Cubs work walk off magic for first series win

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Cubs work walk off magic for first series win

Alfonso Soriano hit a game-ending RBI single in the 10th inning and the Chicago Cubs beat St. Louis 3-2 on Wednesday night, ending the Cardinals' run of 13 consecutive winning series.Tony Campana sparked the winning rally with a one-out single off Fernando Salas (0-1). Campana then stole second in a close call that led to the first ejection for Cardinals manager Mike Matheny.After Starlin Castro struck out, Bryan LaHair was walked intentionally before Soriano hit a full-count pitch off second baseman Tyler Greene and into the outfield. Campana scored easily to give the Cubs their second consecutive dramatic victory against the CardinalsJames Russell (1-0) pitched a scoreless inning to get the win.Chicago led 1-0 before Matt Holliday hit a two-run homer off Carlos Marmol with two out in the eighth inning. LaHair then tied it with a leadoff drive off Marc Rzepczynski in the ninth.The Cubs also beat the Cardinals 3-2 on Monday night on Joe Mather's game-ending, two-run single. They will go for the three-game sweep Wednesday afternoon.St. Louis won its last seven series in the regular season last year, then stormed through the playoffs to the World Series title. It opened this season with six more series wins before running into the slumping Cubs, who had dropped seven of eight before the Cards came to town.It was St. Louis' first series loss since it dropped two of three against Cincinnati from Sept. 2-4. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 2002 Braves were the last team to put together a 13-series streak.

The Cardinals had just four hits before Holliday drove a 2-2 pitch over the wall in center for his fourth homer. Rafael Furcal set up the go-ahead drive with a one-out walk against Rafael Dolis, who retired Skip Schumaker before first-year manager Dale Sveum went to his closer with Holliday coming to the plate.Carlos Beltran then walked and move to third on Marmol's errant pickoff attempt before David Freese flied out to end the inning. The erratic closer was jeered by the Wrigley Field crowd of 38,894 as he made his way to the dugout.Chicago nearly wasted a terrific outing by Jeff Samardzija, who struck out nine in 6 2-3 innings. The right-hander yielded just four hits and two walks in his second start against Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals in 11 days.Samardzija pitched five shaky innings at St. Louis on April 13, but the Cubs roughed up Wainwright in a 9-5 victory.This one was much different.Wainwright allowed one run and six hits over six innings in his best start since he had elbow-ligament replacement surgery last February, sidelining him for the 2011 season. The 6-foot-7 right-hander struck out seven and walked one, but remained winless in four starts this year.Chicago grabbed the lead in the first. David DeJesus drove a leadoff double into the right-field corner and advanced on Tony Campana's sacrifice. Starlin Castro then lofted a fly ball to right, leading to a disputed call at home.Beltran settled under Castro's ball and made a strong throw to the first-base side, forcing Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina to dive across the plate with his glove. Molina was right there as DeJesus stuck his left arm out while sliding past home on the dugout side, drawing a safe call from umpire Chris Conroy.DeJesus clapped his hands and scurried back to the dugout as Molina popped up and began arguing with Conroy. Matheny popped out of the dugout and got between Molina and Conroy before continuing the argument with the umpire. Looking at the TV replays, it was unclear whether DeJesus ever touched home, but Matheny eventually left the field after a short argument.It was a busy night for Molina, who had two hits, made a rare throwing error and picked DeJesus off second after a leadoff double in the fifth.The Cubs had a chance to add to their lead in the fourth, putting runners on second and third with no outs. But Wainwright wiggled out of the jam, showing the moxie that made him one of baseball's best pitchers before the elbow injury.Ian Stewart and Darwin Barney struck out swinging, the latter on three pitches, before Wainwright issued an intentional walk to Geovany Soto. Samardzija then popped out to end the inning.NOTES
The Cubs outrighted RHP Rodrigo Lopez to Triple-A Iowa. Lopez was designated for assignment when RHP Michael Bowden was added to the 25-man roster on Monday. ... Bowden made his Cubs debut in the ninth and pitched a scoreless inning.
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Bulls headed to Parts Unknown as free agency begins

Bulls headed to Parts Unknown as free agency begins

Derrick Rose will suit up for the perpetually-woeful New York Knicks, Jimmy Butler is headed to a country that has legitimate Zika virus concerns for the Olympic Games, and neither of them has as much uncertainty as the Chicago Bulls as the franchise approaches free agency in a few days.

When the clock strikes midnight Friday, it’ll open up business around the NBA but also cement a sea change for the Bulls as far as their league-wide hierarchy. Two summers ago, the Bulls were getting ready to be the welcoming committee for free agent Carmelo Anthony, believing he was the missing piece to a championship puzzle.

Anthony chose to stay in New York, in large part due to the $50 million disparity between the Knicks and Bulls, thanks to the collective bargaining agreement giving players a greater incentive for staying at home as opposed to bolting to other teams.

The Bulls wound up with a big fish anyway, signing Pau Gasol to a three-year contract he officially opted out of a few days ago, as he and Joakim Noah will depart Chicago for Parts Unknown.

Ironically, that’s the address the Bulls are headed to. Although they have over $23 million in cap space—an amount that’s enough for one max player—they won’t be grocery shopping with the big boys this time around.

They’ll be going bargain hunting, the epitome of what general manger Gar Forman calls “retooling” instead of that other dreaded “R” word: rebuilding.

Taking a couple steps back for the sake of taking a few forward sooner rather than later isn’t the easiest route. But when they decided not to trade Jimmy Butler on draft night or any other recent evening, it was the course of action the franchise decided to take.

“We’re still trying to get a sense of what the market is going to be,” Forman said the night of the NBA Draft, after the Bulls selected Denzel Valentine with the 14th pick. “I don’t think anybody knows what’s gonna happen come July 1 because there’s never been anything like this where there’s such a spike in the cap. So we’re still evaluating that. My guess is opposed to one guy we’ll look to fill some holes and guys who fit the plan moving forward.”

Butler and new addition Robin Lopez are the only starters who can say they’re in the top half in the league at their position, with Butler being in the conversation for best shooting guard.

So if the Bulls are to overachieve and find themselves back in the thick of the playoff race, thus showing the competency in the front office and the sidelines to make themselves a destination in free agency this time next summer, they’ll have to be a team whose sum is greater than its individual parts, unless they snag a top-line wing player like Nicolas Batum (Charlotte) or Chandler Parsons (Dallas)—traditional 3-and-D guys but nowhere near superstars and not even All-Stars.

Even still, the proposition the Bulls are facing isn’t enviable but there’s opportunity for Forman to show he’s ahead of the curve and for Hoiberg to rebound from his very shaky rookie season as coach.

Trading Rose was a start, and teams will be interested in Taj Gibson (as they always are), but it’ll be fascinating to see how the Bulls navigate the territory of employing enough veterans to help the young pieces grow while not wasting the valuable time of a respected player like Gibson.

The prudent decisions, the tough ones the good franchises make are usually through trades—players with existing contracts and not the inflated ones the market will bear.

Athleticism is a need, along with a point guard considering the Bulls are inheriting one who had the lowest-scoring point-per-game average in the league last season in Jose Calderon (7.6 points).

While Calderon’s on-floor leadership and ability to spread the floor from the top (41 percent from 3 last season) will be highly valued should he stick around, the Bulls would be better served looking to upgrade the position, despite a class that won’t initially inspire observers at first glance.

Memphis point guard Mike Conley will certainly be the apple of many teams’ eye, but at 29 he’s at the precious age where not only is this the last big long-term contract he’ll likely sign. But he’ll likely want to do it on a team with a clear trajectory upward as opposed to a slow slope down.

Brandon Jennings is a full year removed from Achilles’ recovery, and could take a short deal to rejuvenate his value on the open market, similar to what Gasol did two years ago but on a different level. Jeremy Lin will command a lot of attention, as will Rajon Rondo.

The athletic wings are a bit deeper, but with the league putting a premium on versatile players who can defend the perimeter, run the floor and shoot, the competition will be stiff and it appears as if the Bulls will have to overpay for quality.

Knicks free agent guard Arron Afflalo could be an intriguing, if not understated option as a wing who can defend and be credible as an outside shooter, able to alleviate pressure on Butler to play 40 minutes on the opposing team’s best scorer.

The Bulls’ interest in Golden State’s Harrison Barnes has been an open secret, given his ties with Doug McDermott, Fred Hoiberg and now-Olympic teammate Butler. But as a restricted free agent it leaves any suitor in limbo for three days while the Warriors decide if they want to match—or if Kevin Durant decides to join the juggernaut.

And given Barnes’ underwhelming performance in the postseason, teams should be wary of Barnes not being able to play above the level he’s been at in Golden State, where he was a fourth option.

Hawks swingman Kent Bazemore is an example as a quality player who’ll be in high demand, but his ceiling isn’t too much higher than his reality.

The Bulls would be wise to resist making a splash in multiple areas, as more than a few teams will commit big money to players who can’t change their stripes no matter what the price tag is.

But if the Bulls are able to resist the trends, they can emerge from Parts Unknown and find themselves in a few years on a road marked “May”—and if they’re geniuses, “June.”

John Goossens' return could be key for the Fire

John Goossens' return could be key for the Fire

For much of this season the Chicago Fire have struggled not just to score goals, but to create chances.

The Fire moved out of last place in Major League Soccer in goals scored after putting in three in a loss at Philadelphia last week, but are still last place in total shots (157) and shots on target (43). For context, the team just above the Fire in shots on target is San Jose with 60 and Vancouver leads the league with 109.

In Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup victory against Columbus there was a welcome face starting in the midfield for the first time since April 16: John Goossens. Goossens made his return from a sprained LCL in Philadelphia, but came off the bench in that match.

Goossens' impact against the Crew was immediately seen in his assist to David Accam on the opening goal in the seventh minute. Goossens got control of the ball in his own half and was able to dribble forward into Columbus' third. When the defense finally closed him down, Goossens was able to weave through a pair of defenders and hit Accam with a pass. Accam did the rest of the work with an impressive finish, but it's reasonable to think no other player on the Fire is able to get the ball to Accam in that spot, at least not in the same way.

“I think he’s calm and comfortable on the ball,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said of Goossens. “He has actually very good offensive perception of the game.

“He was relief for us when we were building out of the back. In the moments when we had to win and have a progression in our build up he showed up and that’s very important and positive for the team.”

Goossens had a number of opportunities with the ball and the Fire’s pair of speedy forwards, Accam and Kennedy Igboananike, running in front of him.

“It was really easy for me once I get the ball behind their midfield, between their midfield and defensive line,” Goossens said. “I had all the time to turn and to look for those two fast guys. They scored two amazing goals.”

Goossens subbed out of the game after 60 minutes, which was expected given it was his first start in more than two months.

The problem so far is that Goossens hasn't been able to stay healthy this season. He hasn't played a full 90 minutes yet this season and has only made seven appearances this season.

That said, when Goossens has played he has made a difference. The assist to Accam was his third of the season. In addition, the team has performed its best with Goossens on the field. Even before Tuesday's 2-1 win, Goossens had the best plus-minus, to borrow a hockey stat, on the Fire.

When Goossens has been on the field in MLS play, the Fire have a plus-two goal differential. Of course there are a lot of factors that go into that with 11 players on the field, but plus-two is a notable difference from the Fire's overall goal differential of minus-six. The only other player on the team with a positive plus-minus is Arturo Alvarez at plus-one.

“We missed him,” Accam said. “He is one of our creative players and I’m really happy we have him back on the pitch. If we get Arturo back then we are perfect for us strikers because we need the midfielders to feed us good balls and today Goossens did that. Hopefully that will continue.”

Cubs win wild 15-inning thriller over Reds

Cubs win wild 15-inning thriller over Reds

CINCINNATI (AP) — Kris Bryant singled home the tiebreaking run in the 15th inning and the Chicago Cubs used three pitchers in left field while beating the Cincinnati Reds 7-2 on Tuesday night in the longest game of the season for both teams.

With the Cubs out of position players, relievers Travis Wood and Spencer Patton (1-0) alternated between left field and the mound in the 14th inning, which ended with Patton getting the final out. Wood then finished it off with reliever Pedro Stropin left.

Bryant's only hit on Tuesday - a single off J.J. Hoover (1-2) - snapped the tie. Javier Baez added a grand slam in the 15th, the sixth career allowed by Hoover, which is a Reds record.

The National League's top team went 1-6 last week but has pulled out of the downturn by winning the first two games of a series against the Reds. The Cubs hit five homers - three by Bryant - while taking the opener 11-8.

Eugenio Suarez singled home the tying run with two outs in the ninth off Hector Rondon, his third blown save in 16 chances, setting the game on its meandering course.

Ben Zobrist led off the game with a homer off left-hander John Lamb. Left-hander Jon Lester singled home another run and allowed only one hit until the eighth inning, when Billy Hamilton homered. The Cubs' closer couldn't hold on.

A lot of the focus Tuesday was on Bryant, who was coming off a historic performance.

Bryant became the first major league player to hit three homers and two doubles in a game on Monday night. He set a Cubs record with 16 total bases and became the youngest Cubs player to hit three homers in a game since Ernie Banks did it in 1955, also at the age of 24.

Bryant broke his three-homer bat the first time up on Tuesday, cracking it on a groundout. The bat boy retrieved it and took it to the Major League Baseball authenticator, who labeled the bat and safely stored it. Bryant flied out, walked twice, fouled out with two runners aboard for the final out in the 10th, and struck out in the 13th before driving in the go-ahead run.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Reds: RHP Homer Bailey felt fine a day after throwing an inning in his first rehab start. Bailey, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery 13 months ago, is expected to pitch again on Saturday ... 2B Brandon Phillips fouled a ball off the inside of his left foot in the first inning. He fouled another pitch off the same foot in his next at-bat and got hit in the left side by a pitch from Rondon in the ninth.

UP NEXT

Cubs: Kyle Hendricks (5-6, 2.76) is 1-5 with a 3.79 ERA in seven road starts this season. He's 4-1 with a 1.93 ERA in seven home games.

Reds: Cody Reed (0-1, 6.75) makes his third career start. In his first appearance at Great American Ball Park last Friday, he gave up five runs in five innings of a 13-4 loss to the Padres.