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.

Bulls: Jimmy Butler says he no longer wears a chip on his shoulder

Bulls: Jimmy Butler says he no longer wears a chip on his shoulder

The biggest thing on Jimmy Butler—next to his haircut—has likely been the golden nugget-sized chip on his shoulder he proudly wore on his journey from non-entity to All-Star and Olympian.

However, Butler claims that invisible attribute that has taken him to unforeseen heights is gone as he’s two months away from leading a Bulls team that has undergone the most significant roster overhaul in his career.

Perhaps it’s a tacit admission about changing his leadership style, but it’s certainly a change on face value.

“I don’t think I have a chip on my shoulder anymore,” Butler said at USA Basketball practice at the United Center Thursday, one day before an exhibition against Venezuela. “I don’t think I have too much to prove like back in the day. That doesn’t mean I don’t work hard or anything. I just think I go about things a little differently.”

He didn’t actually specify how he’ll do things differently but perhaps the quest for validation that has driven him to insatiable heights and a few questionable moments on the way is over.

With Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose dispatched to New York, followed by the surprising additions of ring bearers Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, perhaps he’s feeling more secure about where he ranks on the team masthead.

“I think I have to catch up with them, with the winning mentality,” Butler said. “I think I can learn a lot from those guys. D-Wade, multiple championships. Rondo bringing in his intensity.”

[MORE: Bulls release 2016 preseason schedule]

Wade and Rondo have the championship receipts that Butler doesn’t have, so Butler feels he’ll learn more from them as opposed to worrying about the on-court fit that on paper, doesn’t seem to be ideal.

“I don’t do the analytics and numbers. D-Wade has put the ball in the basket for a number of years,” Butler said. “He’s a great player because of the way he can score. I don’t think you can call him a non-shooter because he can shoot the ball.

“Rondo, call him what you want but he’s effective at what he does. Same thing with myself. You gotta be able to knock down shots.”

Before those new acquisitions, Butler had to deal with the belief he had Rose shipped out as a mark of some type of organizational power, as the two were never fully able to maximize their partnership on the floor to the tune of playoff success or even chemistry.

Then, in a stunning turn of events that seemed to indicate his fingerprints couldn’t be on much of anything, Butler had to endure trade rumors of his own the next day during the NBA draft.

He hasn’t spoken many times this offseason with the exception of summer league and an ESPN media tour in Los Angeles, but the proverbial scars are there and he addressed the rumors.

“That has nothing to do with me, I don’t move guys,” Butler said. “People are gonna think what they’re gonna think. I don’t let it bother me. I know where I stand, I know who I am. It’s one more thing for people to talk about. I don’t pay too much attention to it.”

He has spoken to Rose since the trade, as Rose attended an USA Basketball game in Los Angeles and the two chatted during the contest. And he exchanged texts with Noah after Noah broke the bank for a $72 million deal with the New York Knicks in free agency.

“We’ll always have love for each other because we’re always teammates, we’ve been in the trenches together.”

29 Days to Kickoff: Prospect

29 Days to Kickoff: Prospect

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 1, we’ll unveil the @CSNPreps Top 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 26.

School: Prospect

Head coach: Mike Sebestyen

Assistant Coaches: Brock Collins, Tim Beishir, Tom Whalen, Nick Lussow, Don Sebestyen, Jeff Collier, Lance Burmeister

How they fared in 2015: 3-6 (2-3) Mid Suburban East Conference. Prospect failed to qualify for the 2015 IHSA state playoff field.

Biggest storyline in 2016: Is this the Year of the Knights in the Mid Suburban East?

Names to watch this season: OL Billy Matzek; OL Alex Palczewski

Biggest holes to fill:  Can anyone pick up the slack from graduated RB Bobby Jarosz?

EDGY's Early Take: With 14 starters back (six on offense, eight on defense) from a season ago will Prospect be able to convert that experience into a few more wins and a state playoff bid? If the Knights can find some answers in a few key spots, including the offensive skills department, this team could do some big things this fall.

Bears' first round pick Leonard Floyd leaves practice with illness

Bears' first round pick Leonard Floyd leaves practice with illness

Leonard Floyd provided a scare on the first day of practice at Bears training camp, but the first round pick appears fine.

Head coach John Fox said Floyd, who left Thursday's practice on a cart, is simply battling an illness and was not injured.

The Bears moved up in April's NFL Draft to select Floyd with the ninth overall pick. The outside linebacker tallied 17 sacks at Georgia and was projected to be in the mix as an outside rusher in the Bears' 3-4 defense.