Cubs

‘F--- yeah!’ Theo Epstein builds another World Series winner in what’s already a Hall of Fame career

‘F--- yeah!’ Theo Epstein builds another World Series winner in what’s already a Hall of Fame career

CLEVELAND – “F--- yeah!” Theo Epstein screamed out as he walked through a hallway inside Progressive Field’s visiting clubhouse, handing an unopened bottle of champagne to Ron Coomer, the WSCR-AM 670 radio analyst who grew up in Chicago’s south suburbs and once played for the Cubs, but really just happened to be standing there.

His black suit completely drenched, Epstein needed to find Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona and congratulate him on a great season that ended in Game 7 of the World Series. Together, they had won two championships with the Boston Red Sox and the Cubs president wanted to pay his respects after an 8-7 win that had been 108 years in the making.

Before this clubhouse became a stuffy, sweaty maze jammed with players, coaches, scouts, reporters and extended families early Thursday morning, Epstein had walked by the weight room during the rain delay and noticed the hitters had gathered together. To that point, the Cubs and Indians had played nine innings to a 6-6 draw in front of a sellout crowd and a massive TV audience.

“They were all meeting,” Epstein said. “I saw their backs and I, like, pushed the door ajar and they were all saying: ‘This is only going to make it sweeter! Stay together! Let’s keep grinding! It’s our time!’”

Epstein has a Yale University education and a law degree, but he’s never been a propeller head or easy to label. He loved Kyle Schwarber’s nonstop energy and gym-rat mentality when he saw him at Indiana University and pushed to make him the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft.

Almost seven full months after an outfield collision would force him to get “season-ending surgery” on his left knee to reconstruct his ACL and repair his LCL, Schwarber began the 10th-inning rally with a hard-hit single into right field.

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It took a “multiple-bank shot” at the winter meetings for the Cubs to be able to trade Starlin Castro to the New York Yankees and convince Ben Zobrist to take less guaranteed money and sign a four-year, $56 million deal for this exact moment.

Zobrist – the son of a minister who grew up in downstate Illinois and earned a championship ring last year with the Kansas City Royals – capped off his World Series MVP performance by smashing an RBI double down the left-field line.

Miguel Montero – who felt so lost at the plate and in the three-catcher shuffle that he wondered if the Cubs would simply release him this summer – singled into left field to drive in the insurance run.

And in the bottom of the 10th inning, the Cubs pieced together three outs with a pitcher (Carl Edwards Jr.) the Texas Rangers once drafted in a round that no longer exists (48th) and a guy whose career had stalled to the point where he actually thought he would be playing in Japan this season (Mike Montgomery).

“I know it sounds corny,” Epstein said. “But in my experience, at least, I think human beings can accomplish more for each other when they feel connected than they can for themselves.

“Great teams are example of that. We’re not unique in that. We’ve seen that time and time again. But our guys pulled it off. They stayed together. They care about each other. They like each other. They overcame tough circumstances.

“You don’t have to get all corny about it, but I think that’s why we won. You don’t accomplish great things like that for yourself.”

Within five seasons, Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer, scouting/player-development chief Jason McLeod and their entire baseball-operations group methodically tore down and rebuilt an iconic franchise, turning a 101-loss season in 2012 and two more fifth-place finishes into the best team in baseball.

Combine The Cubs Way with that 2004 Band of Idiots and Epstein has been involved in 194 years of curse-busting in two of America’s greatest cities – before his 43rd birthday.

“It’s like comparing two of your kids,” Epstein said. “You cherish both of them. Different origins, different personalities, but they’re both things you treasure for your lifetime.”

Epstein already earned a five-year extension worth in the neighborhood of $50 million before the playoffs started. This already looked like a Hall of Fame resume, no matter what happened in Game 7. As Epstein stood in the visiting dugout in front of a camera and listened to a question on a CSN Chicago postgame show, he announced his next move.

“Jed’s in charge,” Epstein said. “I’m going on a bender.”

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Willson Contreras’ third-inning home run might not have ended up standing out too much in an All-Star Game featuring a jaw-dropping and record-shattering 10 dingers.

But, obviously, it will always stand out to the guy who hit it.

“I enjoyed every single second that I spent out there.”

Remarkably, Contreras repeated his feat from two seasons ago, when he hit his first big league homer on the first big league pitch he ever saw. Ditto on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, when he launched the first pitch he saw as an All Star out over the wall in left field.

“When I hit the ball and thought it was gone, I went back to 2016, playing in Chicago. It was the same thing, first pitch for a homer,” Contreras, all smiles, said following the American League’s 8-6 victory. “I’m really blessed with these kinds of situations. Those moments, they’re going to be history and they’re going to be in my mind and my heart.”

Contreras’ long ball was the highlight of the evening for fans watching back home in Chicago. Javy Baez got a hit in his first All-Star at-bat but was outdone by his teammate. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu was hitless in his two trips to the plate.

And while it will be a highlight on this night for Cubs fans, it will be a highlight forever for Contreras, who enjoyed the heck out of his first All-Star experience.

“‘I did it, I did it,’” he said when asked what was going through his head. “I knew it was something special. And I wasn’t trying to do too much because these guys are nasty, throwing 98 in the first inning. I just tried to get the hit out.”

The nasty guy he went deep against was Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell, whose 2.27 ERA on the season made him a very worthy inclusion on the AL roster. But Contreras was more impressed with the guy who started the game for the National League, raving about Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer after the game.

“He was great, man. Great stuff, he gets so into the game,” Contreras said. “I would like to have him one day on my team or play with him for a few years. That guy is amazing.”

That’s not the current Nationals star Cubs fans are dreaming about, Willy, but point taken.

But it wasn’t Snell or Scherzer or even Baez or Jon Lester, also in the NL dugout, who Contreras was thinking about the most during his home run trot. Instead, Contreras was thinking about his grandfather, Ernesto, who passed away a few years ago.

“My grandpa, he died in 2015,” Contreras said. “I grew up with him.

“He didn’t play ball. But I feel like every time I go out there and step into the box, he’s at my back. It just feels amazing when you hit a homer or do something special, look at the sky and you know that he’s there smiling somewhere.”

It all made for a pretty incredible night for Contreras, who has officially and loudly taken his place among baseball’s best on the game’s biggest stage.

The only thing that was missing? The ball.

Yeah, Contreras didn’t get the ball, not that he really expected to. But if you’ve got it, he wants it.

“I don’t think they’re giving it back,” he said with a grin.

We’ll see. Social media’s a powerful tool. So reach out.

Manny Machado as a Dodger creates a formidable foe out west for the Cubs

Manny Machado as a Dodger creates a formidable foe out west for the Cubs

Well, it's finally happening, or at least it's going to happen. The Athletics' Ken Rosenthal reported during the MLB All-Star game that the Baltimore Orioles had agreed to officially move their franchise player Manny Machado. Neither team has confirmed anything at this time, but the deal has reportedly been as close to a done deal for the last day or so, and it would seem Machado is destined for finish his 2018 campaign in Hollywood. 

Of course, with this addition, the reigning National League champions look primed for another deep postseason run. Though, the club is clinging to a half-game lead in the NL West, with Machado in tow the Dodgers are right with the Cubs and Brewers as the elite squads in the National League. It could be argued the Dodgers didn't necessarily 'need' Machado, with an offense that was already in the top 10 in runs scored, but Machado might be the perfect addition for the Dodgers. 

After losing their young star shortstop Corey Seager for the season with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers were in need of a more permanent solution at shortstop. And despite Machado's defensive metrics showing a steep decline in his glove at shortstop, the Dodgers will welcome his robust slash line of .315/.387/.575 while ignoring any shortcomings on defense. 

But what this means for the Cubs, who are only two games off the 2016 World Series club pace, is the path to another championship will likely require another run-in with the Dodgers. The club's biggest threat has been at this point the Brewers, but it's not hard to envision the Dodgers distancing themselves as the clear favorites in the National League with Machado in the heart of the order.

The good news for the Chicago is at least Machado didn't end up in Milwaukee, but that also could mean the Brewers make a more concerted effort to acquire pitching before the July 30th deadline. The Cubs will also see the return of Yu Darvish, who despite only managing to win one game this season in a Cubs uniform, will be a massive upgrade over the scuffling Tyler Chatwood. If the Cubs pitching can start producing like many expected them to before the start of 2018, and guys like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant start to hit alongside All-Stars Javier Baez and Willson Contreras, it's not hard to imagine the Cubs separating themselves from the pack in the 2nd half of season. 

The Dodgers are no strangers to blockbuster deadline deals, acquiring Yu Darvish in a similar three-month rental situation, but the Cubs getting a bat like Rizzo right and an arm like Darvish healthy would be better than any deal Theo Epstein could make to improve this team. And if it's not enough, the Cubs have a solid track record of grabbing former Dodger rentals in the off-season. The push for the playoffs starts Thursday for the north-siders.