Take two: Epstein embraces Cubs' challenge


Take two: Epstein embraces Cubs' challenge

Theo Epstein has two enduring memories from his days with the Red Sox.

"First thing was helping to build a scouting and player development machine from the ground floor . . . " he said. "And the other great thing, probably the best thing about being with the Red Sox, was playing a small part of winning that World Series in 2004 and breaking the Sox' 86-year championship drought and getting to see the looks on peoples' faces, the joy it brought them . . . It really impacted a whole region of the country and generations of families . . ."

And now he has chance to re-live them.

"The Cubs opportunity provides me a forum, provides us a forum, to do both those things," he said.

The long-rumored move is now complete, and Epstein greeted the media Tuesday for the first time as director of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs. "It truly feels great to be a Cub today," he said.

The challenges facing him are more daunting than the ones he overcame when he was named general manager of the Red Sox nearly nine years ago. For one thing, the Cubs have gone even longer between World Series triumphs -- 103 years and counting -- than the Sox. For another, the talent cupboard is far thinner in Chicago than it was when he took over in Boston.

Daunting, yes . . . but invigorating, as well.

"We are ready," he said. "And we are hungry."

As he wrote in an op-ed piece that ran in Tuesday's Boston Globe, Epstein said he feels that organizations and individuals benefit from change every 10 years. After nine years as Red Sox GM, and 10 years in the Sox' organization, the opening of the Cubs' job occurred at just the right time.

"I had a great 10 years with the Red Sox," he said, adding: "I would never trade that experience . . . But . . . I was ready for the next big challenge, and this is certainly the ultimate challenge."

Later, he added: "I had some skepticism about taking the Cubs job going in, because I had such a great situation in Boston . . . but the more I learned about the situation in Chicago, the more interested I was."

His blueprint for success will mirror the methods that worked well in Boston. Among them:

The use of all analytical methods, traditional and progressive, to help build a winning organization.

An effort to build a winning culture at the major-league level. "We'll have a clubhouse full of players who are proud to wear the Cubs uniform," he said.

Development of "a Cubs Way" for every level of the organization.

"Again, it won't be me doing it, he stressed. "It'll be all of us doing it."

He admitted the compensation issue for his services is still unsettled -- and may need commissioner Bud Selig's intervention for final resolution -- but said "the Cubs and Red Sox have a great working relationship" and he didn't anticipate it being a long-term issue. In fact, he had many kind words for his former employers in Boston.

"I want to thank Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner and team president Larry Lucchino, not only for allowing this move to happen but for giving me my original opportunity as a GM nine years ago and for supporting me along the way, personally and professionally," he said. "Also, a quick thank you to Terry Francona, the players, all my co-workers and friends at the Red Sox, including the fans; thanks for all the great times there. I'm really proud of what we accomplished together, and I wish you nothing but the best going forward. Good luck today, Ben Cherington, his successor as GM."

"The Red Sox are in good hands."

He admitted, however, that the last few weeks were a bit strange.

"I felt like that guy in the movie 'Office Space' with the red stapler," he joked. "When I was at Fenway Park, I just kept showing up to work, and it was as if someone forget to tell me I didn't work there anymore. I did end up in the basement with just a cubicle and a stapler, and I knew it was time to go to Chicago."

And now it's time to move forward.

"I was so fortunate to spend a decade in the Red Sox organization, and I feel truly, truly honored to be a Cub today," he said, later adding:

"Baseball is better with tradition. Baseball is better with history. Baseball is better with fans who care. Baseball is better in the daytime. And baseball is better when you win. And that's why I'm here today."

NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.