As Cardinals raise the banner, Cubs crash the party

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As Cardinals raise the banner, Cubs crash the party

ST. LOUIS The last time the Cubs were at Busch Stadium, they dressed up the young players in ridiculous short skirts for the long flight to San Diego.

Laughter filled the clubhouse for last years rookie hazing. It didnt seem to matter that they had just lost two brutal one-run games, in a span of less than 28 hours, giving oxygen to their biggest rival.

It was almost hard to tell who was in charge. General manager Jim Hendry had been fired weeks before in a secret meeting with chairman Tom Ricketts. It was only a matter of time before manager Mike Quade would lose his job.

On Sept. 25, 2011, you should have checked the odds in Las Vegas on the Cardinals winning the World Series and bet everything.

Would you have predicted this? Theo Epstein running baseball operations for the Cubs, Albert Pujols playing for the Angels and Tony La Russa working for the commissioners office.

Almost seven months later, in front of a sellout crowd, the Cardinals raised their championship flag out in left field. Its not quite payback, but the Cubs killed the buzz around St. Louis with Fridays 9-5 win.

Motivated to ruin the celebration?

It should be more pissed off, pitcher Matt Garza said the day before, because we could have knocked them out of the playoffs last year in the second-to-last series and we kind of handed it over. It should be more motivation than anything, saying this could have been somebody elses (title) if we played better.

The 46,882 fans wore hooded jackets and held umbrellas, sitting through a rain delay that lasted an hour and 44 minutes. Cubs players watched parts of the ceremony while stretching and playing catch.

The Cardinals put on a production, and they were playing with house money. They trailed the Braves by 10.5 games on Aug. 24 last year before winning the wild card on the final day of the regular season.

The Hall of Famers wore bright red blazers: Stan Musial, Ozzie Smith, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Bruce Sutter, Whitey Herzog and Red Schoendienst. The uniforms had special gold lettering. The F-16s buzzed across the sky.

Were here to win, first baseman Bryan LaHair said. They had a good celebration before the game. Its deserved. (But) we came out and we played well and got a victory.

The Cubs (3-5) hammered Adam Wainwright early, with Ian Stewart hitting his first home run in the big leagues since Aug. 23, 2010, when he was with Colorado. The three-run shot into the right-field seats set the tone in the first inning. LaHair topped that in the third inning by lifting a fastball over the fence in left and into the Cubs bullpen for a grand slam.

Jeff Samardzija (2-0) had a nine-run lead to work with, and coasted through four innings before laboring to qualify for the win. The Cardinals (5-3) scored their five runs in the fifth, but you didnt see the crazy stuff that almost always seemed to happen here last year.

Carlos Zambrano went off with his We stinks! rant. Quade called pitching to Pujols (or not) a second-guessers delight and admitted he was managing for his job. Aramis Ramirez gave a State of Ramirez address near the trade deadline (which yielded no moves). Matt Holliday took out Starlin Castro with that hard slide.

This is where the Cardinals found some walk-off magic.

You come here and they make you make plays, Samardzija said. They rarely make mistakes as a team and they kind of put it on you to play solid baseball. We definitely did that today. We made the plays on defense (and) you got to do that to beat these guys.

You give them any chance to get back in the game and they will for sure. (But) what a great job our bullpen did (Rafael Dolis, James Russell, Kerry Wood, Carlos Marmol).

I remember a few days ago everybody was talking about the bullpen and whats going to happen and now you look at them and they throw four scoreless (innings). Thats what we all expect out of them.

There wasnt anything to second-guess. When you walk into the managers office, its hard to tell whether the Cubs won or lost, which is exactly the point. Dale Sveum told his players where to be on Saturday.

Ive already asked them to be out there for the ring ceremony, Sveum said. I think its a special day. You show your respect for the world champions.

How Ozzie Guillen's harsh honesty resonated with Avisail Garcia

How Ozzie Guillen's harsh honesty resonated with Avisail Garcia

Ozzie Guillen delivered Avisail Garcia some tough love last winter that he figured the White Sox outfielder needed to hear.

They encountered each other during the Venezuelan Winter League season when Garcia played for the Tigres de Aragua and Guillen managed for the Tiburones de La Guaria. Guillen was so taken aback to find Garcia hitting low in the Tigres’ lineup that he offered an assessment on the spot.

For any number of reasons, Garcia has responded with a career season that has him on the verge of his first All-Star assignment. The right fielder is fifth in the American League fan vote as of Monday with 1,292,694 votes.

“About time,” Guillen said. “We've been waiting for this moment. A lot of people bet he would have failed. I know because at work, every week I talk about him. People keep waiting on him to be what he was. I think right now he has more experience. He doesn't live in the past, like 'oh it's the next Miguel Cabrera' or 'he's this guy, he's the best we've ever had.' That's why he got better. It's about time this kid. What he's doing right now I think it's fun. He's showing his potential. I see a lot of players with potential who never make it. I think it started getting too late for him, now he's back on the map.”

Garcia entered Monday hitting .331/.372/.532 with 11 home runs and 51 RBIs in 296 plate appearances. While he didn’t remember the specifics of their conversation, Garcia knows Guillen’s main intent was to help him forward. He’s encouraged that his fellow countryman has confidence in his abilities.

“He’s a great human and everything he said to me is going to work for me,” Garcia said. “I just listened. Always listen. I appreciated what he said. He gave me a lot of advice.

“He’s a great person. People that really know, know he is and we appreciate everything he does and that’s it.”

Guillen appreciates what Garcia has done this season after several years of middling play amongst high expectations. Through 72 games, Garcia has produced 2.3 f-Wins Above Replacement, giving him a career mark of 0.9.

Acquired in July 2013 from Detroit in a three-team deal that sent Jake Peavy to Boston, Garcia arrived with high expectations that he hadn’t been able to live up to thus far. Garcia has had those expectations since he first reached the majors when scouts nicknamed him ‘Mini Miggy’ after Cabrera. Guillen is glad to see Garcia has started to play up to his potential, especially after he was aghast to find him hitting in the bottom third of Aragua’s lineup.

“I saw him batting seventh and I was all over him,” Guillen said. “I said 'You should be embarrassed you're batting seventh in winter league, you have to be third, or fourth. This is winter league.' When you go to there and you play in the big leagues, it makes it easier. Now he's picked it up. Hopefully he will keep it up. Hopefully he'll keep it up and make some money. That's what we want. Some cash. Take it home.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon working on another potential White House visit

Cubs manager Joe Maddon working on another potential White House visit

WASHINGTON – Less than six months after the Cubs toured the White House as one of the final stops on their World Series victory tour, manager Joe Maddon is angling for another visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Maddon’s childhood friend from Hazleton, Congressman Lou Barletta, is working to arrange a private tour this week while the Cubs are in Washington for a four-game showdown against the first-place Nationals.

“I’m staying in touch with my boy Louie,” Maddon said Monday. “Who knows? We might end up going over there again.”

This wouldn’t be the East Room spectacle the Cubs enjoyed in January, when President Barack Obama’s final official White House event became a kind of farewell gift to his staffers with Chicago connections.

Barletta, a Pennsylvania Republican who made immigration a central part of his platform as Hazleton mayor, declined a position in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet. Barletta asked Maddon, who stays involved with his hometown through his Hazleton Integration Project, to attend a luncheon on Wednesday for young Republicans.

“And then maybe something else will be in the making after that,” Maddon said. “But for right now, the one thing I got in my back pocket is Louie.”