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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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New York Yankees fans bring inflatable trash cans, costumes and more in first chance to boo Houston Astros

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Many New York Yankees fans spent the pandemic searching for an outlet to express their anger over the trash can-banging scheme of the Houston Astros. On Tuesday night, with Houston making its first trip to the Bronx since news of the scandal broke, fans finally received their chance to rain boos down on the 2017 World Series champions.

Here are the stories behind some of the signs and sights from fans, finally able to express the resentment that has boiled up over the past year in quarantine. It didn’t hurt that New York won, 7-3.


“New York never forgets”

Jack Turner (pictured left): “They got away with no fans last year, but New York is coming out tonight. New York never forgets.”

Jack Genesi: “It’s a collective hate against the Astros and it definitely even goes deeper into the integrity of the game. They affected a lot of players outside of them cheating. It goes deeper than just winning the World Series. We brought a trash can lid that they took away at the game because they said it could be used as a weapon.”

“We want to beat the cheaters”

Chico Heano: “It’s plastic (the trash can necklace) and security let me have it. That’s what they were doing when they were getting signals when they were playing, so we wanted to show that we can do signals too. I come here every night and every game but I had to be here tonight for sure because we want to beat the cheaters. We got it from a store that was selling them. I got it in some place in the Bronx. Some girl got it for me.”

“I have been waiting to go to this game for over a year and a half”

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A passionate Yankees fan wears an Oscar the Grouch costume complete with trash can so he can bang on it while the Astros are batting. Sadly, the fan was not allowed into the stadium with the costume.

David Taub (pictured at center, holding sign up): “The costume came from Amazon. It was about $90 and I ordered it and it was three weeks in backorder so I made sure to order it early. I had this game penciled in for a long time. Since the schedule came out. I have been waiting to go to this game for over a year and a half, waiting for the Astros to come.

“I was waiting on line and they had a new policy that came today. I actually came on Sunday. I showed the manager a picture (of the costume) and he said I could bring it. I paid a lot of money for the costume. I came in today and they said they had a new policy and that they couldn’t allow costumes in and they made me leave the line and remove it. It’s hiding right now in the grass. I hid it somewhere around the stadium.”

“She’s the MVP. … She snuck it in.”

Betsy Rivera: “We actually snuck it in. I actually had to put it inside my waist trainer. I had to take off my waist trainer, put it in, put back on my waist trainer and then go to the bathroom, take off my waist trainer and re-inflate it not once but twice. He had to go up and get it back, and before the end of the game, we’re going to blow it back up one last time and show the Astros that we are the f—ing team.”

Alvin Aquino: “The first time, they told us that we have to deflate it or they are going to kick us out of the ballpark. The second time, I went to get a drink and somehow she inflated it. I came back and security told us again that we couldn’t do that. My girlfriend is a f—ing crazy Yankee fan. Security brought the manager. We got it back and they told us to deflate it front of him. She’s the MVP. … She snuck it in.”

Rivera: “They couldn’t tell me anything. I could’ve been pregnant, but I’m not that fat.”

Aquino: “I wish I had brought my Altuve stuffed doll because I wanted people to throw it in there.”

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New York Yankees fans finally get their chance, jeer Houston Astros with boos, ‘cheater’ chants

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NEW YORK — On May the Fourth, New York Yankees fans channeled their inner Palpatine and directed their anger toward the Houston Astros the moment they stepped on the field.

“One bang fastball!” one fan screamed at Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, taking batting practice.

“You don’t deserve your accolades!” another yelled at Astros third baseman Alex Bregman.

Tuesday marked the first day the crowd at Yankee Stadium had the opportunity to express their anger at the Astros for their sign-stealing scheme, which included banging on trash cans during the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

Forget the fact that the scandal broke nearly a year ago, that both AJ Hinch and Alex Cora are back from their suspensions for their role in the scandal and that only five players remain from the 2017 World Series champions. Yankee fans did not forget and wanted to make sure their displeasure was heard.

“As soon as the schedule came out, we bought these tickets, so this is like a revenge tour because they weren’t here last year, and when they did play, they didn’t get the reception that they are getting now,” Yankee fan John Guerin said. “I was booing them at home last year. I was in my living room.”

David Taub of Brooklyn arrived at the stadium wearing a costume of Oscar the Grouch with a tank top reading “Trashtros,” but he was told he could not wear the outfit into the stadium due to a new policy.

“It was about $90 and I ordered it, and it was three weeks in back order, so I made sure to order it early,” Taub said. “I had this game penciled in for a long time, since the schedule came out. I have been waiting to go to this game for over a year and a half, waiting for the Astros to come. I circled this game as soon as I knew fans were allowed.”

Throughout the evening, chants broke out across Yankee Stadium regardless of whether the Astros were hitting at the plate. When Bregman hit a first-inning home run, the Yankee Stadium crowd immediately broke out into “cheater” chants. Throughout the evening, fans met shortstop Carlos Correa, Bregman and Altuve with the most consistent, loudest jeers.

“It’s mainly Altuve, Correa and Bregman,” Jack Genesi said. “They are the main guys who played well and under the statistics, they played much better at home than away and they are the players that won them their 2017 World Series. Most of the team has changed, but those guys are still there.”

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Cincinnati Reds’ Amir Garrett gets 7-game suspension for ‘inciting’ incident with Cubs

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Cincinnati Reds reliever Amir Garrett has been suspended seven games and fined an undisclosed amount of money for “inciting” a benches-clearing incident with the Chicago Cubs on Saturday afternoon, Major League Baseball announced Tuesday.

Garrett is appealing his suspension and will be eligible to continue playing until the process is completed. Cubs shortstop Javier Baez, who had to be restrained on the field when the benches cleared, was also fined an undisclosed amount of money for his actions in the incident.

Garrett, 29, pounded his chest, screamed and took several steps in the direction of Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo after striking him out in the top of the eighth inning.

The Cubs took issue with the taunting and, led by Baez, confronted Garrett on the field. No punches were thrown and order was restored, but MLB is cracking down on these kinds of inciting incidents, especially as it violates COVID-19 restrictions.

“I’m not going to let him or anyone disrespect my teammates or my team,” Baez said after the game, which the Cubs won 3-2. “He’s not doing it to pump up his teammates. He’s doing it to disrespect us.”

Reds manager said afterward that he thought the Cubs “misinterpreted” Garrett’s actions.

“I really don’t know what happened with their team,” Bell said. “This is an emotional game, and Amir has been struggling. I know Amir was talking to himself. He was emotional. I think they misinterpreted it. That’s what I saw. It is very difficult to stay good in this game. I know we try our best to not be concerned with how the other team reacts.”

Cubs manager David Ross lamented the fact that catcher Willson Contreras was fined after his actions led to benches clearing last month in a game against the Milwaukee Brewers. Contreras was upset after getting hit by a pitch in multiple games with the Brewers.

Ross said that if Contreras could be fined, then Garrett should be equally punished. He got his wish.

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