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Taiwan Is Latest Stop for Enigmatic Ramirez

Aohsiung, Taiwan — Manny Ramirez said yesterday he is “starting a new beginning” after signing a short-term contract to play with the EDA Rhinos in Taiwan’s professional baseball league.

The Rhinos said the 40-year-old will earn $25,000 a month to appear with the team during this year’s March-November season.

Speaking at a news conference in the Rhinos home town of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan, Ramirez said he felt “blessed” about the opportunity to play in Taiwan, where he will earn on a fraction of the $20 million-plus he earned at the peak of his career.

“I don’t think about the money and contract,” he said. “I just think it is a great opportunity for me and the fans.”

Ramirez’s arrival in Taiwan is the latest stop in a career that has seen him morph from a promising hitter in the Cleveland Indians organization to a star with the Boston Red Sox and a huge attraction with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox.

He is a 12-time All-Star in 19 big-league seasons and was selected Most Valuable Player of the 2004 World Series, when the Red Sox won their first title since 1918.

His last major league appearance was with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011, where he was 1 for 17 at the plate before his season was cut short.

Ramirez was suspended for 50 games in May 2009 while with the Dodgers after testing positive for human chorionic gonadotropin, a banned female fertility drug popular among steroid users because it can mitigate the side effects of ending a cycle of the drugs.

He retired in April 2011 after testing positive for elevated testosterone, then decided after the season he wanted to play again. Major League Baseball and the players’ union agreed he would serve a 50-game suspension. He signed a minor league contract with Oakland and hit .302 with 14 RBIs in 17 games with Triple-A Sacramento, then asked in June to be released.

Taiwan’s professional baseball league consists of only four teams, having been whittled down from a high of nine in 2008 amid a series of bribery and game-fixing scandals.

D.R. Wns in WBC

Miami — Nelson Cruz’s two-out RBI single broke a seventh-inning tie, and the Dominican Republic overcame an early four-run deficit to beat Italy 5-4 yesterday in the World Baseball Classic.

The Dominicans (4-0) remained unbeaten and advanced to a winner’s-bracket game Thursday night in the double-elimination second round.

Robinson Cano had three hits, including his second homer of the WBC with a drive off the upper-deck facade in right field. Jose Reyes also homered for the Dominican Republic.

Tennis

Djokovic, Sharapova Win

Indian Wells, Calif. — Top-ranked Novak Djokovic defeated Grigor Dimitrov 7-6 (4), 6-1 to reach the fourth round at the BNP Paribas Open yesterday with his 20th consecutive victory.

Djokovic trailed 5-3 in the first set when the 21-year-old Bulgarian committed six double faults, including four in one game, to help the Serb force the tiebreaker. Djokovic won it on a backhand error by the youngest player remaining in the draw.

Djokovic moves on to play Sam Querrey, a 7-6 (5), 6-7 (7), 7-5 winner over Marinko Matosevic.

Djokovic hasn’t lost since Oct. 31, when Querrey beat him at the Paris Masters. Querrey is poised to take over as the top-ranked American in the men’s game — albeit not in the top 10 — from Mardy Fish, who lost 7-6 (4), 7-6 (0) to No. 8 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

NFL Football

Dolphins Add WR

Miami — Receiver Mike Wallace was the Miami Dolphins’ No. 1 offseason target, and they moved quickly yesterday to seal a deal.

Wallace agreed to a multiyear contract on the first day of NFL free agency, a person with knowledge of the agreement said. The person confirmed the deal to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because no signing had been announced last night.

In four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Wallace caught 32 touchdown passes. He gives the Dolphins the speedy deep threat they lacked last season, when their wideouts totaled three touchdowns.

Hockey

UND Players Plead Guilty

Grand Forks, n.d. — Four North Dakota hockey players accused of supplying alcohol to minors at a team party last September have changed their pleas to guilty. Danny Kristo, Andrew MacWilliam, Carter Rowney and Joe Gleason reached plea agreements last week and were given deferred sentences.

Charges were dropped against a fifth player, Corban Knight. Knight is a candidate for the Hobey Baker award, given annually to the top player in college hockey. Grand Forks County prosecutor David Jones told The Associated Press there was no evidence that Knight was involved in the case.

MacWilliam, Kristo, Rowney and Knight are captains and were suspended for the first game of the season. School spokesman Jason Hajdu says no additional discipline is expected.