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Bo Bichette’s two-run homer lifts Blue Jays over Rays 3-2 after he’s hit by pitch

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TORONTO — Bo Bichette dropped to his knees and smashed his bat on the ground in anger after a 97.1 m.p.h. pitch hit his forearm and narrowly missed his head on Monday.

All that emotion had dissipated by his next at bat, however, as Bichette hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning and the Toronto Blue Jays rallied past the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2.

Bichette joked that his life flashed before his eyes when the ball almost hit his face but added that he really wasn’t thinking about the close call when he later stepped back into the batter’s box.

“No revenge,” said the soft-spoken Bichette. “Not really worried about that, just trying to get a winner for the team.”

Bichette also had an RBI single for Toronto (79-61) hours after he was named the American League’s player of the week. The 24-year-old Bichette batted .500 (16-for-32) with 11 runs scored, four doubles, one triple, five home runs and 13 runs batted in last week as the Blue Jays posted a 5-2 record. Toronto was 8-2 over that critical 10-game road trip.

Monday’s win was the first game of an eight-game homestand as Toronto hosts Tampa Bay and the Baltimore Orioles, the Blue Jays’ nearest competition in the American League East.

“I think every game is going to be a big one,” said Toronto interim manager John Schneider. “If you look at who we’re playing, every game is going to be magnified a little bit, every game is going to be important.”

The win put Toronto ahead of the Rays in the AL standings, tied with the Seattle Mariners for the top wild-card spot. Baltimore is 5 1/2 games back of the Jays and Mariners.

“Yes, it’s big. We’ve got four more games (against Tampa) so we’ve got a series to finish,” said Bichette. “You’ve got to stay locked in.”

José Berríos earned a quality start, allowing six hits but limiting the Rays to just two runs with four strikeouts. Yimi Garcia, Tim Mayza (7-0), and closer Jordan Romano of Markham, Ont., came out of the Blue Jays bullpen. Romano earned his 33rd save of the season.

Jonathan Aranda drove in a run in the second inning for Tampa Bay (78-61). Cooper Criswell struck out four and allowed one run on two hits and a walk over 3 1/3 innings for the no decision. JT Chargois, Javy Guerra, Colin Poche and Jason Adam (2-3) came on in relief, with Adam taking the loss.

Bichette tied it 1-1 in the fourth inning when his single scored George Springer from third base. Criswell had a perfect game going through three innings in his second-ever Major League Baseball start until Springer reached base with a walk.

Manuel Margot helped the Rays re-take the lead in the sixth. He hit into a fielder’s choice that gave Randy Arozarena enough time to score for a 2-1 Tampa lead.

After Bichette was hit by the pitch in the bottom of the sixth, Berríos started the next inning by putting a fastball into the hip of Rays leadoff batter Francisco Mejia.

“Obviously, I hit the hitter but I don’t want to have that guy on base in that inning,” said Berríos. “I don’t know why (the umpires) put the warning on me, but I want to keep pitching my game, you know? Try to attack the hitter.”

With two outs in the eighth, Bichette sent a 3-2 pitch from Adam just over the wall. His 24th home run of the season also scored Raimel Tapia and made it 3-2.

“It’s going to be a long series,” said Schneider. “It’s a good team, obviously, a division rival and there’s not a better guy to have at the plate than Bo there with two outs.

“Every game is big. Every game is important.”

QUIET ON THE HOME FRONT — Monday night’s Rogers Centre crowd of 23,002 was the smallest for the Blue Jays since June 30, a span of 29 home games with better attendance.

ON DECK — Blue Jays ace Alek Manoah (14-7) will get the start in the first game of Toronto’s doubleheader against the Rays on Tuesday. Schneider said that Mitch White (1-6) would likely be the Blue Jays’ 29th man for the doubleheader and would be the presumptive starter for the evening game. Jeffrey Springs (7-4) will take the mound for Tampa in the first game with the second starting pitcher to be determined.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 12, 2022.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press

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Canada handles Honduras with ease, advances to CONCACAF Nations League final four

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Honduras defender Denil Maldonado (15) and Canada forward Cyle Larin (17) battle for the ball during first half CONCACAF Nations League soccer action in Toronto on Tuesday, March 28, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

By Neil Davidson in Toronto

Canada is headed to Las Vegas, in search of the CONCACAF Nations League trophy after a dominant 4-1 win over Honduras on Tuesday.

Cyle Larin scored twice early and Jonathan David and Jonathan Osorio added second-half goals for the 53rd-ranked Canadians, who controlled the game from the get-go. Ismael Kone had a breakout game in the Canadian midfield.

Jorge Benguche scored a consolation goal for No. 81 Honduras.

“Prior to the game we talked about if you want to be part of CONCACAF’s elite, you have to be in these final moments,” said Canada coach John Herdman. “You’ve got to get into these big events. It’s the first (time) in our history to get to a Nations League final and I think this group believes they can win it. And why not?

“The step they’ve taken tonight, I think they’ve shown a level of performance that should give us hope and a lot of belief that we can win that Nations League final.”

The CONCACAF Nations League features 41 teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean split into three tiers: League A (12 teams), B (16) and C (13). The four group winners in League A advance to the final four, scheduled for June 15-18 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

No. 13 Mexico (2-0-2) finished first in Group A, while the 15th-ranked U.S. (3-0-1) topped Group D. No. 61 Panama (3-0-1) won Group B after edging No. 32 Costa Rica (2-2-0) 1-0 in a later start Tuesday.

Points earned by the group winners factor into the semifinal matchups. The U.S., as the highest-ranked team by virtue of goal difference over Panama, will face Mexico, the lowest-ranked, while No. 2 Panama takes on No. 3 Canada in the semifinals at Allegiant Stadium.

The Canadian men are 4-2-6 all-time against Panama, which won 1-0 the last time the two teams met in March 2022  in Panama City in Canada’s final World Cup qualifying game. Canada had already booked its ticket to Qatar by then.

The U.S. and Mexico met in the final of the tournament’s inaugural edition in June 2021 with the Americans winning 3-2 after extra time in Denver, thanks to a Christian Pulisic penalty in the 114th minute.

Honduras was third and Costa Rica fourth.

Canada missed out on the final four in the inaugural tournament, finishing runner-up to the U.S. in its group on goal difference.

Canada (3-1-0) came into Tuesday’s contest knowing a draw would be enough to win Group C and book its ticket to Sin City Honduras (2-2-0) needed a win.

The drama did not last long, with Canada leading 2-0 after just 12 minutes. Larin could have had a hat trick in the first half had he not sent a 42nd-minute penalty wide.

Honduras had no answer for Canada’s multi-pronged attack before a modest crowd of 13,626 on a mild evening at BMO Field.

Canada went ahead in the ninth minute, cutting through the Honduras defence like a hot knife through butter, on a beautiful give-and-go between Osorio and Larin with Larin slotting the ball home through a defender’s legs. Alphonso Davies triggered the attack down the left flank.

Larin made it 2-0 in the 12th minute, heading home a perfect Stephen Eustaquio corner after his marker, defender Denil Maldonado, lost his footing. Larin, who has scored five goals in his first eight games for Spain’s Real Valladolid, increased his Canada total to 28 goals in 60 appearances.

Another Davies attack set up the penalty late in the first half with the Bayern Munich star beating four defenders. The ball found its way to Kone, who controlled it with his thigh and then hammered a shot from just inside the penalty box that hit Maldonado’s arm.

El Salvador referee Ivan Barton immediately pointed to the penalty spot. Larin’s ensuing penalty glanced off the outside of the post.

It was Canada’s first penalty since Davies’ spot kick was saved by Belgium’s Thibault Courtois at the World Cup in Qatar.

David is Canada’s designated penalty-taker but gave up the ball to Larin so he could try for the hat trick.

David made it 3-0 in the 49th, in the right place at the right time after Tajon Buchanan sliced into the Honduras penalty box at speed. His cross hit a couple of defenders, evading Larin but falling at the feet of David for the Lille striker’s 24th goal for Canada in 40 appearances.

Herdman went to his bench in the 61st minute, sending on Hutchinson, Sam Adekugbe, Richie Laryea and Kyle Hiebert. Davies moved up in attack.

It was cap No. 103 for the 40-year-old Hutchinson, adding to his Canadian men’s record, and No. 1 for Hiebert, a late call-up from St. Louis City FC after Kamal Miller was ruled out by injury.

Benguchi put Honduras on the board in the 73rd minute, flicking a header backwards off a corner.

Osorio restored the three-goal lead in the 86th minute, taking a perfect pass from Toronto FC teammate Ayo Akinola before bursting through two defenders to beat goalkeeper Luis Lopez.

Hutchinson was granted the honour of leading the Viking Clap with a drum in front of the fans in the south stand. He acknowledged it was a “cool moment” — one that comes near the end of his distinguished career.

“A couple more games,” said Hutchinson, an icon both for Canada and his Turkish club side Besiktas.

Herdman and defender/wingback Alistair Johnston were back after sitting out the 2-0 away win Saturday over No. 86 Curaçao through suspension in the wake of being sent off last June in a hot-blooded 2-1 loss in Honduras.

Johnston replaced the suspended Steven Vitoria in the back three while Buchanan, who saw action off the bench against Curaçao after dealing with a minor hamstring issue, moved into the starting 11.

The Canadians improved to 9-12-7 all-time against Honduras, including 6-2-3 on home soil.

Tuesday’s game was the first for the Canadian men at BMO Field since the historic 4-0 victory over Jamaica that sealed World Cup qualification on March 27 last year.

The Canadian men are now unbeaten in 16 matches at home (15-0-1) and have won their last eight straight. Their last loss on Canadian soil was 3-0 to Mexico in March 2018 in World Cup qualifying.

Canada has not lost at BMO Field since September 2010 when it was beaten 2-0 by Peru. It has gone 15-0-6 at the lakefront stadium since then, outscoring the opposition 54-6.

Canada blanked Curaçao 4-0 before losing in Honduras to open Nations League play last June. Those matches came amid turmoil in the Canada camp, with players refusing to take part in a planned friendly against Panama over ongoing labour talks.

Curaçao (1-3-0) has been relegated to League B after finishing third in Canada’s group.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2023.

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Budget 2023 gives boost to dental care, green economy while searching for savings

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Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland delivers the federal budget in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, March 28, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

By Mia Rabson in Ottawa

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s 2023 federal budget promises “transformative investments” in Canada’s green economy as the country tries to maintain its place in the global clean tech revolution and realign its supply chains toward allies who won’t use energy as a political weapon.

“Together these two great shifts represent the most significant opportunity for Canadian workers in the lifetime of anyone here today,” Freeland said Tuesday in the House of Commons.

She is also using the budget to provide another top-up of the GST rebate, styled this time as a grocery rebate, to low-income Canadians who are feeling the pinch of inflation and keep making good on pledges in the confidence-and-supply agreement with the New Democrats.

There are also some measures reacting to political fires that have been burning around the Liberals in recent weeks and months, including some money to combat foreign interference, and to make airport security screening better.

In all the 2023-24 spending plan will cost $490.5 billion, including public debt charges, with $8.3 billion in new program spending. The projected deficit is $40.1 billion, which is greater than the $30.6 billion deficit for this coming fiscal year forecast in November’s fiscal update.

Over the next five years the government expects to spend $59.5 billion more than before. Nearly half of that will go to increase health transfers to the provinces and territories and further expand the national dental-care program the Liberals are creating as part of their deal with the NDP.

Dental care is expected to cost more than $13 billion over the next five years, about a $7-billion increase from what the government said it would cost when it was introduced in last year’s budget. It is now expected to cost $4.4 billion per year to keep it going beyond that.

Dental care was one of the NDP’s top demands from the Liberals when the opposition party entered into a confidence-and-supply agreement in March 2022 to back the minority government on key confidence votes, such as budgets, through to 2025.

“I’m really proud that we were able to force this government to expand dental care,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said after the budget was tabled.

Singh said that while he is disappointed the budget lacks new measures to help make housing more affordable, his party will still vote for it. That will give the Liberals enough votes to pass the budget and continue governing.

The budget addresses a number of other NDP asks outlined in the deal, including anti-scab legislation and a new forum to better address the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre dismissed the budget as a high-spending plan that will drive up the deficit, make inflation worse, and subsidize major multinational companies. His party will not be voting for it, he said.

“Today’s budget by the costly coalition of the NDP and Liberals is a full-frontal attack on the paycheques of hard working Canadians,” he said.

More than one-third of new spending is wrapped up in Canada’s targeted response to keep pace with the United States Inflation Reduction Act, which last year promised to direct US$370 billion at clean technology and electric vehicles over a decade.

Over the next 12 years, Canada expects to spend more than $80 billion on investment tax credits to spur development of clean electricity, hydrogen, carbon capture and storage systems, critical minerals, and the electric-vehicle supply chain.

The budget warns of the ramifications of not investing in the low-carbon economy, with significant hits to the GDP and jobs in the next 30 years, even as it acknowledges the enormous amount of money it’s going to take.

“The scale of the required investment is massive,” the budget said.

Almost one-third of the investment tax credits will be for clean power, including finally aiming to connect Canada from coast to coast with power lines.

Hidden somewhere in the budget figures is the money Canada has promised that helped lure major auto companies to build battery plants in Ontario, including Volkswagen and Stellantis. The details of those are expected to be made public in the next few weeks.

All of the plans are looking to develop the new industries with supply chains connected to allies like the U.S. and Europe. Freeland said in her speech that this would help to end what Ursula Von Der Leyen, president of the European Commission has called Europe’s “dangerous dependencies” on authoritarian economies.

That includes Russia, which has used its oil and gas exports as a political lever in Europe, and China, which is dominating the electric vehicle and battery supply chain sectors.

Not quite one-tenth of the new spending is directed at making life a bit more affordable for some Canadians, including the second GST rebate top-to low-income Canadians up in a year, and increases to grants for post-secondary students.

While inflation is coming down, the budget predicts it will remain above the Bank of Canada’s two per cent target until at least the second quarter of 2024. Food prices are a key part of what is keeping it elevated.

“We all know that our most vulnerable friends and neighbours are still feeling the bite of higher prices,” Freeland said in her speech.

All the new spending, and a $17-billion increase in the cost of interest on government debt over five years, has eliminated Freeland’s hope for a balanced budget on the horizon.

In November, she forecast a $4.5 billion surplus by 2027-28. Tuesday’s budget says that year will now log a $14 billion deficit.

She is promising to find $15 billion in savings over five years by scaling back government travel, its use of outside consultants and asking most federal departments to cut their spending three per cent.

Freeland uses positive language to describe Canada’s current economic situation, but the budget makes clear the upheaval created by the pandemic means the country is still at risk of seeing its finances take a turn for the worse by the end of this year.

Mostafa Askari, the chief economist at the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy at the University of Ottawa, said his first takeaway from the budget was simple.

“There is a lot of spending,” he said.

He is wary of the government being able to find $15 billion in savings, particularly given that the promises are vague, with no specific understanding of what money will not be spent.

“Every government, every budget has had some efficiency game,” said Askari. “It’s very unlikely they’re going to get these savings.”

Askari also said there are significant risks of a deeper economic downturn later this year than predicted in the budget, which could upend all of Freeland’s economic assumptions, lowering government revenues and making the deficit even bigger.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2023.

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