Red Sox

Ex-Sox farmhand Rizzo lives up to hype in Cubs debut

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Ex-Sox farmhand Rizzo lives up to hype in Cubs debut

By Patrick MooneyCSN Chicago
CHICAGO -- Anthony Rizzo still had shaving cream inside his left ear, and across the gold chain hanging around his neck and the blue collar of his Cubs T-shirt.

The former Red Sox farmhand -- traded to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez deal and subsequently dealt to the Cubs -- got the warning through his headset and heard Matt Garzas footsteps before the pie-in-the-face routine interrupted the postgame television interview by the dugout.

Inside the clubhouse late Tuesday night, the media pack surrounded Rizzo and spilled over into Ryan Dempsters locker. Dempster stood there in a towel and joked: If its going to be like this every day, Im going to have to switch lockers.

The Cubs expect the hype to fade at some point, but Rizzo lived up to it throughout a 5-3 win over the New York Mets in front of 34,064 fans at Wrigley Field.

The guys welcomed me with open arms, Rizzo said. I couldnt imagine a better start.

Making his debut in a Cubs uniform, Rizzo went 2-for-4 with an RBI double that showed some heads-up hustle. There was the groundball to first base that advanced two runners in the third inning, and the noise from the crowd when he blasted a ball to the warning track in right field in the seventh. His uniform was covered in dirt.

He didnt act like much of a kid, manager Dale Sveum said afterward. You cant teach the way he is at first base, the mannerisms (and) all that. Thats pretty impressive. You cant teach no panic.

On Monday afternoon, Rizzo got the word Cubs fans and the Chicago media were waiting on for weeks, if not months. After hitting .342 with 23 homers and 62 RBI in 70 games at Triple-A Iowa, he drove to Chicago, where there are great expectations.

Oh yeah, this is the best, Rizzo said. Pressure comes with every sport, and being in such a big market its even better. You have to perform and thats what its all about. But in order to perform, you have to prepare every day like it could be your last.

There will be no return trip to Des Moines. The executives in charge at Clark and Addison Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod have known Rizzo since he was a high school kid in Florida and chose him in the sixth round of the 2007 draft with the Red Sox.

Im here to stay, Rizzo said. Im just going to work hard every day and learn, get better and go through the ups and downs of being a baseball player, the nicks and bruises. Thats about it.

That professional attitude and the perspective that comes from having beat Hodgkins lymphoma as a prospect in the Red Sox system has impressed the front office.

The 22-year-old Rizzo did exactly what was asked at Iowa lowering his hands, shortening his swing, developing a routine and improving his mental focus.

Hoyer regretted rushing Rizzo to the big leagues last season when he was the San Diego Padres general manager. But now that Hoyer has the same title with the Cubs, he feels like Rizzo is in a better place because of that experience (.141 average, one homer in 49 games).

Last year is going to be really good for him, Hoyer said. He struggled in the big leagues and had to get through that. He had to spend an offseason frustrated because he didnt do what he wanted to do.

Thats part of growing as a player and I think it probably gives him good perspective coming up here. It probably makes him a little bit hungrier as well, knowing he wants to prove some people wrong and get it right this time.

Maybe its because this is a 26-48 team, or because there are some solid veterans in the room, or because of the way Rizzo carries himself, or because the top prospect already made fast friends from their time together in Iowa, or some combination of all those factors. But there was no resentment you could sense in the clubhouse.

We were so happy today to see him in the lineup and see what he did, Alfonso Soriano said. I hope that he can do that more often.

Randy Wells could go only go three-plus innings, Scott Maine got his first career win and Carlos Marmol notched his 100th career save. But the big story once again was Rizzo. At least this time you could actually lay your eyes on him and not just the reports Sveum admitted he looked forward to getting in his e-mail inbox.

Rizzo gave Wrigley Field a thumbs-up review awesome and said it reminded him of the movie Rookie of the Year. He said he toned it down from the 20 or so guests he invited for his big-league debut last year with San Diego and this time just had close family in the stands.

Rizzo projected confidence and acted like he belonged. Around Chicago, he went almost unrecognized Monday night into Tuesday afternoon, except for the standard autograph seekers at the hotel.

All that is about to change, because Rizzo is now a billboard for The Cubs Way, and runaway expectations.

I was the savior last year in San Diego, too, Rizzo said. Hopefully, this is just a building block for whats to come here in this city and the organization. Thats all I can say about that. I think theres a lot of good things to come and maybe we can look back and this is one of the first steps.

Red Sox hire Alex Cora as their new manager

Red Sox hire Alex Cora as their new manager

BOSTON -- Alex Cora is the 47th manager in Red Sox history, charged with reinvigorating a young clubhouse and improving on consecutive 93-win seasons that fizzled in the first round of the playoffs.

The team made the hiring of the 42-year-old Astros bench coach official on Sunday, a day after Houston advanced to the World Series and two days before the start of the Fall Classic. Cora will remain with the Astros until the Series is finished and has a three-year deal, with a club option for 2021.

A 14-year big leaguer from Puerto Rico, Cora is the first Latin manager in club history. He hit .252 in 301 games for the Sox from 2005-08. He was the most sought-after managerial candidate this offseason and arrives with a great reputation based on his personality, his prior experience in Boston and his season with the Astros. 

ALEX CORA: NEW RED SOX MANAGER

He knows Sox second baseman and leader Dustin Pedroia well. The last time Cora was in the World Series prior to this year was 2007. On Saturday, exactly 10 years after the Red Sox came back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Indians in the American League Championship Series, the Astros finished off a rally after falling behind 3-2 in the series.

"You know, we've never been through this," Dustin Pedroia said after the Sox won Game 7 in 2007. "This is on the biggest stage. Everyone is watching these games. I remember the Angels series, I was nervous. Alex Cora told me, 'Hey, settle down, be yourself, have fun. This game is meant to be played, have fun. Play as hard as you can and leave it out there on the field. If we lose, we lose. Don't have any regrets.'

"Ever since then I kind of went out there, and I don't worry about anything but playing hard. I think everybody is doing that. Nobody cares about anything, just picking each other up and playing the game to win."

Early on, Cora will have to prove that his inexperience is not a stumbling block for a club in a win-now mindset. This season was Cora's only as a major-league coach. He's the first Sox manager to take the big job without prior major-league managing experience since Grady Little in 2002. 

Cora's ability to bond with players is his hallmark.

"Alex brings a lot to the table," Astros outfielder Carlos Beltran said. "He's a guy that always is looking for information that he could use against the opposite team. And he's also, he provides that information to the player, which is great. He has good communication with the guys, respects the guys. He's always in the clubhouse getting to know the players, getting to know which buttons he could push on each player to make them go out there and play the game hard, which is great.

"I think I always feel that sometimes managers, they draw a very defined line between players and manager. And sometimes they get caught up not going to the clubhouse because they don't want to feel like they're invading their space. But as a player, I love when managers come to the clubhouse, sit down, talk to us, get to know us, ask about our family, about everything. And that really, for me, means a lot. So Alex does that real well."

Cora's hiring comes five years and a day after the Red Sox hired John Farrell. The choice could have been announced prior to Sunday, but the Red Sox were being respectful of the Astros' playoff run. 

In a statement released by the Red Sox, Cora said: “I am extremely honored and humbled to be named manager of the Boston Red Sox and I want to thank Dave, John Henry, Tom Werner, and Sam Kennedy for giving me such a tremendous opportunity. Returning to the Red Sox and the city of Boston is a dream come true for me and my family and I look forward to working towards the ultimate goal of winning another championship for this city and its great fans. At the same time, I want to express my appreciation for Jim Crane, Jeff Luhnow, A.J. Hinch, and the entire Houston Astros organization for giving me the chance to start my coaching career. It has been a very special season and an incredible organization to be a part of and I am looking forward to the World Series and winning with this group.”

“We were very impressed when we interviewed Alex,” Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said in the statement. “He came to us as a highly-regarded candidate, and from speaking with him throughout this process, we found him to be very knowledgeable, driven, and deserving of this opportunity. He is a highly respected and hardworking individual who has experience playing in Boston. Alex also has a full appreciation for the use of analytical information in today's game and his ability to communicate and relate to both young players and veterans is a plus. Finally, the fact that he is bilingual is very significant for our club.”

“As someone who has played in Boston and knows what it takes to win here, Alex is uniquely positioned to instill a championship culture,” team chairman Werner added in the statement. “Baseball is in his blood and we could not be more pleased to have found someone so accomplished to lead our team. Welcome home, Alex.” 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

 

Astros beat Yankees, 4-0, in Game 7 to advance to World Series

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Astros beat Yankees, 4-0, in Game 7 to advance to World Series

HOUSTON -- Jose Altuve embraced Justin Verlander as confetti rained down. An improbable thought just a few years ago, the Houston Astros are headed to the World Series.

Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. combined on a three-hitter, Altuve and Evan Gattis homered and the Astros reached the World Series for only the second time by blanking the New York Yankees 4-0 Saturday night in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

Next up for the Astros: Game 1 against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night. Los Angeles opened as a narrow favorite, but Verlander, the ALCS MVP , and fellow Houston ace Dallas Keuchel will have plenty of rest before the World Series begins at sweltering Dodger Stadium.

"I love our personality," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We have the right amount of fun, the right amount of seriousness, the right amount of perspective when we need it. This is a very, very unique group. To win 100 games and still be hungry is pretty remarkable."

The Astros will try for their first World Series title, thanks in large part to Altuve , the diminutive second baseman who swings a potent bat, and Verlander, who switched teams for the first time in his career to chase a ring.

Four years removed from their third straight 100-loss season in 2013, the Astros shut down the Yankees on consecutive nights after dropping three in a row in the Bronx.

The only previous time the Astros made it this far, they were a National League team when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Hinch's club has a chance to win that elusive first crown, while trying to boost a region still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

"This city, they deserve this," McCullers said.

Clutch defensive plays by third baseman Alex Bregman and center fielder George Springer helped Houston improve to 6-0 at Minute Maid Park in these playoffs and become the fifth team in major league history to capture a seven-game postseason series by winning all four of its home games.

Morton bounced back from a loss in Game 3 to allow two hits over five scoreless innings. Starter-turned-postseason reliever McCullers limited the Yankees to just one hit while fanning six over the next four. A noted curveballer, McCullers finished up with 24 straight breaking pitches to earn his first major league save.

Combined, they throttled the wild-card Yankees one last time in Houston. Aaron JudgeGary Sanchez and their New York teammates totaled just three runs in the four road games.

"I know people are going to talk about how we didn't win many games on the road. There were some other teams that haven't won many games on the road, either. We just happened to run into a very good team that just beat us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

The Astros also eliminated New York in the 2015 postseason, with Keuchel winning the AL wild-card game at Yankee Stadium.

CC Sabathia entered 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts this season after a Yankees loss. But he struggled with command and was gone with one out in the fourth inning.

Houston was up 2-0 in fifth when former Yankees star Brian McCann came through for the second straight game by hitting a two-run double. He snapped an 0-for-20 skid with an RBI double to give Houston its first run on Friday night in a 7-1 win.

The Yankees, trying to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009, lost an elimination game for the first time this season after winning their first four in these playoffs. New York went 1-6 on the road this postseason.

After going 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position through the first three innings, the Astros got on the board with no outs in the fourth with the 405-foot shot by Gattis.

Altuve launched a ball off Tommy Kahnle into the seats in right field with one out in the fifth for his fifth homer this postseason. It took a while for him to see that it was going to get out, and held onto his bat until he was halfway to first base before flipping it and trotting around the bases as chants of "MVP" rained down on him.

Altuve finished 8 for 25 with two homers and four RBIs in the ALCS after hitting .533 with three homers and four RBIs in the ALDS against Boston.

Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles before Kahnle struck out Gattis. McCann's two-strike double, which rolled into the corner of right field, cleared the bases to push the lead to 4-0. Gurriel slid to avoid the tag and remained on his belly in a swimming pose at the plate for a few seconds after he was called safe.

It was just the second Game 7 in franchise history for the Astros, who lost to the Cardinals in the 2004 NLCS exactly 13 years earlier.

Sabathia allowed five hits and one run while walking three in 3 1/3 innings. He wasn't nearly as sharp as he was in a Game 3 win and just 36 of the 65 pitches he threw were strikes.

Morton got into trouble in the fifth, and the Yankees had runners at the corners with one out. Bregman fielded a grounder hit by Todd Frazier and made a perfect throw home to allow McCann to tag Greg Bird and preserve Houston's lead. McCann held onto the ball despite Bird's cleat banging into his forearm. Chase Headley grounded out after that to end the inning.

A night after Springer kept Frazier from extra-bases with a leaping catch, Judge returned the favor on a ball hit by Yuli Gurriel. Judge sprinted, jumped and reached into the stands to grab his long fly ball before crashing into the wall and falling to the ground for the first out of the second inning.

Springer had another nifty catch in this one, jumping in front of Marwin Gonzalez at the wall in left-center to grab a ball hit by Bird for the first out of the seventh.

With McCullers in charge, the Astros soon closed it out.

"It's not easy to get here. And I don't take any of this for granted. And this is what we play for," Verlander said. "These are the experiences that you remember at the end of your career when you look back, winning these games, just playing the World Series. Hopefully winning the World Series."

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