Chicago Cubs

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.

Kris Bryant knocks out Brewers and knows what big-game experience means for Cubs

Kris Bryant knocks out Brewers and knows what big-game experience means for Cubs

MILWAUKEE – Teammates swarmed Kris Bryant in Miller Park’s visiting dugout late Thursday night, flinging sunflower seeds and forming a mosh pit around the National League’s reigning MVP.

Are you not entertained? The Cubs haven’t always played with this urgency or made it easy while nursing a World Series hangover. But they can feel it now, how close they are to October and how much they learned last year while making history.

It’s too early to pop champagne bottles, but the Cubs won a huge swing game in the NL Central race, beating the Milwaukee Brewers in the 10th inning when Bryant blasted Oliver Drake’s 92-mph fastball off a beam underneath the gigantic video board.

The Cubs watched it ricochet back onto the right-center field grass for a go-ahead two-run homer, bumping up the division lead to 4.5 games while cutting the magic number to clinch the division down to six.

After a head-spinning 5-3 victory that lasted 3 hours and 57 minutes and ended at 11:08 p.m., Bryant didn’t sound surprised or overexcited, the same way he didn’t overreact when the Cubs struggled to gain traction before the All-Star break and the Brewers swept the defending World Series champs two weekends ago at Wrigley Field.       

“We’ve done that so many times,” Bryant said. “We’ve had a nice run with that. I guess it is experience. The heartbeats aren’t going too fast when the game’s on the line there. It kind of plays to our advantage.”

So did the Brewers pushing their bullpen so hard this week trying to catch up that Cubs manager Joe Maddon would have to admit “their A-listers were not available,” meaning Corey Knebel, Anthony Swarzak and Josh Hader. Classic response from Bryant, who has 28 homers and likes to think of pitchers as nameless, faceless opponents: “I didn’t find out their top three guys were down until after the game was over.”

Maybe that changes the ninth-inning rally against Jeremy Jeffress where Ian Happ sprinted for a “Respect 90” single and scored the game-tying run when Javier Baez delivered a two-out, two-strike single up the middle. But the Cubs are in their element now, playing games that matter, not what-if.

“I just think we like loud,” Maddon said. “I think we’re a little bit like adrenaline junkies with the fact we’re used to 40,000 people a night.”

Just look at the stone face Wade Davis made in the ninth inning, escaping a bases-loaded jam by striking out Domingo Santana swinging at an elevated 95-mph fastball and forcing Orlando Arcia to chop a 3-2 pitch back to the mound. The All-Star closer who’s 32-for-32 in save chances went back out for the 10th inning and struck out the side to notch the win. That is a five-out playbook Maddon can use in October.

“You definitely feel it,” Davis said of the playoff atmosphere in a road stadium filled with Cubs fans. “It’s a lot easier to get up for the moment itself instead of having to create it yourself. You feel that.”

As Cubs move closer to division title, Jake Arrieta looks ready for October

As Cubs move closer to division title, Jake Arrieta looks ready for October

MILWAUKEE – This was the type of game Jake Arrieta visualizes, a loud atmosphere with 35,114 fans on their feet and an opponent that really doesn’t like the Cubs at all.

This one would ultimately be out of his hands, lasting 10 innings and almost 4 hours on Thursday night at Miller Park, but Arrieta looked like a Game 1 starter as the Cubs roared back for a 5-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Those playoff plans are coming into focus, the magic number to win the National League Central title down to six and Arrieta managing the Grade 1 right hamstring strain that has been one of the biggest question marks hanging over the defending World Series champs.

“It’s just good to be back out there,” Arrieta said. “These are big games, and I want to be a part of as many as I can, especially to try and clinch the division as quick as possible and then kind of line things up for us in October. But we got to get there first.”

Arrieta threw his first real pitch in 18 days at 7:16 p.m., firing a 92-mph fastball toward Brewers leadoff guy Eric Sogard and giving the Cubs a shot of adrenaline. That always wears off, but the Cubs are a different team when Arrieta sticks his chest out and triggers his perfect posture into a crossfire delivery.

Arrieta looked sharp in his first real action since Labor Day, even as his five-inning, 71-pitch limit exposed how fragile this pitching staff might be right now. If it’s not Jon Lester laboring at the top of the rotation, it’s the softer spots in the middle of the bullpen, or questions about how much wear and tear the Cubs can take after a deep playoff run in 2015 and last year’s World Series madness stretched into early November. 

But Arrieta basically picked up where he left off as the NL pitcher of the month for August, realigning his unique mechanics and generating enough power from his right leg, restarting the momentum in a second half where he’s shown the flashes of dominance you saw during his 2015 Cy Young Award season. 

Arrieta exited this game with a 2-1 lead – before it spun out of control – and passed one test by hustling to cover first base to complete an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play in the fifth. He walked just one of the 20 hitters he faced and could really only regret one pitch in the fourth inning, the 92-mph fastball Domingo Santana drilled off the batter’s eye in center field.

“I felt OK,” Arrieta said. “I can tell that something happened. I think it’s just the residual feeling of something like a hamstring strain. But no pain, really no discomfort. That’s a good sign.

“Tomorrow is the biggest indicator moving forward of how we’ll be able to approach this. I don’t see any reason that I won’t feel good tomorrow.”

Arrieta is scheduled to make two more regular-season starts, but this dramatic comeback means the Cubs might be able to treat those as controlled experiments instead of must-win situations.

“Just an incredible baseball game,” Arrieta said. “This is a really awesome time to be in an organization like this, in a division like the NL Central, where there’s a couple teams that have playoff aspirations in mind. If we take care of business here over the next few days, we get a couple steps closer.”