Chicago Cubs

Lilly, Dempster bonded by more than baseball

452369.jpg

Lilly, Dempster bonded by more than baseball

Friday, April 22, 2011
Posted: 4:50 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Theodore Roosevelt Lilly III slid headfirst into second, trying to steal a base in the third inning of a Class-A game.

This was April 2010, less than six months after shoulder surgery, and Lilly got his Peoria Chiefs uniform dirty during a rehab start.

The Cubs had only invested 40 million in Lillys left arm. Why risk it?

For Lilly, the question was even more ridiculous. It didnt matter if it was sandlot or Nintendo or the majors. If the object of the game is to score more runs than the other team, then he will do whatever it takes. Thats what he was taught as a kid, how he was raised in a military family.

It will be the same way on Saturday, when Lilly starts for the Los Angeles Dodgers opposite Ryan Dempster. But as Lilly talked about his close friend in the visiting dugout at Wrigley Field, a tough guy looked like he was trying to hold back tears.

I cant sit here and tell you how much respect I have for him as a person first and foremost, Lilly said Friday. What I was able to learn from being around him the way that he treated people, the way that he loved this opportunity to pitch in the major leagues and the way that he would deal with adversity, off the field and on the field

Yeah, wow, without getting emotional I dont know how anyone could have created someone that was as unselfish as Ryan.

Dempster and Lilly will probably go out dinner on Friday and Saturday nights. Together they drilled a sense of professionalism into the Cubs pitching staff, never pointing fingers or complaining about run support.

I want to see which one drills the other one first, Cubs outfielder Reed Johnson joked. Im sure theyll be going back and forth yelling at each other.

But the two pitchers are bonded by more than baseball. Dempster was reminded of that on Friday morning as his foundation hosted a large group of medical staffers and families dealing with DiGeorge syndrome, or 22q, the genetic disorder that afflicts his two-year-old daughter.

Dempster invited them to Wrigley Field so they would know that theyre not alone. Thats what Lilly whos worked extensively with those same charities did for Dempster.

He was a big help to me going through everything when Riley was born, Dempster said. You come to work and he broadened his shoulders to help take some of the pressure off me and that relieved a lot of the stress.

Hes contributed financially, emotionallyits been overwhelming. Hes a true, true friend of mine and it shows all the time.

Dempster one of the most accessible players on the team politely declined to talk to reporters when the Cubs traded Lilly at last seasons deadline for cash, utility infielder Blake DeWitt and two pitching prospects.

It bothered Dempster but worked out for Lilly, who signed a three-year, 33 million extension with the Dodgers.

Lilly was central to Tribune Co.s huge free-agent spending spree in the winter of 2006. He helped the Cubs win two division titles and gave them 47 wins, 113 starts and a 3.70 ERA in three-plus seasons.

I had built up these dreams and aspirations of trying to be a member of the Cubs team that won the World Series, Lilly said. We fell short of that, so theres a gap in the experience in that way. I thought that was kind of one of the responsibilities that (Alfonso) Soriano and myself had coming over here.

(But) I do believe that we pushed ourselves. We continued to look for ways to get better. We werent able to get it done, so I guess its something we have to live with. But that would have been the ultimate.

Now 35, Lilly looks back on the friendships he made in Chicago. He thought about Ron Santo and all the positive energy the late broadcaster always brought to the ballpark. This became a second home.

On a stage like this, Lilly cant wait to compete against Dempster again.

The fondest memories of my life are living here in this city, Lilly said.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for 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.”