Empty feeling? Cubs get the W at Wrigley


Empty feeling? Cubs get the W at Wrigley

Monday, April 4, 2011
Posted: 7:58 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney

This didnt make you want to skip work or cut class.

The Cubs are supposed to be a huge draw wherever they go spring training, on the road, at Clark and Addison. Wrigley Field is expected to be timeless, but it isnt immune to outside factors.

A soft economy, cold April weather and an Arizona Diamondbacks team that isnt generating any sort of buzz couldnt have helped. But the Cubs hosted whats believed to be their smallest crowd in almost nine years 26,292 on a gray, 47-degree Monday afternoon.

Those who were there saw a strong start from Randy Wells, clutch hitting by Alfonso Soriano and a collective effort out of the bullpen in a 4-1 victory over the Diamondbacks.

Its a little bit strange seeing those empty seats, Kerry Wood said, but its our job to change that.

Thats the thing you are now automatically used to seeing a packed house every night because the Cubs have set the bar so high. Unoccupied sections of the lower level and upper deck wouldnt be much of a story in other markets during the first week of the season.

Cubs officials say the season-ticket base is bigger than its ever been. They fully expect to pass the three-million mark in attendance for an eighth consecutive season.

Monday, cold weather people dont want to get out of their house. But I think when it gets warm, people will come to the game, Soriano said. We have a very good team and we play hard. We want to be (a) contender this year.

The Cubs are built around pitching, and Wells kept his composure long enough to give them another quality start.

Willie Bloomquist had more than 2,000 career plate appearances and 13 home runs on his major-league resume before he drove the games fourth pitch into the left-field bleachers.

Wells recovered and worked around four walks to limit the Diamondbacks to one run across six innings.

Thats not the end of the world. You got to almost start the game over and go back to work, Wells said. I put myself behind the eight-ball, (but) you just try to bear down and make pitches.

The Cubs (2-2) got enough offense through Soriano, who admired his solo home run in the third inning as it sailed into the left-field bleachers. But Soriano was more proud of his at-bat in the eighth, which yielded a two-out, opposite-field RBI single.

Soriano has notched at least one hit and driven in at least one run in three consecutive games. He will never win over all Cubs fans, but he likes where his game is at.

My mind is clear, he said. I feel very comfortable right now.

Thats how Mike Quade feels whenever he can turn a lead over to his bullpen. The manager used three relievers Sean Marshall, Marcos Mateo and John Grabow to get through the seventh inning before Wood and Carlos Marmol finished off the Diamondbacks (1-2).

For the second day in a row, Wood loaded the bases but escaped unscathed. About 24 hours after blowing a save, Marmol closed out the ninth inning. Neither wanted a day off. Both wanted a piece of the action and let Quade know that.

Of course, Marmol said. If they need me out there, Im going to be there.

The Cubs know that the fans will come back when theyre winning, and thats all that should matter. Obsessively tracking attendance figures is another quirk of Wrigley Field, like day baseball, swirling winds and flocks of seagulls.

Marmol got the 27th out by inducing a fly ball from Justin Upton. The seagulls hovered overhead as Marlon Byrd tracked it in center.

As long (as) were doing high fives at the end of the game, Byrd said, that doesnt bother me.

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

Feeding off 'good karma,' Cubs believe everything happens for a reason

Feeding off 'good karma,' Cubs believe everything happens for a reason

LOS ANGELES - Ben Zobrist leaned to Matt Szczur and asked, "Hey, what do you got for me?"

Everybody wants a piece of Szczur's "good karma" right now.

And why not?

Anthony Rizzo breaks his bat in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. Then he strikes out twice to begin Game 4 and decides to switch to Matt Szczur's bat.

Boom: Home run and just like that, Rizzo is out of his postseason funk.

Addison Russell forgets his leggings. No matter. Szczur has some Russell can wear.

Boom: Two big home runs and just like that, Russell came to life and lifted the Cubs to two key victories.

Just as importantly, Russell has his mojo back.

"Definitely. I feel like my at-bats haven't been that bad this whole postseason, but you stick to your work ethic and you believe in yourself and you stay confident," he said after Thursday's Game 5 victory. 

"There's a little frustration there, but it's a different type of frustration. It's a frustration where you know you have the stuff to get the job done, but you want to help produce for your team and for your offense. And that's where I was kind of struggling a little bit with that frustration."

Szczur's not even on the Cubs' playoff roster, yet spent a second straight night in the bright lights of Hollywood, giving his take to reporters crowded around his locker and delivering a live interview on national TV talking about his underwear.

The good-natured outfielder believes it's all good karma coming back to him and the Cubs.

Before Game 4 Wednesday, ESPN re-ran a feature on Szczur's heroic act - donating bone marrow to a young girl from the Ukraine, which helped save her life at a time in his life when he was trying to make the nearly-impossible leap from college athletics to the pros.

"I didn't expect to talk to the media at all," Szczur said with a grin. "A lot of things have been coming out - the bone marrow story. 

"The same day everything came out, they ended up breaking out of slumps. And it just so happened to be with my stuff. It's good karma. I feel like a lot of things happen for a reason."

And now the Cubs are positioned just one win away from history. 

It's about time this franchise had some good karma in the postseason, eh?

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Szczur isn't just giving the interviews and absorbing the attention. 

Before Russell's offensive breakout in Game 4, the young shortstop asked Szczur - the ex-Villanova football star - to throw a football around in the outfield to loosen up and just get back to having fun on a baseball field. Now, the two plan to make it a part of their regular routine.

Szczur also wrapped another bat for Rizzo, just in case something happened to the one that helped the face of the franchise return to his typical self at the plate.

With a lineup now featuring confident, relaxed versions of Rizzo and Russell, the Cubs love their chances against Clayton Kershaw in a possible NLCS clincher in Game 6 Saturday at Wrigley Field.

So much so that they felt they could joke about the Cubs' World Series drought before boarding a plane back to Chicago.

A reporter asked Dexter Fowler how the Cubs get past the history of a team that hasn't made it to the World Series in 71 years.

"Well, for starters, I don't think any of us are 71 years old," Fowler deadpanned.

Jason Heyward interjected.

"I didn't know that," he said, poking some fun at the franchise drought.

"We weren't alive then," Fowler continued. "We've heard the history, but at the same time, we're trying to make history.

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

LOS ANGELES – Within minutes of the last out on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, ESPN’s @SportsCenter account sent out a photo of Moises Alou at the Wrigley Field wall to more than 30 million Twitter followers: “The last time the Cubs were up 3-2 in an NLCS was Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS vs. the Marlins. Most remember it as ‘the Bartman Game.’”

As Kerry Wood once said: “Irrelevant, dude.”
Look, the Cubs still need to find a way to beat either Clayton Kershaw or Rich Hill this weekend, with Kenley Jansen resting and waiting for the multiple-inning saves. The obligatory description for Kershaw is “the best pitcher on the planet.” Hill’s lefty curveball – and “the perceptual velocity” of his fastball – freezes hitters. Jansen has a mystical cutter reminiscent of the great Mariano Rivera. The top-heavy part of this Los Angeles playoff pitching staff has held the Cubs to zero runs in 16.1 innings.

But until proven otherwise, forget about this idea of a Cubs team weighed down by the history of a franchise that hasn’t played in the World Series since 1945.

Just look at Javier Baez getting in Anthony Rizzo’s airspace during Game 5, the human-highlight-film second baseman standing right next to the All-Star first baseman as he caught a Kike Hernandez pop-up for the second out of the third inning.

It didn’t matter that this was a 1-0 game and MVP-ballot players Justin Turner and Corey Seager were coming up. This is what the 2016 Cubs do. Rizzo caught the ball, quickly flipped it underhand and it bounced off Baez’s chest – in front of a sellout crowd of 54,449 and a national Fox Sports 1 audience.

“We always mess around,” Rizzo said at his locker inside a tight clubhouse jammed with media after an 8-4 win. “So I’m screaming: ‘Javy! Javy! I got it! I got it, Javy, I got it!’

“And usually he’ll yell at me: ‘Don’t miss it!’ Or I’ll yell at him: ‘Don’t miss it!’

“We do that a lot. If it’s a pop-up to him, I’ll go right behind him. It’s just little ways of slowing the game down and having fun, too.”

Rizzo is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman for a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency this year. As a super-utility guy, Baez got credit for 11 defensive runs saved in 383 innings at second base, or one less than co-leaders Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler, who each did it in almost 1,300 innings.

“Sometimes when I call (Rizzo) off to get a fly ball, he starts talking to me,” Baez said. “I tell him: ‘Hey, you can do whatever you want. Just don’t move my head. You can touch me if you want. Just don’t move my head.’

“And I told him to be ready for it, because I was going to do the same thing. You just got to be focused on the fly ball. No matter what’s happening around you, you just got to catch it.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

This isn’t about Bartman. It’s about a group of young, confident players who are growing up together and absolutely expect to be in this position. It’s manager Joe Maddon designing “Embrace The Target” T-shirts and telling them to show up to the ballpark whenever they want and then blow off batting practice.

“For sure, we’re relaxed,” said Baez, who’s gone viral during these playoffs, the rest of the country witnessing his amazing instincts and flashy personality. “I’m relaxed when I play defense.”

The thing is, Rizzo and Baez could be playing next to each other for the next five years, the same way Kris Bryant and Addison Russell will be anchoring the left side of the infield.

This is how Rizzo introduced Russell to The Show when a natural shortstop tried to learn second base on the fly last year and track pop-ups in front of 40,000 people: “Hey, watch out for that skateboard behind you! Don’t trip!”

“Oh yeah, we yell at each other all the time,” Rizzo said. “It’s just one of those things where you got to stay loose.”