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The Sports Report: Albert Pujols is a hit in his Dodger debut

Albert Pujols runs to first after singling in the third inning.
Albert Pujols runs to first after singling in the third inning.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

Jorge Castillo on the Dodgers: The newest member of the Dodgers, the brawny bald-headed surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer with 667 career home runs on his resume and three National League MVPs on his mantle, roamed the infield at Dodger Stadium on Monday afternoon like a regular. He chatted with coaches. He joked with teammates. He sprayed line drives off a machine.

But Albert Pujols dressed in blue, not in red down the 5 Freeway or under The Gateway Arch, made for a strange sight as he prepared for his Dodgers debut before their 3-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Albert Pujols during his first at-bat with the Dodgers.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
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This wasn’t supposed to happen. The Angels weren’t supposed to shock the baseball ecosystem and release Pujols last week, no matter how unproductive he became in the final years of his decadelong, $240-million contract. The Dodgers weren’t supposed to be desperate enough to sign a 41-year-old first baseman who’s been a below-average hitter for five seasons.

But all that happened. The Angels pulled the trigger and the Dodgers, their questionable depth recently exposed by a rash of injuries, officially scooped him up Monday, signing him to a contract for the remainder of the season.

“We believe he can help us win a championship,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

Roberts thrust Pujols into action Monday; he started at first base and batted fourth, wearing No. 55, against the Diamondbacks (18-24) with left-hander Madison Bumgarner on the mound. He became the oldest clean-up hitter in Dodgers history and the oldest player to hit in the top four of their lineup since a 44-year-old Rickey Henderson in 2003.

“I feel like I still have some gasoline left in my tank,” Pujols said in a videoconference call Monday.

Pujols didn’t run on empty Monday. He delivered a two-out RBI single on an 0-and-2 cutter in the third inning to give the Dodgers (23-18) a 2-0 lead after Will Smith homered in the second. He went one for four before he was replaced as part of a defensive substitution in the ninth inning. He’s slated to start at first base again Tuesday.

————

Bill Plaschke: Who are the Dodgers really getting in Albert Pujols? He needs to prove himself

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ANGELS

Shohei Ohtani celebrates with Taylor Ward and Juan Lagares after hitting a home run Monday.
Shohei Ohtani celebrates with Taylor Ward and Juan Lagares after hitting a home run Monday.
(Associated Press)

Jack Harris on the Angels: There were conflicting emotions at Angel Stadium on Monday night.

After the first inning of the Angels’ series-opener against the Cleveland Indians, star center fielder Mike Trout was forced to exit the game with a right calf strain that he seemed to sustain while running the bases.

Minutes later, two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani took the major-league lead with his 13th home run of the season.

Ohtani’s blast, a three-run shot to right field in the second inning, instantly electrified the 9,527 partial-capacity crowd. It left the bat at 105.9 mph. It traveled a projected 431 feet. And perhaps most impressively, it came on a 1-and-2 fastball that was about six inches above the strike zone and more than four feet in the air. Ohtani’s arms were almost parallel to the ground as he made contact.

“Talk about elevated fastball,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said, laughing.

Echoed Angels starting pitcher Patrick Sandoval: “It’s unreal. I don’t know how else to say it. He hits the crap out of the ball and throws the crap out of the ball as well. I don’t think people can grasp how insane what he’s doing is. It’s unbelievable.”

LAKERS

Dan Woike on the Lakers: Their careers have intersected so many times with everyone’s eyes aimed just at them — LeBron James and Stephen Curry at the center of the NBA universe for some of the biggest games of the last decade.

“Our paths have been crossed again,” James said Sunday, after learning the Lakers and Golden State Warriors would meet in the play-in tournament Wednesday at Staples Center, with the West’s No. 7 playoff seed on the line.

“It’s always been a respect, a level of respect that’s even beyond the game of basketball. That’s just the way that I feel for Steph, so that’s cool. I mean, just look at what he’s done this year.”

Curry was the NBA’s top scorer, averaging 32 points to outpace Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard and Joel Embiid. He shot better than 40% from three-point range, the third time he’s averaged at least 10 attempts per game and made at least 42% — no one in history had done that.

Curry scored 40 or more points 11 times, his team going 9-2 in those games. He had 62 against Portland, 53 against Denver and 49 against Philadelphia, three wins that proved he can get hot enough to single-handedly carry these Warriors past a playoff-caliber opponent.

“He creates problems. For every team,” Anthony Davis said. “His ability to shoot the basketball, get in the paint, make his team better, find guys is a challenge for everyone. So that’s going to be our focus. He’s the head of the snake.

“If we can limit him — his three-point attempts, his free-throw attempts — then we have a high chance of winning.”

CLIPPERS

Andrew Greif on the Clippers: As their number of potential first-round playoff opponents dwindled during the regular season’s final days, and Clippers coach Tyronn Lue and his staff tightened their focus on Dallas, they compiled a refresher course on the Mavericks’ preferred plays, what to do if they run out of timeouts and who Dallas coach Rick Carlisle wants to get the ball to in certain scenarios.

In all that film study, however, little of what the Clippers watched might have come from the teams’ own head-to-head matchups.

Though opposing coaching staffs will surely find some utility from studying the 144 combined minutes during the season series won by Dallas, 2-1, none of the games reflected the rosters that will take the court when the seven-game series begins this weekend.

“Seen a lot of crazy things throughout the course of the regular season, and when the playoffs come it’s a whole different season,” Lue said Sunday, after the Clippers clinched the Western Conference’s fourth seed. “Mentality changes, a lot of things change. We can’t read into anything that happened in the regular season as it’s a whole totally different season.”

USC FOOTBALL

Clay Helton in 2019.
(Associated Press)

Ryan Kartje on the Trojans: As Clay Helton clung to his job following a 5-7 season in 2018, the embattled coach’s USC salary continued to rise. During the 2019 season, he had the highest reported salary among Pac-12 football coaches, according to a federal tax return filed by the university and obtained by The Times.

Helton earned $4.813 million from USC and its related organizations from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020, an increase of more than $244,325 over the previous fiscal year, when a contract extension courtesy of previous athletic director Lynn Swann boosted his salary by more than 40%.

Helton saw a much more modest pay increase in 2019, as USC finished 8-5 and questions about his job security reached a fevered pitch. But the raise was still enough to narrowly eclipse what was previously known to be the top salary among Pac-12 football coaches.

It is unclear whether Stanford coach David Shaw was awarded a salary increase during the 2019-20 fiscal year. As private institutions, Stanford and USC are not required to disclose employee salary information. Shaw made $4.812 million in 2018, according to USA Today’s coaches salary database. His total pay in 2019 has not yet been disclosed.

SOCCER

Kevin Baxter on soccer: The Mexican soccer federation has for years asked its fans to refrain from using a wildly popular anti-gay chant, both during games of the domestic Liga MX and internationally when the country’s national team was playing. Now it’s getting some high-powered help from FIFA, the world governing body for soccer.

Nearly two years ago, FIFA approved a disciplinary code that allows referees to end matches if fans use chants or display behavior deemed to be homophobic or racist. However, because of COVID-19, Mexico’s national team has played few games in front of fans since the rules were adopted.

But when the team returns to the field May 29 to face Iceland in Arlington, Texas, Yon de Luisa, the Mexican federation’s president, said the new code will be strictly enforced. The game, Mexico’s first in the U.S. in 20 months, will also be the first of as many as 14 games El Tri will play in the U.S. this year, a schedule that includes friendlies, the four-team Nations League finals, the CONCACAF Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying.

“There’s a couple of campaigns,” De Luisa said. “The first one is letting [fans] know the possible consequences. And the second one is letting our fans know that this is not the behavior, this is not the image, that we want to show from Mexico.”

HORSE RACING

John Cherwa on horse racing: Trainer Bob Baffert has been temporarily banned from racing in New York by the New York Racing Assn. in light of the recent positive drug test on Medina Spirit after winning the Kentucky Derby.

Baffert has not been charged with anything pending the results of a split sample. He announced the positive for betamethasone on May 9 after he was informed by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission of the initial drug screening. Churchill Downs then suspended the Hall of Fame trainer from racing at its track.

In the case of both suspensions, they are mostly symbolic in that Baffert does not have many horses at Churchill Downs and was unlikely to enter any horses in the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown, in less than three weeks. He may have entered a few horses on the Belmont undercard but that option has been taken from him.

NBA PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE

Play-in round
All times Pacific

Today
No. 10 Charlotte at No. 9 Indiana, 3:30 p.m., TNT
No. 8 Washington at No. 7 Boston, 6 p.m., TNT

Wednesday
No. 10 San Antonio at No. 9 Memphis, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
No. 8 Golden State at No. 7 Lakers, 7 p.m., ESPN

Thursday
Winner of Indiana/Charlotte at loser of Boston/Washington, 5 p.m., TNT

Friday
Winner of San Antonio/Memphis at loser of Lakers/Golden State, TBD, ESPN

NHL PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE/RESULTS

Helene Elliott: Here is why Stanley Cup champion Lightning will lose in first round of playoffs

First round
All time Pacific

East Division
Pittsburgh vs. NY Islanders

New York 4, Pittsburgh 3 (OT)
Today: New York at Pittsburgh, 4:30 p.m., NBCSN
Thursday: Pittsburgh at New York, 4 p.m., NBCSN
Saturday: Pittsburgh at New York, Noon, NBC
*Monday, May 24: New York at Pittsburgh, TBD
*Wed., May 26: Pittsburgh at New York TBD
*Friday, May 28: New York at Pittsburgh, TBD

Washington vs. Boston

Washington 3, Boston 2 (OT)
Boston 4, Washington 3 (OT)
Wed.: Washington at Boston, 3:30 p.m., NBCSN
Friday: Washington at Boston, 3:30 p.m., NBCSN
Sunday: Boston at Washington, TBD
*Tuesday, May 25: Washington at Boston, TBD
*Thursday, May 27: Boston at Washington TBD

Central Division

Carolina vs. Nashville

Carolina 5, Nashville 2
Wed: Nashville at Carolina, 5 p.m., CNBC
Friday: Carolina at Nashville, 4 p.m., USA
Sunday: Carolina at Nashville, TBD
*Tuesday, May 25: Nashville at Carolina, TBD
*Thursday, May 27: Carolina at Nashville, TBD
*Saturday, May 29: Nashville at Carolina, TBD

Florida vs. Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay 5, Florida 4
Today: Tampa Bay at Florida, 5 p.m., CNBC
Thursday: Florida at Tampa Bay, 3:30 p.m., USA
Saturday: Florida at Tampa Bay, 9:30 a.m., CNBC
*Monday, May 24:Tampa Bay at Florida, TBD
*Wed., May 26: Florida at Tampa Bay, TBD
*Friday, May 28: Tampa Bay at Florida, TBD

North Division

Toronto vs. Montreal

Thursday: Montreal at Toronto, 4:30 p.m, NHL Network
Saturday: Montreal at Toronto, 4 p.m., CNBC
Monday, May 24: Toronto at Montreal, TBD
Tuesday, May 25: Toronto at Montreal, TBD
*Thursday, May 27: Montreal at Toronto, TBD
*Saturday, May 29: Toronto at Montreal, TBD
*Monday, May 31: Montreal at Toronto, TBD

Edmonton vs. Winnipeg

Wed.: Winnipeg at Edmonton, 6 p.m., NBCSN
Friday: Winnipeg at Edmonton, 6 p.m., NBCSN
Sunday: Edmonton at Winnipeg, TBD
Monday, May 24: Edmonton at Winnipeg, TBD
*Wed., May 26: Winnipeg at Edmonton, TBD
*Friday, May 28: Edmonton at Winnipeg, TBD
*Sunday, May 30: Winnipeg at Edmonton, TBD

West Division

Colorado vs. St. Louis

Colorado 4, St. Louis 1
Wed.: St. Louis at Colorado, 7:30 p.m., CNBC
Friday: Colorado at St. Louis, 6:30 p.m., USA
Sunday: Colorado at St. Louis, TBD
*Tuesday, May 25: St. Louis at Colorado, TBD
*Thursday, May 27: Colorado at St. Louis, TBD
*Saturday, May 29: St. Louis at Colorado, TBD

Vegas vs. Minnesota

Minnesota 1, Vegas 0 (OT)
Tonight: Minnesota at Vegas, 7 p.m., NBCSN
Thursday: Vegas at Minnesota, 6:30 p.m., NBCSN
Saturday: Vegas at Minnesota, 5 p.m., NBC
*Monday, May 24: Minnesota at Vegas, TBD
*Wed., May 26: Vegas at Minnesota, TBD
*Friday, May 28: Minnesota at Vegas, TBD

*-if necessary

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1920 — Man o’ War, ridden by Clarence Kummer, wins the Preakness Stakes by 1½ lengths over Upset.

1931 — Fifteen-year-old Eddie Arcaro rides his first race, finishing sixth, at Bainbridge Park, Ohio.

1957 — Bold Ruler, ridden by Eddie Arcaro, wins the Preakness Stakes by two lengths over Iron Liege. It’s the sixth and last time Arcaro wins the Preakness.

1968 — Forward Pass wins the Preakness Stakes by six lengths to give Calumet Farm a record seven wins in by an owner in the race. Judy Johnson becomes the first female trainer to saddle a horse for the Preakness. Her horse, Sir Beau, finishes seventh in the field of 10.

1971 — The Montreal Canadiens beat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in the seventh game to win the Stanley Cup.

1985 — Patricia Cooksey becomes the first female jockey to compete in the Preakness Stakes. Tank’s Prospect wins the race and Cooksey’s mount, Tajawa, finishes sixth in the field of 11.

1990 — Edmonton’s Jari Kurri becomes the leading goal scorer in Stanley Cup history when he scores his 90th postseason goal in the first period of Game 2 of the finals against Boston. Kurri adds two more goals as the Oilers beat the Bruins 7-2.

1996 — Louis Quatorze carries Pat Day to the jockey’s third straight Preakness Stakes victory. Louis Quatorze, 16th in the Kentucky Derby, runs 1 3-16 miles in 1:53 2-5 to equal the race record set by Tank’s Prospect in 1985.

1997 — Chris Johnson makes an 8-foot par putt on the second playoff hole to win the LPGA championship over Leta Lindley. It’s the third playoff in the championship since the tournament began in 1955, and the first since 1970.

2004 — Randy Johnson becomes the oldest pitcher in major league history to throw a perfect game, retiring all 27 hitters to lead the Arizona Diamondbacks over the Atlanta Braves 2-0.

2008 — Rafael Nadal beats defending champion Roger Federer 7-5, 6-7 (3), 6-3 to win the Hamburg Masters, adding the only major clay-court title missing from his impressive collection.

2008 — Boston’s Paul Pierce and Cleveland’s LeBron James combine for 86 points in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. James outscores Pierce 45-41 in the shootout, but Boston advances with a 97-92 win.

2013 — Oxbow, ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, leads from start to finish at the Preakness. It’s the sixth Preakness victory for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas and 14th Triple Crown victory, the most in horse racing history.

And finally

Randy Johnson pitches a perfect game. Watch it here.

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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