Cubs

Rolfe excited to be back with Fire

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Rolfe excited to be back with Fire

Still battling the effects of jet lag, Chris Rolfe returned to the Toyota Park practice field Wednesday and was excited to be there.

"Only four players are left from the (Fire) team that I last played on," said Rolfe, "but it was still good to see some familiar faces. Just driving into the stadium I got some butterflies, and that was a good feeling."

Rolfe was one of the Fires most popular players from 2005-08, when he scored 40 goals and added 20 assists in 149 matches across all competitions. He was the clubs Golden Boot winner in both 2005 and 2008 before switching to Aalborg BK of the Danish SuperLiga, where he spent the last three seasons.

The stay in Denmark wasnt all bad, but a coaching change with that club coupled with a touch of loneliness spurred Rolfe to get back to the club that drafted him in the third round of the Major League Soccer SuperDraft straight out of the University of Dayton.

"I was there by myself, said Rolfe of the Denmark experience," and you have a lot of time to think over there when youre alone. I reflected on a lot of things regarding the future, the past, my passion. I talked to my agent and my family, and we thought the best decision -- if we could make it happen -- was to get back to Chicago."

This wasnt a case of a spurned player looking for a way out of a bad situation.

"Some teams were interested in me over there, and my club, Aalborg was trying to sign me, said Rolfe. "Overall, going there was good for me on and off the field. It helped me develop as a person and as a player. I had a difficult time there with my injury, but still I wouldnt have changed a thing."

Rolfe developed tendinitis in his hamstring in his first season in Denmark. It bothered him for 11 months, and while he was struggling with his health the club changed coaches.

"I learned some things, said Rolfe. "The one who brought me there was great."

The coach who took over was different. Rolfe started in Denmark playing up top. After the coaching change he was moved to the right side. "Good for a learning experience" was how Rolfe summed up the whole Denmark scenario.

He was a star in Major League Soccer when he left the Fire for the European lifetstyle.

"There were so many variables," he said. "When I was younger I wanted to see if I was capable of playing at that level."

He pretty much was, though six goals in 32 matches over three seasons isnt outstanding. Playing in Europe led to Rolfe getting more callups to the U.S. national team, though the first of his 11 caps came when he was still a member of the Fire.

Aalborgs stadium seated about 12,000 and was sold out for about half of the matches, so Rolfe figures to play before bigger crowds in Bridgeview than he did in Europe. The style of soccer will change, too.

"With Aalborg it was more tactical, slower, said Rolfe. "In Major League Soccer its more athletic and fast-paced -- sometimes to a fault. In Denmark its more organized, in a way."

Fire coach Frank Klopas, who played in Greece early in his career, knows all about that. He thinks Rolfes experience there will help the Fire now.

"I know he can help our team," said Klopas. "Were thrilled to have him, and his attitude is fantastic.

Rolfe will be available for selection in Saturdays road match against FC Toronto, but Klopas was non-committal about whether Rolfe would play or even where he might be on the field as the season progresses. It seems likely hell be paired up top with Dominic Oduro, with Patrick Nyarko playing on the right side again. For now, though, Rolfe has to improve his fitness.

"Its pretty good, and I still have my quick feet," he said, "but I got tired during training."

Klopas, though, liked what he saw in Rolfes first day back. "Hes looked good -- very clean feet, very composed around the goal, very quick," said Klopas.

By Saturday the jet lag should be gone. After four-five days of negotiations between MLS and Aalborg were concluded Rolfe boarded a direct flight from Copenhagen to Chicago. The nine-hour flight arrived on Monday night, and Rolfe was greeted at OHare by several members of Section 8 supporters.

"That was a great surprise because the news (of his return to the Fire) hadnt been released when I got to the airport," said Rolfe."Ive got goals left from my first stint here. I think this will be a good fit."

In another huge playoff moment, Wade Davis stays cool while everything else around Cubs goes crazy

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USA TODAY

In another huge playoff moment, Wade Davis stays cool while everything else around Cubs goes crazy

This became a three-ring circus on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Cubs manager Joe Maddon screaming at the umpires, the video board showing the replay of Curtis Granderson’s swing and the crowd of 42,195 booing and chanting “BULLS#$!!”

The Los Angeles Dodgers are still in command of this National League Championship Series, but the Cubs won’t go quietly into the offseason, unleashing All-Star closer Wade Davis for the final two innings of a 3-2 thriller that kept them alive for at least another night.

The Cubs can worry about the daunting task of winning three more elimination games in the morning. Once Davis forced Cody Bellinger into the double-play groundball that left Justin Turner stranded in the on-deck circle and this one ended at 11:16 p.m., he pulled at his right sleeve and buttoned the top of his jersey while waiting for the Cubs to start the high-five line. “Go Cubs Go” blasted from the stadium’s sound  system and fireworks erupted beyond the center-field scoreboard and Davis acted as if nothing had happened.

To put the idea of beating the Dodgers three times in a row in perspective, the Cubs blasted three homers and got a classic big-game performance out of Jake Arrieta and still needed Davis for a heart-stopping, high-wire act.

Maddon already ruled out Davis for Thursday night’s Game 5 after the closer fired 48 pitches – or four more than he did during last week’s seven-out save that eliminated the Washington Nationals. But at least the Cubs will have those decisions to make instead of cleaning out their lockers.

“I don’t know,” Davis said. “We’ll definitely come in tomorrow and get some treatment and go out and play catch and see how I feel.”

It looks like Davis doesn’t feel anything on the mound. Davis didn’t react to Turner chucking his bat and yelling into the visiting dugout after crushing a 94-mph fastball for a home run to begin the eighth inning. Davis didn’t seem bothered by Yasiel Puig flipping his bat after drawing a walk. And Davis never lost his composure while Maddon got ejected for the second time in four NLCS games.

Maddon flipped out at home plate umpire Jim Wolf – and really the entire crew – when what was initially called a swinging strike three on Granderson got overturned and ruled a foul tip.

“Wade doesn’t care about any of that,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “That’s the right guy to have on the mound. With the mentality he has, he’s going to strike the guy out on the next pitch. Obviously with the replay, it’s not easy to keep your composure. But he’s just different. He’s a different animal.”

While the fans at Wrigley Field got loud and turned angry, Davis chatted with catcher Willson Contreras: “I was just trying to think of the next pitch I was going to throw if he ended up staying in the box.”

Davis got Granderson (0-for-4, four strikeouts) swinging at strike four, walked Yasmani Grandal and then blew away Chase Utley with a 95.1-mph fastball, needing 34 pitches to finish the eighth inning. Davis wasn’t finished, using a Kris Bryant bat to hit against Dodger lefty Tony Cingrani, fouling off five pitches before striking out looking at a 94.9-mph fastball.

“Yeah, I gave up there after a little bit,” Davis said with a look that sort of resembled a smile. “He was bringing it pretty good, and I hadn’t seen a baseball in a while coming in like that.”

If the Cubs are going to match the 2004 Boston Red Sox – the only other team to come back from an 0-3 deficit since the LCS format expanded to seven games in 1985 – they are going to need the offense to generate more runs, a great start from Jose Quintana on Thursday night and someone else to run out of the bullpen. Not that Davis is ruling himself out for Game 5.

“Go get some sleep and then come in tomorrow and start getting ready,” Davis said.

Jake Arrieta stars at Wrigley Field and doesn’t believe this is The End for Cubs: ‘Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye’

Jake Arrieta stars at Wrigley Field and doesn’t believe this is The End for Cubs: ‘Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye’

It’s not Jake Arrieta getting greedy and the Cubs being cheap when he holds up another jersey in a different city this winter, smiling for the cameras while super-agent Scott Boras watches the press conference unfold, marketing an ace to a new audience.

Even Arrieta admits that if he had Theo Epstein’s job, he would do the exact same thing, letting it play out until a 30-something pitcher hits the free-agent market. And Epstein wouldn’t have left the Boston Red Sox and taken over baseball operations at Clark and Addison if he didn’t believe in the need for change, to get outside the comfort zone and test yourself.

It’s just business, but this still felt very personal on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Arrieta probably making his last start in a Cubs uniform while the defending World Series champs survived an elimination game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Three straight trips to the National League Championship Series might have spoiled Cubs fans to the point where standing-room-only Game 4 tickets were selling for $60 on StubHub less than an hour before the 8:01 p.m. first pitch.

By 10:13 p.m., the crowd of 42,195 started booing when manager Joe Maddon popped out of the dugout in the seventh inning to take the ball from Arrieta after 111 pitches. It turned into a standing ovation as Arrieta walked off the mound and tipped his cap, his shaved head set against a mountain-man beard.

“Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye,” Arrieta said after a dramatic 3-2 win, surrounded by reporters at his locker. “It’s a thank you, obviously. I still intend to have another start in this ballpark.

“If that’s where it ends, I did my best and I left it all out there. But we’ve won four in a row plenty of times this year. And there’s no reason we can’t do it again.”

So many times, Arrieta has been worth the price of admission, must-see TV through two no-hitters and those two World Series games he won on the road last year against the Cleveland Indians. None of this would have been possible without the Cubs finding a winning lottery ticket in that Scott Feldman flip deal with the Baltimore Orioles on July 2, 2013.

“I took a little bit of extra time in between pitches,” Arrieta said, “just to look around, foul pole to foul pole, behind home plate, just to relish it and take it in. You got the fans on their feet, pulling on the same side of the rope. It breeds some added energy.

“I had that mindset of I’m going to do everything in my power to get it to tomorrow.”

Arrieta’s pitches dart and dive in directions that even he can’t always control, but he has guts, swing-and-miss stuff (nine strikeouts) and the ability to work through traffic. He gave up five walks, hit Chase Utley with a pitch and watched as Cody Bellinger hammered a ball off the video-board ribbon in right field for a third-inning homer.

But lefty reliever Brian Duensing backed Arrieta up with two outs and two runners on in the seventh inning, forcing Bellinger to lift a flyball into shallow left field, keeping it a 3-1 game and setting the stage for a two-inning Wade Davis save.

“Jake was amazing,” Davis said. “He was throwing Wiffle balls, it looked like. Guys were just swinging at balls that started in on the zone and finished a foot off the plate. He’s just got some amazing stuff.”

For perspective on how far this franchise has come, just look at the lineup from Arrieta’s first spot start as a Cub, the second game of a July 30, 2013 doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field:

David DeJesus, CF
Junior Lake, LF
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Dioner Navarro, C
Luis Valbuena, 2B
Starlin Castro, SS
Cody Ransom, 3B
Cole Gillespie, RF

The Cubs actually sent Arrieta back to Triple-A Iowa for two more starts that summer, part of a mental/mechanical reset and the service-time calculus that would delay his free-agency clock by a year.

By 2015, Arrieta’s raw talent and natural confidence converged with a young, inexperienced team that caught fire in the second half, his Cy Young Award campaign fueling 97 wins and the momentum for chairman Tom Ricketts to authorize a spending spree on free agents that almost totaled $290 million.

"That was pretty special,” Maddon said. “I've never witnessed on the field that kind of consistent performance from a pitcher. It was other-worldly, right down to the wild-card game.

“My God, you pretty much knew if you scored one or two runs, you're going to win that night somehow. I don't know how this is going to look moving forward. But I know one thing, man, that one year of watching him play was different. It was a throwback to the ‘60s kind of pitching (I watched) as a kid.

“He's special – his work ethic and who he is and how he goes about his business. He's a very special young man.”

But Arrieta really isn’t in the mood to wonder if this is the end scene to this chapter of his life.

“There’s a little thought of that, yeah, because you never know,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time, now that the game’s over, it’s out of sight, out of mind. The thought process for me now is to be ready if I’m needed.”