Chicago Sun-Times
with sports reporters Chris De Luca and Gordon Wittenmyer

October 2012 Archives

One of the few bright spots in an otherwise miserable Cubs' season, second baseman Darwin Barney became the club's first Gold Glove winner in five years - beating out three-time winner Brandon Phillips of the Cincinnati Reds.

Barney, who tied the major-league record with 141 consecutive errorless games at second this season, is the first Cub to win the prestigious fielding award since first-baseman Derrek Lee in 2007, in voting of managers and coaches announced Tuesday night.

``It's something you came into the season working towards, but it's not something that I thought the results would be there as quickly as they were,'' Barney said. ``I'm extremely happy about it. ... I'm really surprised it ended up happening for me. So it's an exciting night for me.''

Barney, whose record streak ended on a throwing error Sept. 28, was one of three National League finalists at second this year, joining Phillips and Aaron Hill of Arizona.

ESPN baseball analyst John Kruk called Barney's selection over Phillips the ``biggest upset'' in the voting - this barely a month after Phillips told reporters at Wrigley Field that ``everybody knows that I'm the best defensive second baseman.''

Barney didn't gloat.

``He's exceptional at what he does. He was the best in the game for a long time,'' Barney said. ``I can't sit here and say that I'm better than him or anything like that. I had a good season, and I think either one of us could win it. Fortunately, I did.''

Barney had a .997 fielding percentage and committed only two errors at second (three overall including one game at shortstop). He performed even stronger in newer metrics such as defensive runs saved - leading the majors at all positions in that category with 28.

Noted sabermetrician and analyst/author Rob Neyer on Tuesday night wrote: ``Kudos to the voters for recognizing a great fielder on a lousy team.''

Barney is the fourth Cubs second baseman to win the award, first since 1991, when his minor-league manager and mentor, nine-time winner Ryne Sandberg, won it.

Barney said Sandberg contacted him after Barney broke Sandberg's National League errorless-streak record at second.

``He told me how proud he was and he wouldn't have anyone but me to do that,'' Barney said.

Cubs' second basemen Ken Hubbs (1962) and Glenn Beckert (1968) also won Gold Gloves.

``You kind of hope it's not the last. You hope it's the first of some, or many,'' Barney said. ``But I'm going to enjoy this because you never know if it's going to happen again.''

First-year Cubs manager Dale Sveum talked much of the season about Barney as a core player for the Cubs as they rebuild, and team president Theo Epstein last week also mentioned Barney in that context.

``With what he did defensively, now it's just a [matter] of small continued progress offensively,'' Epstein said. ``If he gets on base a little bit more - and you look at what he does defensively, and with his intangibles, he can be a guy.''

NOTE - Derek Johnson, 41, pitching coach and assistant head coach of the pitching-rich Vanderbilt University program the last 11 seasons, is the Cubs' new minor-league pitching coordinator, the Cubs announced Tuesday. Vanderbilt had six pitchers drafted in the first round under Johnson, including Tampa Bay's No. 1 overall David Price in 2007.

Volstad claimed by Royals and other Cubs' moves

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That didn't take long. Any last doubt about the Cubs' intentions involving their future with arbitration-eligible pitcher Chris Volstad were eliminated today when the Kansas City Royals claimed the right-hander off waivers.

Thus ended the brief chapter in Cubs history of the player who might have best defined their 101-loss season.

A former first-round draft pick who underachieved with his hometown Florida Marlins was the return the Cubs got on their attitude-dump trade of Carlos Zambrano last winter.

By the time he got his first win as a Cub on Aug. 26, he had been demoted twice and was threatening the major league record for consecutive starts without a win.

His streak reached 24, including 13 with the Cubs before he pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings to beat the Colorado Rockies at home in that late-August start.

He finished 3-12 with a 6.31 ERA and only five ``quality starts'' this season.

He made $2.7 million this season.

In other moves today, the Cubs outrighted the following players off the 40-man roster and assigned them to Class AAA Iowa: utility man Joe Mather, Justin Germano and Blake Parker.

Pitcher Manny Corpas also was outrighted off the roster but refused his AAA assignment and elected free agency.

They joined four others outrighted to AAA earlier this week: infielder Adrian Cardenas and pitches Miguel Socolovich, Jason Berken and Marcos Mateo.

Additionaly, catcher Anthony Recker, acquired from Oakland in August, was claimed off waivers by the New York Mets this week.

The Cubs also announced the promotion of Vijay Tekchandani from community affairs and projects coordinator to traveling secretary, replacing respected longtime traveling secretary Jimmy Bank.

Epstein: Cubs value Soriano

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Theo Epstein won't hang up on anybody who calls to talk about trading for Alfonso Soriano.

But the last expensive slugger on the Cubs' roster impressed the new team president enough this season that the Cubs won't be shopping their left fielder all winter like they did last off-season.

That all but assures the Cubs of going into the off-season with two-thirds of their starting outfield for next year in place, including David DeJesus. (Rookie Brett Jackson, who hit .175 with 59 strikeouts in 44 games, was told the club plans to send him back to AAA next April).

``[Soriano] was one of those pleasant surprises,'' Epstein said Thursday, the day after the Cubs closed out a 101-loss season - with Soriano providing 32 home runs, 108 RBIs and a career rebirth defensively.

``I don't think most people get an accurate picture of him watching him from across the field,'' Epstein said. ``I think there was too much emphasis placed on a couple rare occasions in the past when he maybe didn't run balls out or was embarrassed by a play in the outfield. And I allowed that to color my impression of the player in person as a whole.

``So coming in here I actually had a little trepidation about how we'd handle him and the contract, and if his skills declined how we would handle playing time. I'll be honest: It wasn't something I was really looking forward to.

``Those concerns proved to be completely baseless.''

Echoing Soriano's teammates and the new field staff, Epstein raved about Soriano's work ethic and leadership and value as a role model on a team that got younger throughout the season.

``He turned out to be as great a clubhouse guy as there is in the game,'' Epstein said, ``It was an eye opener for me.''

That doesn't exactly make Soriano - with two years and $36 million left on his contract - untouchable, as far as the Cubs are concerned. And despite full no-trade rights, Soriano has said he'll remain open to considering potential moves to contenders in places he feels comfortable.

But it's no longer a font-burner effort for the brass.

``If teams pursue him in a trade, we'll consider it and we'll see if it makes us better as an organization going forward,'' Epstein said. ``But he's got value to us. He helps us win games. He provides protection in the lineup. And he's a great example for our younger players to follow in the clubhouse.

``So if we trade him, we're losing something. So we have to get something back in return to justify that. And if that opportunity comes along and a team is very serious about acquiring him, then we'll go to him and it'll be up to him.''

Personal touch to LaHair's big finish for Cubs

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In the span of a few short months, Bryan LaHair went from Japan-bound ballplayer to Cubs starting first baseman, to National League All-Star, to Cubs starting right-fielder, to bench.

But on the final day of the season, the left-handed slugger rose up for a second-inning home run and then a bases-loaded, two-out, walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth as the Cubs ended their season with a 5-4 victory over the Houston Astros.

The Cubs finished with 101 losses, two short of the franchise record (1962 and '66).

Shortstop Starlin Castro went hitless with a walk but became the first shortstop in franchise history to play in all 162 games - first infielder to do it since Ron Santo in 1968.

For LaHair, the finish to his season marked a more personal victory than a professional one.

``I was pretty psyched up about today's game,'' said LaHair, whose homer gave the Cubs their first run since Sunday in Arizona. ``I talked to my grandma last night, and I wanted to get one more for her, and luckily I did.''

LaHair's grandmother, who's battling health problems, was watching the game on TV in Massachusetts, he said - and watched him keep his promise with his first home run since Aug. 22.

``She's not doing too well,'' he said. ``If this is the last one she sees me play, it's a good one.''

LaHair finished with 16 home runs and 40 RBIs but only two and 10 since his unlikely, feel-good-story selection to the All-Star team.

``I'm just taking the positives out of this year,'' he said, ``I'm not taking any negatives out of it. Obviously, there's a lot of room for improvement. I'm going to get to work hard, and hopefully I'll have a better formula next year.''

With Anthony Rizzo firmly installed at first base for next year, and no guarantees he fits in the Cubs' ultimate outfield plans, LaHair knows his 2013 plans are even less certain than going into the 2012 offseason - when he considered offers from Japanese clubs.

``The Cubs are where I want to be,'' he said. ``But if there are other opportunities out there that are better for me, then we'll decide [at that point].''

Cubs' Soriano wants to stay in Chicago, be part of turnaround

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Alfonso Soriano got the day off Wednesday, but Cubs manager Dale Sveum says he wants him to start in left field for him in the team's next game.

``No question about it,'' Sveum said when asked about his desire to have the almost-traded outfielder back for at least another year. ``To have 32 home runs and 108 RBIs and to play left field like he has with the speed and the legs he has, he's done a great job.''

Soriano finishes the season at .262 with a career-high RBI total and his highest home run total since he hit 33 in his first season with the Cubs (2007), along with an .821 OPS.

He also finishes the season just three months shy of his 37th birthday and under the final two years of a mega-contract that has $36 million remaining.

The Cubs tried to trade him near the July non-waiver trading deadline, but Soriano used his no-trade rights to nix a deal with San Francisco. And he still says he has no desire to go there, or any of a number of other teams out west, largely because of the geography and the weather.

On the other hand, his trade value is particularly high heading into the off-season -- ``as high as it can be,'' Sveum said.

The Cubs don't have another player with even half the number of home runs as Soriano this year, nobody within 30 RBIs, and they're expected to use most of whatever they set aside for free agents on pitching.

``He's been our cornerstone as far as run production,'' Sveum said. ``The replacement value of that is very difficult to find.''

The Cubs will almost certainly shop his value this winter, but even if they find a taker - and one that's OK with Soriano - they'll still likely have to pick up a sizeable portion of his salary in any deal.

For his part, Soriano likes Chicago, the manager and coaching staff, and he likes what considers a positive direction the club is moving - even if he knows a competitive team could be years away.

``I have two more years, and then maybe I retire. I don't know,'' Soriano said. ``I just want to have one more shot to go to the World Series before I retire.''

Soriano was a rookie with the Yankees during their World Series defeat to Arizona in 2001, and also played for the Yankees' World Series team that lost to the Florida Marlins two years later.

The seven-time All-Star was on three other playoff qualifiers, including two with the Cubs.

``I don't even think about [whether I come back next year],'' he said. ``I have two more years with them. I don't even think I'm not coming back with the team. I want to come back and try to win some World Series here.''

The regulars are done playing for the Cubs this season, with manager Dale Sveum planning to sit all but shortstop Starlin Castro on the last day of the season Wednesday.
Castro will set a club record for playing in 162 games at shortstop in a season.
``I asked [Alfonso] Soriano if he would like to try for 110 RBI, and he said `that's okay,' '' Sveum said. Soriano will finish the season with his career-best 108.
The Cubs lost back-to-back 3-0 decisions Monday and Tuesday to the Houston Astros, but Sveum said pitcher Chris Volstad's work Tuesday was a bright spot.
He worked seven innings allowing two runs, but only one earned--a solo home run by Jason Castro.
``It did feel good to finish that way,'' said Volstad (3-12), who had 24 consecutive winless starts over the last two seasons. ``Just being myself--I could have used a few more of those.
``It was definitely a tough year, but having a game like this to close it out feels a lot better. There were ups and downs, but I think I've learned more about myself and baseball this year than any other. I'll take away the positives--to just be myself and don't put too much pressure on yourself, and have fun.''

The Cubs only had two seasons of more than 100 losses before this year.
But after a second straight shutout defeat Tuesday at the hands of the Houston Astros, the Cubs losses reached 101, two short of the 103 losses they had in 1962 and 1966.
The 3-0 score was identical to Monday's defeat and the 16th shutout loss of the season.
``It looked like deja vu from last night,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``It kind of typified the whole season.''
No one among the Cubs hierarchy of Sveum, team president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer or scouting chief Jason McLeod has gone through a season like this one.
``Not many people around here have been through this mny losses in a season,'' team president Theo Epstein said Tuesday. ``It's a very stark baseline of where we are and how much improvement we have to make.
``I think we'll have to wait until we're done playing [after Wednesday] before we really look back and reflect,'' he added. ``But no, we'd prefer about 65 losses. No one wants to have this type of season.''
Jeff Samardzija, who will be a key rotation piece next season, doesn't judge the 2012 season by the triple digit losses.
``For me, it's not about the numbers. It's if you were in the pennant race,'' he said. ``If you weren't, you have to go back to the drawing board.
``We had a new team the last few months. There are things you're dealing with and then there were the roster moves [at the trade deadline.] We weren't the same team the last few months, and the fact is the truth is the truth.''
The 100-loss pace of May and June dissipated in July when the Cubs went 15-10. But since the July 31 trade deadline when they dealt away half the rotation, the Cubs have lost 42 of their last 58 games.
``July was our best stretch,'' Sveum said. ``We had a whole pitching staff and had called up Anthony Rizzo [June 26] and we started scoring more runs.''
Epstein said the season isn't a reflection on his first-year manager.
``One hundred losses aren't his fault in the least,'' Epstein said. ``Dale's done a fantastic job of maintaining as much of a winning culture as possible during a season like this.''
Veteran Alfonso Soriano has been on New York Yankees teams that won more than 100 games--but never on a 100-loss team.
``I hope the young players learn it's fun when we're winning and you learn it's not fun when you're losing,'' Soriano said. ``It's more tiring when you lose. It doesn't matter how much money you make, it's not fun when you're losing.
``I think about how difficult it is to win 100 games, but it's tough to lose 100,'' he said. ``It's tough for the organization. I know in the second half we didn't have a very good team to compete. But I hope we come back next year and play better. We have to learn from this and be ready for next year.
``I think our owner [Tom Ricketts] and president [Theo Epstein] did a good job putting together a good group of people. We work hard and get along. We have to try to get better for next year.''

NOTES: Rookie Brett Jackson is in need of a major makeover this winter in his hitting approach, Sveum said. ``There's quite a bit I'd like to see him [change]. I'd like to see him completely revamp his swing,'' adding it is something even the best of players have had to face to enhance their careers. ``Players in this game have made drastic adjustments in their game and it's propelled some of them to Hall of Fame status. I'll go to my grave saying this: if you don't make adjustments in this game, you won't stay here very long.''
Jackson has struck out 56 times in 115 at bats.

Cubs look to stop the attendance bleeding in '13

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The first 100-loss season in 46 years already has cost the Cubs about 200,000 in attendance losses this year.

And with ``rebuilding'' still the operative word for the franchise going into 2013, what's it going to take to keep the totals from plunging even further?

``The one thing we have going for us is we're playing for the Chicago Cubs and fans do come out even in tough times,'' manager Dale Sveum said.

But even Cub fans theoretically have their limits.

``It's all of our jobs to put a product on the field next year that's competitive, that's winning,'' Sveum said. ``The one good thing is that at least we're pretty close to .500 at home. The road record was a whole 'nother entity.''

Whether they can improve the product on the field likely is a function of how much of the hefty payroll flexibility the front office is willing to spend on upgrading the starting pitching. And whether the Cubs can score a few runs once in a while.

``As much as anything,'' Sveum said, ``I think it's very, very important to get off to a good start next year.''

Sveum to Cubs' CF: Time for action, Jackson

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Barring a trade of a veteran outfielder or two, the Cubs seem to have six of their eight everyday starters already lined up for next Opening Day.

Whether a seventh also is currently in-house depends on what center fielder Brett Jackson can show manager Dale Sveum and the front office over the next couple of months.

Among talent evaluators throughout the game, opinions remain split on whether Jackson has the potential to be an All-Star-caliber outfielder or nothing more than an athletic, defensively versatile bench player.

Sveum, for one, said he thinks Jackson - the Cubs' first-round draft pick in 2009 - can make the same kind of performance jump next season that Anthony Rizzo did this year from a .141 debut with San Diego last year.

``You give everybody the benefit of the doubt,'' Sveum said. ``It's up to them to make the adjustments and to learn from their experience in the big leagues.''

The adjustment the Cubs want to see from Jackson (.174 with strikeouts in nearly half his at-bats) is significant.

``I'd like to see him completely revamp his swing,'' Sveum said, ``with his lower half and a lot of things. But they're not things that you're asking somebody stand on their head about.

``There's players in this game that have made drastic, drastic adjustments, and it's propelled some of them to Hall of Fame stature, to long careers in the big leagues. I'll go to my grave saying if you don't make any adjustments in this game you ain't going to stay here very long.''

Cubs season ticketholders already are being notified about renewal deadlines for next season.

Ticket prices haven't been announced, but season ticketholders will receive invoices starting Oct. 16 and be required to submit 10 percent down payments by Nov. 12. Full payment will be due Jan. 15.

Single game tickets will go on sale March 8, with opening day at Wrigley Field on April 8.

Attendance at Wrigley Field this season will fall below 3 million for the first time in nine years.

Alfonso Soriano has been on New York Yankees teams that have won 100 or more games, and now he has played on a team that has lost 100 games.
The difference was painfully etched on his face Monday night.
``I hope the young players learn it's fun when we're winning and you learn it's not fun when you're losing,'' he said. ``It's more tiring when you lose. It doesn't matter how much money you make, it's not fun when you're losing.''
The Cubs fell 3-0 to the Houston Astros Monday night for loss 100 of the season, something that hadn't happened since 1966 -- even for a franchise whose history has been immortalized for its century without a world championship.
But only two Cubs teams--in 1966 and 1962--have lost 100 games or more (103 to be exact) before the 2012 version.
``Nobody wants to be part of it, but the bottom line is we're going home like a lot of teams with better records who aren't going to the playoffs,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``I'll be here the next two days to do the best I can to win a baseball game.''
The Cubs managed only two hits off the Astros, both off starter Lucas Harrell (11-11). They were a leadoff single by David DeJesus and fourth inning leadoff double by Anthony Rizzo. Three Astros relievers shut down the Cubs, with Wesley Wright finishing and getting his first save.
``Our pitching was okay but there wasn't a whole lot of offense,'' Sveum said. ``A little bit of sleep walking at the plate tonight.''
Cubs starter Jason Berken (0-3) took the loss, going 4 2/3 innings and giving up two runs on four hits, including a Fernando Martinez homer in the second.
``Nobody wants to have a 100 loss season, but there's nothing we can do about it,'' Soriano said. ``I hope we win the last two games and hope we have a better season next year.
``I think about how difficult it is to win 100 games, but it's tough to lose 100,'' he said. ``It's tough for the organization. I know in the second half we didn't have a very good team to compete. But I hope we come back next year and play better.
``It's a long season. We have two more games. We have to come back and try to finish strong. We have to learn from this and be ready for next year.
``I think our owner [Tom Ricketts] and president [Theo Epstein] did a good job putting together a good group of people. We work hard and get along. We have to try to get better for next year.''

The question was becoming as tiring as the subject: was it important for the Cubs to avoid losing 100 games?
``It's important,'' rookie first baseman Anthony Rizzo said before Monday's meeting with the Houston Astros--who already had lost 106. ``It's something everyone wants to shy away from. I don't know how many teams lose 100 games in baseball. You don't want to be part of it.''
But Rizzo and his teammates are now, members of only the third Cubs team to lose 100 after falling 3-0 Monday to the Astros.
Only the 1962 and 1966 Cubs were in the category before Monday, each with 103 losses.
The Cubs had only two hits in the game, one a double by Rizzo, the other a leadoff single by David DeJesus.
Even a first year player understands the distaste of triple digit losses.
But the 2012 season will be more about a positive beginning to a promising career for Rizzo after a stumble out of the gate last season.
Rizzo was 21 when he made his major league debut with the San Diego Padres last season with the requisite fanfare that went with coming from the Boston Red Sox as a can't-miss prospect.
In 49 games he hit only .141 with eight doubles, one triple, one homer and nine RBI. He was sent down to lick his wounds, but his mentors Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer didn't lose faith. They moved to acquire him quickly after coming to the Cubs, sending pitcher Andrew Cashner and minor league pitcher Zach Cates to the Padres in January.
Rizzo had to wait until June 26 for his next major league appearance, but the second time around has been permanent.
He won rookie of the month honors in July, and after tailing off for a time in August, he rebounded in September with 21 RBI in his last 32 games while vying for rookie of the month honors again.
``It's definitely been a good year,'' he said. ``After last year, bouncing back and proving a lot of doubters wrong--I'm sure there were people when I got here who said they didn't like the trade.
``It was good for me to have a good rookie season here for the guys who traded for me a couple times, and good for me, too.''
Rizzo doubled leading the fourth, his 15th of the season to go with 15 homers and 48 RBI while hitting .289.
Joining second baseman Darwin Barney and shortstop Starlin Castro, Rizzo will be part of an infield core the team considers a foundation for the future.
``And Wellington [Castillo] behind the plate,'' Rizzo added. ``We need guys to have big years next year and beyond that.
``We have this core of players. That's what [management] talks about, that core of players, and then bring in others. It's about coming together.
``Every year, everyone has a goal to get better and play better. We're young and have to get better every year and every day.''
The woes of this season aside, Rizzo is confident about the Cubs' future.
``I know the guys in the front office--Theo, Jed, Jason [McLeod, vice president of scouting], Mr. Ricketts--are dedicated to winning. They've had enough of this losing stuff.''
He also likes the field boss who will direct things, manager Dale Sveum.
``Dale is the best manager I've ever played for,'' he said. ``He treats everyone the same. He talks to you about whatever. You play hard for him and he has your back all the time.''

Second baseman Darwin Barney won't be the only half of the Cubs double play duo setting a record this season.
While Barney matched the record of 141 straight errorless games by a second baseman in one season, Castro is headed for the honor of being the first player in franchise history to play in all 162 games of a season at shortstop.
Castro played in game 160 on Monday, tying the single season mark held by Ivan DeJesus in 1978 and 1979. It was also his 159th start at the position--he didn't start one game but entered as a defensive replacement--also setting a new single season record surpassing DeJesus (1978) and Don Kessinger (1968), who each started in 158 games at shortstop.
``There's no reason to rest anyone now,'' manager Dale Sveum said. ``At this point, you get your rest in the winter.
``Playing in 162 games isn't something you see often,'' he added.
Castro on Tuesday will become the first Cubs infielder to make 161 starts since first baseman Bill Buckner in 1982. The last Cubs infielder to play in all 162 games of a season was Hall of Famer Ron Santo, who did it in 1968.
Castro will be one of only four major leaguers to play 162 games at shortstop in the last 10 seasons, joining Baltimore's Miguel Tejada (2003 and 2004), Montreal's Orlando Cabrera (2003) and Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins (2007.)
According to Elias, Inc., he also has the longest active streak of consecutive games in the National League at 194 and the second longest in baseball behind Detroit's Prince Fielder, who had 340 consecutive games before Monday.
Castro also leads major league shortstops with 26 errors, but he is the only player in the majors with at least 10 home runs, 10 triples, 25 stolen bases and 75 RBI.

Cubs' personal "playoff" series

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It doesn't look like much, but to the Cubs there's a lot to play for these final three games against the 106-loss Houston Astros.

Sweep the Astros in a series that opens tonight at 7:05, and the Cubs avoid the third 100-loss season in franchise history, first since 1966.

``I think for the guys out there [tonight], it could be like our little playoff atmosphere, to stay away from that number,'' manager Dale Sveum said.

The Cubs snapped a seven-game losing streak by beating winning in Arizona Sunday.

They send starting pitchers Jason Berken (0-2, 5.14), Chris Volstad (3-11, 6.64) and Travis Wood (6-13, 4.39) to the mound in search of the sweep.

The Cubs have four sweeps this year, including one against the Astros at Wrigley Field June 29-July 1. The other sweeps: vs. San Diego (May 28-30, vs. Arizona (July 13-15), and at Pittsburgh (Sept. 7-9).

``We can only get there if we win [tonight]. I think there'll be a little enthusiasm in the dugout to try to take care of business [tonight] and then obviously try to win the last two.

``It'll be fun. As much fun as we can have in this season to try to avoid it anyway.''

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