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.

Todd Frazier's late single lifts White Sox over Mariners

Todd Frazier's late single lifts White Sox over Mariners

The White Sox offense showed a bunch of late life on Thursday night.

Todd Frazier had two hits with runners in scoring position, including the game-winner, as the White Sox topped the Seattle Mariners 7-6 at U.S. Cellular Field. Frazier’s one-out single in the ninth inning off Nick Vincent scored Adam Eaton as the White Sox won for the fourth time in five games. Frazier’s game-winning hit was his first since June 2015 and the fifth of his career. It and a game-tying, two-out, two-run single in the seventh helped Frazier shake off a game in which he struck out three times in his first three at-bats.

“You learn something,” Frazier said. “You take the last at-bat and throw it away and just keep on going. Unfortunately, it took me three times to do that. To come up clutch today felt pretty good.”

Frazier leads the club in home runs and RBIs.

Similar to his teammates, however, Frazier has lefty plenty of chances for more damage on the table. He entered Thursday hitting .159 with runners in scoring position for a team that ranks 18th with runners in scoring position (.255).

While Frazier struck out with runners on the corners in the first inning, he succeeded in his next two tries. He picked up Jose Abreu in the seventh after the slugger struck out against Steve Cishek. Frazier sat on a slider and ripped a 2-0 pitch into left field to drive in Eaton and Tim Anderson, whose one-out RBI double made it a 6-4 game.

Then in the ninth, Frazier came through again. Eaton’s bloop single to center got things going before Anderson bunted him over. Vincent walked Abreu to get to Frazier, who singled to left again.

Frazier was previously 17-for-17 with five doubles, four homers and 42 RBIs with runners in scoring position.

“These are the best ones,” manager Robin Ventura said. “You can't rely just on the homer. There's more to his game than that. You have to be able to knock in runs when you're not hitting them over the fence. He can use the other side of the field. I think he can level it out somewhat and get some hits. Just put it in play more because you don't know know what's going to happen.”

[MORE: Rick Hahn denies rift in White Sox front office, holds off on plans for 2017]

David Robertson found that out in the top of the ninth inning when his outing was delayed for several minutes by a trio of fans who ran onto the field. Robertson worked around the delay and a one-out walk to keep the score tied at 6.

Down 2-0, the White Sox scored three times in the first inning to briefly take the lead.

Abreu and Avisail Garcia both singled in runs and Dioner Navarro had a bases-loaded sacrifice fly.

White Sox starter Anthony Ranaudo pitched well after a slow start and then ran into bad luck in the sixth inning. What looked to be a surefire double play ball kicked off Ranaudo’s glove and combined with an Anderson throwing error led to a three-run inning that put Seattle ahead 6-3.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Ranaudo allowed six earned runs in 5.1 innings.

The White Sox were 6-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

“That’s just part of it,” Robertson said. “I guess that happens some times.

“Everybody played hard. They didn’t give up at all tonight. We pitched well enough to win and had timely hitting. A few things went our way, a couple errors that really ended up giving us a few runs. A few things went our way and it was great to pick up a win.”

Jay Cutler, Dowell Loggains face deepest test yet in Bears' third preseason game

Jay Cutler, Dowell Loggains face deepest test yet in Bears' third preseason game

Third preseason games come with added significance simply because it is the one practice game in which the starters play the closest to a full game prior to the start of the regular season. But for the Bears, Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs is potentially far more important for another reason.

The Kansas City game looms as something of a new tipping point in the one relationship that must function above all others for immediate success of the franchise:

The working relationship/bond between offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and quarterback Jay Cutler.

The two-plus quarters that Cutler is expected to play will be the longest yet trial by fire for his trust in Loggains. The latter has been a coordinator previously in his career, but with less time and success in the position that most of Cutler’s previous list of coordinators.

And few of those relationships survived, let alone flourished once Cutler lost faith or belief in their messages, whether under an avalanche of sacks, poor play selection or design, or whatever.

Cutler put up the best season of his eight-year career in 2015 with Loggains as his position coach. Adam Gase was the coordinator, Gase came in with credibility from having worked with Peyton Manning in Denver. The credibility traced to not necessarily what Gase might have taught Manning, but rather because of what Gase undoubtedly LEARNED from Manning.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Saturday’s test will be far short of the ones the regular season holds, when Loggains’ offense has been scouted and schemed for. But after a stretch of “quizzes” for Cutler-Loggains, this is a “test.”

Buy-in with Loggains?

Loggains has traction with Cutler – for now. Cutler was consistent in his compliments of Loggains last year, but it was Gase ultimately in his ear on game days. Indeed, the entire offense believed in Gase: “When I’m in the huddle…and we get a play call,” offensive lineman Kyle Long said at the time, “there’s never a time where we look at each other and think, ‘Oh [darn].’”

The NFL reality is that Loggains, who has stressed an even stronger commitment to running the football (Long and associates love that), has to earn, or re-earn that gut-level trust.

Most of all, from Cutler.

The lurching start to the preseason – the Bears’ 22-0 home loss to Denver, in which the offense with Cutler netted 13 yards in 10 plays, two of them ending in sacks of Cutler – was test No. 1. The Cutler-Loggains relationship appeared to emerge intact.

“We talked,” Cutler said. “We talked a lot about that game. I think the major point for us was, ‘Let’s not panic. Let’s not hit the fire alarm and put guys in a panic.’

“Because it was the first preseason game and we watched the film and a lot of the stuff that went wrong was because of mistakes… . So it was a matter of just kind of cleaning that stuff up and just going back to work. Which I thought we did a really good job of offensively [at New England]. Hopefully we can do that this week, too.”

Tough warm-ups

NFL schedule-makers did Loggains and the Bears no favors. Their first three preseason opponents – Denver, New England, Kansas City – were all top-10 run defenses. Meaning: The Bears are working to establish Loggains’ run-based offense right into the teeth of three of the NFL’s best at stopping that.

[RELATED: Rookie class making much-needed impact from Bears]

The Bears want to run. But just consider: What if they can’t run against a monster Chiefs front that includes Jaye Howard and Dontari Poe and which held the Bears to 3.3 yards per carry, tied for their second-lowest of 2015, in their meeting last season?

Which then tasks Loggains with getting the offense to the right solutions, and those traditionally have not been – and should not be – solely found in Cutler’s right arm. The Bears streamlined and simplified Cutler’s decision-making last year, by design, and it was the right strategy, minimizing a Cutler weakness.

But now Loggains is front-and-center in those decisions. And Cutler has never appeared to suffer from an excess of patience through his career, even the new, more mature Cutler.

And not only WHAT Loggains tells Cutler, but also HOW he tells him, will matter. Gase was generally quiet; that worked. Loggains is very expressive, which Cutler said he now appreciates.

“He sets the tone every day,” Cutler said. “There’s never a gray area. He sets the tone, sets the standard, and if you don’t live up to that, meet those expectations, he’s going to be vocal, he’s going to let you know.

“As a player, that’s all you can ask for: A coach telling you how to do it, and when you don’t do it, you expect him to push you and help you achieve those goals.”

Preseason game No. 3 will be the biggest test yet for the synchronicity that is there now but needs to stand up to inevitable failures.

Illinois lands Huntley DE Olalere Oladipo

Illinois lands Huntley DE Olalere Oladipo

Illinois added another important in-state piece as Huntley three-star ranked defensive end Olalere Oladipo (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) announced his college decision Thursday night to the Fighting Illini.

"Illinois has a great staff, is close to home," according to Oladipo. "Illinois felt like a nice fit for me."

Oladipo is also the second verbal commitment Illinois added Thursday as the Fighting Illini added a commitment from Miami (Fla.) Central four-star ranked wide receiver Carmoni Green (6-foot-1, 178 pounds).

Oladipo is now the sixth in-state verbal commitment for the Fighting Illini Class of 2017. Oladipo joins St. Rita OLB Marc Mondesir, Auburn OT Verderian Lowe, Marian Catholic QB Cameron Thomas, Chicago Brother Rice WR Ricky Smalling and Bolingbrook ATH Kendall Smith.

Illinois now has 11 known verbal commitments total in the Class of 2017.