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Crystal gets to play ball

March 13, 2008
The Altoona Mirror
BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pittsburgh Pirates are not concerned about the possibility of playing comedic foil to Billy Crystal.

The actor will sign a minor-league contract with the New York Yankees today and play for them in an exhibition game against the Pirates at Tampa.

‘‘I think it’s great,’’ Pirates manager John Russell said. ‘‘He’s a great baseball fan and a great ambassador for the game. It just goes to show how it’s everybody’s dream to play in the major leagues, and he is no different.’’

Left-hander Paul Maholm will be the starting pitcher for the Pirates. While he admits it will be somewhat awkward pitching to Crystal, who turns 60 on Friday, he is not upset by the idea.

‘‘It’s going to be different and hopefully it will be a fun thing,’’ Maholm said. ‘‘The Yankees have a really tough lineup as it is, so [facing Crystal] is one more thing to deal with.’’

Maholm then smiled.

‘‘It’s a no-win situation for me,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m supposed to get the guy out. If he gets a hit off me, though, I might to have hang ’em up after the game.’’

Left fielder Jason Bay said he was looking forward to seeing Crystal play, pointing to other celebrities who have seen action in exhibition games in past springs, such as singer Garth Brooks and actor Tom Selleck.

‘‘Baseball is supposed to be fun and it’s going to be a fun thing to see Billy Crystal play,’’ Bay said. ‘‘It will add a little excitement and interest to the game and that’s not a bad thing, especially since it’s only spring training.’’

Bucs lose to Jays

DUNEDIN, Fla. — A.J. Burnett pitched four solid innings and Vernon Wells homered, helping the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-1 on Wednesday.

Burnett allowed one run and four hits while striking out four and walking one. He threw 36 of his 52 pitches for strikes.

The right-hander hasn’t been able to throw his curveball this spring because of a broken nail on his index finger.

‘‘He has a power change and he can live on two pitches,’’ Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. ‘‘That changeup is dropping now, plus he threw a couple of sliders in there, too.’’

Burnett’s outing was encouraging for the Blue Jays, who lost right-hander Casey Janssen for the season Wednesday because of a torn labrum in his shoulder. Janssen went 2-3 with a 2.35 ERA in 70 relief appearances last season. He had been competing with Jesse Litsch this spring for the fifth spot in the rotation.

Also on Wednesday, Toronto optioned oft-injured lefty Gustavo Chacin to Triple-A Syracuse.

Wells’ homer broke a 1-all tie and came off Zach Duke, who gave up two runs and five hits with one strikeout over four innings. He threw 44 of his 66 pitches for strikes.

‘‘I’m where I should be,’’ Duke said. ‘‘It’s a good sign my sinker is moving late and down.’’

Toronto’s Aaron Hill went 2-for-2 with a walk, raising his batting average to .550 this spring.

Nate McLouth was 3-for-3 for Pittsburgh with two doubles and an RBI.

Masumi Kuwata, trying to make the Pirates as a reliever, had a shaky inning but didn’t allow a run thanks to a double play.

Josh Banks got the save with a perfect ninth.

Notes: The Blue Jays returned INF-OF Travis Snider to minor league camp. ... Pirates 1B Adam LaRoche likes making the bus trip to play the Blue Jays in Dunedin. His father, Dave, a former major league pitcher, is Toronto’s pitching coach at Double-A New Hampshire.

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