Chicago Cubs

After sweep, Zambrano's talking retirement again

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After sweep, Zambrano's talking retirement again

Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010
Updated 12:34 AM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

ST. LOUIS There was Carlos Zambrano sitting with his teammates, laughing at the Ace Ventura movie playing in the clubhouse. And there was Zambrano dancing by his locker, singing a Bob Marley song.

No one knows for certain if this peace will last, or if the suspension and anger-management counseling he received will become a turning point in his career. But hes already thinking about the end.

Just as Zambranos again performing like the elite pitcher the Cubs thought he would be, he again talked about retirement after Wednesdays 7-3 victory over the Cardinals, which capped their first three-game sweep in St. Louis in more than 22 years.

This will be my last contract. I dont think I will be playing anymore (after that), Zambrano said. Life is short, believe me, and sometimes you miss very important people, like my daughter.

Sometimes you miss things in life because of baseball you shouldnt miss. I want to be there for my daughter. I dont want anything to happen, especially in my family. Baseball, believe me, takes a lot of time from us.

Zambrano made similar noise about walking away from the game after earning his 100th win last year in Cincinnati. The 29-year-old has two more seasons guaranteed on his 91.5 million deal, plus a vesting player option for 2013 that is dependent upon where he finishes in the Cy Young voting the next two seasons.

It appeared completely out of reach when Zambrano was sent to the bullpen early in the season, and after he got in Derrek Lees face on June 25 and alienated himself from his teammates.

But Zambrano is 6-0 with a 1.59 ERA in his seven starts since rejoining the rotation, which is what the Cubs thought they were paying for when he signed that big contract in August 2007.

Theres a calmness right now, manager Mike Quade said. He seems in charge both on the mound and off the mound. He pitches with emotion you know that. But hes just handling things as well as Ive seen. Instead of trying to figure out why, I just tip my hat and say, Good for you.

Three nights at Busch Stadium and the Cubs (65-81) beat a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate (Jamie Garcia), a 2010 All-Star (Adam Wainwright) and a Cy Young Award winner (Chris Carpenter).

Zambrano pitched better than them all in front of the 41,145 fans who watched playoff hopes vanish for the Cardinals (74-70).

Zambrano went six innings and allowed two runs one earned on a night where he saw his velocity at 88, 89 mph on the radar gun. He was mixing his slider and curveball, showing he can get outs without blowing the ball by hitters.

You roll along with a career for five, six, seven years, Quade said, and all of a sudden things get a little tough. You got adjustments to make if you want to keep playing.

Zambrano said he was serious about the retirement promise. He was philosophical about how different his season might have been if the Cubs didnt try to convert him into an eighth-inning reliever, saying things happen for a reason.

And he seemed reflective when he had to leave the team last month to visit his nephew in intensive care at a hospital back home in Venezuela.

Zambrano took his time before meeting with the media late Wednesday night, but every five days he always seems to have something interesting to say. "My agent always tells me Im unique," he said as postgame interview ended, and theres no arguing that point.

I want to enjoy the game as much as I can the next two, three years on my contract, Zambrano said. A friend of mine one time told me that any time Im batting, I look excited, I look happier than when Im pitching. I want to mix it up. (I) want to have the same joy, the same motivation I have when Im hitting.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Stop asking if the Cubs are back, they need to make their own momentum — like they did Sunday

Stop asking if the Cubs are back, they need to make their own momentum — like they did Sunday

Stop asking if the Cubs are back.

That’s been a season-long talking point every time something that seems big at the time happens, constant wonder over what can snap the Cubs out of it and get them back to their expected place of dominating the division and looking like a World Series contender.

But it’s been pretty plain up to this point that one game hasn’t made that drastic difference fans are looking for.

All those “Cubs back?” inquiries have only been met with the same kind of play that’s kept the team middling all season. Flashes of brilliance have come and gone, and still the Cubs turned in a sub-.500 first half and remain just a few games ahead of their division rivals from Milwaukee and St. Louis.

So it’s time to stop wondering if every big win will lead to the Cubs turning on the jets and blasting away from the Brewers and Cardinals.

If the Cubs are going to get the kind of momentum required to do that, they’re going to need to make it themselves. Just like they did Sunday.

The Cubs beat the visiting Toronto Blue Jays and completed their first three-game series sweep in a month, their first since that six-game win streak out of the All-Star break with back-to-back broom breakouts in Baltimore and Atlanta. (For those appreciative of technicalities, yes, the Cubs won both games in the road half of the Crosstown matchup with the White Sox.)

But it was the way they did it Sunday, coughing up a 3-0 lead, coughing up two runs in the top of 10th, only to score three times in the bottom of that extra inning, winning on a walk-off base hit by one of the new guys, Alex Avila.

Did it mean that the Cubs are back? Did it mean this is the start of something great? What did it mean?

“That we’re a good team, I guess,” Avila said. “There are certain times over the course of the year when you’re a team that’s trying to get to the playoffs, you’ve got to win crazy games like that, games you should win.

“For me, momentum depends on the next guy that’s pitching, to be honest with you. If (John Lackey) goes out Tuesday and throws a good game and gives us an opportunity, then you can say that. But for me, once the game’s over it’s over, and the next game is something completely different.”

Sunday’s game was far from pretty. The Cubs benefitted from a pair of dropped third strikes in that 10th inning, including one where Blue Jays catcher Raffy Lopez plum forgot to throw to first, allowing Javy Baez to reach. Baez scored the game-winning run two batters later, sliding in ahead of the throw on Avila’s hit.

This time last year, the Cubs had a double-digit lead in the National League Central standings. After this sweep, you still need just one hand’s worth of fingers to add up their current division lead. This clearly isn’t last year. But Sunday’s win did have a little bit of that 2016 feel to it.

“The way the boys grinded at the end was awesome, definitely reminiscent of last year somewhat” starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. “That’s where we’ve got to get to, we’ve just got to be who we are right now. And hopefully that’s the team we can be now, maybe even progress beyond that. But yeah that was huge. Kept on fighting, even late in that game, and found a way to win that one.”

That’s not to say, though, that 2017’s problems didn’t pop up. The Cubs were just 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position. They gathered just four hits the remainder of the game after Albert Almora Jr.’s bases-clearing double with nobody out in the third inning. The bullpen could hardly be described as lock-down, with Justin Wilson adding two more walks to his struggle of a portfolio since joining the Cubs, Wade Davis also walking two batters and Koji Uehara charged with the two runs in the 10th that put the Blue Jays on top.

But listen to Joe Maddon and look elsewhere.

Those “little things” that everyone is always so fond of telling you make the difference in championship seasons? They were there Sunday, chiefly in the form of Baez’s 10th-inning hustle, which first got him to first base on that dropped third strike and later allowed him to score from second on the game-winning base knock.

“Javy runs hard,” Maddon said. “For those who ever want to criticize this guy, that’s a ball in the dirt, about 15 feet away from the catcher, the catcher just blanked out on it. If Javy does not run hard right there, it’s a different result. He ran hard, and that’s why he was safe because by the time Lopez figured it out, he had already beaten it to first base.

“All those little diminutae like that, that’s the difference between winning and losing. Everybody’s going to look at Alex’s hit. Great. It was a big moment. But Javy striking out and not just sulking, runs to first base.

“This is the nuance of the game,” Maddon continued, moving on to the lead Baez got at second base ahead of Avila’s hit. “Guys that get good (secondary leads). The way I’ve always described that in spring training when you have your base-running meeting is that you’re being a great teammates when you get a good secondary lead because it leads to moments like that. … You’re being a great teammate when you understand the importance of getting good secondary leads.”

Maybe the spark that’s been so intensely looked for all season isn’t one singular highlight-reel win but a collection of plays over the course of a few games. All three of these wins against the Blue Jays were one-run victories. Little things make the difference in such tight games. They make the difference in such tight division races, too.

One game and one sweep against a last-place team gets the Cubs nowhere close to out of the woods. A playoff spot is hardly a certainty in such a closely contested Central. And for as potentially momentum-building as this weekend series might have seemed, remember the Blue Jays are a last-place team. The Cincinnati Reds, both the team the Cubs played prior to the Blue Jays and the team they’ll play next, and the Philadelphia Phillies, the second stop on next week’s road trip, are also last-place teams.

The Cubs should be winning these games. You could just as easily argue that Sunday’s game was a troubling sign. Why should the Cubs need two dropped third strikes in the 10th inning to get them a win against a last-place team? Valid question.

But if you heard the racket coming out of the Cubs’ celebration room, you might be convinced otherwise.

Is momentum real? To this point, it hasn’t been for the 2017 Cubs. But with the schedule at an easy point, maybe it becomes real soon. They just have to make it.

“We want to get on a good roll,” Almora said. “This series is great, it’s a great start. We’ve been playing well since the All-Star break, so we feel really good as a team. Pitchers coming together, offense coming together. It’s great.”

“A really good team, once you’ve won the series with one left, c’mon. This is when you really want to make some hay at that point, you just don’t want to concede anything,” Maddon said. “Getting three out of three makes a difference moving forward.”

Watch: Cubs complete extra-inning comeback with walk-off hit to sweep Blue Jays

Watch: Cubs complete extra-inning comeback with walk-off hit to sweep Blue Jays

Sunday's Cubs-Blue Jays game had a little bit of everything.

There was Miguel Montero's home run against his former team to tie the game, a crazy catch against the wall by Kevin Pillar and that doesn't even include the 10th inning, which was on its own level of bizarre.

Pillar put the Blue Jays ahead with a single in the top of the 10th and then Justin Wilson walked the first two batters he faced to extend Toronto's lead to 5-3.

Then things got real weird.

Kyle Schwarber reached to lead off the inning despite striking out. He reached on a wild pitch third strike.

Later in the inning, after Schwarber had come around to score and cut the lead to 5-4, Javy Baez also reached on a dropped third strike. Catcher Raffy Lopez decided not to throw to first with the tying run, Ben Zobrist, at third base.

The Blue Jays' implosion continued when Jason Heyward was hit by a pitch after falling down 0-2 in the count. That loaded the bases and set the stage for Alex Avila to do this:

That wrapped up a series sweep for the Cubs.