Chicago Cubs

Cubs, Marmol: No one better than the great Rivera

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Cubs, Marmol: No one better than the great Rivera

Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011
Posted: 3:57 p.m.

By PatrickMooney
CSNChicago.com CubsInsider Follow @CSNMooney
Carlos Marmol pulled the souvenir from a bag stashed in the back of his locker and yelled out: BAM!

Marmol proudly unfolded the white pinstripe jersey with the interlocking NY on the front. Inside No. 42 on the back, the great Mariano Rivera had written a personalized message in Spanish to the Cubs closer. Roughly translated, it read: God bless.

Marmol met his hero for the first time when the Yankees came to Wrigley Field in June. The autographed jersey will be framed this winter and hang somewhere in his house in the Dominican Republic.

Its another sign of the universal respect given to the 41-year-old man about to break the career record for saves.

He is simply the best, Marmol said. Every closer in the big leagues wants to follow Mariano. No doubt about it.

Rivera remained stuck on No. 601 which is tied with Trevor Hoffman for first all-time after not pitching in Sundays 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays in Toronto. Francisco Cordero began the day second on the active list with 323 saves. Thats the gap between Rivera and everyone else.

Rivera has been around long enough that hes the last player still wearing Jackie Robinsons number, which Major League Baseball retired in 1997. He brings grace and a quiet dignity to a job usually done by hyperactive players with mohawks.

As a young player, Alfonso Soriano had a locker next to Rivera in the Yankee clubhouse. Rivera was one of several veterans who looked after Soriano (which is why hes done the same with Starlin Castro in Chicago). The two would talk often.

Nothing negative, always positive, Soriano said. Hes got passion for the game, because you have to love (it) to be that good for so long. He believes in his pitch and what hes doing.

Rivera has been generous enough to teach Kerry Wood and others how to throw his devastating cutter. As a setup man for Rivera late last season, Wood could sense his presence, the calming influence over his teammates.

There was never any panic over there when the phone rang in the bullpen, Wood said when he returned to the Cubs this year. Everybody was real calm and Im sure Mariano has quite a bit to do with that.

Thats what Marmol is trying to remember during a difficult season in which hes converted only 34 of 43 save opportunities. Hes trying to regain the feel for his slider, his one almost unhittable pitch. He briefly lost his job and has been booed constantly at Wrigley Field.

Youre not perfect, Marmol said. Youre going to blow saves and youre going to go through a good stretch and youre going to have a bad one, too. (But) I understand the fans. Theyve been here a long time (without a) winner. Its tough.

The Yankees first scouted Rivera as a shortstop in Panama, where he once worked as a fisherman. For all his physical gifts it seems like Rivera has not aged at all in this high-stress job Marmol has noticed his mental edge.

The confidence that he has on the mound, Marmol said. You got to watch him.

Rivera has done it on an even bigger stage in New York, without being swallowed up by the citys tabloids.

Cubs manager Mike Quade listens to hard rock, but he cant stand the sound of Metallicas Enter Sandman, the ominous song that blasts through Yankee Stadium when Rivera jogs in from the bullpen.

Quade was an Oakland coach in 2000 and 2001, when Rivera saved five of the six games the Yankees won to eliminate the As from two playoff series. Thats where Rivera has cemented his reputation as a no-doubt, first-ballot Hall of Famer.

When the lights are brightest, Rivera has notched 42 saves and gone 8-1 with a 0.71 ERA in almost 140 postseason innings.

To put this career in perspective, a closer could string together 10 consecutive seasons of 30 saves and still be almost halfway to Riveras mark. Seventeen straight years of 35 saves would still leave him just short of 600.

Rivera has made around 130 million in his career, according to the salary database at Baseball-Reference.com. When you live on the margins of World Series title or total failure, a bulletproof closer is worth every penny.

As soon as Mariano came (in), wed say its game over, Soriano said, because 99 percent of the time we were going to win.

Thats why players become fans and ask Rivera for his autograph.

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

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Which Cub will make biggest impact down the stretch?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Which Cub will make biggest impact down the stretch?

Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000), Chris Hine (Chicago Tribune) and Jordan Bernfield join David Kaplan on the panel. Jon Lester, Addison Russell and Willson Contreras all work out with the Cubs before their game. Which player’s return with have the biggest impact down the stretch?

Plus, the guys discuss how many snaps Mitch Trubisky should take with the first team, debate who won the big Cavs/Celtics deal and Scott Paddock drops by with the latest NASCAR news.

Listen to the SportsTalk Live Podcast below. 

Mike Montgomery will gladly aid Cubs as spot starter, but could this be a mini audition for 2018 rotation?

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USA TODAY

Mike Montgomery will gladly aid Cubs as spot starter, but could this be a mini audition for 2018 rotation?

Jon Lester isn’t expected to be on the disabled list for long, which of course is great news for the Cubs.

But while he’s there, it’s once again time for Mike Montgomery to audition for a spot in the team’s 2018 starting rotation.

The Cubs are facing the possibility of losing two members of that starting staff this offseason, when both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey will be free agents. Montgomery seems like a logical replacement, but he’ll need to be better than he’s been as a starter this season. He’s put up a 5.13 ERA in eight starts.

He’ll get another opportunity to show his stuff over the next week or so, as he makes one or two spot starts with Lester on the shelf resting up his left lat tightness and general shoulder fatigue.

“I don’t want to see anybody get hurt, especially our ace. But it’s a challenge. I’m looking forward to going out there and helping the team win,” Montgomery said over the weekend. “I’m going to go out there and prepare and be ready to help this team get to the playoffs.”

Montgomery doesn’t have to worry about instilling confidence in his bosses. Joe Maddon and Theo Epstein both lauded Montgomery’s efforts since he was acquired about a year ago, in the middle of the 2016 team’s march to that curse-smashing World Series win. It was Montgomery who earned the save in Game 7.

And again this season Montgomery has given plenty of reason for those guys to have confidence in him. He’s turned in a strong 2.57 ERA in 27 relief appearances, one of the more reliable arms out of what is becoming an increasingly shaky bullpen. This past Thursday, he relieved the early-to-depart Lester, pitching 4.1 shutout innings and allowing just three hits and a walk against the Cincinnati Reds.

Throw in the versatility of being able to effectively switch between starting and relieving, and that’s a recipe for sticking on a big league roster.

“He’s good about bouncing back and forth,” Maddon said. “He’s been invaluable to us the last couple years. He’s still learning his craft. Every time I talk to him it’s kind of like the little lightbulb constantly goes off for him regarding his stuff and how to utilize it. That’s what I’ve been talking about with him the last couple years. This guy’s got all kinds of tools in the toolbox but he doesn’t really know how to utilize them all, and I think he’s finally understanding the cutter, the curve, the changeup to go with the fastball. He’s one of those guys that he should never get wild with his fastball because his pitches are so good and he can throw them for a strike.”

Montgomery’s reliability has been enough that Epstein said there’s no plan for the Cubs to add another starting pitcher before this month’s waiver trade deadline. Of course, the fact that Lester’s injury isn’t as bad as initially feared and the July acquisition of Jose Quintana factors into that, as well.

“We’ve expended a lot of prospect capital trying to make this team better. We think it’s just a start or two (that Lester will miss), and Mike Montgomery is more than capable of filling in,” Epstein said. “He’s thrown the ball really well, like what we saw from him (Thursday). So we’re going to fill that vacancy internally with Mike and go from there.”

While every start made by any pitcher this season seems important — the Cubs entered Monday’s day off with just a two-game lead on the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central standings, with a playoff spot hardly guaranteed — Montgomery’s efforts could have just as great an effect on next season. If Arrieta and Lackey both end up departing via free agency, the Cubs will need some replacements. Montgomery figures to be among the first options, especially if this midseason audition goes well.

Of course, Montgomery is happy to do whatever he needs to to help his team. He’s not complaining about a bullpen role or one that has him shuttling between the relief corps and the rotation. But he admitted that starting is his goal, meaning the importance of this moment likely hasn't been lost on him.

“Yeah, absolutely, I wanted to start. But also I wanted to be a guy who could fill another role and hopes that makes our team better,” he said. “If me starting makes us better in their mind, then that’s what I want ideally. But I’ve realized I can’t always control that, I can go out there and pitch well. If I pitch well, they’re probably going to give me more opportunities, which is probably going to lead to starting.

“I think it’s because I spent five years in Triple-A from the time I was 21 and I had a bigger ego. And then you realize that you just want to be in the big leagues and that Triple-A kind of stinks. I think it’s just how I’ve gotten to this point. And coming here last year from a team that was trying to get in the playoffs to a team that was clearly going to win the division, you realize that your role isn’t to come here and start making demands, it’s to come here and just do your job.”

Right now, the Cubs need Montgomery to fill the void while Lester rests up. And if he can make his starts look a little more like his bullpen outings, he’ll do just that. And if that’s what happens, maybe they’ll call on him next season to do a whole lot more.