Weekend Sports in Brief

BASEBALL

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Fans hoping to heckle the sign-stealing Houston Astros at their spring opener were met with quite the coincidence.

They got their signs stolen.

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In the Astros' first spring training game since their sign-stealing scandal rocked baseball, some fans brought signs jeering Houston, and ballpark personnel confiscated them before the exhibition opener against the World Series champion Washington Nationals on Saturday night.

In a Series rematch, the Nats got hearty cheers, while everyone in an Astros jersey - including the mascot, Orbit - was booed. Houston did not use any players implicated in MLB's probe.

Two men in Nationals gear sitting behind the Astros dugout briefly held up crudely drawn signs just before first pitch. One read: ''You see my hate?'' in large block letters. And another said: ''Houston'' with an asterisk below it, suggesting the Astros' 2017 World Series title should be permanently blemished because of the cheating.

The men didn't get to show off their signs for long. A woman who worked for the ballpark quickly approached to take the signs. They didn't argue with the woman, but they did look confused as she walked away with them folded in her arms.

PRO BASKETBALL

MILWAUKEE (AP) - The Milwaukee Bucks have a spot in the postseason, only a week after the All-Star Game.

The Bucks became the first team in the NBA to clinch a berth Sunday after Washington lost to Chicago. The Wizards are in ninth place in an Eastern Conference that the Bucks have been running away with for months.

Milwaukee is 48-8, on pace to join the Golden State Warriors (2015-16) and Chicago Bulls (1995-96) as the only teams in NBA history to win 70 games.

SOCCER

ROME (AP) - Holding soccer games behind closed doors without fans in attendance is a problematic solution, Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago said Sunday as authorities scrambled to contain a rapidly rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country and a third death from the virus.

CONI, the Olympic committee, oversees all sports in Italy.

Four matches in the top Italian league scheduled for Sunday were postponed after the government ordered a ban on all sporting events in Lombardy and Veneto - the regions in the heart of the outbreak - and later Turin.

Besides refunding vast numbers of tickets - some 60,000 fans were slated to attend Inter Milan's game against Sampdoria on Sunday at the San Siro stadium in Milan before it was postponed - Malago noted Italian fans' tendency to go stand outside stadiums where matches are played behind closed doors and cheer on their team from the parking lot.

''It's going to cause a public safety issue,'' Malago told Sky Italia. ''That's particularly problematic at this moment when police are busy with other situations and won't be able to stand outside a soccer stadium.''

BOXING

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Tyson Fury reinvented himself once again, and once again he's a heavyweight champion.

The Gypsy King dropped Deontay Wilder twice Saturday night in their heavyweight title rematch, turning from boxer to puncher to win the title when Wilder's corner threw in the towel as he was taking a beating in the seventh round.

It was a stunning turnaround for a fighter who came back from drug and alcohol abuse to win the title for a second time, made even more surprising because Wilder was the devastating puncher in their first fight 14 months ago.

''The king has returned to his throne,'' proclaimed Fury, who fought to a draw with Wilder in their first fight.

ATHLETE ABUSE

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - The first woman who publicly accused convicted sports doctor Larry Nassar of sexual abuse said she is ''horrified,'' and ''deeply disappointed'' with the University of Michigan for how it has handled allegations of abuse by a late doctor at the school.

The university announced earlier this week five former patients of Dr. Robert E. Anderson alleged he sexually abused them during exams and a complaint in 2018 led to a police investigation.

''They had the choice 19 months ago to do the right thing and become leaders,'' former gymnast Rachael Denhollander said Saturday in an interview with The Associated Press. ''They chose corruption - again - and they put the survivors in a place where they had no choice but to speak publicly.''

Robert Julian Stone said this week Anderson assaulted him during a medical appointment at the university's health center in 1971. Stone said he alerted university officials last summer, inspired by the national (hash)MeToo movement against sexual misconduct.

HOCKEY

TORONTO (AP) - The Carolina Hurricanes were forced to use an emergency goaltender against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night after both of their netminders left with injuries.

David Ayres, who works as a Zamboni driver for the Toronto Marlies, served as the emergency goalie.

The 42-year-old Ayres was forced into action in Marlies gear and a Hurricanes jersey midway through the second period after Carolina's James Reimer and Petr Mrazek were injured. The Hurricanes were leading 3-1 when Ayres took over.

Ayres, from Whitby, Ontario, has backed up both the Marlies, the Maple Leafs' American Hockey League affiliate, and Charlotte Checkers of the AHL in the past.

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Alex Ovechkin became the eight NHL player to score 700 career goals, reaching the milestone in the third period of the Washington' Capitals' 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.

The 34-year-old Ovechkin one-timed a slap shot from the right circle that went in off the left post 4:50 into the third period, tying the game at 2. It was his 42nd goal of the season, one behind Boston's David Pastrnak for the league lead, and came on his second shot on goal of the game.

Capitals players rushed onto the ice to congratulate their teammate, and Devils fans gave him a strong ovation.

Wayne Gretzky leads the career list with 894 goals. He is followed by Gordie Howe (801), Jaromir Jagr (766), Brett Hull (741), Marcel Dionne (731), Phil Esposito (717) and Mike Gartner (708).

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