Coleman looks to end season on a high note

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Coleman looks to end season on a high note

Monday, Sept 26, 2011
Posted: 10:59 a.m.

Associated Press

After a tremendous 2010, much was expected out of the San Diego Padres' Mat Latos heading into this season.

He finally seems to be living up to his potential.

Latos looks to continue his impressive second half when he takes the mound against the visiting Chicago Cubs in the opener of a three-game set Monday night.

Latos (8-14, 3.60 ERA) finished 10th in the NL with a 2.92 ERA last year and held teams to a .217 average - the fifth-best mark in the league. A strained right shoulder was largely to blame for his slow start this season, but he's impressed since the All-Star break, yielding three runs or fewer in all but one of his 13 outings.

The hard-throwing right-hander was at his best during Tuesday's 2-1 victory at Colorado, striking out a season-high nine while coming within an out of his second career shutout.

"I wanted him to have it," manager Bud Black told the Padres' official website. "He's getting to the point where those things mean a lot. He's pitched good in the second half. He's done his job. He had the fastball, slider and curveball working. The breaking balls were good."

Latos, 1-2 with a 4.96 ERA in three career starts in this series, won't have to worry about facing Aramis Ramirez, who is 4 for 8 with two doubles against him. Ramirez has missed the previous four games with a strained right quad and isn't expected back until Tuesday at the earliest.

The Cubs, 2-2 during Ramirez's absence, wasted a solid effort from Randy Wells in Sunday's 3-2 defeat. Wells went all eight innings while Chicago (70-89) scored fewer than three runs for the seventh time in 12 games.

Starlin Castro went 1 for 4, extending his streak of reaching base to a career-high 37 consecutive games. The 21-year-old shortstop is essentially a lock to become the youngest player ever to lead the NL in hits - his 203 are 12 more than the Dodgers' Matt Kemp.

The Padres (69-90), meanwhile, failed to get much going against NL Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, falling 6-2. The top six hitters in the lineup mustered only three singles in 22 at-bats.

San Diego could have an easier time at the plate against Casey Coleman (3-8, 6.64), who takes the mound for Chicago. The right-hander is 0-3 with a 7.91 ERA over his last four road outings, during which opponents are batting .353 against him.

Coleman, though, is coming off his first win in nine starts, yielding one run and two hits over six innings of last Monday's 5-2 victory over Milwaukee.

"It's been a learning year for me, have a good outing and I would get too comfortable sometimes and the next outing three innings and you're out of the game," Coleman said. "So I was taking it inning by inning, out by out, and they played good defense behind me and that's the way it's got to be."

In his only career appearance in this series, Coleman gave up three runs and six hits in 4 1-3 innings of a 5-1 loss Aug. 18, 2010.

The Cubs, who took two of three from San Diego when the teams met in April, have won four of five at Petco while outscoring the Padres 14-6.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series.”

Kris Bryant wasn’t the only one with World Series nostalgia Saturday afternoon at the Friendly Confines. The tens of thousands of Cubs fans losing their minds over the North Siders’ eighth-inning comeback made that very clear.

Bryant, though, was the one who provided it, first driving in the game-tying run mere moments after the visiting St. Louis Cardinals smashed open a pitchers duel with back-to-back homers off Jon Lester in the top of the eighth. Bryant then got a head starts and came around all the way from first, scoring the game-winning run on a ball Anthony Rizzo dumped into the left-center field gap so perfectly he couldn’t have thrown it there any better.

Bryant slid in — feet first — beating the throw home from ex-teammate Dexter Fowler. Cue the hysteria at Clark and Addison.

“Me, honestly, I was just trying to go up the middle. I think that’s kind of where I’ve been struggling this year is with guys on base I want to do too much. Just seeing through the middle. Bat broke and flew, I don’t know where it went, but it flew somewhere. That was huge,” Bryant explained after the game.

“And then obviously with Rizz having a good at-bat off a tough lefty. I don't know if Dexter or Tommy Pham got a good read or if they were way back at the track, but right when he hit it I didn’t see them anywhere close to it so I thought there was a pretty good chance that I could score.”

Bryant’s very presence in the Cubs’ starting lineup was the headline before the game, the “freak of nature” returning from a jammed finger after missing only one game. So of course it was the reigning National League MVP who played the biggest role, flipping the script from his sick day by being right in the middle of the Cubs’ eighth-inning explosion. It was the eighth inning where the Cardinals staged their game-defining rally Friday.

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Manager Joe Maddon went as far as saying that perhaps only Bryant could have made the play he did, scoring from first base on what went down as a Rizzo double.

“KB being able to play was the difference in today’s game,” Maddon said. “A combination of the hit and his speed. I don’t think anybody else scores on that. Maybe Jason (Heyward), possibly. (Ian) Happ, possibly. But KB is such a good base runner. He had it in his head the moment the ball was hit, and all (third base coach Gary) Jones had to do was wave his arm. You can’t underestimate the importance of one person in the lineup.

“He’s a very bright base runner. He’s shown that from the beginning. … He demonstrated that early on, and for me when a young player demonstrates awareness on the bases, man, that’s a good baseball player.”

All that talent made Bryant last season’s Most Valuable Player and one of the most important figures in the curse-breaking World Series championship.

Bryant mentioned he thought Saturday’s game-winning trip from first to home conjured memories of a similar play in Game 7 of last fall’s World Series, when Bryant went first to home on Rizzo’s base hit off Andrew Miller in the fifth inning.

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series off of Andrew Miller. It was a full count there, started early,” Bryant said. “Rizz hit it, you’ve got to give him a ton of credit, worked a great at-bat. But the head start really does help. It's something that I take pride in is my base running, surprising people. Hopefully I did that today.”

With Bryant back in the lineup Saturday, Kyle Hendricks’ return to the rotation coming Monday, a now 7-1 record since the All-Star break and a bunched-up NL Central that had four teams within three and a half games of each other entering Saturday’s action, it’s no wonder the World Series feeling is making its way back to the North Side.

All season long, fans and observers have been waiting for that switch to flip, and maybe it finally has.

The bats were thunderous on that six-game road trip out of the All-Star break, with 16 home runs helping the Cubs to back-to-back sweeps of the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves. Friday’s loss to the Cardinals provided plenty of evidence that the rest of the season might feature a knock-down, drag-out slugfest between the four NL Central contenders. All that was missing was a game that got Wrigleyville rocking.

“Probably one of our better wins of the year,” Bryant said.

That’s all without even mentioning the efforts of Lester, who was perfect until Adam Wainwright’s single in the top of the sixth. It was another stellar effort from a Cubs starting pitcher, and what was the team’s biggest problem during that sub-.500 first half — inconsistent starting pitching — certainly seems to be ironed out.

While the standings say it’s still going to be a brawl to the end with the Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs could be in a first-place tie by the end of Saturday night.

In other words, the race is on. And Bryant and the Cubs are clicking at the right time.

“It’s already Jaugust,” Maddon joked, inventing a new month out of thin air. “There’s no waiting around right now. Everybody feels the same way. We took advantage of the break, I believe. We came back with renewed energy. You don’t want to give up anything right now.”