Papelbon sees big things for Theo, Cubs

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Papelbon sees big things for Theo, Cubs

PHILADELPHIA Theres the image of Jonathan Papelbon, eyes bulging, mouth wide open, about to leap into the arms of catcher Jason Varitek.

Papelbon had just closed out Game 4 of the 2007 World Series, sweeping the Colorado Rockies and setting off celebrations across Red Sox Nation.

The three Boston executives now running the Cubs Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod look back on that night at Coors Field and feel vindicated.

There was Papelbon, the guy with the Irish jig, saving the game for Jon Lester. Future MVP candidates Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia formed the top of the lineup. All had become part of a homegrown core drafted and developed by the organization.

So Cubs fans can see Epstein, the parallels between Fenway Park and Wrigley Field and conjure up the curse-busting mythology from 2004. But the new 50 million closer for the Philadelphia Phillies says only believe the hype up to a certain point.

You look at the 04 team, he basically kind of just took over, Papelbon said Sunday. But he was able to come back and do it again and put together a solid organization in 07.

I dont think (Theo) helping a team win a World Series after 86 years is one of his (biggest accomplishments). It is publicly. To me, its not, because that wasnt his team. That wasnt his system. That wasnt his way.

What makes him special to me is what he was able to put together for the team in 07. Because you look at that team and we were a very young team. Yet we also had older guys that helped (show us how it) should be done. ... Thats what made him good in Boston.

When Epstein became the youngest general manager in baseball history in late 2002, he inherited a 93-win team built around Cooperstown-level talents Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez, plus foundation pieces like Varitek, Johnny Damon and Derek Lowe.

Epstein put the finishing touches on that forever team in 2004, when Cubs manager Dale Sveum was the Red Sox third-base coach. That blueprint cant be carbon copied on the North Side.

It was a lot different in Boston, Sveum said. We had just come off (a season being) one pitch away from the World Series. They were already built to win there and were building right now to get there.

Theos here to build a whole organization, not just a baseball team.

That will happen through under-the-radar decisions, and by stockpiling talent. Papelbon pointed to trading Marlon Byrd to the Red Sox for Michael Bowden, the 47th overall pick in the 2005 draft.

Its kind of funny because Ive already noticed some of the moves that hes made, Papelbon said. Ive made little mental notes in my head (like): Wow, that looks familiar.

Papelbon became almost iconic in Boston, fist-bumping the cop working security outside the Red Sox bullpen and running out to the mound. The Dropkick Murphys Im Shipping Up to Boston would blast from the Fenway Park speakers.

The adrenaline fueled Papelbon, who last season became the fastest player in major-league history to reach 200 saves. He was competitive, going year to year when he was arbitration-eligible, at a time when the Red Sox were locking up younger core players with contract extensions.

Did Theo and I always see eye to eye? Papelbon said. No, we didnt, but there were times that we did and we understood that it was a business.

Did we bump heads at times? Yeah, but we were able to get the business side of things done and it made it easy for me to want to go out and perform.

Papelbon said it wasnt that difficult to leave the Red Sox. He told himself that when he reached free agency, hed go to the first team that showed real, strong interest and offered a fair deal.

The closer cashed in last November with the Phillies, a team with this mandate: World Series or else.

Ive always had a good relationship with people in Boston, Papelbon said. The reason why Im not there right now is because I saw Theo leave. I saw Tito (manager Terry Francona) leave. There was kind of a light bulb that went off in my head: Hey, things may not be the same if I come back.

Epstein had grown restless after almost 10 years in the Fenway Park fishbowl. He left Yawkey Way for the biggest challenge in baseball.

Hes got pieces of the puzzle to do it, Papelbon said. I dont know how long its going to take now. Nobody knows that, but I do know that hes going to do some good things for that organization.

Its like when you play somebody in chess and theyre always beating you. Its like they can think two moves ahead. Hes got that talent. Hes always lurking in the bushes.

David Accam is back and that's good for the Fire

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David Accam is back and that's good for the Fire

David Accam is the Chicago Fire's best player and when he plays the team is better.

While that statement should be obvious to anyone who has watched the Fire on a regular basis this year, it is worth mentioning because of how much time Accam has missed this season.

Accam played a starring role in the team's 4-3 loss in the season opener. He had a goal and an assist. The next match he scored early in Orlando before the Fire were forced to defend while playing down a man due to a red card.

Then he got injured. Accam missed six games and the Fire scored four goals in those matches without him. After making two abbreviated appearances during the team's recent road trip, he was unable to play last week at home due to a suspension.

“It’s difficult for me because I’ve been through a lot in the last two months," Accam said. "For me I’m just happy to be on the pitch now and playing. It will take some time for me to get into match fitness and start going, but I’m happy with my performance today.”

Accam scored in Saturday's 1-1 draw against Portland. It was his first start at home since his barnstorming season debut back on March 6. It was also his first 90-minute outing since March 11.

Kennedy Igboananike assisted on the goal. The partnership in the attack between Igboananike and Accam is one the Fire needs to become a fine-tuned weapon for the team to have a successful season.

“I think what we are looking for is to have associations in the team and the two of them work very good together," coach Veljko Paunovic said. "We could see that in the first game when David was fit, also in the second game until we had the (red card). Since then David was injured, but David is very important. Not only because of his individual qualities, but he improves our team in how our team feels better on the field and offensively with more potential."

Accam had five shots, two on goal, and Igboananike had four shots, three on goal. Accam thinks the team is starting to improve its on-field chemistry.

“I think so, especially in the front three," the Ghanaian said. "We are creating chances. Last week we created a lot of chances and today, too.

“In the last two games we started to feel the way we wanted to play and for me it’s been much better. We conceded one goal in the last three games and we created I think more than five clear chances so for me it’s getting better.”

Fire unable to find winner in tie with Portland

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Fire unable to find winner in tie with Portland

Getting a second goal is becoming a thing for the Chicago Fire.

A thing they aren't getting.

The Fire pushed for a go-ahead second goal against Portland on Saturday, but it never came. The team's inability to find a second goal, something the team hasn't scored since the season opener, meant they had to settle for a 1-1 tie against the Timbers.

In a lot of ways, the Fire played better. They outshot Portland 17-8, 6-2 in shots on target, and in the second half had rare extended stretches of possession. But they were still not able to break a halftime deadlock.

"It was just that we didn’t score that second goal, which was very important for us," coach Veljko Paunovic said. "We are building the momentum. We were close to winning this game today and we are happy with the performance.”

The Fire (2-5-5, 11 points) are now 2-2-3 in seven home matches.

Portland (4-6-4, 16 points) took the lead in the 18th minute when Diego Valeri took advantage of a poor Rodrigo Ramos clearance. Ramos' ball got caught up in the wind and stayed near the box. Valeri won the ball back and beat Sean Johnson from a tight angle, sliding a shot just inside the far post.

Almost immediately the Fire leveled the match through David Accam. Accam, making his first home start since the season opener, redirected a Kennedy Igboananike centering pass to tie things back up.

“I know when he goes wide I need to be in the box," Accam said. "I know he has a good left foot also to put that ball in the box so I was in the right position when the ball came in.”

It was Accam's third goal of the season and his first since March 11. Accam and Igboananike created most of the dangerous chances for the Fire, linking up regularly other than the goal.

Another forward who could have joined the attack, Gilberto, was out for personal reasons. The Brazilian had played his best of the year last week.

The Fire had a strong wind at their backs in the second half and used it to keep the ball in Portland's half and extend the lead in shots they took into halftime. Despite being unable to get the win at home, multiple players claimed they are seeing progress in the team's performances.

"I think we’re finally putting full 90s together as a team," midfielder Matt Polster said. "I think during the beginning of the season we were getting used to each other. I think we put in good 65, 70 minutes of a game. As we’re growing as a team now I think we’re putting a full 90 together.”

Now the Fire go on break for the Copa America. The team will not train next week other than a fitness plan given to the players. The next match will be in the US Open Cup on June 15 with both location and opponent to be determined on June 1.

The next MLS match is June 18 at Philadelphia and the next MLS home match will be July 1 against San Jose.

Sale looks to stop the slide as White Sox face Royals on CSN

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Sale looks to stop the slide as White Sox face Royals on CSN

The White Sox take on the Kansas City Royals on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Sunday’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale vs. Edison Volquez

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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