Covering the Cubs: A crazy summer rollercoaster

Covering the Cubs: A crazy summer rollercoaster

Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010
6:58 PM

By Patrick Mooney

WASHINGTON When the Cubs show up for work on Friday afternoon at Great American Ball Park, there will be 38 days remaining in the season, almost 21 percent of their paychecks still to be earned.

That doesnt sound like much time left for the pitchers and catchers who began reporting to the teams complex in Mesa, Ariz., about a week after the New Orleans Saints won Super Bowl XLIV.

But then you flash back to all that has happened in the previous 38 days. It all started on July 20, when Lou Piniellas agent leaked the news that the Cubs manager would be retiring.

New York Daily News columnist Bill Madden a former Yankees beat writer who would be honored that weekend at the Hall of Fame ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y. broke the story online.

It was published hours before the Cubs planned to make a relatively low-key announcement, without any advance warning to the media outlets that wouldnt normally rush to Wrigley Field for a Tuesday night game against the Houston Astros.

Piniella broadcast his intention to finish the season, but would be pulled back home twice within the next two weeks. He traveled to Tampa, Fla., for his uncles funeral, and to tend to his ailing mother, a family situation that ultimately led to his resignation and Sundays teary farewell.

As an emotional Piniella wrestled with this decision, Derrek Lee was making his own calculations. On July 28 the Cubs first baseman explained why he used his no-trade rights to block a deal to the Los Angeles Angels.

With a home in Southern California and good friends in the Angels clubhouse, that represented something close to an ideal situation. But Lee didnt want to move his family. The timing wasnt right, the Angels werent a sure thing and the expectation was that he would complete the final year of his contract in a Cub uniform.

After the Cubs landed at OHare International Airport on Aug. 15, general manager Jim Hendry approached Lee about a new opportunity. The Atlanta Braves scouted Lee during a three-game series in St. Louis, where he crushed four home runs in three games.

The next day Lee signaled his approval. Two days later the trade became official. And two days after that he drove his car into his normal parking space at Wrigley Field and walked into the visiting clubhouse, where he hadnt stepped inside since celebrating with the Florida Marlins after the 2003 National League Championship Series.

By then, the Cubs seemed almost numb to all the changes. Laid-back first basemanoutfielder Xavier Nady who has already been traded three times in his career and is playing for his fifth team essentially shrugged his shoulders.

Thats the nature of the game, Nady said. Guys are going to be departing here and there and there will be a lot of new faces. But from our standpoint, you got to come ready to play.

Lee socialized with every corner of the clubhouse, and his ex-teammates understood his change of heart. They had already said their goodbyes to Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot at the July 31 non-waiver deadline the day after Carlos Zambrano apologized to the entire team but at least they had a flight to catch.

A television camera tracked Mike Fontenot on Aug. 11 as he walked from one AT&T Park clubhouse to the other after he was dealt to the San Francisco Giants.

More than one Cub has said that he hopes to get a chance to play with Lilly again at some point. Both parties left the door open to the veteran left-hander possibly re-signing as a free agent. But the organization is also trying to find in-house solutions and will continue to audition young pitchers.

Left-handed reliever Scott Maine is set to become the 16th rookie to appear for the Cubs this season and the 10th to make his major-league debut. Since July 20, the Cubs have brought up a player from Triple-A Iowa 11 times. Theyve optioned a player down to the minors eight times during that stretch.

Rookie reliever Andrew Cashner sort of shook his head and laughed.

Its been a crazy year, he said. Its definitely been kind of a whirlwind season, not really knowing what to expect.

There was Carlos Silva having trouble breathing on Aug. 1 and being taken to Denvers Saint Joseph Hospital in an ambulance. Eight days later, he underwent cardiac ablation at Northwestern Memorial Hospital to fix an irregular heartbeat.

Like Silva, Carlos Zambrano thought about his family during what might have been his best start of the season on Tuesday night in Washington.

Zambranos postgame news conference lasted about six minutes, and during that time he was confrontational, thoughtful, cocky and philosophical before leaving to see his nephew at a hospital in Venezuela.

Anything close to deathsometimes people shouldnt leave until theyre old, Zambrano said, but when God has something in mind, He calls us to Him. What can we do?

The Cubs will regroup with Thursdays off day in Cincinnati, not exactly a world-class city if you are a millionaire with time on your hands. But the timing couldnt be better after 20 games in 20 days and 17 against teams with legitimate hopes of being soaked in champagne at some point in September or October.

They are on their third manager in the past two weeks. Randy Wells played for Mike Quade in Iowa in 2006 and says hes the same high-strung, funny guy that gets along with everybody.

Quade loves horseracing, but the past 38 days have shown that its impossible to handicap how this all will end.

Its no secret he can say what he wants, and you guys can say what you want, Wells said, but youd be stupid not to try to take this opportunity and show what you can do for possibly a managers job down the road.

You never know whats going to happen.

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

Morning Update: Cubs tie up World Series with Game 2 win; Bulls begin season against Celtics

Morning Update: Cubs tie up World Series with Game 2 win; Bulls begin season against Celtics

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Cubs offense settling into World Series groove

Cubs offense settling into World Series groove

CLEVELAND - It doesn't take long for the 2016 Cubs to rebound.

Their American League-style lineup is just simply too talented to keep down for an extended period of time, especially with Kyle Schwarber now added back into the fold.

They Cubs hitters are so confident, they even left Progressive Field feeling good about themselves despite being shut out in Game 1 of the World Series.

The Cubs got on the board early Wednesday night, plating a run on the third batter of the game as Anthony Rizzo doubled home Kris Bryant.

"Take the momentum away. Take the crowd out of it," Bryant said. "It's nice to score first. Especially when you're the visiting team, to get out there and score within the first three batters is huge."

The early lead helped the lineup settle in and keep their foot on the gas for a 5-1 victory to take the series back to Wrigley Field tied one game apiece.

"Especially with a young lineup, I think when you see a few guys go up there and take some good quality at-bats, one happens after the other and the other guys seem to do the same thing," Ben Zobrist said. "It takes a lot of pressure off. When you see other guys having good, quality at-bats, you don't feel like you have to take pitches and you can be aggressive early on. 

"Oftentimes when you're aggressive in the zone is when you take the tough ones. We did a good job tonight laying off some good pitches. When they made mistakes in the zone, we really hit the ball hard. Even though we scored five runs, obviously we had a lot of baserunners on and we could've scored a lot more."

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Zobrist has a point.

The night after leaving nine runners on base and going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position, the Cubs left 13 runners on base and tallied just three hits in 12 tries with runners in scoring position.

Between nine hits and eight walks, there were Cubs on base all game. Indians pitchers didn't retire Cubs hitters in order in an inning until the seventh.

The Cubs also forced the Indians to throw 196 pitches in nine innings and worked starter Trevor Bauer to 51 pitches through the first two frames.

"That was good for us," Bryant said. "We saw a lot of their bullpen, so we have a lot of information to learn from and hopefully use in the next game."

Anthony Rizzo summed up the lineup's mentality simply:

"Grind out at-bats, work the pitcher's pitch count up and get the next guy up," he said.

That "pass the baton" mentality is what drives this offense and after a brief lull in that regard in Los Angeles when they were shut out in back-to-back games in the NLCS, the Cubs leave Cleveland feeling pretty good.

"When we're able to [get pitch counts up], you can kinda feel it - our offense really feeds off of that," Zobrist said. "We believe that we're going to break through eventually."