I'll Have Another is big favorite to win the Triple Crown


I'll Have Another is big favorite to win the Triple Crown

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- I'll Have Another went into lockdown on Wednesday, moving into a secured barn shortly after the colt was made the early 4-5 favorite to win the Belmont Stakes in his quest to become the 12th Triple Crown champion and first in 34 years. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was the last of the 12 Belmont horses to arrive at the detention barn, showing up four minutes past the noon check-in deadline. The chestnut colt calmly walked a few hundred yards down a dirt path from where he had been stabled since arriving May 20 and stepped into the barn with a horde of media tracking his every move. "No complaints, no hurdles," trainer Doug O'Neill said. "He's being good." Whether he's good enough to end the 34-year drought of Triple Crown winners will be decided Saturday, when I'll Have Another breaks from the No. 11 post under Mario Gutierrez. He'll have to contend with 11 rivals. "We're going to see how the pace sets up," O'Neill said. "If they're crawling, hopefully we'll be leading the crawl and if they're flying, hopefully we'll be sitting in behind the horses flying." Just two Belmont winners have come out of the No. 11 post since 1905. The last was Sarava, a 70-1 shot who ended War Emblem's Triple Crown bid in 2002. I'll Have Another bucked history in the Derby as the first horse to win from the 19th post. Dullahan was the 5-1 second choice and drew post No. 5. The colt finished third in the Kentucky Derby and sat out the Preakness. "Five is as good as any," trainer Dale Romans said. "It doesn't matter going a mile and a half with my horse. I didn't want to be down on the rail or way outside." Union Rags arrived from his training base in Maryland shortly after 11 a.m. and settled into the security barn, which will be monitored around the clock leading up to the Belmont. Anyone interacting with the horses, including trainers, veterinarians, exercise riders and owners, will have to be logged in and out. The barn was set up as part of last-minute changes to ensure a fair running of the race. Union Rags was the third betting choice at 6-1 and will break from post No. 3 under new jockey John Velazquez. The colt got bumped at the start by Dullahan in the Derby and rallied from 17th to finish seventh. He also skipped the Preakness to prepare for the 1 1-2-mile Belmont. "If I had my choice I would have picked a little further out," trainer Michael Matz said. "I think the horse has enough speed to be in a decent position." Paynter is the fourth betting choice at 8-1 and drew the No. 9 post for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. I'll Have Another chased down Bodemeister in the closing strides of both the Derby and Preakness. But Baffert sent him back to the West Coast and called in a fresh Paynter to challenge the favorite. "I always thought Bodemeister is a very nice colt," said Ahmed Zayat, who owns both Bodemeister and Paynter. "Bob, from day one, thought Paynter was the better horse." I'll Have Another went for his usual gallop earlier Wednesday morning, and O'Neill was pleased. "He's continued to gallop good, his energy's been good, his appetite's been strong, and he's handled this whole journey as good as you could possibly ask a horse," he said. "He hasn't lost a bit of his flesh at all, his coat continues to shine and look great, so we couldn't ask for him to be coming in to this any better." D. Wayne Lukas was back at the track a day after being kicked in the forehead by one of his horses. The 76-year-old Hall of Fame trainer sported an ugly gash that had been stitched up. He will saddle Optimizer in a race he's won four times, but not since 2000. "There's better horses in the race but the times that I have won it, there were better horses in the race then, too," he said. Trainer Ken McPeek has two 30-1 shots in Atigun and Unstoppable U. "These horses admittedly are not of the class level of I'll Have Another, Dullahan, Union Rags," he said. "They haven't proven it at that level. So I really kind of need to run both of them to have a real shot." In 2002, his horse Sarava spoiled War Emblem's Triple Crown, winning at 70-1 odds. "Nobody threw any stones at me on the way out," McPeek said. Nineteen horses have been tripped up in their Triple tries, including 11 since Affirmed was the last to win in 1978. ------ The field, from the rail out: Street Life (Jose Lezcano, 12-1); Unstoppable U (Junior Alvarado, 30-1); Union Rags (John Velazquez, 6-1); Atigun (Julien Leparoux, 30-1); Dullahan (Javier Castellano, 5-1); Ravelo's Boy (Alex Solis, 50-1); Five Sixteen (Rosie Napravnik, 50-1); Guyana Star Dweej (Kent Desormeaux, 50-1); Paynter (Mike Smith, 8-1); Optimizer (Corey Nakatani, 20-1); I'll Have Another (Mario Gutierrez, 4-5); My Adonis (Ramon Dominguez, 20-1).

How game-changing Kyle Hendricks deal came together for Cubs team on brink of World Series

How game-changing Kyle Hendricks deal came together for Cubs team on brink of World Series

Kyle Hendricks will have that same blank look on his face as 40,000 fans stand on their feet at Wrigley Field and the sea of people forms around Clark and Addison, waiting to explode in celebration when the Cubs win their first National League pennant in 71 years.

Hendricks is exhaustive in his preparation, creative with his variety of pitches and unpredictable sequencing and not at all intimidated by the idea of going up against Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday night in Game 6 of this best-of-seven NL Championship Series. Even Kershaw – a three-time Cy Young Award winner – recognizes Hendricks as “the Greg Maddux of this generation.”

Hendricks will stand on the mound as a billboard for The Cubs Way, a mixture of the patience, natural talent, Ivy League intelligence and guts needed to reimagine this franchise and get to the brink of the World Series. It also took some luck, the kind of random bounce or happy accident you don’t automatically associate with the Cubbies.

What if the initial Ryan Dempster deal with the Atlanta Braves didn’t fall through and the Cubs wound up with an underwhelming reliever like Randall Delgado? What if the Dodgers – the team Dempster desperately wanted to join so he could play with Ted Lilly again – changed their minds at the last minute? 

“It was bizarre,” general manager Jed Hoyer admitted. “I’ve never been a part of something like that.”

Just think about how much Wrigleyville has changed since July 31, 2012. The Cubs were in the middle of a 101-loss season that would be rewarded with the No. 2 overall pick in the next year’s draft, which became potential MVP Kris Bryant, a tanking strategy that helped create a 103-win team.

As the clock ticked down toward the trade deadline, Dempster hung out inside the team’s offices, playing Golden Tee in the lounge, kicking his feet up on a staffer’s desk and watching the coverage on MLB Network.

“He was quite comfortable,” Hoyer said. “Listen, (players with) full no-trades or 10/5 rights – they have power. And I think Ryan is very thoughtful and had very specific desires and the Dodgers are obviously a destination. But I think he understood by the end that we had an obligation to the Cubs to make the best trade we could. And we couldn’t make a trade we liked with the Dodgers.”

The pitching infrastructure that would eventually help Hendricks win 16 games and an ERA title this season first built up value for Dempster, who posted a 2.25 ERA in his first 16 starts in 2012, the final year of his contract. The Cubs had been focused on a group that included three pitching prospects – Allen Webster, Zach Lee and Chris Reed – who are no longer in the Los Angeles organization.

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“Listen, nobody knew how it would turn out,” Dempster said. “That’s the truth. No matter what trade you make with anybody, you don’t know how the trade’s going to turn out.”

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein understood all the risks and all the rewards, flipping one short-term asset after another and trying to collect as many potential building blocks as possible. During the Jeff Samardzija negotiations, the Cubs asked for Corey Seager so many times that it became a running joke with the Dodgers. The Cubs found another future All-Star shortstop in Addison Russell when they shipped Samardzija to the Oakland A’s in a blockbuster Fourth of July deal in 2014.

Dempster had been so fixated on the Dodgers that Cubs management finally told him: Fine, you don’t believe us? Talk to Ned Colletti yourself. Dempster spoke directly with Colletti, the Dodgers GM at the time and a former Cubs PR guy.

“I was like: ‘Wow, this really isn’t going to happen,’” Dempster remembered. “‘OK, so where do we go from here?’”

Like Rick Renteria, Colletti ultimately became part of the collateral damage when Andrew Friedman left the Tampa Bay Rays for a president’s job with the Dodgers in October 2014. That triggered the escape clause in Joe Maddon’s contract, allowing the star manager to score a five-year, $25 million contract in Chicago, while Colletti got bumped into an advisory role in Los Angeles.

“We got some criticism for this, but (Dempster) couldn’t actually hear the (other) conversations,” Hoyer said. “It wasn’t like he was forcing the negotiations. He was just there (in the office), so that way we could ask him any questions that we would have, like: ‘Will you do this? Will you do that?’ It wasn’t like we were having him on speaker.”

The Cubs also had a source with connections to the Texas Rangers who recommended a Class-A pitcher with a fluid delivery, pinpoint control and that Dartmouth College education.

“Theo would pop his head in,” Dempster recalled. “He would be like: ‘St. Louis?’ And I’d say: ‘No.’

“‘Yankees?’ ‘Do I have to shave my beard?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Then, no.’ We were going back and forth. And then (Theo said): ‘Hey, we like this package from Texas. It gives us a couple good players.’

“I was like: ‘All right, let’s do it.’”

Whatever tension may have existed in the moment, Dempster earned his World Series ring with the 2013 Boston Red Sox, signed on with MLB Network and rejoined the organization as a special assistant in December 2014, or right around the time the Cubs pushed to close Jon Lester’s $155 million megadeal.

“I love the Cubs,” Dempster said. “To see one of the guys that you got traded for contributing so much to a place that you care so much about, man, every fifth day, I don’t miss (it). I don’t miss when he’s pitching. I don’t miss an inning.

“I’m locked in, because I totally enjoy it. I think it’s awesome to leave somewhere that you care so much about – and the guy that comes back as a piece is much better than you (and) has been such an integral part.”

The Cubs are up 3-2 in the NLCS again, which means the national media will bring up Bartman, etc. But the Cubs will give the ball to a pitcher with poise, the ability to think on his feet and way more stuff than he’s given credit for, even if he’s not Kershaw.       

“This is still the same game,” Hendricks said. “You go out there and you’re making the same pitches. It’s the same lineup, same hitters. There’s just more going on outside. So all the attention – the added pressure coming from the outside – you don’t pay attention to it.

“It has nothing to do with the job that you have to do when you go out there.”

Willson Contreras channeling emotions to provide postseason spark for Cubs

Willson Contreras channeling emotions to provide postseason spark for Cubs

The moment is not too big for Willson Contreras.

That much can be concluded from his first season in the big leagues.

After homering on the first MLB pitch he ever saw, Contreras is still living up to the hype four months later.

Contreras leads all Cubs hitters in postseason batting average, going 7-for-17 (.412 AVG) with three RBI.

The Cubs have made it a point to get Contreras in every single playoff game as either a defensive replacement or pinch-hitter and he's hit safely in six of the seven contests in which he's earned a plate appearance.

"I'm feeling great," he said. "Like I always say, I don't try to do too much. I don't try to hit a homer. I just make my plan before I come up to bat and just execute it.

"If you think about the postseason, you're gonna put pressure on yourself. You just take it day-by-day like it's a normal game."

Contreras has shown his spunk all season long, wearing his emotions on his sleeves.

The same was true in the Cubs' win in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series Thursday night.

After singling in the eighth inning, he raised his fist in triumph. 

"I'm a really emotional player," Contreras said. "I was excited to hit. He was throwing 99 mph and it's not easy to him. That was just my reaction."

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That emotional style has been on display all postseason.

The Cubs had an 8-1 cushion by the time he came into Game 5 to catch, yet he made sure to let home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez know he didn't like the strike zone. Even with a big lead, he still felt the need to protect his pitchers.

He got one of the Cubs' biggest hits of the playoffs with a two-run single during that epic NLDS-clinching comeback in San Francisco.

In Game 4 in Los Angeles Wednesday night, Contreras was called for his second catcher's interference of the postseason, but also picked Justin Turner off second base to get the Cubs out of the first inning. In that same game, he delivered the RBI hit that busted the Cubs out of a 21-inning scoreless streak when he plated Ben Zobrist in the fourth inning.

In Game 2 against Clayton Kershaw, Contreras stepped to the plate and as the all-world left-hander delivered each of the first two pitches, Contreras put the bat on his shoulder and didn't even bother to get into a hitter's position.

Contreras wound up striking out in the at-bat, but he also sent a message that he would not be intimidated by the three-time Cy Young winner and was one of only two Cubs to collect a hit off Kershaw in that game.

Contreras reacted similarly during the regular season, including during his first week in the big leagues when he faced Marlins ace Jose Fernandez.

"That was part of my plan," Contreras said. "That was something I had in mind. I just wanted to see how he pitched."

Now Contreras will get to see Kershaw again Saturday night at Wrigley Field as the Cubs sit one win away from the World Series.

"I'm more comfortable at home plate [against him now]," Contreras said. "I know when to start my timing and stuff."