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SAN DIEGO — Theo Epstein remembered when he first met Kevin Towers, as a 21-year-old intern working in the San Diego Padres‘ public relations department. Towers was the new general manager.

“I was just out of college,” said Epstein, the Chicago Cubs‘ president of baseball operations. “I was just a nobody, a faceless kid trying to be invisible and not get in the way. But there was never such a thing as a nobody to Kevin Towers — he just wasn’t wired that way.”

Baseball executives and managers left spring training to gather at San Diego’s Petco Park on Sunday and celebrate the life of Towers, who died from complications of a rare form of thyroid cancer on Jan. 30 at the age of 56.

Hall of Famers Trevor Hoffman and Tony La Russa were in the audience, along with Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black and San Francisco Giants skipper Bruce Bochy, both Padres managers under Towers. New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson also were on hand.

Kirk Gibson, who managed Arizona to the 2011 NL West title when Towers was the Diamondbacks’ GM, was among the speakers.

“He looked at players differently,” Gibson said. “When we won, we won with scrappy players. I’m just grateful I got to spend time with Kevin Towers. He meant so much to me and my family.”

A Padres draft pick in 1982, Towers was San Diego’s general manager from 1995 to 2009 and Arizona’s GM from September 2010 until September 2014.

“There are few people that can have a moment like this,” said Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, who replaced Towers as the Padres’ GM. “People came from far and wide to be here.”

Towers led the Padres to four NL West titles and the 1998 NL pennant.

“I took over for him, and he always treated me so well,” Hoyer said. “We would meet for beers or talk on the phone, and it was always with KT wanting to help me do a better job. That doesn’t always happen, and with me being a first-time GM, I just always appreciated that he treated me the way he did.”

Former St. Louis and Cincinnati GM Walt Jocketty hired Towers as a special assistant in 2015, what turned out to be Towers’ final baseball job.

“The first time I met Kevin was in 1995 at the GM meetings, and I’m sure it was at the bar,” Jocketty said. “And from that time on, our relationship and friendship grew. He was one of the guys that always brought all the GMs together. Kevin loved life and lived it to the fullest. He suffered a lot in the last two years, but he always stayed positive and fought a brave fight. There will never be another KT.”

Epstein went on to become the GM who in 2004 helped Boston win its first World Series title since 1918 and in 2016 directed the Cubs to their first championship since 1908.

“He was my friend, my boss and my mentor,” Epstein said. “He didn’t care if you were the president of the team, an intern or a backup beat writer for a newspaper — he treated you like you want to be treated. That was KT. It didn’t matter who you were or who you weren’t. He treated you with love and respect. And if he liked you, you were lucky enough to be dragged into his orbit, and then you were in for the ride of your life.”

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New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom exits start early with side tightness in return from lat issue



NEW YORK — Mets ace Jacob deGrom pulled himself from a start Sunday after throwing two warm-up pitches before the sixth inning.

The Mets later said that deGrom was experiencing tightness in his right side and was removed from the game for “precautionary reasons.”

DeGrom was pitching for the first time since skipping a start due to discomfort in his right lat.

The two-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 68 pitches over five innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks, allowing one run, but he called for a trainer when he felt discomfort trying to get loose prior to the sixth. He left with the trainer and went straight to the clubhouse, and it was not immediately announced what caused him to leave.

DeGrom struck out six and allowed one hit. He was perfect through four innings before struggling in the fifth, when he allowed a run.

The right-hander walked three in the inning, just the second time in his career he’s done that. His previous three-walk inning was May 13, 2018, at Philadelphia. He was pulled after one inning in that game, his first back from the injured list.

New York led 2-1 when he exited Sunday, with deGrom scoring the second run after reaching on a perfectly placed bunt single in the third inning.

He was replaced by right-hander Miguel Castro.

DeGrom began the day with a 2-2 record despite an 0.51 ERA.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Pittsburgh Pirates put Colin Moran on IL, add Ke’Bryan Hayes to 60-day list



CHICAGO — The Pittsburgh Pirates put infielder Colin Moran on the 10-day injured list with a strained left groin amid several roster moves Sunday before playing the Chicago Cubs.

Moran exited Saturday’s game against the Cubs in the bottom of the first inning. He caught a liner and was injured when he ran and dived to first base trying to complete a double play. Moran is hitting .297 with four home runs and 19 RBIs in 32 games.

Infielder Ke’Bryan Hayes, one of the Pirates’ brightest hopes for this season, was transferred from the 10-day IL to the 60-day list. The rookie had a strong spring, homered on Opening Day at Wrigley Field and then exited early in the second game with a strained left wrist that’s sidelined him.

The Pirates claimed outfielder Ben Gamel off waivers from the Cleveland Indians, who designated him for assignment Wednesday. He went 1 for 14 with a double and six strikeouts before he was optioned to the Indians’ alternate training site April 17.

Pittsburgh also selected outfielder Troy Stokes Jr. to the major league roster and recalled right-handed pitcher Geoff Hartlieb from Triple-A Indianapolis. Stokes was in the starting lineup Sunday against the Cubs and made his major league debut.

The Pirates designated right-handed pitcher Michael Feliz for assignment.

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New York Mets acting GM Zack Scott not thrilled with tunnel mystery, says it was ‘a bigger story than it needs to be’



NEW YORK — New York Mets acting general manager Zack Scott wasn’t thrilled by Francisco Lindor‘s fuzzy explanation for a dugout dispute Friday night.

Scott said Saturday it was “unfortunate” that Lindor and teammate Jeff McNeil attempted to dismiss their dust-up after the seventh inning by bizarrely claiming they were arguing over a critter spotted in the clubhouse tunnel. Lindor said it was a rat, while McNeil indicated it was a raccoon or a possum.

The disagreement happened out of view of television cameras, but New York’s broadcast showed other players and coaches rushing into the tunnel to break up some sort of commotion.

“You’d have to ask the players why they chose to handle it that way,” Scott said Saturday. “Not how I’d go [about it]. I think what’s unfortunate is it’s a little bit of a bigger story than it needs to be, and it takes away from one of our best wins of the year. That was a great win last night.”

Lindor homered in the seventh on Friday — a half-inning after he and McNeil had a verbal exchange following a miscommunication on an infield single by Nick Ahmed — to key a 5-4, 10-inning victory over the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks.

“The rat or possum story is something that our guys were talking about early this afternoon,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said Saturday.

After the apparent clash in the team tunnel, both Lindor and McNeil appeared sullen over the next few innings, before offering smiles during separate postgame videoconferences with reporters in which they insisted their beef was over rodents — and not slow rollers.

Neither Scott nor Mets manager Luis Rojas confirmed the exact parameters of the argument.

“Certainly, it’s something that they didn’t want to get into too much detail about, so I respect that and know kind of the code of the clubhouse,” Scott said. “The one thing I’ll just say generally is not specific to the situation but just broadly: These guys are competitive. They want to win. They are like a family.

“They spend so much time together, and sometimes, like a family, there’s disputes and debates and arguments. At the end of the day, you go out there and grind out a great win and you walk away still brothers.”

The Mets’ comeback from a four-run deficit on Friday was their biggest of the season.

It came amid a week of ups and downs with the club, which won a dramatic, controversial game in Philadelphia on Sunday night, after an overturned home run call that cost the Phillies a tie game. Then a day later, after a loss at the St. Louis Cardinals, the Mets fired hitting coach Chili Davis and assistant hitting coach Tom Slater.

“Today, we’re a better ballclub, and we’re a better family,” Rojas said Saturday. “That’s how I see the events that happened yesterday, just after talking to both players and talking to the group.”

While Scott hoped to move on from the viral vermin story, the entertainment team at Citi Field leaned into it. Shortly before first pitch Saturday night, a new quiz game debuted on the scoreboard, asking fans, “Rat or Raccoon?”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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