baseball this season continues.  Thursday, Chris Sale became the first since 2008 to win his first 9 starts, pitching a complete game in the White Sox’ 2-1 win over the Astros; Sale allowing the one run on four hits, no walks, 9 strikeouts as he moved to 9-0, 1.58.

Then Friday, the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta pitched seven innings of one-run ball as Chicago beat San Francisco 8-1, Arrieta improving to 8-0, 1.29.

So the Cubs have won the last 22 regular season games Arrieta has started, going back to last year, and he’s 19-0 in that stretch.  Unreal.

--Struggling David Wright had a game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth for the Mets as they defeated Milwaukee 5-4, Saturday.  But owing to the effects of his spinal stenosis, he is batting just .224, with only nine RBIs and a whopping 50 strikeouts in 125 at-bats.

But the big concern among Mets fans is the state of the vaunted starting staff, with Matt Harvey off to a dreadful start, 3-6, 5.77 ERA*.  He is slated to face the Nationals on Tuesday in Washington and if he doesn’t perform, a stint on the disabled list and/or an outright demotion to the minors seems a virtual certainty. All of us believe he is suffering from the effects of throwing 216 innings last year, including the postseason, when his agent Scott Boras was publicly saying he thought Harvey should throw no more than 180.  We all scoffed at Boras’ notion, but today we’re thinking, ‘He may have been right.’

Meanwhile, Jacob deGrom also threw 216 innings last year between the regular season and the playoffs and his fastball doesn’t have the same zip, while Steven Matz has been nursing a sore left forearm and Noah Syndergaard recently visited a doctor to have his right elbow examined in a precautionary move, Syndergaard (aka “Thor”) being the only one of the four not to have had Tommy John surgery.

Sunday, though, Syndergaard threw 7 innings, 0 earned runs, 11 strikeouts, as the Mets completed a sweep of the Brewers to get to 25-18.  Thor now has 76 Ks and just 9 BBs.

*Back to Harvey, the Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Beaton noted the other day that a bunch of Hall of Fame pitchers have gotten off to similar starts at one point in their career.  Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux...all had ERAs above 5.00 after nine starts but finished the year sub-3.75.

--Through Sunday, Yoenis Cespedes had 31 home runs and 79 RBIs in his first 96 games as a Met.  There was a story the other day on the move at last year’s trade deadline that the Mets opted not to make; acquiring then-Milwaukee outfielder Carlos Gomez for Wilmer Flores and pitcher Zack Wheeler. The Mets backed off amid questions over Gomez’ health and then GM Sandy Alderson pulled off the trade with Detroit for Cespedes.

What is Gomez doing these days?  He’s hitting .182 with 0 homers and 5 RBIs for Houston, which is where he ended up being traded to when the Mets said no.

--Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post had a piece on the struggles of the Detroit Tigers (21-22 even after winning six of seven), as owner Mike Ilitch spends nearly $200 million on payroll – trailing only the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox (barely).

“ ‘They look like the Phillies from a few years ago,’ one scout familiar with Detroit’s recent work said.

“That Philadelphia team had to unburden itself of stars Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and others in order to put together a core that, sooner than expected, is outlining better days ahead.  Go through the Tigers’ current roster, and it’s easier to find burdens than hope.

“First baseman Miguel Cabrera and right-hander Justin Verlander are both 33.  Each makes $28 million this season.  Cabrera’s $240-million contract expires, at the earliest, after 2023.  [Ed. Yikes.]  Verlander’s $180-million deal expires, at the earliest, after 2019.

“Designated hitter Victor Martinez is 37. He makes $18 million this season.  His contract expires after the 2018 season.  Kinsler turns 34 next month.  He makes $14 million this season.  His $75 million contract expires after next year – the same season the deal for right-hander Anibal Sanchez, who earns $16.8 million this year, runs out, moving off the books a player the Tigers paid $80 million for five seasons of work.

“To that core, the Tigers added this offseason outfielder Justin Upton, who is earning $22.125 million in 2016, and right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, who is at $18 million.”

Those seven combine to make just shy of $145 million this year.

--I’ll take a look at the Red Sox next time.   Rather impressive lineup...but what is real?  Sunday, Jackie Bradley Jr. extended his hitting streak to 27 games.

The Preakness

Christine Brennan / USA TODAY Sports

“The dream of a second consecutive Triple Crown in horse racing disappeared into the muddy slop at Pimlico Race Course Saturday evening.

“Nyquist will not be the worthy successor to American PharoahExaggerator, the earnest challenger who had lost to Nyquist the four previous times they had raced, the horse who had tried so gamely to track Nyquist down at the Kentucky Derby, finally caught him at the Preakness.

“Everything is back to normal in horse racing.  You may now return to your regularly-scheduled lives.

“A dreary, rainy, chilly, miserable day led to joy for Exaggerator – and disappointment for almost everyone else. We were spoiled last year by American Pharoah’s majestic run to the first Triple Crown in 37 years.

“Now we have been reminded just how difficult that quest was, and why it took nearly four decades to achieve it.

“See you in another few decades, Triple Crown fans.

“Perhaps it won’t be that long. We can only hope. In the meantime, quite a rivalry has developed between the two best 3-year-olds of the year: the talented Nyquist, who arrived at the Preakness undefeated and left with a third-place finish, and Exaggerator, who not only might have received a helpful assist from the weather, but also was the beneficiary of a good bit of local knowledge in the person of his jockey, veteran Kent Desormeaux.

“This was the first time Nyquist ever had run on a sloppy, messy track, while Exaggerator had won in bad conditions at the Santa Anita Derby last month....

“Tragically, there was another story line to his day: In the first four races of the day, two horses died, one of an apparent heart attack after winning the first race, the other euthanized after breaking down in the fourth race....

“(But) the show went on, that’s what happened. That’s what always happens in horse racing. The sport moves right along, and us with it.”

Jerry Brewer / Washington Post

“It was the oddest place to witness death.

“Men came to Pimlico Race Course wearing bright dress shirts, bow ties and trousers held up by suspenders.  Women wore stunning dresses, and their clothing only seemed to complement their meticulously selected hats.  Rapper Fetty Wap performed. Alcohol flowed.  Betting money was tossed around like balls thrown to win state fair prizes.  Even as the rain turned Saturday into a muddy mess, the Preakness Stakes seemed like beautiful, gluttonous American fun.

“They died competing on the undercard of this Triple Crown race day, two tragedies in the first four starts, two fatalities muted by the anticipation of late-afternoon grandeur.

“Their names, in case anyone cares in the aftermath of Exaggerator conquering nemesis Nyquist in the 141st Preakness Stakes: Homeboykris and Pramedya.  Homeboykris was a 9-year-old, Maryland-bred gelding and a former Kentucky Derby entrant.  Pramedya was a 4-year-old filly just five starts into her career.  Her owners were Roy and Gretchen Jackson, the same couple who watched 2006 Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro break his leg on this Preakness track 10 years ago. Barbaro died eight months later.

“That day, I can remember it with vivid detail.  It was my first Preakness, and I hadn’t been back until Saturday. The afternoon was magnificent: sunny and with skies so clear you almost could see the expectations that people had for Barbaro.  He was the horse.  He had won the Derby by 6 ½ lengths, the largest margin in 60 years.  He might have been the best contender that horse racing had in that 37-year Triple Crown drought. He was awesome.

“And then he was gone....

“Five hours before [this year’s] Preakness, the deaths created a somber mood. By the end of the day, Exaggerator’s triumph had engulfed the despair.  Horses die; the next race starts. The sport moves on without significant delay, which is strangely normal most of the time.”

So my group at the shore had a little wagering on the race and I have to give handicapper “Hondo” of the New York Post credit for his pre-race comment on the winner.

“A possible sloppy track favors Exaggerator, because he is without question – and this is the absolute truth – the best mudder in the history of mud.”

Golf Balls

--Congrats to Sergio Garcia for capturing his ninth PGA Tour title at the Byron Nelson in a playoff with Brooks Koepka; his first win in four years after six runner-up finishes in the interim.

--And on the Champions Tour, Bernhard Langer rang up No. 27 in taking a senior major...the Regions Tradition event in Birmingham, AL.

But I was fired up to see college classmate Gary Hallberg, who is struggling just to get a sponsor’s exemption, finish tied for seventh as he seeks to regain full-time tour status.

--Rory McIlroy won his first professional event in Ireland, taking the Irish Open at The K Club.  It was his 13th European Tour title.  He donated his first place check, 660,000 euro, to his foundation, which is rather remarkable.

--Phil Mickelson was named as a ‘relief defendant’ in a complaint regarding insider trading filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission in U.S. District Court in New York on Thursday.

The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York formally charged Thomas Davis, the former chairman of Dean Foods, and Las Vegas gambling legend William “Billy” Walters with insider trading stemming from an alleged illegal disclosure of information in 2012 pertaining to a Dean spinoff of WhiteWave Foods in 2013.

The SEC alleges that Mickelson purchased $2.4 million worth of Dean Foods shares on July 30 and July 31, 2012, and then sold all of them on Aug. 8 after making $931,000 on the quick trade following release of the news of the WhiteWave spinoff that sent the share price up about 40 percent.

The complaint goes on to describe the relationship between Walters and Mickelson as that between a bookie and a bettor.  Mickelson apparently owed Walters over $2 million and repaid him, in part with proceeds from the Dean Foods trade.

Nancy Armour / USA TODAY Sports

Phil Mickelson’s greed is going to cost him.

“There’s the $1 million he has to pay the government for starters, more than the five-time major champion made in his get-rich-quick, too-good-to-be-true stock deal in 2012. Then there’s the hit to his upstanding, squeaky clean reputation, the one that’s made him so appealing to both fans and sponsors.

“Mickelson may not have been charged in the insider trading scheme involving Dean Foods on Thursday, named only as a relief defendant in a civil lawsuit to recoup the ill-gotten gains. But he didn’t exactly get off scot-free, either.

“It was his name being splashed all over the headlines about the case, his financial dealings that federal officials were discussing at a news conference.

“ ‘Mickelson,’ said Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, ‘made money that wasn’t his to make.’

“That’s the thing about greed. It makes people do stupid, reckless things.

“Mickelson and his attorneys tried to paint the golfer as both an innocent bystander and a victim, someone hoodwinked by the promise of easy money. Spend any time around Mickelson, though, and it’s clear he’s as shrewd and savvy as they come – especially when it comes to money.

“He’s closing in on $80 million in tournament winnings, with earnings from endorsements that are probably double that.  According to Forbes, he made $51 million last year alone, putting him at No. 8 on the list of the world’s highest-paid athletes....

“So if Mickelson didn’t know something shady was going on when he was offered some investing ‘advice,’ it’s because he didn’t want to know....

“A statement by Mickelson also said he had already entered into an agreement with the SEC to repay the money because ‘Phil has no desire to benefit from any transaction that the SEC sees as questionable.’  As if it was a $20 bill he’d happened to pick up off the street.”

Mickelson is next expected to play at the Memorial Tournament on June 2-5.  Yes, he is one lucky dude, though this issue is not going away.

--John Huggan / Golf Digest

“It’s a ‘no’ then. To the no doubt complete astonishment of everyone outside golf, the (not-so) Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield have voted against admitting women members.  While most of the 800-strong membership did cast their ballots in favor of change – 64 percent versus 36 percent – they narrowly failed to achieve the two-thirds majority required by the club’s constitution.

“As a result, the R&A has swiftly decided to remove Muirfield, arguably the best course in the Open Championship rota, from consideration for hosting a future Open – or at least until the club’s membership policy is rectified.”

“The R&A has considered today’s decision with respect to The Open Championship.  The Open is one of the world’s great sporting events and going forward we will not stage the Championship at a venue that does not admit women as members,” R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said in a statement.  “If the policy at the club should change we would reconsider Muirfield as a venue for The Open in future.”

Karen Crouse / New York Times

“Maybe the gentlemen of Muirfield who led the charge against admitting women as members are not misogynists, merely misguided. When they think of women on the links, perhaps their reference point is the 1900 Olympics, where the American Margaret Abbott prevailed in the women’s event.  According to the Olympic historian David Wallechinsky, Abbott later told people her path to victory had been paved by an apparent misunderstanding involving her competitors from France, who turned up to play in high heels and tight skirts.

“The 600-plus all-male members of Muirfield Golf Club who failed to reach a two-thirds majority in their vote to admit women would certainly seem to be stuck in a bygone century, one in which men and women didn’t harmoniously coexist in boardrooms and legislative chambers, much less clubhouses.

“In the consummation of the marriage between sporting events and corporate sponsors, a host site sacrifices its freedom to maintain its discriminatory membership practices. The Royal and Ancient was right to remove Muirfield, which has hosted 16 British Opens, from the tournament rotation.  If a club wants to close its doors to a sizable segment of the population, that’s its prerogative. But it can’t have its exclusionary practices and also enjoy the high visibility every few years of hosting a major attended by thousands and viewed by millions.

“The gentlemen of Muirfield who were amenable to change – 64 percent of the 616 members who cast ballots – were thwarted by a group of roughly 30 members, who vigorously dug in their heels.  An article in the daily newspaper The Scotsman revealed the contents of a letter distributed by the dissenters that expressed concerns about slow play and making women “feel uncomfortable” as reasons for upholding its all-male membership....

“The Scurvy Thirty’s rationale that women would clog their course is an antiquated ploy....

“Jason Day and Jordan Spieth can be slower than an uphill putt after a rainstorm.”

Rory McIlroy said of the decision to ban Muirfield from hosting The Open until the club changed its rules: “It’s not right to host the world’s biggest tournament at a place that does not allow women to be members.  Hopefully Muirfield can see some sense and we can get it back on The Open rota.”

Gary Player, who won The Open at Muirfield in 1959, said: “As much as I love and respect Muirfield as a club where I won The Open, I totally agree with the R&A.  Staging the championship at any venue that does not admit women is simply unacceptable.”

Muirfield captain Henry Fairweather [Ed. “Slumbers”... “Fairweather”....what a weird place] stressed that women will continue to be welcome at the East Lothian club as guests and visitors, “as they have been for many years.”

--Phew.  The Wake Forest men’s golf team qualified for the NCAA Championship when it finished fifth at the Tucson Regional, the last slot.  They had to shoot 6-under in Wednesday’s final round to do so.

The NCAA Championship is held May 27-June 1 at the Eugene Country Club in Oregon. All 30 teams will play the first three rounds on May 27-29, before the field is cut to the top 15 teams for the fourth round on May 30. The top eight then compete in match play for the national championship, with the final on June 1. 

Golf Channel will air it live, beginning with the fourth round, which is cool.  Just hope the Deacs can survive until then.

Stuff

--Manchester United won the F.A. Cup final on Saturday, 2-1 over Crystal Palace, thus earning manager Louis van Gaal his first trophy at the helm.

The F.A. Cup is the world’s oldest soccer cup competition and Man U has won it a record-tying 12 times.

But van Gaal is headed out the door, to be replaced by Jose Mourinho soon, according to reports; Mourinho having had tremendous past success, though he was fired by Chelsea in December.

Mourinho won three Premier League titles in two stints at Chelsea, while also winning two Champions League crowns with Porto and Inter Milan in 2004 and 2010, respectively.  And he led Real Madrid to the Spanish La Liga title in 2012.

--Sunday was the first day of the French Open and the schedule was severely hampered by rain.  But the tournament is without Roger Federer, who withdrew on Thursday so he can recover from a back injury. Federer had played in a record 65 consecutive Grand Slam events.  The last one he missed was the 1999 U.S. Open, when he was an 18-year-old ranked outside the top 100.

Novak Djokovic is appearing in his 46th consecutive Grand Slam this week.

--The New York Times’ Victor Mather  was writing about Max Verstappen of the Netherlands, the 18-year-old who won the Spanish Grand Prix last Sunday, becoming the youngest driver to win a Formula One race, and Mather noted other successes in the world of sports for teenagers, such as 19-year-olds Dwight Gooden (17-9 for the Mets in 1984), and Bob Feller (17-11 for the Indians in 1938), both of whom also led the major leagues in strikeouts those seasons.

But regarding the French Open, Michael Chang won it in 1989 at the age of 17, which ended up being his lone Grand Slam title.

I forgot Chang was born in Hoboken, NJ.

Martina Hingis, by the way, became the youngest major winner when she won the 1997 Australian Open at 16.  She won four more majors over the next three years, but none after age 18.

--Two climbers who reached the summit of Mount Everest died on the way down from apparent altitude sickness this weekend, according to reports.

Eric Arnold of the Netherlands reached the summit on his fifth attempt.  He was in a group of more than 40 climbers who accomplished the feat on Friday, according to Reuters.

Employees of the Seven Summit Treks agency in Kathmandu told reporters that Arnold died at Camp IV and had been suffering from weakness and frost bite.

Hours later, another member of the expedition team, Australian climber Maria Strydom, died after showing signs of altitude sickness, the Associated Press reported.

Their deaths were the first confirmed this year on Everest.  It is undecided when and if their bodies would be brought down from the high altitude and it would depend on the team and family members.

--SANTIAGO, Chile – “Two lions were killed after they severely mauled a man who stripped naked and entered their enclosure in an apparent suicide attempt early Saturday, authorities said.

“The man was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment and was said to be in grave condition....

“The 20-year-old man broke into the enclosure, took off his clothes and jumped into the middle, horrifying other visitors who witnessed the attack.

“Zookeepers killed the two lions in order to save his life....

“An apparent suicide note was found in the man’s clothing.”

--Uh oh... “The Burmese python might have to step aside: It’s possible the animal is no longer Florida’s scariest invasive species. Researchers have confirmed that three Nile crocodiles were captured near Miami, and that more of the man-eating reptiles could still be out there, although no one can say for sure.

“The University of Florida researchers’ paper says it’s likely the crocs were brought to Florida illegally. They could be bad news for the Everglades ecosystem....

“The species is responsible for about 200 deaths annually in sub-Saharan Africa.”  [Ed. I’m worried they’ll head up I-95 to Jersey.]

--Lastly, as J. Mac first informed me, “a 3,300-pound walrus killed two people in a Chinese wildlife park by ‘hugging’ them tightly and drowning them, according to reports.

“A male tourist from Liaoning in Northeast China was visiting the Xixiajou Wildlife Park in the Shandong Province when he lost his footing and tumbled into the walrus pool, according to the Shanghai Daily....

“The animal’s longtime trainer jumped in the water to try to save the flailing visitor – but the massive pinniped wrapped its arms around both men and plunged the pair deep underwater.

“Zoo officials told local media that they initially thought the walrus was just demonstrating playful behavior with longtime trainer and didn’t think he was in harm’s way....

“There are currently no barriers at the walrus exhibit, which remains open.”  [Sophia Robinson / New York Post]

Top 3 songs for the week 5/23/64: #1 “My Guy” (Mary Wells)  #2 “Love Me Do” (The Beatles)  #3 “Hello, Dolly!” (Louis Armstrong)...and...#4 “Chapel Of Love” (The Dixie Cups)  #5 “Love Me With All Your Heart” (The Ray Charles Singers...love how a song like this could compete with the British Invasion...)  #6 “Bits And Pieces” (The Dave Clark Five...speaking of which...)  #7 “(Just Like) Romeo & Juliet” (The Reflections)  #8 “Ronnie” (The 4 Seasons)  #9 “It’s Over” (Roy Orbison)  #10 “A World Without Love” (Peter and Gordon)

NBA Quiz Answer: Prior to teammates Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins winning the Rookie of the Year award in consecutive seasons, the last duo to duplicate the feat was Buffalo’s Bob McAdoo and Ernie DiGregorio, 1972-73, 1973-74.

Next Bar Chat, Thursday.