NASCAR: Kevin Harvick completes the sweep at Michigan (Highlights)

Kevin Harvick continued his summer surge, moving up the NASCAR Cup Series wins list by pulling off a sweep at Michigan.

Summer sweeps in Michigan are often reserved for the Detroit Tigers. Kevin Harvick provided an exception over the weekend.

Harvick and his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford team entered elite company in several ways by winning the Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday. The 44-year-old won the 55th race of his NASCAR Cup Series career, moving him into an eighth-place tie with Rusty Wallace on the all-time list. Having also won the FireKeepers Casino 400 on Saturday, Harvick became the first driver since seven-time champion Richard Petty (1971) to win Cup Series races on consecutive days.

“I think a lot of (our success) just goes into how prepared our team is and the details that they’re covering to get the cars right, get them close, come to the racetrack, watch the pit crew perform, watch (crew chief Rodney Childers) make great calls. I get to race the car on the racetrack and do the best that I can,” Harvick said in a postrace Zoom call. “I love my guys to death. They do a great job. I hate not being able to celebrate with them. That’s the part that really frustrates me more than anything.”

Harvick’s series-best sixth win of the 2020 season came after a hard-fought battle with Denny Hamlin. The latter was also seeking his sixth victory of the campaign in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 11 Toyota. Harvick dominated a majority of the event but a window opened for Hamlin when Alex Bowman lost a tire with just under 20 circuits to go in the 156-lap event.

Running third behind Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., Hamlin took advantage of the newly instituted “choose cone” rule, opting to be the first car on the inside lane when Harvick and Truex went for the higher, outside position.

Hamlin battled Harvick to the last lap, but the 2014 Cup Series champion took home victory by a .093-second margin. Gibbs Toyota also took the next two spots with Truex in third and Kyle Busch in fourth while Joey Logano finished the top five.

“We’re really happy for everybody at Ford that our Busch Light Apple Ford was really fast again today,” Harvick said. “I had a little trouble in the end in three and four, Denny was really good down there. We were able to do a little defensive driving and keep him back there and make it to victory lane in the end.”

Four races remain in the Cup Series’ regular season, and the trek gets even more treacherous next weekend. For the first time, NASCAR will run events at the road course at Daytona International Speedway. The premier Cup Series will run the GoBowling 235 on Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. ET, NBC). This event replaces the annual trek to Watkins Glen International, whose proceedings were canceled in the wake of the ongoing health crisis.

Race Notes

  • Michigan native Brad Keselowski, who won last week’s event at New Hampshire, was going for his first career win at his home track. But his No. 2 Team Penske Ford got loose on lap 96, sending him into race leader and teammate Ryan Blaney. The pair finished at the pack of the back. Keselowski is now winless in 23 MIS events

 

  • Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer started second and led each of the first 43 laps en route to a victory in the first stage of the race. Bowyer finished 14th but the stage win played a part in keeping a 60-point lead on the postseason cutoff line.

 

  • William Byron (12th) continues to hold the 16th and final playoff spot amongst non-victorious drivers. He’s 26 points ahead of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson (11th) and Erik Jones (27th). It was announced this week that Jones, driver of Gibbs’ No. 20 Toyota, would not return to the vehicle in 2021.

For full results, click here

For full standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeofffJMags

New York Liberty fall in a heartbreaker to Las Vegas (Highlights)

A’ja Wilson’s big day ended the New York Liberty’s chances at starting a winning streak on Sunday late afternoon in Bradenton.

The New York Liberty’s good fortune ended on Sunday evening against Las Vegas.

A’ja Wilson’s game-winner with 6.9 seconds remaining capped off a 31-point performance from the WNBA’s leading scorer. It allowed her Las Vegas Aces to survive another strong effort from Amanda Zahui B and the Liberty, who fell just short of starting a winning streak in a 78-76 heartbreaker in the Bradenton bubble.

“I thought our team deserved to win that game. I thought our players deserved to win,” Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins said. “(Las Vegas) is a potential title team, this is a team that can be in the WNBA Finals. This is an extremely talented, well-coached team and we played them to the very end. We played them to the last possession.”

Coming off their first win of the season on Friday night against Washington, the Liberty (1-6) carried momentum into their Sunday showdown. They led for a majority of the game, going toe-to-toe with one of the league’s most complete teams. New York even led by as many as 12 throughout the course of the game.

Amanda Zahui B once again rose to the occasion with the Liberty missing both Sabrina Ionescu and Kylee Shook (right foot). The Stockholm-born interior threat picked up where she left off from Friday’s double-double performance, sinking six three-pointers over the first three frames. It was one short of the team record Zahui B tied during a 37-point performance in Los Angeles last season.

“We put ourselves in a great position to win,” Zahui B noted in her availability. “Keep pushing, keep building. I think the first thing we said when we got to the locker room was that we have really grown from our first game. If this had been a week ago, we could’ve lost by 30. We fought through the whole game, stayed together, and we got to keep on building. We’re a young team, nobody believes in us, and we’ve got to earn everything.”

Foul trouble, however, proved to play a role in the Liberty’s downfall. Picking her fourth infraction in the midway stages of the third, Zahui B took to the bench, allowing Las Vegas (5-2) to eat into the Liberty lead. Wilson tallied 18 points in the second half and visited the foul line 12 times, missing all but one of her attempts. Vegas also enjoyed late heroics and forced turnovers from veteran newcomer Angel McCoughtry.

The Liberty still had an opportunity to escape with a victory after Wilson’s heroics. Kia Nurse’s would-be winner fell short but was touched by Las Vegas as it went out of bounds. The Aces’ defense thwarted Layshia Clarendon’s ensuing inbounds pass, but New York still had 0.5 seconds to work with. Another attempt saw a Clarendon inbound go to Leaonna Odom, who put in the apparent equalizer, but the clock had been started before the ball was touched, forcing yet another retry.

One last Vegas swat sealed the deal, and the Aces earned their fourth consecutive victory.

“We should be playing overtime right now,” Hopkins said. “I don’t know if it was a scoreboard malfunction or if it was actually the scorekeeper who started it early. I would guess it’s the scorekeeper because it’s not automated. So somebody made a really big mistake and stole the game from us.”

Despite the loss, the Liberty felt that they had several positives to work with. Clarendon tallied 15 points and fell two rebounds short of a double-double, while rookie free agent Joyner Holmes had an infantile career-best 11 points. Kiah Stokes had a season-best 12 rebounds, her best output since returning to the Liberty lineup after sitting out last season.

“I think we’re more focused, especially on the little things,” Stokes said. “We weren’t going as hard as we could. I think we really made an effort over the last couple of days to do the little things, especially clean up turnovers, box out. Obviously, we still have things to work on, but now we’re in games and winning games. It stinks that we lost today but it’s a step in the right direction and it shows how good we can be.”

The Liberty and Aces will meet up again on August 29. New York’s season will continue against Western Conference competition on Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Sparks (10 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Go).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Yankees: Paxton pitches well, but still lacks velocity

New York Yankees, James Paxton

Although the New York Yankees lost the series finale against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday, James Paxton pitched his first good game of the season. However, Paxton still lacked the velocity of previous seasons but his performance was encouraging.

The second-year Yankee pitched 6 and 1/3 innings, allowing four hits and three runs. He rang up 11 while walking just one.

Paxton may not be the one to blame about the three runs on his line. That could be on Aaron Boone, who may have left Paxton in for too long.

The lefty allowed a leadoff double in the seventh inning to Jose Martinez, before getting Hunter Renfroe to pop-up. Then, Paxton served up back-to-back home runs to Michael Brosseau and Brandon Lowe to make a 3-0 lead quickly turn into a 3-3 tie. Boone would pull Paxton after the two bombs, but it seems like the leash was a bit too long on Paxton.

The fastball was the best that we’ve seen from Paxton this season, but it still isn’t what it used to be. He mainly sat around 92-93 mph but did touch 94 mph. He normally sits around 95-97 mph, but Sunday was at least an improvement from last time out.

It’s hard to tell what exactly is going on with Paxton, but him and Boone both claim that he is fully healthy. Sunday was definitely encouraging, and the Yankees hope that his velocity will continue to climb over time.

After an off-day on Monday, the Yankees begin a nine game homestead beginning with the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday. They play two with the Braves before another off-day, then four games against the Red Sox and three more against the Rays.

UFC 252: Daniel Cormier Has His Own Training Bubble For Stipe Fight

It’s safe to say that the upcoming rematch between Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic is a big deal. It’s the main event at UFC 252 and also marks a trilogy of fights between the two heavyweight stars. It also looks like it’s going to be Cormier’s last fight.

For obvious reasons, Cormier is putting in quite the effort in training for it. However, 2020 is not a normal year. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, training is a little more complicated. For Cormier, there’s the added complication of having two kids and a pregnant wife, which is enough reason for extra caution.

How is Cormier handling the unique problem?

Just like the NBA has decided to move its players and teams to a closed off location to protect them from exposure, Cormier has opted to keep himself away from his family for their own good. He talked with TMZ Sports about preparing for the upcoming fight in his own ‘bubble’ style training environment, which he says that his family understands.

“Yeah, I got a pregnant wife who’s 7.5 months pregnant. Two kids, a 9-year-old, an 8-year-old, and I’m not even living at home because I’m having to prepare for this fight – but that also shows the commitment from the family to understand what I’m trying to do here is so special,” Cormier said.

For Stipe Miocic, this will be his third straight fight against Cormier. For Cormier, it’s his second straight against Miocic and the third in his past four fights overall. It’s an unusual situation, but this is certainly the last fight between them.

Cormier believes he has a chance to go out as one of the greatest with a victory.

“I think that all the things I’ve done at heavyweight and at light heavyweight makes me one of the greatest fighters of all time, period! But, if I become a 2-time heavyweight champion there’s only a few guys that’ve done that before in their careers. I think that by being the most dominant heavyweight of all time twice would make me the greatest heavyweight UFC’s ever seen,” Cormier continued further.

We won’t have to wait long to find out the result to the fight and which one will come away with the heavyweight belt, however. It’s set to be the main event of UFC 252, and that’s practically right around the corner on August 15th.

MUST SEE: Athletics’ Ramon Laureano attacks Houston Astros bench with rage

Ramon Laureano

Being hit as a batter is never a fun time, but being hit twice becomes personal. Oakland Athletics outfielder Ramon Laureano, who the Astros traded away back in 2017, sparked a benches-clearing attack against Houston. Laureano began to exchange words with hitting coach Alex Cintron.

What unfolded was not a surprise, considering the negative attention the Astros have received the season. From Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly throwing out Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa’s heads, Laureano attacking the entire bench doesn’t seem out of character.

The Athletics outfielder was hit in the back twice, once by Brandon Bailey and later on by Humberto Castellanos. Oddly, both pitchers were rookies, as the Houston Chronicle states.

After being hit his second time, Laureano was clearly angered and filled with rage. In just his third major league appearance, losing his cool was probably not the best idea. But once again, attacking the cheating Astros seems to be a trend around the league these days.

The melee ended rather quickly, as Laureano charges the bench and catcher Dustin Garneau tackled the Athletic to the ground, putting him in a chokehold.

Interestingly, Astros manager Dusty Baker was ejected earlier in the game for arguing calls made by umpire Nick Mahrley.

New York Giants: Why The Defensive Line Could Dominate In 2020

Since becoming general manager of the New York Giants in 2018, Dave Gettleman has put an emphasis on building up the defensive line. Since 2018, here is what the Giants have invested into their defensive line: a 2018 third-round pick, a 2018 fifth-round pick, a 2019 first-round pick, a 2019 seventh-round pick, a 2020 third-round pick and 2021 fifth-round pick in a trade to acquire Leonard Williams, and a $16.1 million franchise tag on Leonard Williams. Additionally, the Giants already had a 2017 second-round pick invested in Dalvin Tomlinson.

The Giants have invested a considerable amount in their defensive line. But this investment should pay off, as New York has a young core of highly-talented hog mollies to fill the trenches.

Young Defensive Line Talent

Dalvin Tomlinson

The Giants’ longest-tenured defensive lineman is an underrated star, Dalvin Tomlinson. The hog molly out of Alabama has been the most consistent and efficient player on the Giants’ defense since entering the league in 2017. Dalvin has not missed a game in his career, starting in 16 games every season for the past three seasons.

2019 was a career year for Tomlinson. Dalvin Tomlinson recorded 49 combined tackles with 7 tackles for loss. What made Tomlinson’s 2019 season so exciting though was his improvements as a pass-rusher. After failing to record a single sack in 2018, Tomlinson totaled a career-high 3.5 sacks in 2019. Dalvin Also totaled 13 pressures in 2019, 5 more than he did in 2018.

There is a reason to believe that Dalvin Tomlinson will improve further in 2020. When asked about new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s scheme, Tomlinson expressed excitement:

The scheme is fun. It reminds me of the Alabama defense and the Alabama days and the techniques I used to use and stuff like that.  – Dalvin Tomlinson via Giants.com 8/6/20

New York Yankees Recap: Paxton pitches a Gem through 6, but Yankees lose series

New York Yankees, James Paxton

The New York Yankees lost their first series of the season this afternoon in Tampa.  The Yankees won their series with the Nationals, swept the Orioles, swept the Red Sox, then split the series with the Phillies and now have lost this series with the Tampa Bay Rays 3 games to 1.

This loss was heartbreaking for James Paxton, who has not pitched well this season in his first two starts.  But today a new James Paxton showed up to pitch game 4 of the Ray’s series.  He pitched with confidence and his fastball was working.  He pitched 6.1 innings using only 77 pitches while striking out eleven.

Two bad pitches in the seventh inning spoiled his scoreless outing. With one on in the seventh, he allowed a two-run homer followed by a Brandon Lowe homer to tied the score at 3.  Unlike in this first two outings, he had control over his fastball that was between 92 and 93 mph and touched 94 a couple of times.  When he left the game he was visibly upset.

The New York Yankees scored first when they loaded the bases in the first inning and a hit by pitch brought in a run for the 1-0 lead in the game.   With two on at the fifth innings, Gio Urshela has a long sac fly driving in both runs for the 3-0 Yankee lead. Then in the sixth Paxton gave up the three runs for a tie score.

The tied score lasted into the bottom of the ninth inning when fans began to think about the man on 2nd rule.  But that was not to be had when Zack Britton couldn’t hold down the Rays.  At the bottom of the eighth, a spectacular double play kept the Yankees tied.

Although the Yankee tried at the top of the ninth they failed to score.  In the bottom of the ninth Britton gave up a single to Perez that scored Brandon Lowe from third base for the Ray’s 4-3 win. Ryan Thompson got the win and Zack Britton took the loss.

 

 

New York Mets: Offense, Bullpen Picks Up deGrom in 4-2 Victory

New York Mets, Andres Gimenez

New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom is the king of day games but did not have his best stuff on Sunday. Despite only getting through five innings, he gave the Mets all they needed to get the 4-2 victory as they attempt to climb back to .500.

A lingering issue with his middle finger started bothering deGrom in the second inning. It forced him to elevate his pitch count and even drew a visit from the trainer. deGrom worked through the outing to pitch five innings, strikeout six and hold the Marlins to two runs. It was his second win of the season, and the only blemish on his line was a Jesus Aguilar two-run homer in the fifth inning.

Gimenez Leads the Way

Andres Gimenez continued to prove his worth at the big league level. He recorded three hits, including a double, and showcased his speed on the bases. Gimenez had a bunt single, stolen base and scored on a shallow sacrifice fly.

The Mets also took advantage of a weak Marlins outfield defense to record their runs. In the third inning, Jeff McNeil was robbed of a single with the bases loaded, but the fielder’s choice gave the Mets a 1-0 lead. Following that, a Corey Dickerson error gave the Mets their second run of the game.

A base hit from Brandon Nimmo in the fourth and a sac fly from McNeil in the sixth were all the Mets needed. It was important for the Mets to put together good at-bats in these situations where putting the ball in play score the Mets runs, instead of relying on the home run.

Bullpen Flexes Muscle

The bullpen depth the Mets signed in the offseason finally showed up. Jared Hughes and Dellin Betances started with back to back scoreless innings then the Edwin Diaz roller coaster began. By bringing in Diaz during the eighth, with a lead, it was clear the Mets want him back in the ninth when fully ready.

Diaz looked sharp, striking out the first two but then a single and double put the tying run in scoring position. In a situation where he would break, Diaz struck out Monte Harrison to get the Mets out of the jam. Seth Lugo slammed the door shut in the ninth as the closer role is firmly his at the moment.

Steven Matz takes the mound on Monday as the Mets begin a four-game set with the struggling Washington Nationals. The 7:10 p.m. ET game has the same matchup as last week with Patrick Corbin on the mound for the Nats.

Yankees: Good news and bad news following tough loss over Rays to finish series

New York Yankees, James Paxton

The New York Yankees fell to the Tampa Bay Rays in the final game of a four-game series on Sunday afternoon by a score of 4-3.

In what was a fantastic outing for starting pitcher James Paxton, the Yankees’ offense wasn’t able to produce much run support after the fifth inning. The Bombers got their offense going in the first inning when Mike Ford was hit by a pitch with the bases juiced, subsequently driving in a run. In the fifth inning, a fielding error by the Rays’ centerfielder Manuel Margot allowed Gio Urshela to earn a triple, scoring two runs.

This was the first series loss for the Yankees on the year, as they currently sit at 10-5. They will take on the Atlanta Braves at home at Yankee Stadium starting Tuesday.

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Good news and bad news for the New York Yankees following the defeat:

GOOD NEWS:

The good news is that Paxton is slowly getting back to his usual self. Through 6.1 innings, he allowed four hits and three earned runs. However, it was the most action he has entertained the entire season and gave up back to back homers to end his afternoon. Up until his exit, he was dominant, securing 11 strikeouts. Having their number two starter back in action and playing at a high-level is what the Yankees need to continue dominating.

Gerrit Cole has been an automatic win up to this point, but they cannot continue to rely on him in that way. They must have some support other than their primary ace.

On the offensive side, the only player that really stood out was DJ LeMahieu. Over four at-bats, he secured two hits, one run, and walked one time. He currently has a .397 batting average with a .426 on-base percentage. He leads the team in OBP and BA. He had the third-highest slugging percentage in the lineup for the Yankees on Sunday at .517.

The Yankees desperately need their offense to reignite, and with Giancarlo Stanton expected to miss at least a week with an injured hamstring, it will be difficult for them to supplement his loss.

BAD NEWS:

The bad news was primarily on offense, aside from Jonathan Holder working a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning. Lucky for him, LeMahieu managed to claw his team out of a tough situation with one out. An impressive 5-4-3 double play earlier in the inning.

Holder has been inconsistent for the Yankees thus far, but Zack Britton put the final touches on the loss. With two outs and runners on third and second, Britton allowed a single to right field that gave the Rays the winning run. The Yankees desperately miss their store closer, Aroldis Chapman, right now, but he’s expected to return to the team next week.

Aside from the pitching woes, Gary Sanchez struck out twice and looked unreliable behind the plate. His inability to frame pitches cost the Yankees some deserved strikes, and a passed ball late in the game allowed runners to advance. The catcher position is coming under more scrutiny with every passing day at this point.

New York Liberty credit special team meeting as inspiration behind big win

Head coach Walt Hopkins credited a moving team meeting as the source behind the New York Liberty’s first win in the WNBA bubble.

Asked about the atmosphere behind his first victory as a WNBA head coach, Walt Hopkins remarked that it featured “a whole lot of water”. The New York Liberty’s social media accounts were more than happy to prove his words were quite literal.

Friday night saw Hopkins guide his team to a 74-66 win over the defending WNBA champion Washington Mystics in the Bradenton bubble. As the final seconds ticked away, Hopkins remained stoic, only cracking a slight smile when his players joyfully surrounded him.

Once he got to the Liberty’s makeshift locker room, however, Hopkins finally let his guard down as members of the Liberty (1-5) doused him with water, his wide grin lost in his players’ aquatic assault. It didn’t take long for Hopkins to return to basketball matters, jokingly declaring that his copy of the box score was lost to the storm.

“We didn’t want to celebrate on the court, we wanted to act like we’ve been there,” Hopkins said in a postgame Zoom call. “It’s extremely touching that they care that it’s my first win, because it’s their first win too. But they were really warm and really genuine. It’s a pretty cool moment.”

Hopkins was named the eighth head coach in Liberty history in January after three seasons of a de facto apprenticeship under the legendary Cheryl Reeve in Minnesota. His first head coaching endeavor has already offered challenges some coaches will never experience in decades. Opt-outs and transactions have given the Liberty one of the youngest teams in North American professional sports history, packed with seven rookies. This was even before the 2020 season was shifted to Florida’s IMG Academy in the wake of the ongoing health crisis, postponing the Liberty’s full-time Barclays Center debut.

The infantile squad perhaps pales in modern comparison with the competition, many of whom are firmly planted in “win-now” mode. Consolation reigned with the idea of consequence-free games headlined by top overall pick Sabrina Ionescu, but she was lost to an ankle sprain in her third WNBA game. There’s no word as to whether her rookie season will resume.

Valiant efforts that followed were marred by garish ten-minute showings. Hopkins himself noted in Friday’s pregame that the team seemed to have “one bad quarter” in each of their showings to date. For example, that narrowed a 14-point deficit to one late in the third quarter against Phoenix last weekend but were outscored 41-13 the rest of the way. In Hopkins’ first get-together against Reeve (and his New York predecessor Katie Smith) on Wednesday, the Liberty led after the first quarter and shot 55 percent in the first half, but were on the wrong end of a 27-6 margin in the third.

So Hopkins did what every family, every business, every unified, rational organization does in a time of crisis…talk it out.

Hopkins revealed in his postgame media discussion that the team met for an emotional meeting prior to the contest against Washington. Labeling it an “everyone get it out on the table” discussion, it was part of the reason Hopkins was looking as lively as possibly could prior to a difficult challenge.

“The thing I’ll remember the most (about the first win) is that we had one of those meetings,” Hopkins said. “Let’s talk through this, let’s talk about specifically what we have to do to get better. We went around after the (Minnesota) game and before the (Washington) game and we asked, what is your controllable? Everyone said one thing. Everyone controlled their controllable today. All the team stats we talked about limiting, we limited.”

“That’s the thing I’m going to remember: the response to a really emotional meeting. It’s really special.”

The game against the Mystics featured a sense of controllable sloppiness. The Liberty led by an 18-14 tally at the end of the first, but ended it in tremendous fashion, with Megan Walker finding fellow rookies Joyner Holmes in transition after a Washington miss. It commenced a 16-5 Liberty run that helped them build a lead they’d never relinquish. 

Hopkins carefully managed the final portions, fatefully calling a timeout with the Liberty up by 12 near the midway mark of the third quarter. When the Mystics trimmed the lead down to five later in the frame, physicality took over. Jazmine Jones drew a foul in the interior, allowing a stoppage in play and fresh legs on the court. The Liberty scored on that possession and kept their foot on the gas pedal from there on out. Kia Nurse and Jocelyn Willoughby reached the foul line a combined 17 times, sinking all but three of those attempts.

The head coach credited the fateful meeting for the surge and the players echoed those claims of positive impact.

“It was about having that hard moment and realizing you have to make the choice to have a better perspective in all of this and look at it as a moment of joy,” Friday’s top New York scorer Layshia Clarendon said of the meeting. “I’m a joyful player, silly, fun. I play really physical, but I love to have fun in practice, always have a smile on my face. I wasn’t playing like that. (The meeting) was a moment for me to remember that I need to get back to who I am, being myself. It’s when I play the most fun.”

“All the new players and coach Walt, they deserve it. We deserve it,” added Amanda Zahui B, she of a career-best 14 rebounds. “It feels good. I’m very proud of my teammates. We stepped up, all of us.”

Hopkins has routinely preached that wins and losses aren’t going to be 2020’s barometer in terms of New York growth. He certainly won’t be complaining when a few head his way, though.

The chance to start his first winning streak comes on Sunday afternoon against the Las Vegas Aces (5 p.m. ET, YES).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags