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Maddy Freking making her mark as only girl at Little League World Series

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SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Maddy Freking might be a young woman of few words, but thanks to her big plays on Little League’s biggest stage, she’s making a Mo’ne-like impact.

Freking is the first girl to play in the Little League World Series since 2014, when Mo’ne Davis and Emma March both made it to Williamsport and Davis captivated the country with her pitching wizardry.

“It’s an honor,” said Freking, the starting second baseman for the Coon Rapids-Andover (Minnesota) team. “I also think it’s really cool to be, out of however many boys, the 19th girl to be here.”

On Sunday, Freking also became the sixth girl to take the mound at the LLWS. She toed the rubber with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the second inning for her team, which represents the Midwest Region. She caught a Southeast (Loudon, Virginia) opponent looking at strike three for the second out before sprinting off the mound to make a spectacular sliding play and fire the ball home for the final out of the inning.

Freking started the third inning on the mound and was eventually relieved as Minnesota lost 11-0. Freking and her team next take on Louisiana (Eastbank LL) at 8 p.m. ET on Monday and must win to remain in title contention.

Being the only girl among the field of 16 teams might be “cool,” but what really matters to this matter-of-fact Minnesotan is making plays.

“She’s quiet, but she leads by example,” said Minnesota manager Greg Bloom, who has coached Freking since she was 10. “Her teammates have never treated her any differently because she’s a girl.”

To them, she’s just a ballplayer.

“We’re not surprised when she makes a great play,” teammate Wyatt Myers said. “She does it every game.”

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Minnesota’s Maddy Freking records a strikeout and an incredible one-handed throw vs. Virginia. She’s become the first female to pitch in the LLWS since Mo’ne Davis.

In the Midwest Regional championship, with Minnesota trailing Iowa 5-1 in the fourth inning and the bases loaded, Freking snared a line drive and alertly fired a laser across the diamond to third to double off the Iowa runner and shut down a rally. Minnesota went on to win 8-6 and advance to Williamsport. In Minnesota’s opening LLWS win against Kentucky on Thursday, Freking led her team in assists.

Bloom called her the best defensive second baseman he has coached. “She’s a vacuum,” he said. “Everything that gets hit near her, she picks it up.”

Freking’s defensive wizardly might be old hat to her teammates, but the rest of the world is taking note.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had high praise for the 12-year-old as he watched her while Pittsburgh was in Williamsport to take on the Chicago Cubs in the MLB Little League Classic, comparing her to New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard. “The last time I saw that much blond hair throwing that hard, it was Syndergaard,” Hurdle said during the game. Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve donned a Freking jersey prior to her team’s game Friday.

And Maria Pepe — who was barred from playing for the Hoboken Little League in 1972 after just three games, sparking a case that was ultimately decided in the New Jersey Superior Court and effectively broke down the barriers to sports for girls — is inspired too.

“I’m watching Maddy and rooting for her,” said Pepe, now the assistant comptroller for the city of Hoboken. “I cheered when I saw her turn that double play. It’s still a thrill to see a girl reach the World Series. Someday soon I hope we’ll see a girl playing in championship game.”

Girls were not allowed to play Little League Baseball until 1974, when the Little League Federal Charter was amended. In 1984, Victoria Roche, of Belgium, was the first girl to play in the Little League World Series. The first American girl to play in the LLWS was Victoria Brucker in 1989. In 2014, Davis was the first girl to win a game as a pitcher at the LLWS.

Nobody is rooting harder for Freking than her parents, Jessica and Richard, and her three siblings. Baseball is a family affair for the Frekings. Maddy’s younger sister, Ella, 8, plays kid-pitch. Two brothers, Evan, 13, and Matthew, 6, also play Little League. All three of them are in Williamsport cheering Maddy on. The Frekings have a batting cage and a full baseball field in their backyard.

“We’re kinda competitive,” Jessica said. “Evan and Maddy have played on the same team, and they really push each other.”

While games in the backyard can get “pretty wild,” said Ella, her big sis helps her with pitching tips. “Maddy pitched to one batter in regionals,” Ella said proudly. “And struck him out on three pitches!”

One of Freking’s role models is Davis, who will play softball at Hampton next spring. The two will meet later this week when Davis, as aspiring broadcaster, comes to Williamsport to call a Little League game. Perhaps Freking can ask Davis for advice on handling celebrity?

“We told her if the attention gets to be too much to let us know,” Bloom said. “But I’ve warned her to expect to get a lot of attention. This doesn’t happen very often.”

“Maddy from Minnesota” is a very big deal in Williamsport. The main gift shop at the Little League World Series complex had sold out of Midwest adjustable caps and adult jerseys by Saturday evening. “Minnesota merchandise is flying off the shelves,” store manager Kate Jacobs said. “Little girls have come in here asking for them.”

One of those girls, Kate Connors of Williamsport, was sporting a green Midwest T-shirt at Lamade Field before Minnesota’s game on Sunday. She doesn’t have any connection to the team. She simply asked her mom to buy the shirt because, “Maddy is my new hero.”

Freking’s own baseball hero isn’t a current player, but rather Jackie Robinson. Like Robinson, she hopes to break barriers through baseball.

“How he was able to fight through everything, and people doubting him, that inspires me,” she said. “For any little girls that are watching me, I’d tell them to keep playing their game and always do their best.”



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Playing for October, Cubs preach ‘next guy jumps in’ mantra with Rizzo, Baez out

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CHICAGO — As if the Chicago Cubs weren’t fighting an uphill battle already, the heart and soul of the team, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, is out indefinitely with an ankle sprain — and it couldn’t come at a worse time of the season. With the Cubs in a dogfight to make the playoffs for a fifth consecutive year, Rizzo’s presence will be missed in all facets of the team.

“It’s going to be tough to be without Anthony for a while here,” team president Theo Epstein said on Monday afternoon. “He’s so important to everything we do, on the field and off the field.”

Shortstop Javier Baez has been out with a thumb injury, but Rizzo might be the bigger loss. He’s integral to everything Cubs, from leading off, to two-strike hitting, to the bunt defense they incorporate — that’s where he got hurt — to simply being the face that meets the media before and after games. For comparison, Baez hasn’t even commented on his injury since being diagnosed with a hairline fracture, whereas Rizzo was at his locker to discuss the bad news on Monday.

“It’s throbbing but I keep my mind in better spirits and try to be in as good a mood as I can,” he said. “Every year isn’t going to be 2016. You have ups and downs. Everyone in this locker room is fully capable of carrying a heavy load at all times.”

As much as the team is hopeful for a quick recovery, the history of moderate ankle sprains doesn’t scream “a few days,” or even a couple of weeks.

“In the meantime you just have to plan that he’s not going to be there,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You have to get the guys ready and get them indoctrinated in these positions. I really believe our guys will rally around this moment. We have different options to play over there.”

It’s true. The team has better defensive options at first base than one might think, but Rizzo was the best leadoff hitter on the team this season. Chicago was terrible from that spot in the order — until he took over recently. So where do the Cubs turn, at first base and leadoff, to help keep their playoff streak alive?

Replacing Rizzo

A little-known, switch-hitting, backup catcher has emerged as the best candidate to replace Rizzo at first base, at least on the days he’s not behind the plate. Victor Caratini is actually beginning to make a name for himself, both as Yu Darvish‘s personal catcher and as a decent hitter. It’s not just his OPS+ of 113 that’s impressive, it’s actually his batting average. Sometimes, that statistic tells a story. Hitting .282 entering play on Monday, Caratini has become a more complete hitter. And don’t forget his two home runs that won a game off New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom last month. That was a defining moment for Caratini.

“He’s not chasing as much out of the zone,” Maddon said. “And he’s using left-center a lot more consistently. He’s not hitting that rollover ground ball, left-handed. He’s staying through the ball. Left-center has become his buddy. And the right side has gotten better.”

According to ESPN Stats & Information, 33 percent of Caratini’s balls in play have been to the opposite field; that’s up 10 points from a year ago.

“Caratini has showed time and again he’s good enough to be an everyday player,” outfielder Nicholas Castellanos said. “The fact that he’s getting an opportunity, I’m happy for him.”

Ben Zobrist added: “You don’t make that up with one player. You have to make it up with a couple players. That’s how you try to fill that hole.”

On Tuesday night, in the second game of their series against the Cincinnati Reds, Caratini will be behind the plate for Darvish; the hurler has a 3.17 ERA this season with Caratini catching. It means Maddon will need another first baseman and Ian Happ is his best bet. Like Caratini, he has flashed some decent leather filling in for Rizzo at times, but his offensive game isn’t quite like that of the Cubs’ regular first baseman.

Rizzo has a strikeout rate of 13.9, while Happ is at 25.6 percent after spending four months in the minor leagues. And that percentage is actually down from last year. Meanwhile, Rizzo plays against all types of pitchers, while Happ’s starts are limited to the good matchups. The drop-off is considerable.

“Next man up,” Zobrist said. “Rizz and Javy are a big part of this but no one is bigger than the team.”

It’s the same attitude the Milwaukee Brewers must be embracing as they continue to play good baseball even after losing MVP Christian Yelich to a knee injury. The loss of stars can be overcome for a period of time in baseball. When a very productive player is out several months, that’s when it usually catches up to a team. That’s not the time frame the Cubs are looking at. They can survive — for a bit.

“That’s our expectation,” Maddon said. “Of course it is … It is the next man up kind of a theory. And I do believe there are galvanizing moments when you do lose key people in key situations. I do expect a good result.”

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Reds vs. Cubs – Game Recap – September 16, 2019

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CHICAGO — Kyle Schwarber hit a three-run homer and made a diving catch in left field, helping the Chicago Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds 8-2 on Monday night for their fifth straight victory.

Nicholas Castellanos added a two-run double in the eighth inning as Chicago moved a season-high 14 games above .500. Castellanos is the third right-handed hitter in MLB history to record at least 55 doubles and 25 homers in a season, joining Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg (1934) and Joe Medwick (1937).

Chicago has outscored its opponents 59-18 during its win streak.

The Cubs (82-68) pulled within a half-game of Washington for the top spot in the wild-card standings and stayed two games back of NL Central-leading St. Louis, which held off the Nationals for a 4-2 win.

Steve Cishek, Alec Mills (1-0), Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan and David Phelps combined for 5 2/3 scoreless innings in relief of an ineffective Cole Hamels. It was Mills’ first major league win in his 17th big league appearance.

It was Chicago’s first game since Anthony Rizzo had an MRI that showed the big first baseman had a moderate lateral right ankle sprain sustained during Sunday’s 16-6 victory over Pittsburgh.

Rizzo will wear a walking boot for five to seven days, casting doubt on his availability for the rest of the season.

“We’re not shutting any doors, but we’re realistic that this is a legitimate injury that under ideal circumstances would take some time to heal,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said.

Cincinnati (70-81) had won three of four, but it went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position and left 11 runners on base.

Kevin Gausman (3-9) pitched two innings for the Reds in his first start since he was claimed off waivers from the Braves last month. The right-hander has been a starter for most of his career, and manager David Bell wanted to give him another look in that spot while giving the rest of his rotation an extra day of rest.

Gausman got into trouble in the first when Chicago put runners on first and second with one out. Schwarber then connected for the second straight day, driving a 2-2 pitch deep to center.

It was No. 37 for Schwarber, the highest total for a lefty batter for the Cubs since Hall of Famer Billy Williams hit 37 in 1972.

Schwarber also robbed pinch hitter Derek Dietrich with a stellar grab on his liner to left in the fourth. Phillip Ervin‘s sacrifice fly cut Chicago’s lead to 3-2, but Cishek struck out Eugenio Suarez looking to end the inning.

IN-GAME CHANGE

Reds infielder Josh VanMeter left in the fourth inning because of a family medical issue. He started at first base after Joey Votto was scratched with an illness.

HE’S HERE

The Reds promoted infielder Christian Colon from Triple-A Louisville. Colon was hit by a pitch while batting for Gausman in the third and scored on Curt Casali‘s bases-loaded walk. It was Colon’s first major league appearance since June 20, 2017, for Miami against Washington.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Reds: SS Jose Iglesias (sore back) was out of the starting lineup. Bell said Iglesias likely will start Tuesday. … SS Freddy Galvis missed his second straight game with left knee soreness. Bell said Galvis doesn’t have meniscus or ligament damage and won’t be out long-term.

Cubs: Closer Craig Kimbrel (right elbow inflammation) is scheduled to throw a simulated game Tuesday and could return this weekend. … SS Addison Russell (concussion protocol) hit off a tee before the game.

UP NEXT

RHP Sonny Gray (10-7, 2.80 ERA) faces RHP Yu Darvish (6-6, 3.97 ERA) on Tuesday night in a matchup of two of baseball’s best pitchers since the All-Star break. Gray is 4-1 with a 1.29 ERA in his last eight starts for Cincinnati. Darvish struck out 14 while pitching six scoreless innings in Chicago’s 4-1 victory at San Diego on Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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White Sox shut down RHP Giolito with lat strain

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The Chicago White Sox are shutting down right-hander Lucas Giolito for the rest of the season with a mild lat strain.

The team said there are no long-term concerns.

“For me, it just sucks because I wanted to finish what I started. But at the same time, it is what it is,” Giolito told reporters. “It just was kind of a random thing that happened. That’s it.”

Giolito, who was slated to pitch against the Twins on Tuesday, ends his bounce-back 2019 season with 14 wins, 228 strikeouts, two shutouts and a 3.41 ERA.

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