LaHair trying to maximize opportunity with Cubs

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LaHair trying to maximize opportunity with Cubs

Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011
Posted: 11:15 p.m. Updated: 11:49 p.m. By PatrickMooney
CSNChicago.com CubsInsider Follow @CSNMooney
Box score
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The Cubs gathered in the green seats behind their dugout late Tuesday afternoon for their annual photo. The board of directors sat in the first row, surrounded by people from marketing, media relations, baseball operations, actual players and the coaching staff.

You can be certain that the exact same group wont be there next year.

The next general manager isnt working for the organization right now. But in the final three weeks of this lost season, there will still be revealing moments.

Bryan LaHair will turn 29 in November, long past the expiration date for prospects. He lasted until the 39th round of the 2002 draft and spent parts of the past six seasons on the Triple-A level, where he has nothing left to prove.

The Pacific Coast League MVP stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 240 pounds. He absolutely hammered Mike Leakes 90 mph fastball beyond the right-field seats.

Wrigley Field was mostly empty on a cold Tuesday night nowhere near the announced crowd of 35,297 but it got loud after LaHairs two-out, two-run pinch-hit homer tied the game in the ninth inning.

Leake was one pitch away from a complete-game shutout before LaHair showed the Cincinnati Reds what he did all season long in Iowa, where he generated 38 homers and 109 RBI.

It was an incredible moment, LaHair said. This is an incredible place to play.

Few bothered to stick around until the 13th inning when John Grabow the sixth Cubs reliever that night gave up back-to-back doubles to left-center field. After almost four hours, it finally ended as a 4-2 loss at 11 p.m.

LaHair can play the outfield, where the Cubs dont seem to have any openings, and first base, where Carlos Pena has repeatedly expressed a desire to return. Thats on the agenda for the next administration.

Pena gave LaHair a scouting report on Leake before he stepped to the plate and hit his first big-league homer since Sept. 20, 2008, when he was with the Seattle Mariners. LaHairs gone 4-for-9 since being called up last week. Though its unlikely hell take starts away from Pena and get regular at-bats, this cant hurt his chances.

(Penas) been amazing since I walked in here, LaHair said. Hes really made me feel comfortable. (Were) just trying to feed off each other.

When LaHair was asked the other day about what this final month could do for his career, he sounded like someone in a 12-step program: Im just trying to take one day at a time. This time he got one unforgettable night.

The Cashner Plan
The Cubs are still going to be cautious, but the wait is almost over for Andrew Cashner, whos expected to be available out of the bullpen on Wednesday night. This would mark his first time on a major-league mound in almost five months after straining his rotator cuff.

The plan is to use Cashner for an inning at a time, and not on back-to-back days. He wont be the power arm to protect a one-run lead in the eighth inning look for him in lower-leverage situations.

Cashner, who turns 25 on Sunday, will get stretched out as a starter in the Arizona Fall League. He would be a game-changer for the 2012 rotation.

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

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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.”