National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

Penguins fire Bylsma, hire Rutherford as GM

PITTSBURGH (AP) Jim Rutherford doesn't believe the Pittsburgh Penguins need to undergo a massive overhaul to regain their spot among the NHL's elite.

One thing is for certain: Dan Bylsma won't be part of the process.

The Penguins fired the franchise's all-time winningest coach on Friday while hiring Rutherford away from the Carolina Hurricanes to replace Ray Shero as general manager. Rutherford's first decision was to end the three weeks of limbo for Bylsma, whose star-laden teams had fallen well short of the Stanley Cup since winning it all in 2009.

"What ownership wants here is a complete change in direction, one with the GM and one with the coach," Rutherford said.

Bylsma won 252 games behind the bench and was the Jack Adams Award winner in 2012 as the NHL's Coach of the Year but failed to produce a bookend to the championship he captured with stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in 2009. The Penguins were just 4-5 in playoff series since raising the 2009 Cup, with each loss coming to a lower-seeded team.

Pittsburgh's latest defeat came last month when the Penguins fell to the New York Rangers in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Rutherford met with Bylsma on Friday morning as part of an organization-wide shake-up. In addition to dismissing Bylsma, the Penguins promoted Jason Botterill to associate general manager, named Bill Guerin and Tom Fitzgerald assistant general managers.

The 65-year-old Rutherford takes over for Shero, who was fired on May 16. The new gig is a homecoming for the former goaltender. Rutherford played for the Penguins in the 1970s before spending 20 years with the franchise that began as the Hartford Whalers, moved to North Carolina in 1997 and won the Stanley Cup in 2006.

The Hurricanes struggled maintaining that success, missing the postseason each of the last five years. It led to Rutherford stepping down in April when the Hurricanes promoted Ron Francis - who helped Pittsburgh win consecutive Cups in 1991 and '92 - to the GM's job. Rutherford took on an advisory role in Carolina with a small ownership stake in the team, a position he will relinquish in the near future.

The Penguins, meanwhile, plan to get their money's worth out of a man closer to the end of his career than the beginning. Rutherford allowed he will likely only be around "two or three years" and will serve as a mentor to his new staff, adding he will give Botterill and company "big roles with a lot to say."

Rutherford hopes to find Bylsma's replacement by the time free agency begins in July. Considering the talent at the top of the roster, the job will certainly be attractive. Finding the right fit, however, may be challenging.

"With some changes, they don't have to be sweeping changes, we can (win another Cup) in the near future," Rutherford said.

While it's unlikely Rutherford will do much to mess with the core of Crosby, Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang, there are some serious depth issues, particularly along the bottom two lines.

"Our supporting cast needs to be improved," Rutherford said. "I look at our fourth-line players and some of those guys are in double-digit minuses and we can't have that."

What the Penguins do have is arguably the league's best player in Crosby and one of its most dynamic in Malkin. The duo has dominated during the regular season when healthy - with Crosby the favorite to pick up his second Hart Trophy as league MVP after leading the NHL with 114 points this season - but that success hasn't translated into deep playoff runs.

Crosby struggled in the postseason. He scored just once in 13 games while maintaining he was not injured. Rutherford will try to find the right kind of role players to take some of the pressure off his high-wattage stars.

Coincidentally, the Hurricanes are also looking for a new coach - Francis' first big decision in his new job was firing Kirk Muller after three years - and Carolina has been mentioned as a possible landing spot for Bylsma.

The move by Rutherford - who won 44 games in net for the Penguins from 1971-74 - is the latest in a series of significant ties between the organizations.

Carolina has the longest active playoff drought among Eastern Conference teams. Its last postseason appearance came in 2009 - when the Hurricanes were swept in the East final by a Penguins team that went on to win its only Stanley Cup under Shero's leadership, the crowning achievement of his eight years as Pittsburgh's GM.

Rutherford and Shero orchestrated the blockbuster trade of the 2012 NHL draft when forward Jordan Staal was sent to Carolina and reunited with big brother Eric in exchange for Sutter and prospects.

---

AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed to this report.

NFL hopes to pick 2015 draft site this summer

NEW YORK (AP) More than a dozen cities are interested in hosting the NFL draft in 2015 draft, and the league hopes to choose a site this summer.

New York, Los Angeles and Chicago were invited this week to make presentations for next spring's draft. But the league stresses that no finalists have been selected and many other cities are in the running.

The draft drew record TV ratings last month. It has been held in New York since 1965, with Radio City Music Hall the venue since 2006. But the Music Hall was not available for the usual late April dates this year and the draft was pushed back to May 8-10.

For the 2015 draft, the NFL is seeking proposals for April 22-25 or April 29-May 2.

The NFL originally was less than happy that Radio City could not be used in April, although the two-week move into May seemed beneficial as interest ramped up. The theater, owned by Madison Square Garden, will not be available next year, either, but the Garden has a smaller venue, one that previously has held the draft.

Or, considering its skyrocketing popularity, the draft could wind up in the main arena if it stays in New York.

The league this week sent letters to organizations that work on behalf of hosting events in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, asking for information. Among the factors the league will consider are:

-availability of the proposed venue or venues for April 22-25 and April 29-May 2.

-number of fans the venues could hold for the draft and related events.

-ability to host a fan festival in an adjacent indoor or outdoor space.

-hotel availability for fans, team and league staff, incoming draft prospects and their families.

Among the other cities that have shown interest in the draft are Boston, Cleveland, Green Bay, Houston, Nashville, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Seattle. Also, Canton, Ohio, the site of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Commissioner Roger Goodell several times has suggested the draft could be expanded to four days and moved around the country.

"We're looking at ways to make the draft more exciting for our fans," Goodell said. "We are looking at a lot of options, perhaps expand the number of days or moving it around."

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Rays have moment of silence for Don Zimmer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) The Tampa Bay Rays held a moment of silence for Don Zimmer before Thursday's game against Miami.

The Rays will also have a ceremony for their team senior adviser before Saturday's game with Seattle.

Zimmer spent 66 years in pro baseball and died Wednesday at 83. He had been in a Florida rehab center since heart surgery in mid-April.

Tom Zimmer, Don's son and a San Francisco Giants scout, issued a family statement thanking all of those who "rooted so hard" for "Pop's recovery."

"What a great life he has had," the statement said. "The game goes on without him now, but he surely would have expressed once again that `I was so lucky to be part of this game for a lifetime."'

Tom Zimmer called his father's final few years a "huge struggle."

"In baseball terms he battled the best he could but simply was running out of gas," he said. "These last eight weeks, he was just too weakened to survive anymore and we are grateful the suffering has ended. We will miss him terribly, but will have a lifetime of memories."

There is no funeral or other memorial service planned. In lieu of flowers, the family asked donations be made to either the National Kidney Foundation or the Baseball Assistance team.

Kentucky gives Calipari 7-year, $52.5 million deal

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky gave coach John Calipari a seven-year, $52.5 million contract extension that will pay a base package of $6.5 million next season and $8 million over each of the final three seasons.

Already one of college basketball's highest-paid coaches, Calipari led the Wildcats to the 2012 NCAA championship and is coming off his third Final Four appearance in five years with Kentucky, a 60-54 title-game loss to Connecticut in April. He has often been rumored as a potential candidate for NBA coaching openings, most recently this spring with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Calipari quickly reiterated his happiness with Kentucky, later using social media to state his commitment after Los Angeles fired coach Mike D'Antoni. He continued that theme with his new contract that pays more than most pro coaches.

"I've said over and over that I have the best job in the country," Calipari said in a release Thursday night. "With the continued support from our administration and the greatest, craziest, fans in college basketball, we have accomplished a lot in our five quick years, but we still have lofty goals for the future.

"We want to continue to help young people and their families reach their dreams, while at the same time maintaining our success on the basketball court, in the classroom and in the community."

Besides building a 152-37 record at Kentucky, Calipari has established himself as a master recruiter in landing top-three freshman classes annually. That includes next year's group which figures to make the Wildcats a title contender again, and with this contract the school appears to have locked him in for the long term.

"It has long been our goal over the last three to five years that Cal enjoy this as his final stop in coaching," athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in the release, "and that he has an opportunity to finish his career at the University of Kentucky and hopefully set standards and win championships that will be remembered for many, many years to come."

Wie, defending champ Park share LPGA Tour lead

WATERLOO, Ontario (AP) Michelle Wie and defending champion Hee Young Park shared the first-round lead at 6-under 65 on Thursday in the Manulife Financial Classic at windswept Grey Silo.

Wie, the winner in Hawaii in April, birdied three of the last four holes in her morning round. She's seeking her second victory in Canada after winning the 2010 Canadian Women's Open in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Park had a bogey-free round in the afternoon. Last year, the South Korean player beat Angela Stanford on the third playoff hole after they finished at 26-under 258 to match the tour record for lowest total score.

China's Shanshan Feng was a stroke back, and countrywoman Xi Yu Lin matched Cristie Kerr with a 67.

Stacy Lewis had a 69 in her first round since taking the top spot in the world with a victory Sunday in New Jersey. Second-ranked Inbee Park also shot 69, and No. 3 Lydia Ko had a 71.

NY Rangers wowed by LA Kings in Cup finals opener

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) Alain Vigneault reviewed only portions of the video from the New York Rangers' Stanley Cup finals opener before he sat down at their oceanside hotel to explain how it got away.

The coach had already formed a few impressions, and they made him even more wary of the Los Angeles Kings.

"They're one of the best teams I've seen in a long time," Vigneault said Thursday. "Areas to exploit, they don't jump out at you. We're going to have to be better than we were."

The Rangers realize they missed a golden chance to grab an early game from the weary Kings, who were 72 hours removed from a grueling, seven-game Western Conference finals victory over defending champion Chicago.

New York jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first period at Staples Center, but was soon overwhelmed. The Kings tied it in the second, utterly dominated the third and won early in overtime on Justin Williams' latest clutch goal.

The comeback was classic Kings - and now the Rangers realize exactly what they're facing.

"We're a team that's just never going to go away," Kings forward Jeff Carter said. "We're going to play hard no matter what the score is."

Game 2 is Saturday. The Kings enjoyed a rare day off at home, while the Rangers tried to relax near the beach on a splendid sunny day.

Despite Vigneault's lofty praise, the Rangers don't seem intimidated by the 2012 Stanley Cup champions. Although New York was outshot 20-3 in the third period, Carl Hagelin was denied by Jonathan Quick on a breakaway in the last minute of regulation, barely missing a chance to steal it.

"To be honest, I don't think they had that many grade-A scoring chances in the third," Hagelin said. "They had a lot of puck-possession time. They had some shots. It wasn't really a lot of good chances. I mean, we can't look too much into shots."

The Kings realize they've also got work to do after stumbling early in their first series opener at home in the entire postseason. New York's speed on the wings surprised the Kings, leading to numerous prime scoring chances for the Rangers.

But Los Angeles' ability to adjust during a game has been a strength throughout its remarkable playoff run. The Kings also have proven to be an incredible comeback team after rallying from four multigoal deficits to win: They've rallied from at least two goals down in three of their last four games, winning twice.

"Well, you can't chase leads all the time," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "It's the National Hockey League. It's the best teams in the world. There are two teams left out of 30, which means that they've both come a long ways, and they both had to be resilient. You don't get any award for `resilient.' So we can play a lot better, and it's way better when you're not chasing the lead."

New York acknowledged Los Angeles took control of the second half of Game 1, using its disciplined structure and balanced offense to dominate puck possession. It's a familiar formula to the Western Conference after the Kings gritted out seven-game series victories over San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago.

The Rangers have a renewed respect for the Kings after Game 1, but they also see simple fixes for their biggest problems.

"I think maybe we're pressing, holding our sticks a little too much, too tightly," Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "Looking for stuff that wasn't there. We know if we get pucks in deep and get our forecheck going, that's where we can generate offense. We were looking for a little bit too much on the rush, looking to carry it across and gain the zone a little bit too much."

The winner of Game 1 has gone on to win the Stanley Cup title roughly 77 percent of the time since 1939. The Kings won Game 1 in overtime two years ago in New Jersey, ultimately finishing off the Devils in six games.

The Rangers might spend two days stewing over the lost opportunity of Game 1, but they also realize they've got time to counter the Kings' strengths.

"Ultimately, I feel this group has a lot more to give," McDonagh said. "We're going to need that in Game 2."

Colts owner's license suspended for refusing test

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (AP) A court has suspended Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay's driver's license for one year following his arrest for driving while intoxicated.

The Indianapolis Star reports (http://indy.st/1pUleLq ) that recently released documents in Hamilton County confirm the license suspension effective starting May 27. Police and prosecutors have declined to discuss the case.

Irsay refused a blood test after his March 16 arrest in Carmel, a suburb of Indianapolis. Indiana law requires a one-year license suspension for refusing such a test. Police later obtained a warrant ordering Irsay to submit to a blood draw.

Irsay faces a June 19 initial hearing on two misdemeanor counts of impaired driving. A probable cause affidavit said Irsay was driving under the influence of powerful painkillers.

A message seeking comment was left with a spokeswoman for Irsay.

Nadal, Murray set up French Open semifinal matchup

PARIS (AP) - Briefly, and only briefly, Rafael Nadal was in a difficult spot in the French Open quarterfinals.

For the first time in this year's tournament, the eight-time champion dropped a set.

And this had to be on Nadal's mind: His opponent, David Ferrer, could present real problems. Not only is Ferrer ranked No. 5, and not only was he the runner-up at Roland Garros a year ago - to Nadal, of course - but he also beat Nadal on red clay the last time they played each other.

So how did Nadal handle this test? Perfectly. From late in the second set, he won 10 games in a row, and 13 of 14 the rest of the way, to come back and beat Ferrer 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, 6-1, setting up a semifinal Friday against Wimbledon champion Andy Murray.

"At the beginning," Nadal acknowledged, "David was playing with a higher intensity than me."

But once Nadal made a key adjustment - deciding to dispense with his surprisingly off-target backhand as much as possible and instead do whatever he could to use his topspin-heavy forehand - he took over.

After committing 28 unforced errors across the windy first two sets, Nadal had zero in the third, and only three in the last.

"When I was able to hit with my forehand," Nadal said, "I felt that I was in control."

Ferrer, for his part, said that in the latter stages, "I lost my concentration, my focus."

It was Nadal's 33rd consecutive win at the French Open and improved his record in the event to 64-1. His only loss at the tournament came to Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009.

The Spaniard, who turned 28 on Tuesday, is not used to facing much in the way of hardship at Roland Garros. So Nadal took what he was able to do against Ferrer as a good sign.

"At the end of the day, I am rather happy to have been able to turn the situation around," said Nadal, who wasn't thrilled to be put on Court Suzanne Lenglen, the second-largest arena, for the second time this year. "I managed to pull through, even though it was complicated."

The route Murray took during his 6-4, 6-1, 4-6, 1-6, 6-0 victory over No. 23 Gael Monfils of France was far more circuitous, finishing right on the cusp of dusk after 9:30 p.m. In front of a crowd loudly pulling for Monfils at Court Philippe Chatrier, Murray was terrific at the outset, mediocre in the middle, then closed on a high.

After a brief discussion with a tournament official over whether there was enough sun to play the fifth set - the Roland Garros courts have no artificial lights - Murray made the whole thing moot. He raced through that set in 21 minutes, winning 24 of 31 points, as Monfils appeared to stop trying.

"Everything happened very fast," Monfils said.

Said Murray: "It was so dark at the end. Thankfully for me, he played a poor fifth set once I got ahead."

Murray will be playing in the French Open semifinals for the second time; he lost to Nadal in 2011. In all, Nadal owns a 14-5 edge in their head-to-head matches.

"I need to recover very well," Murray said, "and try to be especially calm for that one."

The other men's semifinal will be No. 2 Novak Djokovic against No. 18 Ernests Gulbis.

Longtime baseball fixture Don Zimmer dies at 83

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) Don Zimmer wasn't a fixture in baseball forever. It just seemed that way.

He played alongside Jackie Robinson on the only Brooklyn Dodgers team to win the World Series. He coached Derek Jeter on the New York Yankees' latest dynasty. And his manager once was the illustrious Casey Stengel.

For 66 years, Zimmer was a most popular presence at ballparks all over, a huge chaw often filling his cheek. Everyone in the game seemed to know him, and love him.

Zimmer was still working for the Tampa Bay Rays as a senior adviser when he died Wednesday at 83 in a hospital in nearby Dunedin. He had been in a rehabilitation center since having seven hours of heart surgery in mid-April.

"Great baseball man. A baseball lifer. Was a mentor to me," teary-eyed Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

Zimmer started out as a minor league infielder in 1949, hitting powerful shots that earned him the nickname "Popeye." He went on to enjoy one of the longest-lasting careers in baseball history.

Zimmer played on the original New York Mets, saw his Boston Red Sox beaten by Bucky Dent's playoff homer and got tossed to the ground by Pedro Martinez during a brawl.

Oh, the tales he could tell.

"Zim was around when I first came up. He was someone that taught me a lot about the game - he's been around, he's pretty much seen everything," Jeter said after the Yankees lost to Oakland 7-4. "His stories, his experiences."

With the champion Yankees, Zimmer was Joe Torre's right-hand man as the bench coach.

"I hired him as a coach, and he became like a family member to me. He has certainly been a terrific credit to the game," Torre said in a statement.

"The game was his life. And his passing is going to create a void in my life ... We loved him. The game of baseball lost a special person tonight. He was a good man," he said.

A career .235 hitter in the big leagues, numbers could never define all that Zimmer meant to the game. He had tremendous success, too - his teams won six World Series rings and went to the postseason 19 times.

Zimmer's No. 66 Rays jersey had been worn recently by longtime Tampa Bay third base coach Tom Foley in tribute - the team wanted that, and MLB decided a coach should wear it.

Foley was crying in the dugout Wednesday night during a 5-4 loss to Miami. He later remembered the Rays going as a team to see "42," the movie about Robinson.

"He would talk about it. He had a lot of stories, a lot of history coming out of him," Foley said. "He had a lot to give, a lot to offer and he did."

Earlier this season, the Rays hung a banner in the front of the press box at Tropicana Field that simply read "ZIM."

"Today we all lost a national treasure and a wonderful man," Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said in a statement.

There was a moment of silence at Dodger Stadium for Zimmer before Los Angeles played the Chicago White Sox.

"On behalf of Major League Baseball and the many clubs that `Popeye' served in a distinguished baseball life, I extend my deepest condolences to Don's family, friends and his many admirers throughout our game," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.

Zimmer's biggest admirer was his wife "Soot" - they were married at home plate during a minor league game in 1951. Two years later in the minors, Zimmer's path took a frightening turn - he was beaned by a fastball and left in a coma, and doctors had to put metal screws in his head.

Zimmer recovered well enough to wear a lot of uniforms during his 56 years in the majors. He played for the Dodgers, Mets, Cubs, Cincinnati Reds and Washington Senators. He managed San Diego, Boston, Texas and the Cubs.

"I loved Zim. I loved his passion. He was a great, great guy. He was a great baseball guy," Yankees executive Hank Steinbrenner told The Associated Press. "Everybody loved him."

Zimmer hit 91 home runs and had 352 RBIs in 12 seasons. He started Game 7 when Brooklyn beat the Yankees for the 1955 crown and was an All-Star in 1961.

The next year, he played under Stengel on the 1962 expansion Mets, who famously went 40-120.

"Don't blame them all on me," Zimmer once said. "I got traded after the first 30 days."

Zimmer was the 1989 NL Manager of the Year with the Cubs and was at Yankee Stadium for three perfect games, by Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series and by David Cone and David Wells in the late 1990s.

"Zim was a great man, and there are no words to explain what he brought to us and what he meant to me," Rays star Evan Longoria said.

"He taught me a lot of things, and those days of sitting in the dugout with him will be missed," he said.

Said Rays pitcher David Price: "Zim was a very special person to all of us. A very special person in baseball, period."

"He always lit everybody's faces up whenever he'd walk in," he said. "Zim had a passion for baseball that rubs off on everybody."

Zimmer is survived by his wife; son Thomas, a scout with the San Francisco Giants; daughter Donna, and four grandchildren.

Williams puts LA Kings past Rangers in OT opener

LOS ANGELES (AP) Justin Williams scored 4:36 into overtime after a turnover by Dan Girardi, and the Los Angeles Kings beat the New York Rangers 3-2 on Wednesday night in the Stanley Cup finals opener.

Williams was left alone in the slot after Girardi's pass from his knees went straight to Mike Richards. Williams put his eighth goal of the postseason past Henrik Lundqvist, who made 40 saves and nearly stole a series-opening win for the Rangers.

Jonathan Quick made 25 saves for the Kings, who moved one victory closer to their second Stanley Cup title in three years after a hair-raising finals opener.

Game 2 is Saturday at Staples Center.

Attorney: Donald Sterling agrees to sell Clippers

LOS ANGELES (AP) Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling agreed Wednesday to sign off on selling the team he has owned for 33 years to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion, bringing the possibility of a resolution to weeks of rumors, uncertainty and looming possibilities for legal action.

The agreement hadn't been officially signed Wednesday afternoon, according to an individual with knowledge of the negotiations who wasn't authorized to discuss them publicly. But Donald Sterling's attorney, Maxwell Blecher, said he "has made an agreement with the NBA to resolve all their differences." Sterling gave his consent to a deal that was negotiated by his wife, Shelly Sterling, to sell the team, Blecher said.

Representatives for Shelly Sterling and the NBA declined to comment.

The agreement was an about face for Donald Sterling, who just last week filed a $1 billion suit against the NBA in federal court alleging the league violated his constitutional rights by relying on information from an "illegal" recording that publicized racist remarks he made to a girlfriend. It also said the league committed a breach of contract by fining Sterling $2.5 million and that it violated antitrust laws by trying to force a sale. Blecher said that as a result of the agreement, the federal suit will now be dismissed.

Sterling's comments to V. Stiviano included telling her to not bring black people to Clippers games, specifically mentioning Hall of Famer Magic Johnson. They resulted in a storm of outrage from the public and players and even prompted President Barack Obama to comment on what he called Sterling's "incredibly offensive racist statements."

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver ultimately decided to ban Donald Sterling for life and began efforts to force Sterling to sell the team.

For weeks, Donald Sterling said through his attorneys that he would fight the NBA's decisions to try to force his ouster as a team owner. But last week Shelly Sterling utilized her authority as sole trustee of The Sterling Family Trust, which owns the Clippers, to take bids for the team and ultimately negotiate a deal with Ballmer.

Ballmer beat out bids by Guggenheim Partners and a group including former NBA All-Star Grant Hill. Ballmer made more than an hour-long personal visit to Shelly Sterling's Malibu home last week and laid out his plan.

If the NBA owners approve the sale, it will be a record-high sum for a team that cost Donald Sterling about $12 million in 1981. Blecher's co-counsel, Bobby Samini, said the vote by league owners is expected to take place in mid-July.

This is not Ballmer's first foray into potential NBA ownership. Ballmer and investor Chris Hansen headed a group that agreed to a deal to buy the Kings from the Maloof family in January 2013 with the intention of moving the team to Seattle, where the SuperSonics played until 2008.

But Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson lobbied the NBA for time to put together a bid to keep the team in California, and though the Ballmer-Hansen group later increased its offer, owners voted to deny the bid for relocation and the Kings were sold to Vivek Ranadive.

Marlins send mourning Rays to 9th straight loss

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) Joe Maddon's voice cracked with emotion. The Tampa Bay Rays are mired in the second-longest skid in the major leagues this season, yet they suffered a much greater loss with the death of club senior adviser Don Zimmer.

"We lost a good buddy tonight," Maddon, fighting back tears, said Wednesday following Tampa Bay's ninth consecutive defeat, 5-4 to the Miami Marlins. "I'm going to miss his advice ... his feistiness and fire. He was about winning, doing whatever it takes to win."

Donovan Solano hit a three-run homer off David Price and closer Steve Cishek escaped a ninth-inning jam the help the Marlins hold on for their third straight win in a four-game home-and-home series between the intrastate rivals.

Tampa Bay's losing streak is the team's longest in nearly five years and is becoming more frustrating by the day.

The Rays hit into three double plays for the second straight night, are 0-for-their-last 31 with runners in scoring position and will match the longest skid in the majors this season if they drop Thursday's series finale at Tropicana Field.

Boston dropped 10 straight from May 15 to 25, with Tampa Bay handing them the last three losses in the streak. The Rays haven't won since.

But that wasn't the focal point in a somber clubhouse following the game.

Maddon said he learned of Zimmer's death during the third inning and informed his coaches, but not the players. Word gradually spread through the dugout, where third-base coach Tom Foley was spotted weeping before slipping into Zimmer's No. 66 jersey and wearing it for the remainder of the game in memory of the former player, coach and manager, whose career in baseball spanned more than 60 years.

"The organization wanted to do it and it fell on me," Foley said. "Major League Baseball decided to have one of the coaches wear it. I was honored to do it."

Star third baseman Evan Longoria said Zimmer will be missed on and off the field.

"Zim was a great man, and there are no words to explain what he brought to us and what he meant to me. It's just been a rough go for us, and this kind of is the icing on the cake, so to speak," Longoria said.

"I know that he would want us to continue on and just honor him by doing all the things that he preached to us, playing the game the right way and playing the game hard. Going out there on a daily basis and really caring."

Casey McGehee had an RBI single for the Marlins, who won 1-0 on Tuesday on a bases-loaded walk.

The sputtering Rays, coming off an 0-8 trip that was the worst in team history, tumbled 14 games under .500 at 23-37 - the second-worst record in baseball. The last time they were this far below the break-even point was the end of 2007, the final season they were called the Devil Rays.

The team has made the playoffs as the Rays four of the past six seasons, but are in the midst of a horrendous offensive slump that's seen them bat .217 on the trip to Toronto, Boston and Miami and score 21 runs during their longest skid since dropping 11 straight in September 2009.

Tom Koehler (5-5) pitched five innings for the Marlins, allowing three first-inning runs on Ben Zobrist's two-run homer and a solo shot by Evan Longoria. Bryan Morris and Mike Dunn shut down the Rays over the next three innings, and Cishek earned his 13th save in 14 opportunities.

The Rays loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth on an error, a high-bouncing bloop double and a walk, but only scored once. Cishek walked Longoria intentionally to reload the bases with two outs, then got James Loney to pop out to end the game.

"It got a little hairy there at the end. I've seen that happen here, at this place, the high choppers and the bloops," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said.

"Exactly how that ninth inning happened, I've seen that a lot here," Redmond added. "But fortunately, Shek kept it together and was able to pitch through it, and got a couple big outs and locked down a win."

Price (4-5) allowed five runs - one earned - and nine hits in 7 1-3 innings. He struck out 11 and walked none, but paid for Longoria's third-inning error and gave up Solano's first home run of the season.

After being limited to two runs over the last four games of their woeful trip, the first three batters scored against Koehler, who walked David DeJesus before giving up home runs to Zobrist and Longoria, who has just one other extra-base hit in his past 23 games.

The Marlins rebounded with four unearned runs in the third, the first scoring when Longoria failed to hold onto the ball after fielding a grounder at third base and applying a tag on a sliding Marcell Ozuna for what should have been the final out of the inning.

The miscue left Miami with runners at first and third. Solano hit his homer to left field on the next pitch for a 5-3 lead.

NOTES: Tampa Bay OF Wil Myers, who will be in a cast for five to six weeks due to a stress fracture in his right wrist, is hopeful that the time off will also help a sore left wrist that he hurt early in the season. ... Rays RHP Jeremy Hellickson (elbow surgery) says he will make his first rehab start Saturday for Single-A Charlotte. He expects to be back before the All-Star break. ... C Ryan Hanigan, on the DL with right hamstring tightness, caught Hellickson's bullpen session. ... Miami RHP Carter Capps (strained right elbow) got a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews, who agreed with team doctors that the reliever can resume playing catch after a month of rest. ... Marlins SS Rafael Furcal (left hamstring strain) will move his rehab assignment from Single-A Jupiter to Double-A Jacksonville on Thursday.

NHL, NHLPA closing in on World Cup plans for 2016

LOS ANGELES (AP) The NHL and the players' union are deep in conversations about staging another World Cup of Hockey in two years.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Wednesday that the league and the NHLPA have held "very substantive discussions" recently about the return of the tournament, which hasn't been held since 2004.

"I think it's important, and I think it's a great opportunity for the game," Bettman said before the Stanley Cup finals opener between the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings.

Bettman says the plans aren't "fully baked," but the hockey world has been talking for months about the return of the summer tournament, likely in September 2016.

The 2004 World Cup of Hockey was staged in seven cities in North America and Europe, with the final in Toronto.

Bettman also said the NHL's continued participation in the Olympics hasn't been discussed lately. After consecutive Winter Olympics in hockey hotbeds Canada and Russia, the 2018 Games are in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which is widely perceived as an opportunity for the NHL's wary owners to move their valuable players away from Olympic participation, which resumed in Nagano, Japan, in 1998.

"That is something that ultimately we're going to have to resolve," Bettman said. "I'm not sure that we necessarily have to resolve it if and when we make a World Cup announcement. We'll see where the discussions go and where we are."

A World Cup would be lucrative to the NHL and the players' union, and it wouldn't require a three-week league shutdown in the middle of a season, as the Olympics do.

Bettman still believes NHL players should be able to play for their nations on a major stage, saying ice hockey has the greatest tradition of international play among all of North America's major team sports.

"It's something that we know is very important for our players to be able to represent their countries," Bettman said. "We understand that and we appreciate it. So yes, it's a great business opportunity, but it's also an opportunity to expand our fan base, to continue the growth and development of the game, and encourage young people to play the game, and ultimately develop at a caliber where the best players in the world will come to play in the NHL."

Bettman said the NHL isn't ready to reveal its slate of outdoor games for the 2014-15 season, But he confirmed that the success of the Dodger Stadium game in January allayed fears about staging games in most warm-weather cities.

The commissioner also said the NHL isn't planning imminent expansion, but is willing to listen to proposals. Seattle and Quebec City have been mentioned frequently as expansion targets, but both have significant problems as NHL homes.

Microsoft billionaire Steve Ballmer, who partnered with lead investor Chris Hansen last year in an attempt to move the Sacramento Kings to Seattle, is finalizing a deal to buy the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion. Hansen still hopes to build a large arena in Seattle to house teams from the NBA and the NHL, but has said he isn't interested in being a majority owner of an NHL team.

Bettman flew to Seattle during the playoffs to meet with city officials.

"Seattle seems to have the most number of people interested," Bettman said. "The fact is there's no building that's on the horizon. The person who controls the rights to build a building in Seattle is intent upon having an NBA team before he builds a building. Based on what's happened to date, and the fact that his partner has now bought a different franchise, I don't know that there's any prospect of a building in Seattle.

"It's nice that there's interest, but there's really not a whole lot for us to do with it."

Small-market Quebec City is building the $400 million, 18,000-seat Quebecor Arena to be ready in September 2015. But the NHL's potential return to the former home of the Nordiques could further unbalance the league's makeup - particularly without an expansion to Seattle. The Eastern Conference has 16 teams, and the West has 14 after last summer's realignment.

"If we get to a point where there's enough interest in enough places that it warrants consideration, then the Board of Governors may well invoke a formal expansion process and we'll look at everything," Bettman said. "I don't think this is something you do on a piecemeal basis."

How exactly do you become a 'Chromie'?

NEW YORK -- Triple Crown pursuer California Chrome’s fans are known as “Chromies.” Where did that term come from? Twitter, says the man behind the @CalChrome account.

Horse racing enthusiast Shawn LaFata, 37, of Tampa, Fla., created the handle after Chrome won the San Felipe Stakes on March 8.

The colt captured the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes two months later and is chasing the first Triple Crown in 36 years at the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.

Chromies include actor/model Bo Derek, a 72-year-old retired customer service rep for a California corrugated box plant who could win $1 million Saturday and Hope, a girl who touched the heart of one of Chrome’s co-owners at a Hampton Inn three weeks ago.

Start with LaFata.

The former Ponte Vedra Beach newspaper sports editor fell for Chrome after watching him, from afar, win the San Felipe at Santa Anita Park in California by 7 1/4 lengths.

“I wanted to know a little bit more about the horse,” LaFata said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I wondered if there was a Twitter account for him. There was none. Maybe I’ll just make one.”

He created @CalChrome because @CaliforniaChrome was one character above Twitter’s maximum for a username.

The handle had more than 12,000 followers as of Wednesday, including Derek and actor Taye Diggs (Diggs, at last check, followed more than 44,000 accounts, though).

@CalChrome is often asked if it means to tweet, shall we say, from the horse’s mouth. But LaFata doesn’t post in personification. Rather, he seeks to create a forum for Chromies, a term he believes was coined eight nights before the Kentucky Derby.

“It just took off from there,” LaFata said. “One comment one night started a whole thing and nicknamed the crowd of fans. Now I get people tweeting me how they are Chromies.”

What makes one a Chromie?

“Somebody who’s got some heart and some passion,” LaFata said. “Somebody who identifies with the owners. That’s been the biggest thing with his story. The ownership group. Everyday Americans. People you see on the streets every day.”

Chrome’s owners are Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, who operate Dumbass Partners. In 2008, they spent $8,000 to purchase filly Love the Chase. The partnership’s name was born when a groom at the slow, 2-year-old’s barn said that anybody who would pay for Love the Chase was a dumbass.

Coburn and Martin, in their first attempt at breeding horses, paired Love the Chase with Lucky Pulpit, which cost a mere additional $1,500, and Chrome was conceived.

Coburn wears a cowboy hat and works for a small company that makes magnetic strips for credit cards. The reserved Martin owns a business that tests metal products. They are hardly the usual high-rolling horse owners. Everyday Americans.

Coburn calls Chrome, “America’s horse,” because he feels the whole country has gotten behind the chestnut colt’s bid to end the longest Triple Crown drought in history.

Chromies extend to Canada, Great Britain, even France, said LaFata, who has received Twitter interactions from those nations.

Patrice Wolfson, the owner of the last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed in 1978, could even be called a Chromie. She stood up from her seat at the draw Wednesday, walked toward Team Chrome in her gray Skechers and gave them presents.

Nobody outside of the Chrome camp has more riding on the Belmont than Chromie Eddie Espinoza, the 72-year-old retired customer service rep for a California corrugated box plant.

Espinoza stands to win $1 million if Chrome captures his seventh straight race with jockey Victor Espinoza (no relation) aboard Saturday, thanks to the first Santa Anita Derby Millionaire contest.

The Santa Anita Derby purse reached $1 million for the first time this year, its 77th running, and commemorated the milestone with the Millionaire promotion.

Espinoza was randomly selected out of entries from the crowd of some 30,000 at the April 5 Santa Anita Derby for a pie-in-the-sky idea.

His prize was a $5,000 win wager on a horse at the Santa Anita Derby -- a bet funded by the Los Angeles Turf Club -- and if that horse won Santa Anita and then the Triple Crown, Espinoza would pocket a cool $1 million.

“I am definitely a top fan of California Chrome,” said Espinoza, who will watch the Belmont Stakes on a big screen from the Santa Anita Park winner’s circle, with at least 50 friends and family by his side. “The old nerves start kicking in any time I start thinking about [the $1 million].”

Carolyn Coburn, the wife of Chrome’s co-owner, favors another Chromie, whom she met at a Hampton Inn at the Preakness Stakes three weeks ago.

She recalled a girl named Hope wearing a hat and sitting in a wheelchair. Coburn said Hope was a friend of Doug O’Neill, the trainer of I’ll Have Another, the last horse to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2012 who was scratched the day before the Belmont with tendonitis.

In 2012, a 12-year-old girl named Hope Hudson with the rare genetic disorder Hadju-Cheney Syndrome was reported to be O’Neill’s good-luck charm.

Steve Coburn handed Hope four or five black-eyed Susans, the flowers on the blanket placed on Chrome for winning the Preakness. Carolyn Coburn has a picture of the moment.

“I’m sure that will always touch my heart and make me cry,” she said.

What happens to Chromies after the Belmont?

The Twitter account will not go dormant, LaFata said.

“When the Triple Crown races roll around next year, I’ll be almost a cheerleader,” he said. “Rooting for other horses.”

Many more Chromies are thinking of the future, too, among thousands of well-wishes, requests to touch the horse and gifts, Team Chrome spokeswoman Alexis Garske said.

“Even a few offerings to put him in their own backyard, totally safe, once he retires, and they’ll watch over him,” Garske said.

Second wave of former players join NFL lawsuit

Former Pro Bowl defender Marcellus Wiley added his name to a lawsuit accusing NFL teams of illegally dispensing powerful narcotics and other drugs to keep players on the field without regard for their long-term health.

"The first thing people ask is, knowing what happened, would you do it again?" said Wiley, currently an ESPN analyst. "No. No I wouldn't."

The lawsuit was originally filed May 20 in U.S. District Court in northern California and amended Wednesday to add 250 more players, bringing the total to 750 plaintiffs. Wiley, who played in Buffalo, San Diego, Dallas and Jacksonville from 1997-2006, is the ninth player identified by name, joining former Chicago Bears Jim McMahon, Richard Dent and Keith Van Horne, Jeremy Newberry and others.

The lawsuit, which is seeking class certification, covers the years 1968-2008. It contends team physicians and trainers across the NFL routinely - and often illegally - provided powerful narcotics and other controlled substances on game days to mask the pain.

Among them were the painkillers Percodan, Percocet and Vicodin, anti-inflammatories such as Toradol, and sleep aids such as Ambien. Lead attorney Steven Silverman said some teams filled out prescriptions in players' names without their knowledge or consent. He said those drugs were then "handed out like candy at Halloween" and often combined in "cocktails."

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league had no comment.

The former players have reported a range of debilitating effects, from chronic muscle and bone ailments to permanent nerve and organ damage to addiction. The players contend those health problems came from drug use but many of the conditions aren't tied to the use of painkillers.

Six of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including McMahon and Van Horne, were also parties to the concussion-related class-action lawsuit filed against the NFL less than a year ago. The NFL agreed to pay $765 million to settle that case - without acknowledging it concealed the risks of concussions from former players. A federal judge has yet to approve the settlement, expressing concern the amount is too small.

Wiley, 39, was not part of the concussion lawsuit, but decided to join former players in this one after suffering partial renal failure in April, despite no history of kidney problems. Wiley said he took "multiple injections" of painkillers over the course of a season to cope with an injury that then-San Diego team physician Dr. David Chao diagnosed as severe groin sprain. After the season, an independent doctor diagnosed a torn abdominal wall that required surgery.

"You can't walk into a doctor's office and say, "Give me this, give me that, just to get through the day.' Somebody would shut the place down," Wiley said in a telephone interview. "But that's what was going on in the NFL. It's easy to get mesmerized. I won't deny that; there's this `play through-the-pain, fall-on-the-sword' culture, and somebody in line ready to step up and take your place...

"And the next question when people hear about this stuff is `where's the personal responsibility?' Well, I'm not a medical doctor" he added, "but I did take the word of a medical doctor who took an oath to get me through not just one game, or one season, but a lifetime. Meanwhile, he's getting paid by how many bodies he gets out on the field."

Chao stepped down as San Diego's team physician last June, after the NFL Players Association called for him to be replaced and filed a complaint. An independent panel cleared Chao.

In April, as part of a stipulated settlement, Chao was placed on probation by the Medical Board of California. His license was also revoked, but that action was stayed while he remains on probation. He was accused of committing gross negligence, repeated negligent acts and acts of dishonesty or corruption. Chao was also found liable of malpractice in 2012 in a case involving a regular patient, not a Chargers player, with a judgment of nearly $5.2 million. Records also show he has been publicly reprimanded by the board and pleaded guilty to driving under the influence.

The lawsuit's main burden is proving cause and effect - that use of painkillers in the past caused the chronic problems the players face now. The players also would have to show that they are suffering those problems at a greater rate than other people their age, and that it's not due to other risk factors such as obesity, smoking and family history.

49ers QB Kaepernick receives 6-year extension

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Colin Kaepernick insists he just happened to pull on a pair of socks with dollar bill prints all over them Wednesday morning - before he learned he had struck a new fortune with the San Francisco 49ers.

"I had these on before I found out," he quipped. "Luck of the draw."

In the tattooed quarterback, the Niners have their franchise man for the long haul.

One of the NFL's most dynamic young playcallers, Kaepernick received a $126 million, six-year contract extension Wednesday that keeps him with the organization through the 2020 season. The deal includes $61 million in guaranteed money, a person with knowledge of the contract said, speaking on condition of anonymity because terms weren't disclosed.

The sides had made it a top priority to get a deal done before the start of training camp next month.

"They were able to get it done six weeks earlier than what I think everyone thought," Kaepernick said. "I'm very excited to have it done at this point and we don't have to worry about talks or anything like that moving forward."

Kaepernick, whose quick ascent to the ranks of the NFL's elite under center has earned him rock star status, had been due to make less than $1 million this season.

Now, the 26-year-old Kaepernick instantly becomes one of the league's richest stars.

"I'm always striving to be in that group. An elite group in the NFL. Not necessarily pay, but as far as a player. Whatever comes along with that comes along with it," Kaepernick said. "I'm very grateful for it. ... I don't think my motivation is money-driven."

Since taking over the starting job from Alex Smith two years ago, Kaepernick led the 49ers to their first Super Bowl in 18 years after the 2012 season - losing by three points to Baltimore - and then to the NFC championship game last season, a three-point defeat to the rival and eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

Kaepernick even offered a shoutout to 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick Smith, saying, "I don't think I would be able to be at this point so quickly if he hadn't been such a great mentor to me and helped me along with things."

Kaepernick's next mission:

"Trying to win as many Super Bowls as I can," he said. "I think that's your goal as a player to try to win a Super Bowl every year that you're playing."

A second-round draft pick out of Nevada in 2011, Kaepernick has thrived under former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh - and the coach has said how much he wants the mobile, strong-armed QB around for the long haul. Accomplishing an extension before the season is a big deal as the team begins its first year in $1.2 billion Levi's Stadium at team headquarters.

"I really expect a real breakout year for Colin. Athletically, he looks bionic," Harbaugh said during the organized team activity last week. "If you all remember `The Six Million Dollar Man,' that's what it looks like to me. He's very gifted and he always has been. He has the look and feel of a guy who's really going to break out, even more so than he already has. I'm really excited about everything about his game right now."

Greetings and kind words came via Twitter posts from teammates.

"Congrats to my boy (at)kaepernick7 on the extension! (hashtag)deserving (hashtag)hardestworkingdudeiknow," wrote fullback Bruce Miller.

In a sensational playoff debut in January 2013 against Green Bay, Kap - as they call him - used his speedy legs to run for a quarterback playoff-record 181 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Then, in a season-opening win against the Packers last September, the strong-armed San Francisco QB threw for a career-best 412 yards and three scores.

"Colin's hard work and dedication have played an integral role in the recent success of the 49ers organization," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said in a statement. "His work ethic, leadership and on-field production have positively influenced our team, and we look forward to his continued growth in all areas. Our organization always looks to reward our players for their contributions and commitment to the team."

Harbaugh remained optimistic of getting a new deal done, while Kaepernick said his only focus was on football and he was leaving it to his agents to do the rest. The quarterback had said he sought a "fair" deal.

He is regularly the first to arrive at work each morning and the last one off the field.

Kaepernick has completed 382 of 639 passes for 5,046 yards and 31 touchdowns. He also has started all six postseason games in which he has appeared, earning four wins and passing for 1,374 yards and seven touchdowns.

Kaepernick said last week he hopes a Miami investigation from April that names him will soon be over. He said that matter didn't affect his thoughts about whether it would affect the extension.

"That wasn't something I was worried about," Kaepernick said. "I let my agents handle all the talking."

Last month, Miami Police released two calls to a 911 dispatcher saying a woman identifying herself as Jesus was lying naked in a bed and refusing to leave. The callers said the woman wanted to spend time with a third man who wasn't there.

Police say the players also involved in the case are 49ers wide receiver Quinton Patton and Seahawks receiver Ricardo Lockette. None of them has been charged with any wrongdoing.

"We're just really thrilled for the Kaepernick family. They're amazing people," agent Scott Smith said after Kaepernick's news conference. "We're just so happy for them. We're really grateful of all the hard work the 49ers put into it."

So, about his timely sock selection?

"To be honest, one of my friends gave them to me, gave me a box of socks," he said. "No idea what brand or what company, but they were in my drawer."

Angels star OF Trout out again with back trouble

HOUSTON (AP) Los Angeles Angels star outfielder Mike Trout is out of the lineup once again because of back trouble.

Trout had an MRI on Wednesday and says it didn't reveal any damage. He was not going to start against the Houston Astros. He has some inflammation in the middle of his back on the left side and hopes to return to the lineup on Thursday.

Trout missed two games with stiffness in his upper back before starting Tuesday night in Houston. He left that game in the second inning because of his back problem.

He says that he feels a lot better on Wednesday than he did when he left the game on Tuesday night.

He added that if he "doesn't feel it at all, I'm going to play. If I feel it a little bit, I should just be smart about it."

Super Bowl to scrap Roman numerals for a year

NEW YORK (AP) "Super Bowl 50" just looks better than "Super Bowl L."

X, V and I are nicely symmetrical, but with the unbalanced L in line for the 2015 season, the NFL decided to scrap the Roman numerals for a year.

The championship game in Santa Clara, California, on Feb. 7, 2016, will be known as "Super Bowl 50."

The league has been contemplating this eventuality for nearly a decade, ever since the 40th edition ended with XL - which is not only visually pleasing but seemed an appropriate description of the extravaganza the Super Bowl has become.

Starting last April, NFL executives viewed more than 70 potential logos for the 2016 game. They found it's hard to build an attractive image around what league vice president Jaime Weston calls "the lonely L."

Using the big 5-0 instead had the added benefit of emphasizing the significance of the Super Bowl's 50th iteration. That allows the NFL to celebrate the milestone all season long.

"It's a much bolder statement," said Weston, the NFL's VP for brand and creative.

In 2017 in Houston, though, the game will revert to "Super Bowl LI." Adding that I to the end squares off the L and makes it more adaptable graphically, Weston said.

And the league has no desire to ditch the Roman numerals for good.

The NFL first started using them for the fifth Super Bowl in 1971. They have a practical value for a league whose regular season and championship game take place in different calendar years.

Then there are the more intangible benefits.

"It really does differentiate us," Weston said.

The NFL held focus groups before the 40th Super Bowl and found that fans could associate logos from years past with their memories of watching that particular game. Even if they might not remember that X means 10, V is five, I is one and L is 50 - let alone how to represent 40.

A new letter won't come into play until the 90th edition in 2056: Super Bowl XC.

California Chrome favored in last Triple Crown leg

NEW YORK (AP) California Chrome became the early 3-5 favorite on Wednesday to win the Belmont Stakes and become horse racing's 12th Triple Crown champion and first in 36 years.

The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner will face 10 rivals old and new on Saturday at Belmont Park. Since Affirmed became the last Triple Crown winner in 1978, three Belmont fields with the same history on the line also drew 11 horses in 1981, 1988 and 2002.

"They better worry about me," California Chrome trainer Art Sherman said.

California Chrome will break from the No. 2 post under Victor Espinoza, putting nine horses to his outside and giving Espinoza a good look at the early speed. Eleven Belmont winners have come out of that spot in the starting gate, the last being Tabasco Cat in 1994.

"I like number two," Espinoza said. "Hopefully, it's my lucky number."

Racing fans looking for an omen will see California Chrome listed No. 2 in the betting program, the same number as 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, who won the Belmont by a record 31 lengths while setting a track record that stands for the 1 1/2-mile race.

California Chrome went for his usual gallop earlier Wednesday, and Sherman was pleased.

"I feel better about this race than I have any other race, to be honest with you, just looking at the horse and saying, `Wow,"' he said. "I see how far he's advanced. I know it'll be tougher going a mile and a half, but this horse is a good horse. I think he's the real McCoy."

Of California Chrome's 10 rivals, four come into the Belmont off a five-week break. Commanding Curve hasn't run since finishing second in the Kentucky Derby on May 3; Wicked Strong has been off since stumbling and finishing fourth in the Derby.

Two other Derby horses, Samraat (fifth) and Medal Count (eighth), also skipped the Preakness on May 17.

Wicked Strong was a distant second choice at 6-1 and drew post No. 9. The colt is based at Belmont, and has one win in two previous races at the sprawling track.

"I'm pretty confident; as confident as I can be," Wicked Strong trainer Jimmy Jerkens said. "I really like how he's doing. It's a big, prestigious race and people are going to take a shot, especially with the distance being a big question for everybody."

None of the horses has run as far as they will on Saturday, and few will ever be asked to do it again in their careers. Since most U.S. horses are trained for speed, the distance is unfamiliar and they aren't regularly trained to run that far. The Belmont is the longest of the Triple Crown races.

Four newcomers to the Triple Crown trail will try to derail California Chrome's bid for history.

Tonalist was made the third betting choice at 8-1 odds and will break from the No. 11 post. The colt has experience over the track, having won the Peter Pan Stakes on May 10.

So are Commissioner and Matterhorn, both trained by Todd Pletcher, and Matuszak.

Commissioner, listed at 20-1, finished second in the Peter Pan, and 30-1 shot Matterhorn was fourth.

"We're in the Belmont because we feel like they're horses that want to stay the distance," Pletcher said. "They both need to improve and they both need to run their best races to be a part of it."

Matuszak was second in the Federico Tesio at Pimlico on April 19, making him the most well-rested colt in the race. The 30-1 shot is trained and ridden by Hall of Famers Bill Mott and Mike Smith, respectively. Smith won last year's Belmont aboard Palice Malice.

Ride On Curlin and General a Rod are the only other horses besides California Chrome that will run in all three legs of the Triple Crown. Ride On Curlin was seventh in the Derby and second in the Preakness, while 20-1 shot General a Rod was 11th at Churchill Downs and fourth at Pimlico.

"Hopefully, another five-sixteenths of a mile and we'll be able to catch him as opposed to the Preakness, but that Chrome is going to be hard to catch," Ride On Curlin trainer Billy Gowan said.

Ride On Curlin will have a new jockey for the Belmont in Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who regularly rides at the track. General a Rod has a new rider, too, with Rosie Napravnik aboard.

At 12-1, Ride On Curlin was one of eight horses in the Belmont field listed at double-digit odds. General a Rod is one of four 20-1 shots.

Nadal advances to French Open semifinals

PARIS -- Rafael Nadal rallied to advance to the French Open semifinals for the ninth time, beating David Ferrer 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, 6-1 Wednesday.

The eight-time champion at Roland Garros dropped a set at this year's tournament for the first time, but then seemed to race through the next three to ensure he had the day off on Thursday.

Nadal will next face Andy Murray in the semifinals on Friday. Murray, who missed last year's tournament because of a back injury, held on to beat Gael Monfils 6-4, 6-1, 4-6, 1-6, 6-0.

The tennis started late at Roland Garros on Thursday, with the two women's quarterfinal matches only beginning after a rain delay of about three hours. Andrea Petkovic and Simona Halep both won, and one of them will be in a Grand Slam final for the first time on Saturday.

Nadal improved his record to 64-1 at the French Open, and stretched his unbeaten streak to 33. His only loss came in the fourth round of the 2009 tournament, when Robin Soderling beat him.

Nadal played Ferrer, last year's runner-up, on Court Suzanne Lenglen, the second biggest stadium at Roland Garros. Although Nadal has won a record eight titles at the clay-court Grand Slam, he was pushed to the smaller court so Monfils and Murray could play on Court Philippe Chatrier.

Monfils had been trying to become the first Frenchman to win the title at Roland Garros since Yannick Noah in 1983, but instead it was Murray that made his way back into the French Open semifinals for the second time.

In 2011, the Wimbledon champion lost to Nadal at the same stage.

The women's matches were more straightforward.

Petkovic, a 28th-seeded German, beat 2012 French Open runner-up Sara Errani of Italy 6-2, 6-2. The fourth-seeded Halep defeated 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, also 6-2, 6-2.

"I have to say, today I was in a real zone. I didn't think at all," Petkovic said. "I was just focused on what I had to do."

Neither Petkovic nor Halep has ever played in the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament. But they will meet on Thursday with a spot in the final against either Maria Sharapova or Eugenie Bouchard on the line.

Petkovic was first to complete her match. And although she had some trouble holding serve at the start of each set, her groundstrokes consistently landed near the lines, many of them for winners.

"I had a very good game plan from my coach. It didn't work in the beginning, so I was getting a little, not panicked, but when you have a certain game plan and you lose the first two games and it's not working, so I was kind of getting a little worried," Petkovic said. "I was lucky that I started playing better and that I was putting more balls into play."

The match started under overcast skies after the three-hour delay. The rain briefly returned in the first set but didn't interrupt play.

Although Petkovic was broken to open each set, she won the final six games of the first set, and the final four games of the second.

"Very, very tired. I didn't have, mentally, (any) energy," Errani said. "I don't know why I was dead. I (didn't) have power (in) my legs."

Petkovic had been 0-3 in major quarterfinals, losing at that stage at the Australian Open, French Open and U.S. Open in 2011. Her ranking dropped after that, as low as 177th last year, because of a right knee injury.

Errani was the runner-up at Roland Garros in 2012, losing to Sharapova.

Halep and Kuznetsova were on court for only four minutes when the rain started. But like the other quarterfinal match, play continued through the drizzle on Lenglen.

Kuznetsova, a two time Grand Slam champion who has not reached a major semifinal since winning the title at Roland Garros five years ago, said the weather was not to blame for her poor play.

"You can put many excuses or whatever, but I think the key is that Simona was at her best," Kuznetsova said. "My movement was not perfect. The shots (were) not so good."

Halep, the highest-seeded player remaining in the draw, has moved quickly up the rankings over the last year. In the last 13 months, she has won seven titles, second only to Serena Williams. But Halep is the only player to have won titles on clay, grass and hard courts during that stretch.

Pages