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How Yu Darvish opened up to the idea of pitching for the Chicago Cubs – Chicago Cubs Blog

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MESA, Ariz. — A year ago at this time, the thought of right-hander Yu Darvish pitching for the Chicago Cubs — as he will for the first time in spring training on Thursday — was a pipe dream.

It was shortly after the Cubs won the World Series in 2016 that Darvish and his agents added the Cubs, as well as their World Series opponent, the Cleveland Indians, to the list of teams the pitcher didn’t want to be traded to. But the decision wasn’t a slight to the Cubs: Darvish simply didn’t want to be dealt away from the Texas Rangers, and he thought Chicago and Cleveland were two franchises likely to try to make a move for him.

It was his free-agent-audition year in 2017, and he figured he would play one more season for the Rangers and then entertain offers. When the Los Angeles Dodgers provided a chance at a World Series ring just before the trade deadline, Darvish changed his mind and became open to a trade. Going to Los Angeles didn’t change his stance on free agency, though, so he listened when the Cubs came calling.

“It was the very first team I had a meeting with,” Darvish said through his interpreter at Cubs camp. “They were very serious about acquiring me. My agents told me how great the team is and how the fans are first-class. Just the whole environment is first-class.”

The Cubs’ pursuit of Darvish picked up after the winter meetings, as the front office realized an opportunity was at hand. With teams such as the Dodgers and New York Yankees slashing payroll instead of adding it, the Cubs thought they could get Darvish at a lower price than they’d previously envisioned. A face-to-face meeting in Dallas proved to be the key moment between the sides.

“As far as I can tell, he went into this process with a really open-minded, intelligent approach,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said this week. “He wanted to get to know people and learn as much as possible.”

Coincidentally, the Cubs weren’t far removed from selling their team to another Japanese pitcher, Shohei Ohtani, who ultimately chose the Los Angeles Angels. But the negotiations with Darvish had a different feel than the Ohtani pitch.

“Largely baseball-centric,” Epstein said in describing the pitch to Darvish. “We wanted to show him how we get our pitchers ready and how we put them in a position to succeed and our track record of doing that and the approach we would take with him. Another focus was just the culture here and how we make the players the most important people in the organization.”

When things were going well in the meeting, Epstein lightened the mood by pulling out the 150-page brochure the team put together for the Ohtani meeting. As a joke, Epstein put masking tape over Ohtani’s name on the cover and wrote “Darvish.” The gag went over well, with Darvish getting to read about the organization from the same pages Ohtani did.

Darvish got back at Epstein for the gag a little this week with his deadpan answer to the question of why the Cubs were on his no-trade list last season.

“Because I never really liked Theo Epstein,” Darvish joked with a straight face.

Even though the reality was that the no-trade-list decision was a player-agent chess move, that comment is a good indication of a sense of humor that those close to Darvish describe as sarcastic and dry.

Communication between both sides helped make the pitcher feel comfortable enough to join the Cubs without visiting Chicago before signing.

“Only during the season I’ve been there,” Darvish said. “I didn’t need to go in the offseason. I have an idea what Chicago is like. They were really frequent with communicating. There were no gaps or anything. They were very approachable.”

The back-and-forth included emails directly from Cubs brass to Darvish, who stayed involved to the very end.

Once the Cubs were able to add a sixth year to spread out the annual salary, the sides came to an agreement, and the once-impossible thought of “Darvish” on the back of a Cubs jersey became a reality.

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Terry Francona set to join Cleveland Indians’ postseason bubble

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Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona will not return to the dugout during the regular season but is slated to join the team’s postseason bubble.

The 61-year-old has missed 42 games because of gastrointestinal surgery and blood-clotting issues.

“It gives Tito an opportunity to be around the team, even if it’s not in the dugout,” president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said.

The Indians beat the Chicago White Sox 3-2 on Wednesday to move within two games of the AL Central lead with their second straight last-at-bat victory.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Tampa Bay Rays wrap up first AL East crown since 2010

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NEW YORK — Randy Arozarena homered twice and the Tampa Bay Rays clinched their first AL East title in 10 years Wednesday night with an 8-5 victory over the New York Mets.

Joey Wendle and Brandon Lowe also went deep for the Rays, who will be home at quirky Tropicana Field for a best-of-three first-round playoff series beginning next Tuesday.

It is the third division crown in franchise history for the thrifty Rays, who also won the AL East in 2008 and 2010. After missing a chance to clinch Tuesday, they went into Wednesday again needing just a win or a New York Yankees loss against Toronto to lock up the division championship.

The Rays (37-20) broke a 2-all tie in the sixth and took care of business themselves.

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Atlanta Braves’ Max Fried leaves after 1 inning with ankle injury

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ATLANTA — NL Cy Young Award contender Max Fried lasted only one inning in his final start of the regular season, leaving the Atlanta Braves‘ game against the Miami Marlins after tweaking his ankle fielding a bunt Wednesday night.

Fried (7-0) retired the first two hitters, including Starling Marte who dropped a bunt down the third-base line. The left-hander bounded off the mound, planted his left foot, grabbed the ball bare-handed, spun and threw to first just ahead of Marte.

Fried didn’t appear hurt but wasn’t the same pitcher after that play. After not having given up a homer all season, Fried grooved a fastball that Jesus Aguilar drove off the facade of the second deck. Brian Anderson sent a drive into the center-field seats and Garrett Cooper just missed a third straight homer, doubling off the wall.

Fried got out of the inning trailing 2-0, but he did not return in the second. He sat solemnly in the dugout chatting with manager Brian Snitker and getting what appeared to be a pep talk from teammate Freddie Freeman.

Luke Jackson took over in the second after the Braves scored three runs in the bottom of the first, at least ensuring Fried wouldn’t take his first loss of the season. But his ERA climbed from 1.96 to 2.25, which could hurt his Cy Young chances.

Fried is expected to start Game 1 of the NL wild-card series next Wednesday. The Braves clinched the NL East title on Tuesday night and earned the right to host the entire best-of-three series.

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