Controversial walk-off leads Cubs past Astros

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Controversial walk-off leads Cubs past Astros

Friday, Sept. 16, 2011Posted: 5:53 p.m. Updated: 7:10 p.m.

Associated Press

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The Cubs finally caught a break.Matt Garza pitched nine strong innings and Marlon Byrd's 12th-inning dribbler was ruled fair, giving him an infield single and lifting Chicago to a 4-3 victory over the Houston Astros on Friday."We don't do anything the easy way around here," manager Mike Quade said of the Cubs, who were coming off an 11-inning loss in Cincinnati on Thursday night.Starlin Castro set up the winning rally with a leadoff walk, went to second on Darwin Barney's sacrifice, and moved to third on a wild pitch. He scored when third baseman Chris Johnson couldn't handle Byrd's dribbler up the line."I think I set a record for the shortest walk-off hit ever," Byrd said.The Astros argued that Byrd's hit should have been a foul ball and replays suggested they were correct."I was right over top of it, so I had a really good look," Johnson said. "Once I saw it hit foul I just tried to make contact with it because the ball's dead, you know? ... We'll just move on. People make mistakes."Garza was one strike from finishing off a five-hitter when Carlos Lee hit his second home run of the game, a two-run shot into the left-field bleachers that tied it 3-all. Garza said he decided to challenge Lee with a fastball.
WATCH: Geovany Soto discusses Garza's start
"It is what it is, man," Garza said. "It's one of those situations where I said, 'Here's my best. What do you got?' He guessed right and beat me."I knew where I had to put that pitch for him not to hit it. I just left it up the middle and he got it."Nevertheless, it was a solid outing for Garza, who struck out four and threw a season-high 124 pitches, allowing seven hits and no walks. Jeff Samardzija (7-4) threw a scoreless 12th to pick up the win and send the Astros to their 99th loss.Houston has never lost 100 games in a season in the franchise's 50-year history."They're tough losses, but on the other hand, you have to look at the positives," Lee said. "We're playing good baseball. We're playing good games."Geovany Soto led off the third with his 15th homer, and Aramis Ramirez had three hits, including his first triple since July 9, 2010."(Rodriguez) left me a fastball right there and I put good wood on it," Soto said.Lee had three hits and three RBIs for Houston. He opened the scoring with a solo blast leading off the second. Lee has hit in 22 of his last 24 games, and has 23 career homers at Wrigley Field, third among active players."I would say since the All-Star break, I've been feeling pretty good," Lee said. "I've found a position where I feel real comfortable and I'm seeing the ball real good."Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez allowed three runs and six hits over 5 23 innings, striking out five and walking four. He is two strikeouts shy of becoming the first Astros lefty to record 1,000 in a career. Reliever David Carpenter (0-3) gave up the winning run.The Astros swung early and often against Garza, who faced the minimum in five different innings and no more than four until the ninth. After allowing J.D. Martinez's leadoff single in the fourth, Garza retired the next 13 Astros in order."For the main part, (Garza) threw the ball unbelievable today," Soto said.The long game was bad news for a Cubs squad weary after Thursday night's four-hour defeat. The Cubs were tired, but mustered enough energy to mob Byrd after his game-winner."They had plenty of energy, punching me in the stomach," Byrd said. "I just held my ground. We felt pretty good today. It's one of those things, we got in late but you have to get up for every game."Notes: Castro went 0 for 4 with two walks and remains seven hits shy of becoming the youngest Cub to reach the 200-hit mark. ... The Cubs opened their homestand Friday afternoon after finishing their road trip with the extra-inning loss at Cincinnati on Thursday night. It's the kind of scheduling crunch Quade would like to avoid given the ordinance that requires the Cubs to play day games on Fridays. "I don't know if it's a doable deal, but obviously you'd like to play a day game somewhere else before coming home," he said. ... Actor Martin Sheen performed during the seventh-inning stretch, singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." ... The Astros will send Henry Sosa to the mound on Saturday to face Chicago's Rodrigo Lopez.Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This materialmay not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

MIAMI – Kyle Schwarber’s offensive spiral had gone on for so long and gotten so deep that the shock value of sending a potential franchise player to Triple-A quickly wore off once the news broke on Twitter.

The Cubs sent their message directly to Schwarber. Even if the bosses wanted to, the Cubs couldn’t put the rest of the clubhouse on edge by demoting a .171 hitter with 260-plus plate appearances in late June. 

The Cubs are in survival mode, not a position to play mind tricks, beginning an 11-games-in-11-days road trip with World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (sore left wrist), Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward (cut left hand) and Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) all on the disabled list.   

The Cubs didn’t rebook Schwarber to Iowa so he can be converted into a pitcher. An aging, stressed rotation remains a much bigger concern than the boom-and-bust periods with a young offense. 

All these circumstances made a vintage Jake Arrieta performance during Thursday night’s 11-1 win at Marlins Park so important. Whether or not the Cubs make a blockbuster trade for a pitcher, there are still five-plus weeks left until buyers and sellers will feel the urgency of a deadline.   

“If something presents itself that makes sense, we’ll certainly jump on it,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But to us, the answers are in that clubhouse. We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut. The answers are in there, and we believe in those guys. 

“Will we be active? No question. But that’s not going to happen for a while and there’s a lot of games to be played between now and July 31.”

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On a night where he felt “low energy,” rocked a new buzz cut and covered his right thumb with Dermabond to treat a cut/blister issue that can be traced back to spring training, Arrieta needed only 82 pitches to get through seven innings, completely shutting down a strong Miami lineup except for a Marcell Ozuna home run.

Arrieta’s inconsistencies (7-5, 4.36 ERA) have mirrored a 37-35 team, but he didn’t hesitate when asked where he is at now in a season that has so far not lived up to his Cy Young/All-Star expectations.  

“I’m close,” Arrieta said. “I’m really close.”

The Cubs are still the defending champs. Kris Bryant unleashed an MVP swing when he launched a three-run homer into the left-center field patio deck. Blocking out a messy personal situation, All-Star shortstop Addison Russell almost hit for the cycle (no triple) the day after getting questions about his divorce and a Major League Baseball investigation. This year’s Schwarber – rookie Ian Happ – also went 4-for-5 and gave the team another jolt.  

“It’s tough to see Schwarber go down,” Arrieta said. “We know that he’s going to be one of our mainstays in the lineup eventually. He’s hit a rough patch and it happens to the best of us. 

“I’ve been there. I talked to him yesterday a little bit about just keeping his head down and going to work and getting his at-bats and trying to find that comfort level. He’ll be back soon. He’s a tremendous hitter who’s going through some struggles and he’s going to right the ship. There’s no doubt about that. He’s too good of a hitter.

“A night like tonight where we pitch well and we score 11 runs, it looks easy. But it’s about consistency and trying to build off of a night like tonight. We’ve got the guys necessary to do so. We’re very capable of doing that.”

Especially if Arrieta gets hot again and shows how he can lift an entire team. 

“To get Jake pitching that kind of quality game again is going to be a big boon to us,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

MIAMI – Everything aligned for the Cubs to make Kyle Schwarber their leadoff hitter. Joe Maddon’s gut instincts told him to do it – so the manager asked the Geek Department to run the numbers – and the projections backed him up. A front office raised on Bill James principles endorsed the idea after Dexter Fowler took an offer he couldn’t refuse – five years and $82.5 million – from the St. Louis Cardinals.
   
It all looked good on paper and sounded reasonable in theory. But by the time the Cubs made the Schwarber-to-Iowa move official before Thursday’s game at Marlins Park, the slugger once compared to Babe Ruth in a pre-draft scouting report had devolved into the qualified hitter with the lowest batting average in the majors (.171) and an .OPS 75 points below the league average.  

If Schwarber had been batting, say, sixth since Opening Day, would the Cubs be in a different spot right now?   

“Obviously, I can’t answer that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s an impossible question to answer. We put him in a leadoff position and he struggled. We obviously moved him out of that position (and) that didn’t work either. I know that’s what people are going to point to, because that’s a variable in his career. 

“Obviously, hitting him leadoff in 2017 didn’t work. Whether or not it caused the tailspin, I have no way to answer that question.”   

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The Cubs also deserve credit for: drafting Schwarber when the industry viewed him as a reach with the No. 4 overall pick in 2014; fast-tracking his development to the point where he could help the 2015 team win 97 games and two playoff rounds; and overseeing a rehab process that allowed him to be a World Series designated hitter less than seven months after reconstructive surgery on his left knee.    
 
The Cubs will have their hitting instructors give Schwarber subtle suggestions, focusing on how he starts his swing and where he finishes, trying to reestablish his balance and confidence during this Triple-A timeout.
    
But deep down, this is a 24-year-old player who never experienced a full season in the big leagues before and wanted so bad to be a huge part of The Cubs Way.

“I do think a lot of the problems are mental,” Hoyer said. “These struggles have kind of beaten him up a little bit. Like anyone would, he’s lost a little bit of his swagger, and I think he needs to get that back. But I think when you look at what a great fastball hitter he’s been – how good he was in ’15, how good he was last year in the World Series – the fact that he hasn’t been pounding fastballs this year is a mechanical/physical issue that we’ll be looking to tweak. 

“This is a guy that has always murdered fastballs and he’s not there right now.”