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Baseball free agents will play two exhibition games this week against a Japanese amateur team.

The Major League Baseball Players Association says the games against JR East will take place at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The games will be open to media and scouts but not the public.

More than four dozen players remain unsigned among the 166 who exercised their right to become free agents last November. The players’ association opened a training camp for free agents at the IMG Academy two weeks ago.

JR East is sponsored by Japan Railway, and players are considered amateurs who are paid as company employees.

The players’ association announced the games Monday.

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Mets’ Francisco Lindor claims mystery creature in Citi Field tunnel behind in-game circus

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Who smells a rat? Or was it a raccoon? Is it a cover-up? Is there discord in the bowels of Citi Field? If there was, would anybody admit it?

“First time I saw a New York rat, man,” superstar Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor said. “Crazy.”

Um, what? To understand that and what follows, we’ll have to start with what we do know for sure.

The New York Mets picked up a much-needed, extra-inning win against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday, winning 5-4 when rookie Patrick Mazeika drove in Pete Alonso with a fielder’s choice in the 10th inning.

But after the game, all the focus was on what happened before that.

First, there was a groundball single up the middle in the top of the seventh on a ball of the bat of Arizona’s Nick Ahmed. It appeared that Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil yielded to Lindor on the play. Lindor then fielded the ball but was unable to throw Ahmed out at first. After the game, McNeil termed it a “miscommunication” and Lindor said, “That one was on me.”

Then, in the bottom of the inning, the slumping Lindor had one of his biggest moments yet for the Mets, launching a game-tying two-run homer to left off Arizona lefty Caleb Smith. Lindor yelled and pounded his chest in excitement as he rounded the bases. He strode through the dugout exchanging high-fives with celebrating teammates. After a brief trip down into the tunnel behind the Mets’ dugout, Lindor spent the rest of the inning watching with a look that was more intense than jubilant.

After the last out of the bottom of the seventh, something happened in the Mets’ tunnel. Video from the incident showed several Mets running towards it and pointing. Then everyone came out on the field to take their position and speculation erupted on social media that Lindor and McNeil had gotten into some kind of altercation, though there was no way from the video circulating around to tell if that’s what happened.

So everyone had to wait until after the game for answers. And the answers they got from Lindor could not have been more unexpected if he had been a known devotee of surrealism. He did not dance around the topic but went straight to it. It was all about a rat … or maybe a raccoon. Yes, you read that correctly. That was Lindor’s story. McNeil not only confirmed it but added possum to the list of possible tunnel invaders. Mets manager Luis Rojas didn’t corroborate any rodent anecdotes, but he also seemed strangely oblivious about what had taken place.

And if there was a real disagreement, Lindor and McNeil both insisted that it was only about the identity of the mysterious rodent haunting the tunnel behind the Mets dugout. Definitely that and nothing about baseball. You seriously cannot make this stuff up.

Lindor spoke first after the game, smiling and joking in response to the questions he had to know were coming his way. He stuck to his story, no matter how skeptical the Mets’ beat reporters interrogating him might have been. Abbott and Costello could not have done it better.

“It was funny,” Lindor said. “I told [McNeil] that I’d never seen a New York rat. So went down sprinting. I wanted to go see a New York rat. And he’s like, ‘No, it’s not a rat. It’s a raccoon.’ I was like, ‘Hell no! It’s damn rat. It’s a New York rat.'”

Next question: But why did half the dugout rush down there?

“Because of the rat, man,” Lindor insisted. “They couldn’t believe we were going back and forth between the rat and the raccoon. I swear this thing was fricking big.”

Next question: What happened to that rat?

“Probably one of the groundskeepers came and grabbed it,” Lindor said. “I still have to go back and see whether it was a rat or a raccoon.”

Next question: Have you ever seen rats previously?

“Of course, of course, of course,” Lindor said. “I’m from Puerto Rico, man.”

Next question: You seemed either angry or fired up when you hit that home run. What was going through your mind?

“A lot, because I finally helped the team score some runs. It’s a lot of emotion for sure.”

Next question: There’s some skepticism because it didn’t seem like a humorous situation. There was no tension at all in that situation?

“I was mad on the field because I didn’t make the play, so that’s why it probably looked like I was angry,” Lindor said. “And Jeff, because I was going against him whether it was a rat or a raccoon, of course he’s going to be mad.”

Mazeika spoke next and mercifully was mostly able to just talk about his big moment in helping the Mets win in what was his second-ever big-league game. But when asked, he said, “I heard something about a rat or a raccoon. All I saw was some guys down in the tunnel looking for it. I don’t really know what happened down there.”

Rojas was up next and said that all he remembered was going down into the tunnel and encountering Lindor.

“When I went down to check, the one thing I ran into was Francisco, saying, ‘Go play ball. Let’s go play ball, Luis,'” Rojas said. “We just came back up. Nothing more than that. This was a big team win.”

OK. And the rat/raccoon/possum story?

“Francisco has his reasons to share that, and also any of the players who were there before the coaches, probably, and me, too. I don’t know exactly what happened.”

McNeil finished up the show.

“Like [Lindor] said,” McNeil said. “A nice debate about a rat or a raccoon. To be honest, I thought it was actually a possum. So not a raccoon, but a possum.”

But definitely not a sloth. Anyway, as for the idea of discord between the Mets’ starting middle infielders, the rat/raccoon/possum hunt turned into a big love fest.

First Lindor said, “I can bring [McNeil] out and probably give him a kiss on the cheek, if you guys want. It was just a rat, man. We good, man.”

After Rojas said that they worked great together, McNeil gushed, “It’s been fantastic. We work well together up the middle. Just very positive all the time. He’s just fantastic to be around.”

And, with that, the great rat/raccoon/possum investigation ended for the evening. What did it all mean? Did that really happen? Well, of course it did. This is, after all, the New York Mets.

“We just like to have fun,” McNeil said. “Rats in New York are a thing.”

Really?

“People can believe whatever they want,” McNeil said. “It’s a tight-knit clubhouse. A lot of fun and there’s a lot of positivity between this group.”

OK, then. Say, does anybody have the number of an exterminator?

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Willie Mays arrives at Oracle Park in style as San Francisco Giants celebrate his 90th birthday

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SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco Giants turned their idyllic waterfront park into baseball’s biggest birthday bash Friday night as the team celebrated Willie Mays turning 90 years old the day before.

Mays, baseball’s oldest living Hall of Famer, took a victory lap of sorts around Oracle Park before the Giants played host to the San Diego Padres, riding in a choice white and turquoise 1956 Oldsmobile convertible and waving his cap to a cheering crowd.

The field had a massive grass etching in center field of Mays in his backswing with the words “SAY HEY 90” next to it.

“When you think the name ‘Willie Mays’ it’s almost like a mythological type of name that has the same feeling as a ‘Babe Ruth’ or a ‘Lou Gehrig,’ you know?” said Giants catcher Buster Posey, who has developed a special kinship with Mays since debuting with San Francisco in 2009.

“All of us who have been here for a while, have spent quite a good amount of time with him, and he just always, he still likes to talk the game. He wants to try to get to know the guys that are on the team. And, you know, unfortunately, we haven’t seen him for a while the last couple of years. But when he’s around, it’s usually pretty entertaining.”

Given the pandemic and last year’s shortened MLB season, it was Mays’ first visit to the Giants’ yard since 2019.

Mays’ major league career spanned from 1951 through 1973 (with a one-year break for military service in 1953) for the New York and San Francisco Giants and New York Mets. When he retired, his 660 home runs ranked third in big league history; he now ranks sixth behind his godson Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Ruth, Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols.

On Friday night, his career highlights — including footage of his iconic over-the-shoulder basket catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series at the Polo Grounds — played on the stadium’s video board before the first pitch.

There were also recorded birthday wishes from the likes of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Derek Jeter, Rodriguez, Astros manager Dusty Baker, Jeffrey Leonard, Will Clark, Dave Dravecky, former commissioner Bud Selig and current commissioner Rob Manfred.

Both teams stood at the top of their respective dugouts to salute Mays as he drove by in the pregame ceremony.

A live video feed showing Bonds helping Mays cut a birthday cake was shown on the video board after the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Mays after the third inning. In-game messages from Bonds, Vin Scully, former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, current mayor London Breed and former President George W. Bush were played through 3 ½ innings.

“When somebody’s like one of the two or three best players in any sport, in the history of the sport, it’s hard not to make an impact on current players,” said Giants manager Gabe Kapler. “I just don’t think we get that much exposure to the all-time, all-time greats. And the all-time great human beings. So for those reasons, I think he resonates with current players.”

Added Posey: “I mean, honestly, the reason that people still talk about him today is just because how incredible a baseball player he was and for how long he played and, you know, his accomplishments as a baseball player will forever stand the test of time.”

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Cincinnati Reds’ Wade Miley confounds Cleveland Indians for 2021’s 4th no-hitter

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CLEVELAND — Cincinnati’s Wade Miley cruised through major league baseball’s fourth no-hitter this season as he pitched his first career no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians on Friday night.

The left-hander was in control of a Cleveland team that entered the series batting just .213 but had won five straight and nine of 11. But the Indians didn’t get a baserunner until the sixth, when Amed Rosario reached on second baseman Nick Senzel‘s throwing error. Senzel was actually charged with two errors on the play. Miley has thrown 106 pitches.

Franmil Reyes came the closest to getting a hit for the Indians, but his hard smash in the fifth was right at shortstop Kyle Farmer, who knocked it down and had plenty of time to throw out the slow-footed slugger.

Miley, who came in just 1-4 in eight career starts against the Indians, recorded four strikeouts the first time through Cleveland’s lineup.

The 34-year-old Miley’s no-hitter is the fourth one in the majors this season. The Indians were no-hit last month by Chicago’s Carlos Rodon.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, there has been only one season in MLB history to have four no-hitters thrown before the end of May, In 1917, the 4th no-hitter of the season was tossed on May 5th.

Miley is in his second season with Cincinnati. He’s also pitched for Houston, Milwaukee, Baltimore, Seattle, Boston and Arizona.

Cincinnati’s last no-hitter was by Homer Bailey in 2013 — his second with the club.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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