Brewers could be popping champagne at Wrigley


Brewers could be popping champagne at Wrigley

Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011Posted: 7:00 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney Box score Photo gallery
Marmol: No one better than Rivera
Dempster: Astros didn't hit the ball hard
Quade on his ejection

After the Brewers put the champagne on ice and hand out goggles, there will be nowhere to hide inside the cramped visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field.

With the Brewers closing in on their first National League Central title, the only question is whether the Cubs are going to stand in their way.

An 8-1 victory in Cincinnati reduced Milwaukees magic number to clinch the division to four while the second-place Cardinals were still in Philadelphia waiting to play the Sunday night game.

The Brewers have already sold three million tickets at Miller Park. Their fans should be motivated to drive down I-94 for a three-game series that begins Monday night at Wrigley Field.

(Someone else) jumping around and celebrating on your field, Cubs pitcher Randy Wells said. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

In early March, the Cubs went over to the Brewers complex in Phoenix and had a dugout altercation after the first inning of the fourth game in spring training. Carlos Silva never made it out of camp, and Aramis Ramirez could play his final game on the North Side during this series.

The Brewers havent imploded yet. But theyre testing the limits of their free-spirit clubhouse down the stretch.

Were going to come at them with the best baseball we got, Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena said.

Nyjer Morgan recently called out Alberta Pujols on Twitter. Francisco Rodriguez told that hes not fine with only being a setup man. Prince Fielder gave an interview to TBS and said what everyone was already thinking that hes a goner.

(Ryan Brauns) one of the best players in Brewers history, Fielder told the network. The guy hits .330 every year and hes been great. Unfortunately, this might be the last year for the one-two punch.

The six years with me and him has been a good run. Hopefully, we can go out with a blast this year. Im signed through this year. But being real about it, its probably my last year (with Milwaukee).

When the Cubs signed Pena to a one-year deal last winter, speculation immediately started that theyd go after Fielder or Pujols. Penas definitely interested in another pillow contract, though no one knows who will be making those decisions at Clark and Addison.

Pena, like Fielder, is a Scott Boras client. He hasnt been worn down by playing day baseball or in bad weather or inside the Wrigley Field fishbowl. There was hardly anyone there by the end of Sundays 3-2 loss to the Houston Astros.

Pena appeared to hit his 29th home run through the driving rain in the eighth inning. It would have been the go-ahead, two-run shot off Brett Myers. At least one umpire signaled as much.

But the ball bounced somewhere off the left-field basket. The play was reviewed and overturned. Mike Quade thought the umpiring crew got the home-run call right, but argued over where the runners should be placed.

Quade wound up with his seventh ejection of the season, which leads all managers in the majors. Before the ninth inning started, everyone had to sit through a rain delay that lasted one hour and seven minutes. Its been that kind of year for the Cubs (67-86).

At this point, the Cubs are making salary drives and trying to pad their stats.

Starlin Castro now needs five hits to reach 200. Ryan Dempster is only 9.1 innings away from hitting 200 after going seven against the Astros (52-100). Dempster will get two more chances to hit that mark for the fourth consecutive season.

At least one team will have something real to play for this week at Wrigley Field. So dont expect Quade to run out any B-Team lineups.

Its our home turf, Dempster said. Theyve had a good year, but I could really care less to see anybody clinch it on our field.

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

Feeding off 'good karma,' Cubs believe everything happens for a reason

Feeding off 'good karma,' Cubs believe everything happens for a reason

LOS ANGELES - Ben Zobrist leaned to Matt Szczur and asked, "Hey, what do you got for me?"

Everybody wants a piece of Szczur's "good karma" right now.

And why not?

Anthony Rizzo breaks his bat in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. Then he strikes out twice to begin Game 4 and decides to switch to Matt Szczur's bat.

Boom: Home run and just like that, Rizzo is out of his postseason funk.

Addison Russell forgets his leggings. No matter. Szczur has some Russell can wear.

Boom: Two big home runs and just like that, Russell came to life and lifted the Cubs to two key victories.

Just as importantly, Russell has his mojo back.

"Definitely. I feel like my at-bats haven't been that bad this whole postseason, but you stick to your work ethic and you believe in yourself and you stay confident," he said after Thursday's Game 5 victory. 

"There's a little frustration there, but it's a different type of frustration. It's a frustration where you know you have the stuff to get the job done, but you want to help produce for your team and for your offense. And that's where I was kind of struggling a little bit with that frustration."

Szczur's not even on the Cubs' playoff roster, yet spent a second straight night in the bright lights of Hollywood, giving his take to reporters crowded around his locker and delivering a live interview on national TV talking about his underwear.

The good-natured outfielder believes it's all good karma coming back to him and the Cubs.

Before Game 4 Wednesday, ESPN re-ran a feature on Szczur's heroic act - donating bone marrow to a young girl from the Ukraine, which helped save her life at a time in his life when he was trying to make the nearly-impossible leap from college athletics to the pros.

"I didn't expect to talk to the media at all," Szczur said with a grin. "A lot of things have been coming out - the bone marrow story. 

"The same day everything came out, they ended up breaking out of slumps. And it just so happened to be with my stuff. It's good karma. I feel like a lot of things happen for a reason."

And now the Cubs are positioned just one win away from history. 

It's about time this franchise had some good karma in the postseason, eh?

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Szczur isn't just giving the interviews and absorbing the attention. 

Before Russell's offensive breakout in Game 4, the young shortstop asked Szczur - the ex-Villanova football star - to throw a football around in the outfield to loosen up and just get back to having fun on a baseball field. Now, the two plan to make it a part of their regular routine.

Szczur also wrapped another bat for Rizzo, just in case something happened to the one that helped the face of the franchise return to his typical self at the plate.

With a lineup now featuring confident, relaxed versions of Rizzo and Russell, the Cubs love their chances against Clayton Kershaw in a possible NLCS clincher in Game 6 Saturday at Wrigley Field.

So much so that they felt they could joke about the Cubs' World Series drought before boarding a plane back to Chicago.

A reporter asked Dexter Fowler how the Cubs get past the history of a team that hasn't made it to the World Series in 71 years.

"Well, for starters, I don't think any of us are 71 years old," Fowler deadpanned.

Jason Heyward interjected.

"I didn't know that," he said, poking some fun at the franchise drought.

"We weren't alive then," Fowler continued. "We've heard the history, but at the same time, we're trying to make history.

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

LOS ANGELES – Within minutes of the last out on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, ESPN’s @SportsCenter account sent out a photo of Moises Alou at the Wrigley Field wall to more than 30 million Twitter followers: “The last time the Cubs were up 3-2 in an NLCS was Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS vs. the Marlins. Most remember it as ‘the Bartman Game.’”

As Kerry Wood once said: “Irrelevant, dude.”
Look, the Cubs still need to find a way to beat either Clayton Kershaw or Rich Hill this weekend, with Kenley Jansen resting and waiting for the multiple-inning saves. The obligatory description for Kershaw is “the best pitcher on the planet.” Hill’s lefty curveball – and “the perceptual velocity” of his fastball – freezes hitters. Jansen has a mystical cutter reminiscent of the great Mariano Rivera. The top-heavy part of this Los Angeles playoff pitching staff has held the Cubs to zero runs in 16.1 innings.

But until proven otherwise, forget about this idea of a Cubs team weighed down by the history of a franchise that hasn’t played in the World Series since 1945.

Just look at Javier Baez getting in Anthony Rizzo’s airspace during Game 5, the human-highlight-film second baseman standing right next to the All-Star first baseman as he caught a Kike Hernandez pop-up for the second out of the third inning.

It didn’t matter that this was a 1-0 game and MVP-ballot players Justin Turner and Corey Seager were coming up. This is what the 2016 Cubs do. Rizzo caught the ball, quickly flipped it underhand and it bounced off Baez’s chest – in front of a sellout crowd of 54,449 and a national Fox Sports 1 audience.

“We always mess around,” Rizzo said at his locker inside a tight clubhouse jammed with media after an 8-4 win. “So I’m screaming: ‘Javy! Javy! I got it! I got it, Javy, I got it!’

“And usually he’ll yell at me: ‘Don’t miss it!’ Or I’ll yell at him: ‘Don’t miss it!’

“We do that a lot. If it’s a pop-up to him, I’ll go right behind him. It’s just little ways of slowing the game down and having fun, too.”

Rizzo is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman for a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency this year. As a super-utility guy, Baez got credit for 11 defensive runs saved in 383 innings at second base, or one less than co-leaders Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler, who each did it in almost 1,300 innings.

“Sometimes when I call (Rizzo) off to get a fly ball, he starts talking to me,” Baez said. “I tell him: ‘Hey, you can do whatever you want. Just don’t move my head. You can touch me if you want. Just don’t move my head.’

“And I told him to be ready for it, because I was going to do the same thing. You just got to be focused on the fly ball. No matter what’s happening around you, you just got to catch it.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

This isn’t about Bartman. It’s about a group of young, confident players who are growing up together and absolutely expect to be in this position. It’s manager Joe Maddon designing “Embrace The Target” T-shirts and telling them to show up to the ballpark whenever they want and then blow off batting practice.

“For sure, we’re relaxed,” said Baez, who’s gone viral during these playoffs, the rest of the country witnessing his amazing instincts and flashy personality. “I’m relaxed when I play defense.”

The thing is, Rizzo and Baez could be playing next to each other for the next five years, the same way Kris Bryant and Addison Russell will be anchoring the left side of the infield.

This is how Rizzo introduced Russell to The Show when a natural shortstop tried to learn second base on the fly last year and track pop-ups in front of 40,000 people: “Hey, watch out for that skateboard behind you! Don’t trip!”

“Oh yeah, we yell at each other all the time,” Rizzo said. “It’s just one of those things where you got to stay loose.”