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Matt Baker, Times Staff Writer

Matt Baker

Matt Baker joined the Times as a sports reporter in 2011. In 2014, he started covering the Bucs, Rays and Lightning. He previously covered high school and college sports for the Tulsa World and minor league baseball for the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader. His work has been honored by the Best American Sports Writing series and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is a Hoosier native and graduated from Northwestern University in 2008.

Phone: (727) 420-9087


Twitter: @MBakerTBTimes

  1. Fans treated for injuries after terrifying crash as Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins Coke Zero 400

    Auto racing

    DAYTONA BEACH — A frightening, last-lap crash overshadowed a victory by NASCAR's most popular driver at its most famous track.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. overcame an almost four-hour rain delay to win the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway early Monday morning. But the celebration for his second victory of the season and his fourth at the famed 2 ½-mile tri-oval was muted because of a wreck that sent Austin Dillon into the catch fence and sent one spectator to the hospital....

    Austin Dillon goes airborne during a multicar crash on the final lap of the NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway early Monday morning in Daytona Beach. [Orlando Sentinel / Associated Press]
  2. Coke Zero 400 delayed by rain at Daytona

    Auto racing

    DAYTONA BEACH — NASCAR didn't get the result it hoped for when it moved the Coke Zero 400 to Sunday from its traditional prime-time Saturday slot.

    Rain delayed the Sprint Cup race for the second year in a row. The 160-lap race at Daytona International Speedway was scheduled to start around 7:45 p.m., but sprinkles and showers soaked the track. A fleet of 20 Air Titans began drying the 2½-mile tri-oval shortly before 9:30 p.m. Almost two hours later, drivers were heading into their cars for the green flag....

    Jeff Gordon and fellow drivers stand under umbrellas before driver introductions for the Coke Zero 400. Six of the past 13 Sprint Cup races at Daytona have been delayed, shortened or postponed.
  3. Some NASCAR fans still defend, display Confederate flag

    Auto racing

    DAYTONA BEACH — As racing fans were celebrating the Fourth of July in Daytona International Speedway's infield Saturday night, 51-year-old Kevin Boot chose to honor Independence Day in his own way.

    He strolled between two rows of campers, waving a tattered Confederate flag.

    "Because I can," said Boot, a former Tampa resident who lives in Delaware.

    But how much longer Boot or anyone else will be to do so at Daytona or any other tracks on NASCAR's schedule remains uncertain....

    Confederate flags were not uncommon sights at Daytona this weekend despite NASCAR’s efforts to discourage them.
  4. Clint Bowyer: Time is now to make push for Sprint Cup Chase

    Auto racing

    DAYTONA BEACH — Whether it was because of his string of four finishes outside the top 20 in March or his 30th-place run at Talladega, Clint Bowyer figures his cushion in the Chase for the Championship is long gone.

    "That set in for me and our race team weeks ago," Bowyer said before Sunday's Coke Zero 400, which was delayed by rain and was not over at press time. "We're out of mulligans. It's time to go and get our (stuff) together."...

    Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota, sits in his car in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on Friday in Daytona Beach. [Getty Images]
  5. Lightning signs veteran forward Jeff Tambellini to two-way contract


    The Lightning has signed veteran winger Jeff Tambellini to a one-year, two-way contract, the team announced Sunday.

    The 31-year-old Tambellini has skated in 242 career NHL games but none since 2010-11. The 5-foot-11, 186-pound forward spent last season in Europe’s Swiss-A and Swedish leagues.

    Tambellini has 27 goals and 63 points over six NHL seasons with the Kings, Islanders and Canucks. His most productive season came in 2010-11, when he recorded nine goals and eight assists and was plus-10 in 62 games for Vancouver....

  6. Lightning draftee Cirelli has dizzying climb of prospect ladder

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — It took 14 months for Anthony Cirelli to rise from a center who was overlooked in two junior-league drafts to Memorial Cup hero and third-round NHL draft pick, and the Lightning prospect feels like his head is still spinning.

    "It's starting to hit me now, what's going on and stuff," Cirelli said during the Lightning's development camp that ended Saturday at the Ice Sports Forum. "It's been an unbelievable season."...

    Anthony Cirelli is invited to the NHL draft combine after getting noticed last season in Canadian juniors. The center is later taken by the Lightning in the third round of the draft. “It’s starting to hit me now, what’s going on and stuff,” he says.
  7. Brayden Point, Matthew Peca among Friday's standouts at Lightning prospect camp


    BRANDON - The Lightning's development camp continued today at the Ice Sports Forum with three-on-three games. Some highlights:

    Left wing Adam Erne did participate. He looked fine, despite recovering from a separated left shoulder, scoring three goals in one of his games, with one coming on an impressive slap shot.

    Forward Matthew Peca led all players 12 points and eight goals. Two other big-name prospects, center Brayden Point and 2015 second-round pick Mitchell Stephens, were tied for the lead with seven assists....

  8. Rays' Matt Moore has up-and-down return

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — After a 14-month recovery from Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm, all that stood between LHP Matt Moore and a big-league mound was a good night's sleep.

    "I got to sleep at one point, at some point, but it did take a little bit longer than I was hoping," Moore said.

    Moore's start was up and down Thursday. He held Cleveland hitless through the first three innings, then gave up six hits and four runs in his final 12/3 innings....

    Matt Moore makes his season debut after a 14-month recovery from Tommy John surgery. [WILL VRAGOVIC  |  Times] 
  9. James Loney to return from DL on Friday


    The Rays' offense is about to get a much-needed boost.

    The Rays will activate 1B James Loney (broken left middle finger) from the disabled list before tomorrow's game at the Yankees, the team announced Thursday. The Rays optioned RHP Preston Guilmet back to Triple-A Durham to make room for Loney.

    "He's going to help. There's no doubt about it," manager Kevin Cash said. "We're excited to have him back. To be able to plug our first baseman that we anticipated being with us all year back in the lineup, that'll help."...

  10. Rays strike out club-record 19 times in 5-4 loss to Cleveland Indians


    ST. PETERSBURG - Not even the return of All-Star pitcher Matt Moore and a somewhat resurgent offense could stop the Rays from losing for the ninth time in 11 games.

    Cleveland's No. 9 hitter, Mike Aviles, blasted the first pitch from reliever Xavier Cedeno over the leftfield wall for the go-ahead home run in the Rays' 5-4 loss in 10 innings at Tropicana Field. The defeat secured the first four-game sweep against the Rays (42-39) since September 2009 and the first at home in more than eight years....

  11. Former Lightning captain Marty St. Louis retires from the NHL


    Former Lightning captain Marty St. Louis has retired.

    The 40-year-old winger - who was with the Lightning for parts of 13 of his 16 NHL seasons - announced his retirement Thursday afternoon after his run to the Eastern Conference final with the Rangers. He ends his NHL career with 391 goals and 1,033 points in 1,134 regular season games. 

    "I have been blessed to play for 16 years in the NHL; it has been an amazing ride," St. Louis said in a statement. "I would like to thank the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers organizations and owners for providing me the opportunity to play the sport I love for so many years. I could have never played for so long or accomplished all that I have without the unwavering love and support from my wife, Heather, our three sons, Ryan, Lucas, and Mason, and my parents....

    Marty St. Louis smiles on the bench during an August 2007 practice at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon.
  12. Matt Moore starts well, struggles later in rocky season debut


    After 14 months of rehab from Tommy John elbow surgery, Rays left-hander Matt Moore made his return to the mound Thursday against Cleveland with a successful beginning and rough ending. In his first start since having elbow surgery in April 2014, Moore allowed four earned runs off six hits and two walks at Tropicana Field.

    Moore started out strong, throwing nine strikes in his 10-pitch first inning. He began with three hitless innings before stumbling in the fourth. Jason Kipnis blooped a single to left that dropped on three converging Rays fielders. Moore added two wild pitches in the inning and gave up a run on Michael Brantley's sac fly....

    Matt Moore warms up before Thursday's start against the Indians.
  13. Rays strike out club-record 19 times in 5-4 loss to Indians (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Rays manager Kevin Cash pointed to the scoreboard in Thursday's 5-4, 10-inning loss to Cleveland as evidence that his offense has emerged from its historic struggle. Their seven hits were more than they had the previous three games combined.

    Except the Rays (42-39) added a different low at Tropicana Field, breaking the club record with 19 strikeouts to lose for the ninth time in their past 11 games and spoil the return of 2013 All-Star pitcher Matt Moore....

    Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis (22) scores on a sacrifice fly by Cleveland Indians left fielder Michael Brantley (23) in the fourth inning of the game between the Cleveland Indians and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Thursday, July 2, 2015.
  14. For starters, Rays vs. Indians with Matt Moore's return


    UPDATE, 11:15: RF Steven Souza Jr. isn't in the lineup today, as manager Kevin Cash wanted to give him a day off. The rookie is in an 0-for-23 slump. ... Cash called the Rays' recent offensive struggles a "perfect storm" of slumping offense and standout opposing pitching. That's why the Rays haven't had a base runner through the first five innings of three consecutive games. ... 1B James Loney (broken finger) is scheduled to be reevaluated today after his rehab start last night for Class-A Port Charlotte. Cash said Loney could rejoin the Rays this weekend in New York....

    Rays starting pitcher Matt Moore.
  15. Rays break up no-hitter in ninth, lose again to Indians (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Sometime during Wednesday's near-no-hit 8-1 loss to Cleveland, leftfielder Joey Butler said the Rays almost felt bullied as their offensive struggles reached a never-before-seen low.

    Cleveland right-hander Carlos Carrasco's high-90s fastball and wipeout breaking ball led to 61/3 perfect innings, before Butler drew a walk. So when Butler laced a two-out, RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to end Carrasco's no-hit bid, Butler felt a little surge for a sputtering offense trying to find any sort of spark....

    Tampa Bay Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey (48) talks with  starting pitcher Alex Colome (37) in the fourth inning of the game between the Cleveland Indians and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, July 1, 2015.