Empty feeling? Cubs get the W at Wrigley

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Empty feeling? Cubs get the W at Wrigley

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

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

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.

Kris Bryant blasts Cubs to win over Dodgers

Kris Bryant blasts Cubs to win over Dodgers

LOS ANGELES – The “MVP! MVP! MVP!” chants started at Dodger Stadium late Friday night, Cubs fans celebrating Kris Bryant’s two-run homer in the 10th inning of a wild comeback win.

Until Clayton Kershaw returns to full strength and stares down hitters from 60 feet, six inches and unleashes his entire arsenal, it’s impossible to know how the Cubs would stack up against Los Angeles in October. But it’s still safe to say this would be an epic playoff matchup between two big-market, star-studded franchises, with two iconic ballparks becoming the backdrop, celebrity row after celebrity row.

As a quiet, humble homebody who sometimes sounds boring on purpose, Bryant doesn’t have a Hollywood personality. But this is also someone who loves the big stage and wants to be the best. The Cubs won this round with Bryant, who launched his 34th and 35th home runs in a 6-4 victory, an MVP-worthy season becoming the sequel to his Rookie of the Year campaign.

When a crowd of 48,609 got loud in the seventh after Dodgers cleanup hitter Adrian Gonzalez drove Justin Grimm’s 94-mph fastball over the right-center field wall for a 4-2 lead, Bryant responded the next inning with a home run off Joe Blanton that landed in the center-field seats blacked out for the batter’s eye. 

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Here’s how Bryant could win it in the 10th inning, and why manager Joe Maddon will want Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward in a playoff lineup:

In the middle of a frustrating offensive season where he’s felt the weight of a $184 million contract, Heyward led off the ninth inning by ripping a double into the right-field corner off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. Heyward hustled to third base when new Dodgers catcher Carlos Ruiz couldn’t handle strike three against Jorge Soler. Heyward ran home to score the game-tying run when a Jansen wild pitch sailed toward the backstop.

But a $250 million team is extremely resourceful, even with Kershaw (back) not pitching for two months, one of 27 players the Dodgers have stashed on the disabled list, tying a major-league record. The Dodgers have cycled through 14 different starting pitchers, relying on depth and a strong lineup and an imposing back end of the bullpen to surge into first place in the National League West. 

“How about last year?” Maddon said. “We beat up on the Mets during the season, we go (into the playoffs) and we can’t even touch them. It’s such a different animal. People get hot or people get cold and actually the weather gets cold and everything does change.

“I know what we’re talking about. I’m not going to diminish the fact I’m going to be paying attention. But things change. Trends can be so trendy, to quote Yogi. So I don’t get too far ahead, because things can change very quickly.”   

How Mike Montgomery fits into big-picture plans for Cubs

How Mike Montgomery fits into big-picture plans for Cubs

LOS ANGELES – In their never-ending search for young pitching, the Cubs discussed a Matt Moore deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, but wouldn’t consider trading Kyle Schwarber. To get Moore at the Aug. 1 deadline, the San Francisco Giants had to surrender the runner-up to Kris Bryant in last season’s National League Rookie of the Year race (Matt Duffy), plus two more prospects.

Moore finished one out short of a no-hitter on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, throwing 133 pitches against a deep Los Angeles lineup, two-plus years after having Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. Whether or not Moore helps shift the balance of power in the National League West, the Cubs should still have enough pitching.

To get through October. As long as John Lackey (shoulder) comes off the disabled list in early September and the rest of the rotation stays healthy. Surviving next season and beyond could be a different story, if Jake Arrieta becomes another team’s 2018 Opening Day starter, if Jon Lester breaks down in the middle of that $155 million megadeal and assuming Lackey finally retires around the 3,000-inning mark.

All that makes Mike Montgomery an interesting lefty swingman if the Cubs are going to maintain The Foundation for Sustained Success.

“I think he is a major-league starter, regardless of what happens tonight,” manager Joe Maddon said before Friday’s wild 6-4 comeback win that took 10 innings at Dodger Stadium. “This guy has the ability to be a solid major-league starter based on his strength level, his delivery, the variety of pitches that he throws. The strike-throwing ability is exceptional. He’s got all those different things going on.

“Just be a little bit patient with (him) and let him get his feet on the ground somewhere, because he’s the kind of guy that can take off if he gets comfortable in his environment.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

If Montgomery didn’t ace this audition, he also didn’t bomb against a first-place team in front of a big crowd (48,609), either, showing the potential the Cubs saw in making last month’s trade with the Seattle Mariners.

Montgomery kept the Cubs in the game before Bryant’s clutch performance, allowing three runs in five innings and minimizing the damage on a night where he didn’t have pinpoint control (four walks, hit batter, wild pitch, 49 strikes across 91 pitches).

The Cubs are in trouble if Montgomery somehow winds up in this year’s playoff rotation, but he checks a lot of boxes for the future as someone with youth (27), size (6-foot-5), first-round/top-prospect pedigree, a high groundball rate and a service-time clock that won’t make him a free agent until after the 2021 season.

Cubs pay their respects to Vin Scully at Dodger Stadium

Cubs pay their respects to Vin Scully at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES – There will never be another Vin Scully, who joined the Dodgers in Brooklyn as a kid out of Fordham University, moved to Los Angeles and became a face of the franchise, doing the one-man show that still connects and entertains generations of baseball fans.

The Cubs paid their respects to the legendary broadcaster before Friday night’s game at Dodger Stadium, with manager Joe Maddon and catcher David Ross visiting the Vin Scully Press Box for another photo op before the lyrical voice retires at the end of this season, at the age of 88.

“You’re ascending into the clouds to meet Mr. Scully,” Maddon said. “That’s like the window to the world up there when you sit in his booth and he talks about the purple mountain majesties on a clear day beyond the outfield fences here.”

The Cubs presented Scully with a green “67” scoreboard panel – to mark the number of seasons he’s worked Dodger games – as well as a Dodger banner from Wrigley Field. Maddon also gave Scully, who rocks the conservative coat-and-tie look on TV, several T-shirts from his collection, including “Try Not to Suck.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Maddon said he told Scully: “Maybe at the end of the year, sitting by your pool with the sandals on, you can put a T-shirt on where no one can see you and just be Vin.”

As the tributes pour in from around baseball, CSN Chicago will carry Scully’s third-inning call live during Sunday’s broadcast from Chavez Ravine.

“He makes you feel like he’s known you for the last 50 years,” Maddon said. “Just really kind and gracious. And you have to be all of that to survive that many years. Besides being good, it’s his authenticity and how he interacts with people that really (keeps) you on that stage that long.”