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.

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

Despite the Cubs ending their 108-year World Series drought, Miguel Montero made offseason headlines for all the wrong reasons when he complained about his role in the Cubs' 2017 championship campaign.

Montero criticized Maddon's communication skills, catching rotation and bullpen decision-making after the team's Grant Park celebration. Maddon brushed off the criticism, and last week at spring training Montero said he hadn't spoke with the Cubs' skipper.

That tension appears to be all but a thing of the past, as Montero posted this picture of him and his manager sharing a drink together sporting nothing but smiles.

It's safe to say Montero would describe his relationship with Maddon now as: #WeAreGood.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Minnesota Wild tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Road warriors.

The Blackhawks have won six straight games away from the United Center, and are looking to make it a seventh in Minnesota tonight. They've scored the game's first goal in four of those wins, and in the other two, overcame 1-0 deficits to beat Dallas 5-3 and Edmonton 5-1, the latter of which they scored five unanswered goals.

2. Corey Crawford vs. Devan Dubnyk.

Crawford hasn't quite been the same since undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Dec. 3, but he turned in probably his best outing since then in the Blackhawks' last meeting against Minnesota on Feb. 8 when he stopped 35 of 38 shots in a 4-3 overtime win. He essentially stole two points, and prevented the Wild from picking up the extra one. Across from him tonight will be Dubnyk, who leads the league in wins (32), goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.934).

3. Jonathan Toews on fire.

After a tough offensive drought earlier in the season that lasted longer than expected, the Blackhawks captain has six goals and 10 assists in his last 12 games, and upped his point total to 37, which now ranks fifth on the team. In the last meeting against Minnesota two weeks ago, Toews had a three-point night and scored the game winner in overtime. 

4. Mikael Granlund among league's most underrated players.

File Granlund under the category of players who don't get enough attention. He has 17 goals and 36 assists in 58 games this season, and his 53 points is tied with Jeff Carter and Artemi Panarin for 13th in the NHL's scoring race. The next highest point total on the Wild is Eric Staal with 45, an eight-point gap between him and Granlund. The 24-year-old forward registered his first career hat trick earlier this month, and also had a 12-game point streak just two weeks ago.

5. Ryan Hartman's closing in on 15 goals.

In Saturday's 3-1 loss to Edmonton, Hartman defended his teammate by fighting an Oilers defenseman that was practically twice his size. He called it a "no-brainer" to stick up for Tanner Kero and did well in the scrap, but it led to an Oilers power play and 10-minute misconduct which didn't do the Blackhawks any favors. He responded in a great way Sunday by scoring the game's first goal that helped his team win 5-1 in Buffalo. The next goal he scores will be No. 15, which would give the Blackhawks six 15-plus goal scorers on the year. They had only four a season ago.

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