Cubs think big: Going deep with Carlos Pena

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Cubs think big: Going deep with Carlos Pena

Saturday, April 2, 2011
Posted: 1:23 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com
The white board at the front of the Cubs clubhouse on Saturday morning listed all the details, from game time (12:05) to when pitchers stretch (10:45) and position players hit in the cage (11).

It also had a little Zen philosophy written on the right side, which almost seemed out of place in a room where Jay-Zs rap music was bumping from the speakers.

You cant see the rising sun if your eyes are fixed on the setting one. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift, thats why it is called present. Conquer the now!

This was less than 24 hours after an Opening Day loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Carlos Pena did not want to take credit or responsibility for those words. Technically, a clubhouse attendant wrote it in black erasable marker.

But it sums up Penas worldview. Hes been traded twice, released twice and is now working for his seventh team.

Im talking about every cell in your body, Pena said, detaching yourself from the past and detaching yourself from the future and focus on the now. I know that there is extreme power in that.

Sometimes when we try to take too much on, maybe carry some baggage from the past, (or) start thinking too far ahead into the future, then all of a sudden (were) absent from the present moment. If all of us take (the) attitude where were here today 100 percent this second, (then) we can handle that.

A few Cubs walked by the board with confused or curious looks. You wouldve guessed Pena was behind the message, and you probably couldve eliminated 90 percent of the roster without a second thought.

Manager Mike Quade has read Phil Jacksons book and actually liked it, but hadnt seen the words of inspiration by the time he met with the media in his office.

Oh, wow, the yin and the yang? Quade said. Just go play, man. I talk way too much, but Im not that philosophical. Im just like: Figure out a way to beat the Pirates. Thats all I would put on the board.

Pena is a deep thinker, an engineering student from Northeastern University, but those who know him well say its not an act. Over-analyzing the game and allowing outside forces to seep in slowed his development as a first-round pick. It probably didnt help last year in Tampa Bay when he hit .196.

Pena, who will turn 33 next month, was immediately viewed as a one-and-done player at the winter meetings when agent Scott Boras and general manager Jim Hendry announced their pillow contract.

But Pena has impressed the Cubs with his willingness to lead. He doesnt come across as a mercenary. You saw the first baseman go to the mound more than once on Saturday trying to calm down Carlos Zambrano.

Maybe living in the Wrigley Field fishbowl will get old, but right now Pena finds the cramped clubhouse to be cozy way better than people make it out to be.

Driving to work Pena sees Lake Michigan to his right and imagines what it will look like once the trees blossom and summer rolls in. He looked at Wrigley Fields architecture and absorbed the entire scene.

Its just a beautiful place (with) great energy, Pena said. (Im) like a kid, and I dont even want to lose that. I dont care (that) Im a Major League Baseball player. Ok, Im too cool for that? No, Im not.

As a young boy in the Dominican Republic, Pena would run underneath the stands at Quisqueya, and be blown away when he got out of the darkness and saw the entire stadium lit up. Some 25 years later, he had the same experience at Clark and Addison.

I walk up the ramp and you see that light at the end of the tunnel, Pena said. You come up and its like the gates of heaven have opened when you see Wrigley Field at the end. This is really a special place in every sense of the word and Im not going to hide it. Im really excited to be here.

How can Pena keep this enthusiasm up for 160 more games across the next six months? Will he hit above .200? What does he want out of his next contract?

Those are questions for tomorrow. Penas just trying to focus on today.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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

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.”