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U.S. baseball team blasts its way to Premier12 final round

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Thanks to a barrage of four home runs, the U.S. baseball team kept alive its hopes of winning the Premier12 and snagging an Olympic qualifying berth at the first opportunity, beating the Dominican Republic 10-8 Monday in Guadalajara, Mexico, to take second place in its group.

After a loss to host Mexico on Sunday, the U.S. needed a win to advance to the Super Round next week in Tokyo. Six teams will play in Tokyo, with Olympic berths going to the top team from the Americas and the top team from Asia/Oceania (excluding Japan, which qualifies automatically as the Olympic host).

Outfielder Mark Payton (Oakland/AAA) led off the game with the first of four U.S. home runs. Shortstop Jake Cronenworth, who played middle infield and pitched for Tampa Bay’s AAA affiliate the Durham Bulls this year, hit another solo shot in the second, in which the U.S. picked up three runs on five hits.

The Dominican Republic cut the lead to 4-2 in the second, but third baseman Alec Bohm (Philadelphia/AA) hit a three-run homer in the third. Right fielder Daulton Varsho (Arizona/AA) stole second base and scored on a Bobby Dalbec (Boston/AAA) single in the fourth, and catcher Erik Kratz, who has 10 years of experience in the majors, hit another home run in the fifth to extend the lead to 9-3.

MORE: Premier12 provides clues to possible Olympic roster

After the Dominican Republic rallied with four runs in the fifth, Wyatt Mills (Seattle/AA) took the mound in the sixth and retired all six batters he faced. Kratz hit a double and scored on a Jo Adell (Los Angeles Angels/AAA) single for an insurance run in the eighth.

Mills got the win in relief. Brandon Dickson, who just finished his seventh season with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan, pitched the ninth, conceding one run but picking up the save. For the Dominican Republic, catcher Charlie Valerio of the independent Southern Maryland Blue Crabs and the Dominican league’s Leones del Escogido went 3-for-3 with three RBI. First baseman Edwin Espinal, who also plays in the independent Atlantic League and the Dominican league, also had three RBI.

Mexico and the U.S. advanced from Group A. Group B is underway in Taiwan, where the hosts opened with a 6-1 win over Puerto Rico and Japan beat Venezuela 8-4. Group C features host South Korea, Australia, Cuba and Canada.

MORE: U.S. drops decision to Mexico

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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Conseslus Kipruto tests positive for coronavirus, canceling world-record bid

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Conseslus Kipruto, the Olympic and world 3000m steeplechase champion, tested positive for the coronavirus without symptoms, which will keep him from a world-record chase on Friday, according to his social media.

The Kenyan was to race in the first in-person Diamond League meet of the year in Monaco on Friday.

“Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities,” was posted. “Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League.

“I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well.”

Kipruto, 25, is the 14th-fastest steepler in history with a personal best of 8:00.12. The world record is 7:53.63, set by Kenyan-born Qatari Saif Saaeed Shaheen in 2004.

Last year, Kipruto won the world title by .01, extending a streak of a Kenyan or Kenyan-born man winning every Olympic or world title in the event since the 1988 Seoul Games. He was sidelined by a stress fracture in his left foot until opening his season extremely late on Aug. 24.

MORE: Trayvon Bromell’s road back through destruction, death

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Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities. Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League on August 14th. I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well. Wish to thank Monaco for all the work they have done and I wish them and my colleagues a wonderful competition. Athletics is back and I will be back as well. Anyone willing to organise a steeple once I can be cleared? @diamondleaguemonaco #nike #quarantine #WR #Kenya

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