White Sox

'Cuse knocks off No. 1 Louisville

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'Cuse knocks off No. 1 Louisville

From Comcast SportsNetLOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams wasn't fazed by a shaky first half, nor two missed free throws in the final minute that gave No. 1 Louisville chances to win on Saturday.The sophomore just knew he had to redeem himself, and his second-half recovery in several areas helped the sixth-ranked Orange rally for the 70-68 upset.It was the second straight Saturday that No. 1 went down. Duke lost to then-No. 20 North Carolina State 84-76 a week ago.A record crowd of 22,814 at the KFC Yum! Center saw Syracuse beat a No. 1 team for fourth time, all Big East teams.Carter-Williams' most important contributions were a go-ahead 3-pointer with 5:28 remaining, followed by a steal and go-ahead dunk with 23 seconds left as he scored 11 of his team's final 13 points, including the last four.He added a rebound and another steal at the end to cap a 16-point, seven-assist game that made it easy for Carter-Williams to forget a five-point first half and those two missed free throws."I wasn't going to go out without a fight," said Carter-Williams, who finished with four assists and four steals. "They were pressuring us, coming at us in the first half. Things were going their way. The second half, I tried to fight back the best I could. I had two or three turnovers but I just kept flipping the page, flipping the page and ended up winning the game, which was great. ..."Those free throws, I just had to have faith in myself and just try to do anything to get the win."Brandon Triche was 9 of 13 from the field, including five of Syracuse's seven 3-pointers, to finish with 23 points as the Orange (17-1, 5-0 Big East) took control of the Big East Conference. He credited Carter-Williams for getting the win."Michael was the reason we won the game, getting the dunk," Triche said. "I might have kept us in the game, but he's the reason we won the game getting the two steals. That's winning stuff."Jerami Grant and C.J. Fair both had 10 points for the Orange, who won their seventh straight and beat the Cardinals for the third time in a row.Russ Smith's 25 points led Louisville (16-2, 4-1), which had its 11-game winning streak stopped. The Cardinals shot 41 percent (24 of 59) including 29 percent in the second half.After taking a 68-66 lead on Smith's two free throws with 1:58 remaining, Louisville missed two shots and committed two turnovers."That was a great college basketball game and they made some really terrific defensive plays down the stretch," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "They made the plays, they made the shots when it counted and we didn't."Louisville's final chance to tie ended with a pass inside around Gorgui Dieng's knees in the final seconds which Syracuse recovered to seal the victory.For the Cardinals, it was disappointing end to a week that began with their second No. 1 ranking in school history."I'd rather have the No. 1 ranking at the end of the year," Louisville guard Peyton Siva said. "I really don't mind having the No. 1 ranking at all. We're going to work our way back up to that spot and hopefully get it at the end of the year."Syracuse was 24 of 49 from the field (49 percent) and the Orange outrebounded the Cardinals 36-31.More impressive, Syracuse didn't wilt each time Louisville seemed to get the momentum in a back-and-forth game."I thought both teams played incredibly hard," Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. "There were opportunities where we could've gotten discouraged. Michael turned it over for a layup. He made some mistakes, but he is a big-time player."It was great, but now we can forget about it and try to get ready for Cincinnati on Monday night."The game pitted Syracuse's trademark 2-3 zone defense against Louisville's signature pressure, which last year produced two games in which neither team shot above 35 percent in either game.And while both teams got some results from their defensive strengths, the first half featured impressive offensive performances by both.Syracuse made seven of its first nine shots and hit 14 of 23 overall (61 percent) thanks to Triche, who made all four 3-point attempts and all seven overall for 18 points by halftime. His accuracy helped put the Orange ahead early and then rally late in the half to forge a 38-all tie."I got comfortable," Triche said. "I didn't miss a shot in the first half. I was just letting the game come to me. I was going to get open spots and once I got open I just concentrated on following through. The guys got me the ball when I was open and it was pretty easy to move shots because of the movement we had. I wasn't going to force anything."Louisville hit 54 percent (15 of 28) with huge contributions from its bench. Montrezl Harrell was a big factor in the Cardinals outscoring Syracuse's reserves 15-4, hitting all four of his shots for eight points one game after playing 4 scoreless minutes and being limited by an illness.Smith led the way for the Cardinals' starters after a shaky start in which they missed their first three shots against the zone -- including two from beyond the arc -- before he hit a 3-pointer to bring Louisville within 6-3.Syracuse quickly raised it to an 11-3 lead with help from Triche's first two baskets while his teammates added easy inside shots against Louisville's matchup zone. The Orange dominated on the boards as well with a 9-2 lead en route to 15-8 edge through 20 minutes.

Remember that guy? Chris Widger

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AP

Remember that guy? Chris Widger

Backup catchers for Chicago World Series teams have been in the news lately, so why not take the time to look back at the career at Chris Widger?

Christopher Jon Widger was born May 21, 1971, in Wilmington, Delaware, and grew up in Pennsville, New Jersey, where he attended Pennsville High School, graduating in 1989. He started catching his senior year and played college baseball at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

The Seattle Mariners came calling in the third round of the 1992 MLB Draft, and Widger started his ascent to the major leagues. On June 23, 1995, he debuted for the Mariners in a 14-4 loss to the California Angels. He replaced Dan Wilson in the sixth inning, and his first big league plate appearance was a lineout against Mark Langston. One week later he picked up his first hit, a single off the Texas Rangers’ Kevin Gross. In his first start, Widger caught a shutout, a combined effort by Tim Belcher and Bobby Ayala. In all, Widger played 23 games in his first taste of major league action in 1995 and even appeared in five postseason games against the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians as the Mariners reached the postseason for the first time in franchise history. In 1996, Widger spent most of the season at Triple-A Tacoma, where he excelled at a .304/.355/.483 clip with 13 home runs in 97 games. He played eight games for the Mariners in August and September, going 2-for-11.

Widger got a fresh start north of the border when he was traded to the Montreal Expos in October 1996 along with pitchers Trey Moore and Matt Wagner in exchange for pitchers Jeff Fassero and Alex Pacheco. He went from catching Randy Johnson (OK, he caught him once in 1995) to catching Pedro Martinez (OK, he caught him only four times in 1997).

But at least Widger got a chance to play regularly. From 1997 to 2000, he appeared in a total of 436 games, more than 100 per year. He even hit double figures in home runs in 1998, 1999 and 2000 with 15, 14 and 13, respectively. In August 1999, Widger homered in four straight games, tying an Expos franchise record that still stands with the Washington Nationals. In August 2000, Widger was sent back to the Mariners for players to be named later, who turned out to be Sean Spencer and Termel Sledge. Unfortunately, Widger missed nearly all of 2001 with a shoulder injury and headed into free agency with an uncertain future.

In 2001, Widger’s sister Toni tragically passed away from complications with medications to treat a staph infection. She left behind five young girls including a set of quadruplets. Chris returned to Pennsville and built a new house, allowing his sister’s husband, Mike, and five children to move into the old house. Chris and his wife, Theresa, helped out with the kids when they could. Luckily, he signed a deal with the nearby Yankees for the 2002 season, but he had to work his way from Triple-A Columbus first.

Widger had limited major league opportunities over the next few seasons, appearing in 21 games for the Yankees in 2002 and 44 games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003. He was out of the majors altogether in 2004.

It was during that 2004 season where Widger found himself playing in a fast-pitch softball league, then later for the Camden Riversharks in the Independent Atlantic League, only about 30 minutes from home. In 55 games, he hit .267/.336/.574 with 16 home runs and 43 RBIs, which earned him an invitation to spring training with the White Sox for 2005. Widger made the team and backed up A.J. Pierzynski during the White Sox improbable march to a World Series victory. He chipped in a .241/.296/.383 slash line with four home runs and 11 RBIs in 45 games for the champs. His most memorable moment was his home run off Randy Johnson on Aug. 21, 2005, the fourth home run off the future Hall of Famer that inning. It was one of only three times the Big Unit allowed four homers in a game in his legendary career.

Widger saw one game of postseason action in 2005. He caught the last five innings of Game 3 of the World Series, a 14-inning marathon. He went 0-for-1 with a pair of walks, including one with the bases loaded in the 14th to give the Sox a 7-5 lead. When Mark Buehrle came in to record his one-out save, Widger was behind the dish.

All good things eventually come to an end, and Widger was released by the White Sox in July 2006. He signed with the Baltimore Orioles shortly thereafter and finished up his big league career with nine final games.

In 10 major league season, Widger played in 613 games with a .238 batting average, 55 home runs and 222 RBIs. He ranks seventh in home runs among major leaguers born in Delaware (Paul Goldschmidt has lapped the field with 243). Four of his final 11 career home runs were off pitchers who won a Cy Young Award: Chris Carpenter, Tom Glavine, Barry Zito and Johnson.

Widger returned to baseball in 2012, taking a job as an assistant coach at his old high school. The following year, he returned to the Riversharks, who in 2004 had given him a chance to work his way back to the majors. He served as the Riversharks' pitching coach for two years under manager Ron Karkovice before taking over as manager in 2015. The Riversharks left Camden after the 2015 season.

Widger’s next job in baseball was as the bench coach for the Class A Wilmington Blue Rocks, an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, from 2016 to 2018. He remains with the Royals and recently completed his first season as the manager for the Burlington Royals, a rookie-ball team in the Appalachian League. He went 39-29.

Chris Widger. You remember that guy.

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The Pecking Order: An evening with the Chicago Bulls

The Pecking Order: An evening with the Chicago Bulls

As if letting us attend Bulls Media Day wasn’t ridiculous enough, my fellow Outsiders and I were invited to the 31st annual “An Evening with the Chicago Bulls” charity event on Tuesday night. Granted, our invitations only came when NBC Sports Chicago received a few extra tickets on the final day people could RSVP. But our executive producer Kevin Anderson got three very quick “Um, hell yeah!" responses from myself, Big Dave and John. Fool them once, shame on us. We were in!

Before I get into my silly list of favorite moments from the evening, I did want to mention how much I enjoyed and learned from the evening’s speakers. Jens Ludwig, the faculty director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, spoke passionately and eloquently about our city’s crime problem, how it compares to other cities of similar size, and the ways his team’s research is creating new solutions.

Jack Solomon, a youth guidance counselor for BAM (Becoming a Man) and Jamille Thomas, an alum of the program, provided inspiring testimony of their experiences and the effectiveness of BAM’s operation for at-risk youth in Chicago.

We can talk about the Reindorf’s’ (un)willingness to pay the luxury tax for elite level talent at a different time. But when it comes to the work they do with Chicago Bulls Charities, they put their money where their mouths are. As they played a montage of some of their events from last year, I watched Zach LaVine – seated at the table next to me – look up at the screen with pride and joy as he watched himself bond with a family who received Christmas gifts courtesy of Bulls Charities. It’s so easy to forget that professional athletes are more than just stats, wins and losses that we watch on our TVs and discuss on social media. They’re human beings and they care. It was truly remarkable to see. Good job, Zach. Good job, Bulls.

Now, on to my favorite moments from the Outsiders experiencing our first “An Evening with the Chicago Bulls.”

1. We met Toni. THE Toni. Toni Kukoč. The Waiter. The Croatian Sensation. Sixth Man of the Year for the legendary 72-win season and 3-time NBA Champion for your Chicago Bulls. What the what? In case you think that John, Dave and I are starting to get a little too Insider-y for our role as Outsiders, this is what we look like when we get to talk to Toni. Us? Starstruck? No way.

We tried to get some intel from Toni on the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “The Last Dance,” chronicling the Bulls’ final title season in 1997-98. Namely, when the hell is it going to debut? All they’ve given us so far is that it will be released some time in 2020. At least we’re getting closer, but still no exact release date? Come ON, people! Sadly, Toni couldn’t tell us the release date. Either because he doesn’t know or it’s a secret.

No matter. Meeting Toni was a major bucket list check mark of my Bulls super fandom, and he couldn’t have been nicer to us. Thanks to his daughter Stela for helping when Toni obliged our photo request!

2. OK, this one is a second-hand story of something that happened to Big Dave before John and I arrived. Dave’s wandering around upstairs at the Advocate Center and he runs into Gar Forman. Dave introduces himself and explains to Gar that he does a fan-centric show called Bulls Outsiders. Gar, who hadn’t heard of our show, asks Dave, “Are you nice, or are you mean?”

*Insert several cry-laughing emojis here*

Dave tells Gar he thinks we’re fair. As they continue to chat, Gar’s wife, Leslie, emerges from around a corner and recognizes Dave. “Hey, you’re one of the guys from that show!” Apparently, Leslie had caught our episode following the first Bulls preseason game last week. She told Dave that she enjoyed it and told Gar that he needs to watch.

So, we have at least two confirmed viewers of Bulls Outsiders. Zach LaVine’s dad and Leslie Forman. Now we just need to find a way to get Gar hooked on the show. Hmm…I’ll do some brainstorming. Have I mentioned how much younger and more athletic the Bulls look this season?

3. Kevin and I had a great chat with Zach. We asked him about his recent trending quotes; both people “talking sh*t” about his defense and the midrange shots controversy that got blown way out of proportion. You could tell Zach didn’t take kindly to the, shall we say, bold headline of a particular Bulls reporter on his story about Zach’s midrange quotes. Zach even responded to the article on Twitter, saying it was the farthest thing from the truth. He took the tweet down eventually, and it appears as though he and said reporter cleared up the confusion.

I agree with Zach’s assessment, and told him so during our chat. Yes, the league is trending away from midrange shots in favor of attacking the basket and shooting threes. He knows that. But when your team needs a bucket, get the ball to your best scorer. That’s Zach. If the shot he gets is a midrange shot, he’s going to take it. That’s the right answer. It’s that simple. Everything else about that midrange story was so ridiculously overblown.

Whether it’s Zach having the confidence to know any shot he takes is going in – midrange or not – or his newly inspired efforts we’re seeing on the defensive end, everything about Zach looks poised for a dominant season. As we were saying farewell at the end of the evening, I gave Zach a fist bump and told him, “Go get that All-Star nod.” He told me, “Oh it’s a done deal. In the bag." I believe him.

4. Luke Kornet finally got to hear John’s pitch for the “Luke Kornet’s Corn Nets” bit that he didn’t get to do at Media Day. He and his wife both thought it was hilarious. Dave was even quick to pull out his phone and show Luke a picture of the corn and nets that John brought to Media Day. Turns out, Luke’s wife wants Luke to write and perform a sketch for her upcoming birthday present. Methinks that John “Second City” Sabine and Luke have a bright future as comedy writing partners. First thing on their to-do list: Shoot the Kornet’s Corn Nets commercial and convince the necessary people to play it on the new videoboard at the United Center during a timeout of the home opener.

5. The Chicago Children’s Choir performed to kick off the evening’s festivities. Oh my God, they’re so talented. They sang two songs and I wanted at least two more. I asked Cristiano Felicio, who was seated with his girlfriend at our table, if he ever sang in a children’s choir. Sadly, no. I’d love to go searching for that footage. Remember how much Cubs fans freaked out when somebody unearthed that video of Kyle Schwarber performing with his high-school show choir? I’d pay top dollar to see a young Felicio in a similar setting. (Side note: Felicio is a really nice guy. It must be tough to be aware of how the fan base sees you and still put on a brave face. I’m sure the paycheck helps. But truthfully, the guy is delightful.)

6. Dave and I met Daniel Gafford and got to tell him how much we’re enjoying watching him play in these preseason games. In the annual NBA GMs poll that was released Thursday morning, we saw his name on the “others receiving votes” list for the category of biggest draft steal. The 38th overall pick could prove this season that he deserved a lot more votes. Assuming a healthy roster, his minutes will be hard to come by on a consistent basis. But he’s doing everything he can in this preseason action to show he’s significantly farther along in his development than people thought as they passed him by on draft night.

7. John and Benny the Bull crossed paths again. As Benny walked by us, he stopped dead in his tracks, whipped off his sunglasses and gave John a death stare that could darken the sun forever. There was another uneasy handshake between the two after the initial moment of terrifying tension.  Benny has nothing but love for Big Dave and me, but I’m still worried about his relationship with John. At some point soon, this could lead to fisticuffs. Or would that be hooficuffs?

8. Bulls assistant coach Karen Stack Umlauf has been with the team for decades and earned another promotion last year when became the first female assistant coach in franchise history. On Tuesday night, we met her husband, Mark, who is apparently another fan of Bulls Outsiders. (Hey, that’s three!)  He engaged us, and we ended up having a delightful conversation. He had some great stories about Bulls seasons of years past and teased us that he has several more. I’m hoping we run into him again soon.

Mark told us that Karen must always warn him to not “nerd out,” as she puts it, before he enters a room with various Bulls celebrities. Apparently, she gave him that very same warning when he wondered if he would run into us at this charity event. Us. Us three doofuses? C’mon, Mark. That’s hilarious. I assured him that we give each other the same warning before we’re about to meet Bulls legends of past and present, too. Mostly, it’s Dave doing it to me. 

I will continue to nerd out upon meeting Bulls heroes. They can deal with it. They’re used to it. I’m definitely still not used to it. (In case he’s reading this: Hey, Mark! Pleasure meeting you. And please, nerd out whenever you like. That’s what true fans do. Also, thanks for watching!)

9. Jim Boylen. Oh my god. I don’t know what planet this guy came from, but its beings are made with way more energy than the average human. Jim came up to us while we were sitting at our table, and joked, “Who let you guys in here?” Good question. We still don’t know who, but they made a mistake. Jim looked like a pinball all evening, bouncing around and conversing with seemingly every individual at the event. Maybe he felt like he needed to soak it all in, this being his first time attending the annual event as the team’s head coach. The face of the franchise. Gotta shake all the hands and kiss all the babies, as it were. But the dude certainly has the energy for it.

Then, as the evening was winding down, Jim came back to find us and engaged us again. He wanted to pitch us on what happened last season, the work they’ve done this offseason, and the positive changes we’re about to see on the floor. He told us that he wants us – all media, for that matter – to just be honest and fair. Critique his job performance and the team’s when it’s deserved. Most importantly, only speak on things you see and understand. 

Last season, plenty of people didn’t have a flipping clue what was going on. If there’s one area where I do have some sympathy for Jim and the Bulls front office, it’s that a lot of Bulls “fans” who checked out a long time ago still hurl insults in their direction for their own entertainment. And that’s not constructive. Often, it’s based on false information.

But we wouldn’t be doing our job as Bulls fans with our platform if we only talked about the positives. If something or someone is bad, we’ll call it out. I did warn Jim, too, that we’ll still be making jokes at his expense this season. And not to be “mean,” as Gar feared we might be. But because we’re fans, he’s the coach, and he’s got to roll with those punches. And let’s be honest, Jim’s epic quotes are ripe for joke picking. I think he understands that.

The last thing I told Jim, after I gave him that fair warning, is that I do sense a great deal of optimism among the fan base about this season. It’s been a long offseason of waiting, but there’s great belief that this team might finally be ready to turn a corner. We’re ready. We hope that Jim and his players are too. As Big Dave has stated repeatedly, and I couldn’t agree more: “I want to like Jim Boylen the coach as much as I like Jim Boylen the man.”  I’m certainly rooting for both.

Thanks for reading.  Attending this event was all kinds of stupid. I don’t understand why people let us do this, but it’s super cool that they do. Till next time.

See red, be good. - Peck