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Papelbon sees big things for Theo, Cubs

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Papelbon sees big things for Theo, Cubs

PHILADELPHIA Theres the image of Jonathan Papelbon, eyes bulging, mouth wide open, about to leap into the arms of catcher Jason Varitek.

Papelbon had just closed out Game 4 of the 2007 World Series, sweeping the Colorado Rockies and setting off celebrations across Red Sox Nation.

The three Boston executives now running the Cubs Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod look back on that night at Coors Field and feel vindicated.

There was Papelbon, the guy with the Irish jig, saving the game for Jon Lester. Future MVP candidates Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia formed the top of the lineup. All had become part of a homegrown core drafted and developed by the organization.

So Cubs fans can see Epstein, the parallels between Fenway Park and Wrigley Field and conjure up the curse-busting mythology from 2004. But the new 50 million closer for the Philadelphia Phillies says only believe the hype up to a certain point.

You look at the 04 team, he basically kind of just took over, Papelbon said Sunday. But he was able to come back and do it again and put together a solid organization in 07.

I dont think (Theo) helping a team win a World Series after 86 years is one of his (biggest accomplishments). It is publicly. To me, its not, because that wasnt his team. That wasnt his system. That wasnt his way.

What makes him special to me is what he was able to put together for the team in 07. Because you look at that team and we were a very young team. Yet we also had older guys that helped (show us how it) should be done. ... Thats what made him good in Boston.

When Epstein became the youngest general manager in baseball history in late 2002, he inherited a 93-win team built around Cooperstown-level talents Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez, plus foundation pieces like Varitek, Johnny Damon and Derek Lowe.

Epstein put the finishing touches on that forever team in 2004, when Cubs manager Dale Sveum was the Red Sox third-base coach. That blueprint cant be carbon copied on the North Side.

It was a lot different in Boston, Sveum said. We had just come off (a season being) one pitch away from the World Series. They were already built to win there and were building right now to get there.

Theos here to build a whole organization, not just a baseball team.

That will happen through under-the-radar decisions, and by stockpiling talent. Papelbon pointed to trading Marlon Byrd to the Red Sox for Michael Bowden, the 47th overall pick in the 2005 draft.

Its kind of funny because Ive already noticed some of the moves that hes made, Papelbon said. Ive made little mental notes in my head (like): Wow, that looks familiar.

Papelbon became almost iconic in Boston, fist-bumping the cop working security outside the Red Sox bullpen and running out to the mound. The Dropkick Murphys Im Shipping Up to Boston would blast from the Fenway Park speakers.

The adrenaline fueled Papelbon, who last season became the fastest player in major-league history to reach 200 saves. He was competitive, going year to year when he was arbitration-eligible, at a time when the Red Sox were locking up younger core players with contract extensions.

Did Theo and I always see eye to eye? Papelbon said. No, we didnt, but there were times that we did and we understood that it was a business.

Did we bump heads at times? Yeah, but we were able to get the business side of things done and it made it easy for me to want to go out and perform.

Papelbon said it wasnt that difficult to leave the Red Sox. He told himself that when he reached free agency, hed go to the first team that showed real, strong interest and offered a fair deal.

The closer cashed in last November with the Phillies, a team with this mandate: World Series or else.

Ive always had a good relationship with people in Boston, Papelbon said. The reason why Im not there right now is because I saw Theo leave. I saw Tito (manager Terry Francona) leave. There was kind of a light bulb that went off in my head: Hey, things may not be the same if I come back.

Epstein had grown restless after almost 10 years in the Fenway Park fishbowl. He left Yawkey Way for the biggest challenge in baseball.

Hes got pieces of the puzzle to do it, Papelbon said. I dont know how long its going to take now. Nobody knows that, but I do know that hes going to do some good things for that organization.

Its like when you play somebody in chess and theyre always beating you. Its like they can think two moves ahead. Hes got that talent. Hes always lurking in the bushes.

Illini play freshman quarterback Cam Thomas for first time, but still fall at Minnesota

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USA TODAY

Illini play freshman quarterback Cam Thomas for first time, but still fall at Minnesota

While Saturday's trip to the Twin Cities featured some more of the same for the Fighting Illini, it marked important step in Lovie Smith's rebuilding project.

Freshman quarterback Cam Thomas, a Marian Catholic product, saw action for the first time in his collegiate career, Smith busting out a new option at the game's most important position. Thomas threw a nasty pick six, but he did lead Illinois in rushing in a 24-17 loss at Minnesota.

Thomas only made four throws, completing two of them and landing a third in the hands of a Minnesota defender, but his play injected a bit of excitement into what's looking like another dreadful season of Illinois football, with Smith's team falling to 2-5 through the first seven games of his second season at the helm of the program. Thomas mostly starred with his feet Saturday, rushing for a team-high 79 yards in the defeat.

His first appearance came following the first of the Illinois' defense's three takeaways. Thomas ran for a nine-yard gain on his first carry, and the Illini tied the game with a touchdown on the next play. Thomas was interchanged with starting quarterback Jeff George Jr. from there on out.

While the Illini defense kept the Gophers at bay for much of the day thanks to those three takeaways, P.J. Fleck's team had no trouble racking up rushing yardage, finishing with a whopping 292 rushing yards. Minnesota engineered a 12-play, 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter exclusively running the ball to break a 10-all tie and go up 17-10.

Thomas threw a pick six on the very next play from scrimmage, sending the Gophers up 24-10 to effectively seal the deal. George led an Illinois touchdown drive on the next possession, but the Illini couldn't make up the suddenly big gap in the limited amount of time.

Illinois finished with only 282 yards of offense. George was 18-for-23 for 128 yards and a touchdown. Ra'Von Bonner carried the ball 18 times for 57 yards and a touchdown.

The defeat dropped the Illini to 2-5 on the season and 0-4 in conference play. One of just two teams without a Big Ten win (Indiana is the other), Illinois faces off against a top-10 Wisconsin team next weekend.

Bulls' Bobby Portis publicly apologizes to Nikola Mirotic: 'I'm wrong for what I did'

Bulls' Bobby Portis publicly apologizes to Nikola Mirotic: 'I'm wrong for what I did'

Bobby Portis publicly issued an apology to Nikola Mirotic for the punch that broke two bones in Mirotic’s face and caused a concussion earlier this week.

Portis was suspended eight games by the NBA while Mirotic will be out 4-6 weeks after he goes through concussion protocol, following an incident in Tuesday’s practice where the tensions boiled over between the two power forwards.

“I'm wrong for what I did. I want to publicly apologize to Niko,” said Portis outside the Bulls locker room at the United Center, hours before the home opener against the San Antonio Spurs. “I feel like I let my fans, the Bulls organization, and most importantly my teammates down. This is not who Bobby Portis is.”

Sticking to clear talking points, repeatedly saying “we were competing” as a way to describe the incident, it was a more toned down version of Portis. Portis is usually colorful and engaging when talking to the media.

Saturday, he was muted, almost robotic in a sense. And he didn’t want to go into the incident in detail, one that many sources have said was instigated by Mirotic as the two were going back and forth physically during several possessions.

The play before, things intensified, causing assistant coach Randy Brown to step in and break things up. The next time downcourt, Mirotic apparently charged at Portis and Portis responded with one punch that sent Mirotic to the floor.

Gently choosing his words, Portis said, “We were competing and kinda went back and forth and things happened.”

When asked if he was shoved, Portis reiterated the two were competing although numerous accounts say Mirotic did push him leading up to the direct incident.

“Yes I was surprised by my own action,” Portis said. “That's not who I was, as I first stated. I'm a competitor at the end of the day but I never meant to hurt my teammate.”

Portis and Mirotic have not yet spoken, although Portis said he’s called and texted Mirotic with no response. It hasn’t been determined whether Mirotic will take legal action on Portis.

“Not concerned with that at this point,” Portis said. “At this point I’m just trying to publicly apologize to Niko and my teammates, and that I’m real sincere about the situation.”

Portis will be allowed to practice during his suspension, having returned Friday and Portis believes things can be mended with he and his teammate.

“Going forward I want to make sure that me and Niko are cool and we can be teammates again,” Portis said. “I'm pretty sure we can. We just have to repair this relationship.”

Justin Holiday said the issue will have to be addressed head on as opposed to being swept under the rug or letting the element of time naturally heal things. Whether that conversation is initiated by teammates or the coaching staff or front office, as long as both are wearing a Bulls uniform, it will be necessary.

“It hasn’t been arranged, but I’m pretty sure we’ll have to talk it out,” Portis said. “And I’m pretty sure it will be a gentle conversation. I’m pretty sure we can get past this.”