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."

Quintana's script against Brewers flipped

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USA TODAY

Quintana's script against Brewers flipped

Before this afternoon's game against the Brewers, Jose Quintana had a 0.95 ERA against them, but thanks to some first-inning longballs, that changed quickly. Milwaukee, on their way to a 7-0 win at Wrigley Field, had sort of stumbled in to this two game series thanks to shaky bullpen performances against the Padres and Braves in their previous two series, and given Quintana's past success against them, it didn't appear likely going into the game that things would change.
 
It took all of two pitches for Lorenzo Cain to homer to left, and then later in the first inning, for Ryan Braun to do the same with a two-run shot that gave the Brewers a quick 3-0 lead. Braun, who before today's game was hitting .143 without even an extra base hit against Quintana, ultimately homered twice.
 
"Everything he’s thrown me, he’s had success with," Braun said of Quintana. "Everything he’s shown me had worked for him."
 
As a team, the Brewers were hitting just .202 against Quintana, so they knew scoring opportunities would be at a premium.
 
"A guy as good as him isn’t going to make many mistakes, so any mistakes he does make you have to take advantage of," Braun said. "He’s had so much success against us, the odds were we were going to find a way to score a couple runs, we were able to do that against him today."
 
In the first inning, Cain homered in the first on a fastball left too far in the zone, and Braun on a curveball that didn't break away from the sweet spot. Braun's second homer came on a 75 mph curveball after Quintana fell behind in the count 2-0.
 
Brewers starter Jhoulys Chacin said that going into the game, he was thinking about how much his offense has struggled against Quintana, but seeing them score so early eased the pressure on him and allowed him to work with his slider and fastball a little more aggressively.
 
"A couple of big-time players stepped up in the first inning, and I mean, yea, we've really struggled against this guy," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of the first-inning success against Quintana. "You put up three runs in the first inning with two homers, it flips the script pretty fast."
 
With the onus off of Chacin, he was better able to throw seven scoreless innings on the way to his sixth decision in his last seven starts. Today's was an especially important win for Milwaukee, who entered this week's short series three games behind the Cubs. Brewers players differed on whether or not they'd call it a must-win, however.
 
"We have six more after these against the Cubs, but I feel like any game is must-win right now," Chacin said.
 
Braun, who has seen firsthand how much games in August and September can change the course of what had been a successful season, called it a little differently.
 
"It’s pretty close to a must-win. If we want to stay in the division race, I think we had to win one of two, ideally you gotta win both," Braun said. "These guys are really good, you obviously didn’t want to leave here down five games."
 
Against the packed crowd of 40,441 Tuesday, Braun said that he enjoys the atmosphere at Wrigley as the opponent.
 
"I’ve always enjoyed playing here. As a competitor, there’s no more enjoyable atmosphere to play in than this. The more hostile the environment is, the more enjoyable it is as a competitor. This place is always packed, it’s always loud. It’s a very challenging place to win," Braun said.
 
Even with another win tomorrow, the Brewers will still remain a game behind the Cubs, but Braun said that he is thankful to be playing in meaningful games at this point in the season regardless. After tomorrow, the Cubs and Brewers play two series in the first half at September, one at Miller Park and one at Wrigley Field.
 
 

Ben Zobrist earned his first career ejection thanks to one hell of a zinger

Ben Zobrist earned his first career ejection thanks to one hell of a zinger

Two days after David Bote turned in the best moment of the Cubs' season, Ben Zobrist delivered the best line of the Cubs' season.

As the top of the ninth inning was getting underway, the 37-year-old mild-mannered veteran was seen talking with home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi.

As Jorge De La Rosa finished his warm-up pitches and the inning was about to start, suddenly Zobrist and Cuzzi got animated and the next thing anybody knew, Zobrist was slapped with his first-ever ejection.

"When you have good, quality at-bats as a hitter and you feel like it's kinda taken away from you, you want some sort of an answer," Zobrist said. "Or you want to be assured that they're gonna go back and make an adjustment and that's what I asked for.

"It was met with, basically, he didn't want to talk about that. He didn't want me to tell him that. I just basically said, 'Well that's why we want an electronic strike zone.'"

MIC. DROP.

This came after a passionate discussion between the two men in the bottom of the sixth inning when Zobrist was called out on strikes on a full count pitch he thought was clearly off the plate. On that play, Joe Maddon came out to intercede and was ejected, but Zobrist walked back to the dugout to collect himself and remained in the game.

So before his next at-bat, Zobrist wanted to say his piece. A calm discussion transformed into something more and while Zobrist didn't apologize for what he said, he was willing to admit his pride played a factor.

"It is what it is," he said. "I'm not gonna lie. When you're dealing with that and you're trying to have good, quality at-bats and you feel like it gets taken away from you, sometimes your pride gets in your way and you say things that are going to upset them. Obviously that upset him and he tossed me."

Zobrist's strikeout wasn't an altogether huge moment in the game, but the pitch — a breaking ball off from Jhoulys Chacin that started off the plate and remained off the plate — should've been Ball 4 and would've given the Cubs runners at first and second with nobody out for Jason Heyward. Sure, it was a 7-0 ballgame, but with the wind blowing out and the Cubs had 12 outs left, crazier things have happened (which Bote just proved).

The Cubs never went on to record another hit, but they didn't blame Cuzzi for that.

"Whenever Zo argues, as a manager, you better get your butt out there," Maddon said. "He's rare to be that way and eventually to get ejected, that's unfortunate. But regardless, there was a couple bad calls, but we gotta do a better job offensively. My god."

Zobrist said he's been more animated and riled up at other points in his career compared to Tuesday afternoon, but obviously that zinger was enough to get the job done to notch his first-ever ejection.

Almost a year ago to the day, Zobrist was very nearly tossed in a game against the Reds, but Maddon once again got in the middle.

This is the latest chapter in what has become a surprising trend of the Cubs vs. umpire debacle. 

For the third straight homestand, the Cubs have had an issue with the umpiring crew — from Javy Baez getting tossed against the Cardinals last month to Anthony Rizzo getting heated with Angel Hernandez two weekends ago to Maddon getting the boot a few days ago against the Nationals.

Only Rizzo's was related to balls and strikes, but between him and Zobrist — two guys who rarely argue — getting heated in the span of 9 days, it begs the question: Does Major League Baseball need an electronic strike zone?

"I'm just gonna leave it at that," Zobrist said. "I think that discussion will happen eventually. But I'm just gonna leave right now at the fact that I said that today. That's it."