Cubs break through the wall with Alfonso Soriano

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Cubs break through the wall with Alfonso Soriano

There is the perception of Alfonso Soriano as the entitled 136 million star, and the reality for those who are around him every day.

Soriano is a flawed player. He doesnt make it look easy. He is 36 years old and cant run the same way he used to. Left field really isnt his natural position.

But Soriano has never shown that he feels the weight of his contract. Always smiling and upbeat, he shrugs off the boos and stands at his locker to face the media. Even if thats not worth 54 million across the next three years, its also not insignificant.

Soriano cant change who he is. But he still wants to improve his defense. He robbed Carlos Gomez during Wednesdays 2-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field, charging in and leaning forward to squeeze the ball near the top of his glove as he fell to the ground.

The night before, Soriano made a running catch in left before bouncing off the bricks and ivy. The guy who once said he was almost afraid of the wall stole a hit away from Aramis Ramirez, and chased Gomez back to first base with a strong throw.

This is what new first-base coach Dave McKay has been preaching to Soriano since the start of spring training.

McKay has the credibility of someone who spent 26 seasons on Tony La Russas major-league coaching staff. McKay won rings with the Oakland As (1989) and St. Louis Cardinals (2006, 2011).

I hear the fans (have been) a little hard on (Soriano), McKay said. But a lot of that is the way he played his game in the outfield. (Its) not being aware of how you look sometimes and changing that.

Dont jog to a ball. Get to it and get it in real quick. Dont hold the ball. Theres a cutoff man out there your job is done. Get it to him as quick as you can.

Sorianos speed is gone after a series of injuries quad, calf, knee, hamstring diminished a 40-40 threat. He concentrated on his agility and endurance while training at the Cubs academy in the Dominican Republic during the offseason.

I feel good, Soriano said. My legs feel fresh. Thats the most important thing. I can run and not even think about it.

Heres another pleasant surprise for Cubs fans: Soriano approached McKay on Tuesday and asked to skip the grounders and balls off the fungo bat so that he could practice fielding the line drives hit over his head.

Yeah, from the other side, you dont see how hard he works and how much he cares, McKay said. What a great guy. Gosh, you want him to do well. You (think) if theres a way of helping him get better, it would be great to be able to be a part of that.

The balls in his court. Its all up to the player. You just cant tell him to be better. But I love the guy. (Hes) never backed off a minute working and has come to me about needing to work on (certain stuff).

As manager Dale Sveum might say, this isnt rocket science or reinventing the wheel. Its attention to detail. McKay broke down the video and saw that Soriano was catching the ball four or five different ways.

When McKay teaches the outfielders, he does it in a direct way that tries to simplify things. Its all about increasing your sense of awareness.

Look back every hitter maybe two or three times a hitter and see that warning track, know how large (it) is, McKay said. Dont just be standing out there in one spot and all of a sudden the balls hit and (youre not) sure where the wall is.

Same thing (with the sun). Look up, dont come in the dugout and say, Wow, the ball got right into the sun. Know where it is, look up and have a plan of escape. (When) a right-handed hitter hits a ball, it tails one way. (With) a left-handed hitter, it tails another way, so dont let it come into the sun. (Its) things like that.

Soriano has been open to all these ideas, and the Cubs think he can be a leader in a clubhouse that has seen a lot of turnover.

Sveum has also done a good job of managing expectations. The manager defused Sorianos posing at home plate by calling it a natural habit, and stressing that the streaky hitter will be a big part of this lineup.

Hes been working his butt off every single day, trying to get better, Sveum said. The legs arent going to allow him to do a lot of things (with) speed. But as long as he catches what hes supposed to and throws to the right bases thats all anybody can ask for.

Hes in there for his bat and Daves done a great job working with him and positioning him and making sure nothing gets over his head. Hes (playing) deeper. We keep slugging percentage down that way, to make teams get two and three hits instead of one.

Soriano is rich and famous beyond anyones wildest dreams, but thats not the only way to keep score. He got paid, but still wants to get better. Hell show up ready to work tomorrow.

Yeah, man, every day I put the uni on, its like a new experience for me. Its exciting, Soriano said. I dont feel like I have 12 years in the big leagues. I just feel like this is my first year. I got the same hunger.

Todd Frazier's late RBI single lifts White Sox past Blue Jays

Todd Frazier's late RBI single lifts White Sox past Blue Jays

The White Sox haven’t had much success with runners in scoring position of late. Todd Frazier hasn’t had much all season long.

But Frazier’s two-out RBI single in the eighth inning Friday night broke a tie and the White Sox held on for a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in front of 27,196 at U.S. Cellular Field. The victory was the fourth in five games for the White Sox, who improved to 37-37. Frazier’s hit was the only one with a runner in scoring position in 14 tries for a team that entered the game hitting .245 in those situations. He finished 2-for-4.

Though Frazier has provided the White Sox with plenty of thump, he’s had a trying season with runners in scoring position. He entered his eighth-inning at-bat with Jesse Chavez just 9-for-61 with two home runs and 23 RBIs with runners in scoring position, including a third-inning ground out. But Frazier got a 1-1 fastball from Chavez and ripped it into left field to put the White Sox ahead and end a frustrating night for the offense, particularly the bottom of the order.

The White Sox had left a man in scoring position in all but one inning up until that point. They tied the game at 1 in the fourth inning on an RBI groundout by Avisail Garcia and pulled ahead in the fifth on a solo homer by Melky Cabrera, who went 3-for-4 against his former team.

Prior to Frazier’s single, Cabrera grounded out to first as Edwin Encarnacion made a spectacular stop and fell down in foul territory. Tim Anderson, who doubled and went to third on a fly ball, didn’t advance on the play. But Frazier made it all moot.

Carlos Rodon had another strong outing, though he surrendered the lead right before he exited.

Rodon struck out eight and tamed a red hot offense for 5 2/3 innings. The left-hander fell behind 1-0 in the second inning and looked as if he may be in trouble before escaping the jam with a strikeout of Junior Lake to strand two. That began a stretch in which Rodon retired 11 of 14 batters and allowed the White Sox to rally for a 2-1 lead.

But Rodon couldn’t hold it, in part because of a sixth-inning balk call by first-base ump Angel Hernandez that earned pitching coach Don Cooper an ejection. Rodon hit Michael Saunders to start the sixth and he advanced on the balk and tagged up on a fly out to center. The extra 90 feet became critical when Kevin Pillar’s infield single tied it. Todd Frazier made a diving stop on the play at first base and Rodon took one too many steps to tag first base just behind the slide of Pillar.

Rodon allowed two earned runs and six hits with two walks.

The White Sox bullpen picked up the slack. Matt Albers, Nate Jones and Zach Duke combined for 2 1/3 scoreless innings to get the ball to Robertson. Robertson then pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam for his 19th save in 21 tries.

Sky: Delle Donne's 31 points not enough in loss to Liberty

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Associated Press

Sky: Delle Donne's 31 points not enough in loss to Liberty

NEW YORK (AP) — Not even a broken nose could slow down Tina Charles.

She had 21 points and 13 rebounds to lead New York to an 80-79 victory over the Chicago Sky on Friday night for the Liberty's sixth consecutive win — their longest streak in six years.

"I do what my teammates need me to do," Charles said. "I know how much my team relies on me especially not having (Epiphanny Prince) here."

Charles was sporting a clear mask after she broke her nose Wednesday in a double-overtime win over Atlanta.

"It was the first time in my life that I had to wear a mask," the reigning AP player of the week said. "The situation is what it is. It's a contact sport and injuries do happen. I'm just happy that the Hosptial for Special Surgery and our medical staff was able to give me the mask so I could play tonight."

Charles leads the league in scoring and rebounding and had 12 points in the first half to help New York build a 50-40 halftime advantage.

Sugar Rodgers added 13 points for the Liberty (10-4), who are third in the AP power poll. It's the first time since 2001 that New York has won 10 of its first 14 games.

The Liberty led by 11 midway through the fourth before the Sky rallied to 78-77 with 2:24 left. Neither team would score again until Sugar Rodgers hit an acrobatic backdoor floater with 39.5 seconds remaining. Elena Delle Donne answered with a tough pullup nine seconds later.

Chicago let New York run down the clock on its next possession before Charles missed a hook across the lane. Delle Donne got the rebound setting up one final chance for the Sky with just over 2 seconds left, but her jumper from the wing missed.

"Couple things went wrong and we didn't run it to the way we were supposed to," Delle Donne said of the last play. "Things got a little crazy and had to throw up a desperation shot. We wanted more of a post up and that just didn't happen."

She finished with a season-high 31 points to lead Chicago (6-8). Cappie Pondexter added 20 for the seventh-ranked Sky, who have dropped four of five.

Both teams wore warm-up shirts in honor of Orlando club shooting victims. The Liberty donated $10,000 to the OneOrlando fund that was set up to support the victims' families and survivors.

Contreras helps Cubs end 4-game skid by beating Marlins

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USA Today Sports Images

Contreras helps Cubs end 4-game skid by beating Marlins

MIAMI - One week into his major league career, Chicago Cubs super-sub Willson Contreras says he's simply trying to contribute and enjoy himself.

So how much fun is he having?

"A lot," Contreras said, practically shouting the words. "A lot."

No wonder - he's batting .412 with three homers, and the latest helped the Cubs break their longest losing streak of the season at four games by beating the Miami Marlins 5-4 Friday night.

Contreras hit a two-run homer in a four-run first inning, and his RBI single in the seventh put the team with the best record in the majors ahead to stay.

Manager Joe Maddon said Contreras' contribution as a reinforcement for the injury-hampered Cubs has been indispensable.

"It's like oxygen - it's absolutely necessary," Maddon said. "The life he has brought to the group is absolutely necessary. He's different in all the best ways."

While Contreras again excelled as a reinforcement, the NL Central leaders endured another setback when second baseman Ben Zobrist left the game after he was hit by a pitch that bruised his left ankle. X-rays were negative, but Zobrist said he'll likely miss at least one game.

Four pitchers held the Marlins to two hits, including Justin Bour's grand slam.

Each team scored four runs in the first inning, when Kris Bryant and Contreras homered for the Cubs. It was the first time in the majors this year that both teams scored at least four runs in the first, according to ESPN.

Despite the early onslaught, both starters settled down before departing with the score still 4-all.

The Cubs' Kyle Hendricks pitched five innings and allowed only one hit - Bour's slam. All four runs were unearned because of an error by shortstop Addison Russell.

"That was the most grinding of a one-hitter," Hendricks said. "It was a weird game."

Miami's Tom Koehler gave up six consecutive hits in the first but still pitched six innings.

Trevor Cahill (1-2) threw a scoreless sixth. Hector Rondon retired all four batters he faced for his second four-out save in a row, and his 13th overall.

Mike Dunn (0-1) retired only one of the five hitters he faced in the seventh, walking two and hitting Zobrist.

"I can't remember the last time I went out there and couldn't throw anything over the plate," Dunn said. "I didn't give the team a chance."

Dunn also allowed a one-out run-scoring single by Contreras, who has eight RBIs after seven games in the big leagues.

"He looks like an established big league hitter," Hendricks said. "He just hits balls hard. It's really fun to watch. To be that young and come up and do it, it's unbelievable. And we need it right now."

Contreras started at catcher and moved to first base late in the game. He's expected to be in the lineup again Saturday, although he's unsure where.

"I don't know if I'm going to play left field or first base; I caught a few flyballs in right field today," he said. "So I'll be ready, man."