LIVE: Lee home run in 9th ties game

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LIVE: Lee home run in 9th ties game

Friday, Sept. 16, 2011
Posted: 10:07 a.m.
Associated PressAlthough the Houston Astros nearly pulled off a stunning sweep over baseball's best team, building on that series could be difficult.

Owners of the majors' worst road record, the Astros open their final trip of the season Friday against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, where they were swept in their last visit.

Houston (51-98) arrives in Chicago after taking two of three from NL East-leading Philadelphia. The Astros fell just short of becoming the first team this year to sweep the playoff-bound Phillies, dropping Wednesday's finale 1-0.

"We played well, and we know this is a learning process for us," said Houston's Bud Norris, who was outdueled by Roy Halladay. "I hope these guys can learn from this, build on it, and we can move forward."

That might not be so easy, however.

The Astros, 23-52 on the road, need to win once on this six-game trip to avoid matching the worst road record in club history, set by the 1967 team. They've lost 27 of their last 34 away from Houston, which includes being outscored 14-7 in getting swept at Wrigley from July 22-24.

A sluggish offense is among the biggest reasons for the team's road woes. The Astros have hit three homers in their last nine away from Houston, and in 16 road games since Aug. 12, the team is averaging baseball's second-fewest road runs at 3.13.

Rookie left fielder J.D. Martinez, who finished the series against Philadelphia 5 for 12 with two doubles, is batting .378 with 11 RBIs in his last 11 home games, but hitting .094 with one RBI in his last eight on the road.

Having to face Matt Garza (8-10, 3.54 ERA) in the opener doesn't seem like it will help Martinez, or any of his teammates, get on track offensively.

Garza owns one of the NL's top home ERAs at 2.64, and in his only outing of the year against Houston on July 24, he gave up two runs and five hits while striking out nine in seven innings of a 5-4, 10-inning victory.

The right-hander allowed three runs and seven hits in seven innings of Sunday's 10-6, 11-inning win over the New York Mets. Since Aug. 14, the Cubs are 5-1 in Garza's starts, but 8-16 when anybody else takes the ball.

Chicago (65-85) returns home after losing to Cincinnati 8-6 in 11 innings on Thursday to drop the final three contests of a four-game series.

"Just what we needed - a 4 12-hour (actually 4:01) game with a day game (Friday)," manager Mike Quade said.

Carlos Pena hit a two-run homer Thursday, and has three home runs and 10 RBIs in his last seven games, but is batting .167 with five RBIs against Houston this year.

Geovany Soto could lead Chicago's offense in the opener. The catcher is 10 for 18 with two homers and six RBIs in his last four games against the Astros, and is batting .421 with two homers in 19 career at-bats against scheduled starter Wandy Rodriguez (11-10, 3.51).

Rodriguez permitted three runs and seven hits in six innings of Saturday's 9-3 win over Washington. The left-hander is 4-2 with a 3.00 ERA in his last seven starts after going 1-4 with a 5.50 ERA in his previous six.

Rodriguez, the only Astros starter with a winning record, has a 5.25 ERA in losing his two starts against the Cubs this year.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

How Justin Grimm could be X-factor in Cubs bullpen

How Justin Grimm could be X-factor in Cubs bullpen

Justin Grimm doesn't care what role he's in anymore, a sign of growth from the past few years when he still held out hope of getting a chance to become a starter again or a more glamorous late-inning role if he had to be in the Cubs bullpen.
 
Grimm is now just focused on taking that next step forward, however he can.
 
"I know my talent. I know what I'm capable of doing," Grimm said. "I'm in a really good spot this spring mentally, physically. I feel good and that's all I'm concerned with right now.
 
"Just being ready to go April 1. Whatever's asked of me, not getting caught up in, 'Aw man, I don't have this role.' I really think that's hurt me in the past. And I think that's why you see me probably excel in games that are tight, because I embrace that. You know they're confident in you to come in, shut it down, whatever it may be."
 
Grimm is focused on consistency, eyeing a full season of dominance instead of flashes that last a month or two at a time.
 
From June 27 through Sept. 13 last season, Grimm gave up just one run in 22.2 innings, striking out 30 batters while allowing only 20 baserunners. Yet even with that spectacular run, Grimm's season ERA was still 4.10 after a bad June overall (10.38 ERA) and five earned runs allowed in his last five appearances.
 
Grimm acknowledges that step forward has to come from between his ears. The talent and stuff is there, as evidenced by his 132 strikeouts in 102.1 innings the last two seasons — a mark that ranks him 12th in baseball in that span (among pitchers with at least 100 innings), just behind dominant relievers like Cody Allen, Ken Giles and Shawn Kelley.
 
"It's just a mental confidence thing," Grimm said. "It's not even necessarily getting caught up in [the role]. You come into a seven-run game, you get a little comfortable.
 
"It's finding ways not to do that. Like, 'OK, well it's 0-0 right now, even though we're winning by eight.' And I feel like that's going to happen a lot this year because we got an offense that's going to put up a lot of runs.
 
"How to handle that and stay locked in, I think it's just having a chip on my shoulder. All the guys are getting all the talk and I like it that way. I'm just in the shadows, doing my job and staying locked in. And I think it's going to help out a lot."
 
Grimm’s self-awareness is on point: With a bullpen that added Wade Davis and Koji Uehara to a group that already included Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr., Grimm is something of a forgotten man.

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Only Rondon and Strop have predated Grimm in the Cubs bullpen and the 28-year-old right-hander has posted a 3.29 ERA across 213 appearances over the last four seasons. This year figures to be more of the same, settling into that "mid-innings closer" role Joe Maddon talked up last year with Grimm and Travis Wood.
 
"He fits in everywhere. Probably earlier in the game, he'll be a great bridge guy," Maddon said. "I've always liked the middle-innings closers. They're the kind of guys that help win games.
 
"All our guys are capable to pitch at almost any time. There's going to be some guys that are probably relegated more to earlier in the game and [Grimm] probably will be one of them, unless we get on a nice roll and everybody's a little bit overused.
 
"But I'm here to tell you, man, when he's throwing the ball right, he can get anybody out and he's very good against lefties."
 
When the Cubs sent Jorge Soler to the Kansas City Royals for Davis over the winter, Grimm was immediately drawn to baseball's ERA leader over the last three seasons. In Davis, Grimm sees a guy who's gone through the starter-to-reliever transition and morphed into one of the top arms in the game. Grimm spent a lot of time around Davis this spring, grabbing the veteran to break down Grimm's game in the video room.
 
"I just looked at him like, 'Wade, it's there. I just gotta find a way to consistently do that for six months, not five months, and have one month where I implode,'" Grimm said.
 
"He's been there. He knows. I look to learn a lot this year from him. It's cool to have a guy like that around. I was saying two years ago when Kansas City came to Wrigley, I would just love to sit down and talk with that guy. When we [traded for] him, I was pumped. 
 
"It's time to learn something from him. Everybody's different, so you can't really try to be like that guy, per se. You just gotta find little things that might work for you, that might change a little bit and help you out. That was the majority of our convo. I literally felt like I was reliving my career listening to him. It was pretty cool."
 
Now it's just a matter of carrying it all over into the games that matter.
 
"I'm not worried about what the hell my role's gonna be," Grimm said. "It's here; it's right now. I know what I'm capable of doing. It's just as much as anybody in this room."

Jon Lester thinks Cubs have a special player in Willson Contreras: ‘It’s about time we got an offensive catcher’

Jon Lester thinks Cubs have a special player in Willson Contreras: ‘It’s about time we got an offensive catcher’

MESA, Ariz. – Jon Lester couldn't resist when a reporter mentioned the two home runs Willson Contreras launched off Danny Salazar, an All-Star talent who might have changed last year's World Series if he had been at full strength.

"It's about time we got an offensive catcher," Lester said.

Zing! Lester had already seen David Ross on "Dancing with the Stars" by the time he finished up against the Cleveland Indians and met with reporters on Monday night at Goodyear Ballpark. While Lester knew Grandpa Rossy would appreciate that one-liner, there is also some truth behind it.

Yes, Ross became the security blanket for a $155 million pitcher, helped push and encourage young players like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant and got carried off the field after delivering his own Game 7 homer. But whatever Contreras may lack now in game-calling experience and pitcher psychology, he can make up for it with his rocket arm, smooth swing and willingness to learn.

A camp that began with questions about how Lester would work with Contreras ended with a sincere endorsement.

"Willie's obviously very special, to be serious about it," Lester said. "He's definitely going to add a presence to that lineup as far as protecting ‘Rizz' and ‘KB' to where they're not going to be able to just pitch around those guys. We're going to have some other guys to do some damage in the middle to the bottom of that order.

"He's a special kid, just like anybody else on this team. He's (24), so he'll only get better as time goes on and (he gets) the at-bats and the innings and all that stuff. So I'm excited to see him for a full season and how well he can do back there."

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That's another reason why the defending World Series champs might actually look better on paper than the unforgettable 2016 Cubs. Ross did a "Dancing with the Stars" routine based off Young MC's "Bust a Move," a song released in 1989, or years before Bryant, Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Albert Almora Jr. were born.

Before the Cubs packed up and left Arizona, Ross made a promotional appearance in Mesa this week and caught up with some old friends like John Lackey.

"We got rid of Rossy," Lackey told reporters as the Cubs finished their Cactus League schedule with Wednesday's 15-11 win over the Oakland A's at Sloan Park. "He stinks. And we should be better. Actually, I was just inside talking to Rossy and he said that, so that's from him."