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Garfien: The Game of Milton Bradley

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Garfien: The Game of Milton Bradley

Thursday, September 24

I know I normally devote theSox Drawer to the team that resides on the South Side, but now that Milton Bradleys stint with the Cubs is basically over, I figured Id share a story I had hoped to air about the controversial Cub. Its actually a positive story about Bradley that I couldnt get off the ground. Why?

The answer probably wont surprise you.

Ten years ago, I got a sportscasting job at WHTM-TV, the ABC affiliate in Harrisburg, Pa. It was the home of the Harrisburg Senators, then the Double-A team for the Montreal Expos. When I arrived there in December, people were still talking about a play that a young prospect had made the previous October that won the league championship for the Senators.

His name was Milton Bradley.

The Senators were playing the Norwich Navigators, the Yankees Double-A team. It was the decisive Game 5 of the series, the teams were tied at two games apiece.

In the bottom of the ninth, Harrisburg trailed by three runs. Their chances of coming back looked bleak.

However, as fate would have it, a situation arose that every young baseball player dreams about, but so rarely happens. In fact, Ive actually never seen it happen. Or even heard it happen.

But it would on this night.

Stepping to the plate was Bradley, a 21-year-old outfielder, one of the Senators best hitters, who had redemption on his mind.

It had been a season of controversy for Milton, who earlier that year spit his gum on an umpire and got suspended for seven games.
I know, shocker.

However, at this particular moment, that was ancient history. Milton Bradley had a chance to make history.

He was given the perfect dream scenario:

The championship was on the line. It was the bottom of the ninth. His team was down three runs. The bases were loaded. There were two outs. He had a full count.

And with rain pouring down in buckets, Bradley did something truly remarkable.

He sent a rocket into the air in right field, a screaming line drive that pelted every rain drop in its way. The ball soared over the right fielders head and completely disappeared over the fence -- for a grand slam.

The Senators had won the Eastern League title.

Chaos ensued.

Milton Bradley became an instant hero of mythical proportions.

He was a star in the making.

A decade passed. Bradleys majestic blast flew under the radar of his career, mainly because he crashed and burned wherever he went.

Maybe that would change here.

He signed that 30 million deal with the Cubs, and I couldnt wait for his arrival, because in my possession was all of the footage from that incredible night.

Theres Bradleys grand slam from multiple angles, his teammates mobbing him at home plate, and carrying him around the field like he was a baseball god.

Theres Milton, moments after the home run, talking about how tough a season it had been for him thanks to the gum spitting incident.

I have the spitting incident video, too.

Theres the mayor of Harrisburg on the field gushing about Bradleys grand slam and what it meant to the city. The footage culminates in a beer-drenched locker room, the Senators players and coaches celebrating their most surreal victory.

Its easily one of the greatest moments in baseball history. Were talking major leagues, minor leagues, even little league.

And I couldnt wait to tell his story. I just needed the right time to approach Milton about it.

Unfortunately, that time never came.
If Milton wasnt exploding on an umpire over balls and strikes, he was boasting about his injured 30 million knee, or throwing the baseball into the stands with two outs, or attacking a dugout water cooler, or being sent home after arguing with manager Lou Piniella during the CubsSox series, or saying that he prays games at Wrigley last only nine innings so he can go home, or calling certain Cubs fans racist, and then saying that his comments were taken out of context...

It went on and on and on.

In July, during one of the very few times that Bradley didnt have a tornado swirling around him, I went inside the Cubs clubhouse thinking this might be my best chance to do the story.

My plan was to put a microphone on him, sit and watch the video together, and capture Milton re-living the biggest hit of his baseball life.

But when I arrived in the clubhouse, Bradley was nowhere to be found.

So I waited and waited. No Bradley. I was told he was in the trainers room, and probably wouldnt come out -- until the media left.

Not a good sign.

I spoke to a member of the Cubs media relations staff about my story, and asked if he could go into the trainers room and relay the information to Milton. I figured that after enduring four months of negative press, Bradley would hear about my idea, recognize that this was a special opportunity for him to show the people of Chicago a different side of him, and that hed leap off the trainers table and sprint over to talk with me.

Well, maybe everything but that last part.

But honestly, he should have. This was a slam dunk. Or in this case, a grand slam.

Who on the planet wouldnt want to talk about hitting a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, down three runs, with the bases loaded and two outs, and a full count, through a driving rainstorm to win the league championship?

Well, Milton didnt.

The Cubs media rep came out of the trainers room shaking his head.

It doesnt look good, he said to me.

What? What do you mean?

When told about my story idea, Bradleys response was, I have that footage already, and no, he didnt want to do it.

But more than anything, he just didnt get it.

I know that Bradley has a troubled, checkered past dating back to his childhood. Maybe hes someone who doesnt like going backwards in time, only forwards.

If so, I understand.

I also know theres a trust issue with Milton. He often feels like hes been wronged by the media.

I dont agree with that. But Im willing to understand that, too.

However, at some point you need to be accountable for your actions, both positive and negative. As to why Bradley wont fess up about the greatest positive of his baseball career, I cant answer that.

Its merely another chapter in the mystery that is Milton Bradley.

And its fitting that he shares his name with the man famous for making board games, because while here in Chicago, he had a Monopoly of controversies, hed frequently Boggle the mind, and in the end, he sunk his own Battleship.

Too bad this story remained buried at sea.

Javy Baez can see the future

Javy Baez can see the future

Javy Baez doesn't have the words to describe Javy Baez.

But then again, that's not what he does.

Analytical breakdowns aren't his game — incredible, heart-stopping physical feats on the baseball diamond are.

On a night at Wrigley Field that felt like one of the October battles of the past between the Cubs and Dodgers, Baez once again wowed and awed.

It wasn't just that ridiculous juke move at first base, though that will undoubtedly go down as one of the top MLB highlights of the year — if not THE top highlight. 

During Tuesday night's 7-2 Cubs win, Baez turned five different ground balls into outs...from the outfield grass. One such play nabbed Cody Bellinger by a split second at first base to end a bases-loaded threat in the eighth inning. 

And there was his seventh homer of the season — his first at home, surprisingly — to give the Cubs some more breathing room as he continues to hit the ball with authority the other way. He now has 15 hits in his last 33 at-bats and 9 of those knocks have gone for extra bases (5 doubles, 3 homers and a triple). 

But back to that play at first base — how did he do it?

After pausing for a few seconds, Baez shrugged and said, "I don't know," before trying to find the words to explain what was going through his head in those few seconds as he was hurtling down the basepath:

"I just saw him really close to the line," Baez said. "Usually on that play, you go around [the base] like it's a base hit. I think if I would've kept going, he was going to run me over because he's a big dude. 

"I saw a play — Billy Hamilton did it like 3 or 4 years ago. I saw it and that was the first thing that came to my mind — to stop or see a reaction and he couldn't stop. I know I didn't leave the line. It was everything good."

It's the last part that's most amazing. 

Here's the play Baez was referencing, from July 11, 2014:

So as he's running down to first base, he has the wherewithal to dip into his encyclopedic cache, pluck out the perfect play from his memory and execute it in glorious fashion...all in a matter of maybe a second-and-a-half.

"I think we all feel his energy all around the place — not only on the field, but in the clubhouse," catcher Willson Contreras said. "We call him The Mago for a reason. I love this guy. To me, he has the best instincts in the game. What he did today was just awesome. That's one of the best base hits ever."

Joe Maddon said he and the Cubs coaches were comparing Baez to legendary Bears running back Gale Sayers in the dugout for that juke move.

"That's him playing on a playground in Puerto Rico somewhere," Maddon said. "That's what I love about him. There's no fear in his game. His game is a game and he sees things in advance and he's fearless. He could strike out three or four times in a row and that is not going to impact his fifth at-bat."

Just about every week throughout the season, Baez shows the baseball world something it's never seen before. 

From his lightning quick tags to his swim move slides to hitting bombs left-handed during batting practice to his rocket arm that has been clocked as high as 98 mph on the infield — even he has to surprise himself every now and then, right? Especially like this play Tuesday night?

"Nah, not really," he said, smirking. "I think if it's in your mind, it's possible. I see a lot of things that people can do and they don't realize it. I realize everything I can do and everything I can't do."

If you ever want to know what makes Baez "El Mago," read that last sentence again:

"I realize everything I can do and everything I can't do."

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Jose Quintana continued his strong run in a dominant 7-inning performance against the Dodgers

Jose Quintana continued his strong run in a dominant 7-inning performance against the Dodgers

During the 4th inning of the Cubs’ 7-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night, LA right fielder Cody Bellinger took a 92 mile per hour fastball from Jose Quintana and sent it right back his way at 96: 

After a quick (maybe unintentional?) grab, Quintana calmly tossed the ball in his glove a few times before walking off the mound without even a grimace.

It was just that kind of night for Quintana, who pitched 7 strong innings while allowing only two runs on four hits and striking out seven. He’s now gone seven innings in three straight starts, all Cubs wins - two of which were against teams that currently sit in 1st place.

“We needed that kind of performance tonight,” Manager Joe Maddon said after the game. “They have a very difficult lineup to navigate and he was once again on top of his game. Great focus - he kept coming back with good pitches. Really the curveball was very pertinent tonight and then he had some good changeups to go with the fastball. He’s pitching.”

Quintana flashed an impressive amount of control while working through one of baseball’s toughest lineups. After walking six batters through his first two starts, Quintana has now only walked three since. 71 of his 114 pitches -- the most thrown by any Cubs pitcher this season, per team notes -- went for strikes. 

“I feel great,” he said after the game. “I know I’ve been throwing the ball really well the last couple of starts. All my stuff’s worked really good.”

“This year he’s been really good,” Willson Contreras added. “He’s using all his pitches which he didn’t do last year very often. I think he has his mind in the right place right now, and we’re in a good place.”

Quintana’s offspeed repertoire was firmly on display all night. Per Statcast, after throwing two changeups to Dodgers leadoff hitter Enrique Hernandez, he didn’t show the pitch again until the 4th. On the night, he threw the change up 12 times; the Dodgers failed to put a single one in play. 

“We’ve been in these types of situations and conversations since Spring Training,” Contreras added. “I saw him working out his change up in [there], which is good. He was a little harder than 84, but today I think was one of the best games he threw with the change up.”

Through 28 innings pitched this season, the lefty now sports a sub-3 FIP (2.89) and is striking out over 11 batters per nine innings. Some pitchers that have a higher FIP include David Price, Jacob deGrom and Stephen Strasburg. 

“He’s absolutely pitching right now,” Maddon added. “Where in the past I thought he would just pretty much rely on his fastball. He’s becoming a pitch maker.”