Thursday, October 9, 2008

Lowe and Hamels to face off in NL championship series

NEW YORK: The Los Angeles Dodgers will send sinkerballer Derek Lowe to the mound to oppose Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels when the National League Championship Series gets underway in Philadelphia on Thursday.

Lowe was 15-11 with a 3.24 earned run average for the Dodgers and manager Joe Torre, who steered Los Angeles to the postseason in his first season at the helm after taking the New York Yankees to the playoffs 12 years in a row.

Hamels was virtually identical to Lowe this season with a 15-10 mark and a 3.09 ERA.

The other half of baseball's final four opens Friday when the young Tampa Bay Rays host 2007 World Series champions Boston Red Sox in the American League best-of-seven playoffs.

The pitching-strong Dodgers allowed the second fewest runs in the league and fewest homers and they must be on their game to contain the homer-happy Phillies and sluggers Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Pat Burrell.

Los Angeles ranked 13th in runs and homers in the 16-team league but the mid-season additions of Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake added punch to their lineup.

In a third of a season after coming over from the Red Sox, the 36-year-old, dreadlocked Ramirez batted .396 with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs for the Dodgers.

Ramirez, who hit .500 with two homers in a three-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs in the first round, will see a familiar face in the other dugout in Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.

Manuel was Ramirez's minor league manager in his early professional days with the Cleveland Indians organization and later was his hitting coach and manager in Cleveland.

The AL series features the playoff-seasoned Red Sox against the rising Rays, who edged Boston for the East Division title and are in the postseason for the first time in their 11th year of existence.

The Red Sox, who have not had hard-throwing ace Josh Beckett at his best because of injuries, are relying on Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka to head the starting rotation and deliver a lead to closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Tampa Bay boast better depth in the rotation with Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine but are using a bullpen by committee of Australian Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler and lefty J.P. Howell to close games.

Veterans David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis supply power in a Boston lineup missing injured third baseman Mike Lowell.

Rookie third baseman Evan Longoria and centerfielder B.J. Upton delivered the long-ball in Tampa's first-round win over the Chicago White Sox.

Home field made a big difference between the four teams in the regular season which favors the Phillies and Rays, who would have four games at home if their series goes to seven.

Philadelphia and Los Angeles split eight games with the home side winning every time. Tampa won their season series against Boston 10-8, going 8-1 at home and 2-7 at Fenway Park.

Source: China Daily/Agencies

Massa and Ferrari hope for Fuji lift

FUJI SPEEDWAY: Felipe Massa and his Ferrari team will be bidding for an overwhelming one-two triumph in this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix at Mount Fuji as they try to rein in McLaren and Lewis Hamilton.

The "scarlet scuderia" need a victory to boost their confidence and revitalise their challenge for this year's Formula One world championship.

Massa, whose hopes of lifting the title suffered a setback when the team spectacularly bungled a pit-stop while he was leading the Singapore Grand Prix, said he remained positive.

"When you consider the championship, like I said in Singapore, it depends how you look at it: a seven-points gap can be a lot or it can be a little," said the Brazilian.

"If you look at what happened to me in Singapore where my gap went from one point to seven so suddenly, then you have to consider it could easily go the other way as well.

"The most important element to consider is that we have a very good car. Without that, my chances would be much smaller.

"We have two good cars and we can try and get both of us to finish ahead of our rivals. It can be done and we need to think positive and we need to keep fighting to the last race.

"So, the motto for the rest of the season has to be look ahead and don't give up."

Massa's Singapore setback has left him seven points behind championship-leading Hamilton with three races remaining.

For Hamilton, this lead means that he can, in theory, finish second behind Massa in Japan, China and Brazil and lift the title by a single point.

The 23-year-old Englishman admitted he drove cautiously and with the championship in mind when he finished third in Singapore after Massa had lost his lead.

"Singapore was a good learning experience: there was less pressure to achieve a victory because of the unusual circumstances, which meant I was actually able to start thinking of the world championship," he said.

"I hate driving for points, but I think we can all see the benefit of that approach at the moment."

Last year, in teeming rain, Hamilton delivered one of the finest and most thrilling wins of his fledgling career at the 4.5km track.

"I love Japan. Last year might have been difficult because of the wet weather and the poor visibility, but I actually really enjoyed that weekend," he said.

With the title race boiled down to a duel between Massa and Hamilton, their respective teams are under pressure to produce competitive cars and near-perfect team performances.

Ferrari team president Luca de Montezemolo believes the team can bounce back with defending champion Finn Kimi Raikkonen rediscovering his form to back Massa's bid for glory.

Raikkonen has failed to score any points since the Hungarian Grand Prix, but di Montezemolo is sure that the reigning champion will deliver.

"I'm sure Kimi has understood this moment," said di Montezemolo. "Besides, he is not a rookie nor a former star.

"We are talking about the reigning world champion, a driver who, despite a broken exhaust in Magny-Cours, did an extraordinary race. Massa told me that without that problem he would never have beaten him.

"Kimi is brave and always works for the team. In the last three races, he'll have to demonstrate to everyone the effects of being a champion by helping the team and Massa. It's clear we need him at 100 percent."

And McLaren will need their second driver, Finland's Heikki Kovalainen, just as much and he is hoping for another dazzling race on the track where last year he claimed his first podium finish in Formula One.

Source: China Daily/Agencies

Honda drivers pray for rain

TOKYO: Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button are praying for rain this week, believing it will boost Honda's chance of scoring precious points at the Japan Grand Prix to brighten up a disappointing season.

"I hope the track will be a little bit wet so we can get some more points with the cars," Barrichello said in Tokyo ahead of Sunday's race at Fuji Speedway.

The 36-year-old finished third at the British Grand Prix in July for his first podium in three years. In persistent rain, he changed to extreme wet tyres after the halfway point and lapped faster than anyone else.

"What determined the position at the end was the fact that we chose tires at the right time," he said.

"To be honest with you, the rain gives us a little bit of a better chance," added the experienced Brazilian, who has been racing Formula One for 15 years with nine wins.

"But I hope it won't be raining as much as last year at Fuji at the weekend."

Last year at the Toyota-owned Fuji circuit, Briton Lewis Hamilton won in fog and rain which sent rivers running across the track. Barrichello finished 10th and his Honda teammate Button was 11th.

"I think we're very good with choosing a correct strategy and a right tire choice as a team," said 28-year-old Button, whose best finish this season was sixth in Spain.

"I think if it's wet we do have more possibilities to score points," added the Englishman.

Honda have failed to make the points in the last six races.

Barrichello is 14th in the drivers standings with 11 points and Button is 18th with just three points with three races left, leaving Honda languishing next to last ahead of Force India on the 10-team constructors table.

Forecasters have predicted cloudy weather over the weekend.

"The weather conditions are very up and down because of the mountains all around the circuit," Button said of a track in the foothills of Mount Fuji. "You don't really know the weather you're going to get until you are out on the circuit."

Honda's deputy team managing director Shuhei Nakamoto blamed their poor results this year on slow development of an aerodynamic package at the start of the season, despite the arrival of former Ferrari technical wizard Ross Brawn.

Source: China Daily/Agencies

Yao shines on and off court

China's NBA all-star center Yao Ming is once again in the domestic media spotlight as he finished training camp with the Houston Rockets and tipped off the preseason on Tuesday, just one day after he was listed as the richest sporting figure in China, according to the 2008 Hurun China Rich Report.

Yao ranked 987th with a personal wealth of 700 million yuan . He earned $15 million from the 08-09 sports season, before advertising income, enough to make him the country's most wealthy sports person.

On court, the giant center grabbed just 10 points and nine rebounds, although the Rockets edged the Memphis Grizzlies 96-93.

The encouraging thing is Yao looked fully recovered from last season's stress fracture, moving well enough on one possession to get the rebound at one end and be the first player down the floor at the other end.

Even so, with the Grizzlies swarming around him, he struggled with his offensive game.

"I have not played a game with such high intensity for eight months," Yao said. "I did not adapt very well coming into the match, but I was much better after the third quarter."

Speaking of the hard-fought win over a less-fancied opponent, Yao said the team has to play more to improve.

"I am not satisfied with the team or myself. We could have played more aggressively. We still need time to work on team play."

He played the game's first 10 minutes, taking just one shot. The Grizzlies' Hakim Warrick blocked that attempt and Yao missed his first three shots in the third quarter, all jumpers, before getting his first field goal of the night on a jump hook in the paint with 3:17 remaining in the third quarter. He followed that with a spin move to a left-handed layup.

When he was through for the night after three quarters, he had 10 points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes.

"Anyway, it's just a first preseason match. We have time to deal with all the problems. We will play much better basketball match after this match."

For the Rockets, the most encouraging sign, perhaps, was the energetic and effective play of Carl Landry, the last player added to the Rockets roster when they matched the offer sheet he signed with the Charlotte Bobcats days before the start of training camp.

Landry led the Rockets with 18 points, making 7 of 12 shots in 23 minutes.

While much of his scoring was reminiscent of his mid-season run last season, with Landry finishing inside and often above the rim, he also hit four jumpers.

Based on the pivotal lineup from last season and with the major signing of Ron Artest, more can be expected in the new season from Houston, which has been unable to advance into the second round of the playoffs since Yao joined as the top pick in the 2002 draft.

Artest, who played for Rockets head coach Rick Adelman in Sacramento when Adelman was the Kings head coach, proved he has the ability to deliver more, as he gave the Rockets a much needed early offensive lift, scoring 12 of his 15 points in the first quarter.

Though making just one of five shots in the second half, four of 12 overall, Artest insisted he will improve and unite with the team soon.

"We still have a lot to learn and we're still learning things," Artest said. "That's why the exhibition season is good for us.

"You got to get ready for the season now. You have to get a chance, obviously, to know your teammates and see how they're going to play against other teams and see the rotations. That would be experimental. Everything else is trying to get ready for the season."

Yao gave credit to Artest in his debut for the Rockets, as well as another new face Brent Barry, an experienced guard from San Antonio Spurs.

"Artest knows very well the coach's system. He and Barry have the ability to get involved soon," Yao said. "Artest make our offense more effective while our guards could learn a lot from Barry's pass and move."

Another Chinese hoopster, Sun Yue, did not appear in the Los Angeles Lakers' opening preseason match list. Sun was sidelined indefinitely as a result of being tested positive for mononucleosis a week ago.

Sun became ill shortly after being officially introduced to the public on Sept 26 and was taken to an area hospital, said the Los Angeles Times, quoting John Black, the Lakers executive vice president of public relations.

Houston Chronicle contributed to the story

Source: China Daily/Agencies

Total debts in English soccer more than $4bn

LONDON: FA chairman Lord Triesman on Tuesday said English soccer had total debts of more than 3 billion pounds and warned of its danger to the well-being of the sport.

The four big clubs - Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool - are believed to account for about a third of that amount, he added.

Speaking at the Leaders in Football conference at Stamford Bridge, Triesman and Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore voiced opposing views on the dangers of foreign ownership - one of the sport's most contentious issues - and whether the rules needed tightening up.

Triesman said: "Transparency lies in an unmarked grave. We now have a position where it is very hard to track things. It is not transparent enough and we don't know if we are able to track it, if the debt is held by people who are financially secure or not.

"More and more clubs are in trouble, with a number of owners leaving abruptly."

Reacting to FIFA president Sepp Blatter's outburst that buying a football club was now just as easy as buying a replica shirt, Triesman said he had a point.

"It is certainly true that fans are apprehensive if their club is touted around in the market place. You can't have a complete disregard for people's passion for their club."

Without mentioning any club by name Triesman said the Premier League's fit and proper persons test needed an urgent review.

"If there is a prima facie case of someone's human rights record being regarded internationally as being very serious, it's reasonable to question whether that person should be running a football club," he said.

"Nobody has real confidence in what they cannot see. The fit and proper persons test does not do the job sufficiently robustly.

"A review is now inevitable because football clubs are not mere commodities. They are the abiding passion of their supporters. We forget that at our peril."

Speaking later at the same conference, and with Triesman sitting a few feet away, Scudamore defended the clubs' financial affairs as he hit back at the FA.

"The FA themselves know about all these things because they are one of the most indebted organizations in the world," Scudamore said.

"Our clubs are all heavily regulated but they've also got directors and owners who will assess the level of risk of their overall debt.

"This is at the top of clubs' agendas and I think they are managing it responsibly."

Source: China Daily/Agencies

China vows to enhance educational co-op with Britain

A senior Chinese leader said on Wednesday the country would boost its educational exchange and cooperation with Britain.

State Councilor Liu Yandong made the statement when meeting with Alison Richard, the University of Cambridge vice-chancellor, in Beijing.

Liu spoke highly of the collaboration between Cambridge and the Chinese educational and scientific circle.

"The reform and development of education is the top priority of the Chinese government," she said, adding the country should strengthen its international cooperation on the cultivation of high-calibre talent and high-level scientific research.

Liu hoped the famed British university could expand its exchanges with its Chinese counterparts to increase understanding and friendship between young people.

"The cooperation with Cambridge University is a good example and a key component of our educational cooperation with Britain."

Richard, who was here to celebrate the university's 120 years of cooperation with China, said her school was facing "a real opportunity" to deepen its cooperation.

The two also touched upon other issues in their hour-long discussion, including the establishment of a low-carbon laboratory between Cambridge, MIT and China's Qinghua University, and the expansion of cooperation between the Confucius Institute in Britain and Chinese universities.

Richard also invited Chinese Olympic medalists to study at Cambridge, a proposal warmly seconded by Liu.

Richard, Cambridge's 344th vice-chancellor, is the principal academic and administrative officer for the university. She is the first woman to hold the position full-time.

Source: Xinhua

Fifth seminar for African press officials starts in Beijing

The fifth seminar held by the Information Office of China's State Council for African press officials started here on Wednesday, drawing 32 officials from 18 African countries.

Over the next two weeks, the Africans will attend lectures and exchange views with their Chinese counterparts, journalists and experts.

Apart from Beijing, they will also visit Chengdu, capital of the southwest Sichuan Province, and Shanghai, the country's economic hub.

Addressing the opening ceremony, Wang Chen, the Information Office head, called for enhanced exchanges and cooperation between Chinese and African press departments. He hoped press officials would serve as bridges to boost mutual understanding between the Chinese and African people.

Adron Aledji Albada, the African delegation head, said each participant cherished the opportunity to visit and learn about China. They would tell what they personally felt about the country to the African people.

The seminar, founded in 2004, aims at strengthening China-Africa press cooperation and cementing friendship.

Source: Xinhua