Chicago Cubs

Mooney: Marlon Byrd refuses to slow down

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Mooney: Marlon Byrd refuses to slow down

Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Posted: 9:06 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. Marlon Byrd started boxing this winter as a way to stay in shape and reduce the stress on his legs. His career shows that he knows how to take a punch.

This used to be the time of year where Byrd had to prove himself all over again, to fight for a roster spot or at-bats as the fourth outfielder. He was once the gym rat who needed odd jobs in the offseason to make money working at a golf resort, as a bouncer at a bar, delivering cabinets up and down Floridas Gulf coast.

You name it, I probably did it, Byrd said, other than (pumping) gas.

Byrd can flash a big smile, but he also brings a hard edge to the clubhouse, and maybe thats something the Cubs need. Finally, at the age of 33, he doesnt have to worry about the depth chart or introduce himself to a new city and a different group of teammates.

As Byrd said, This is the first year knowing, Hey, youre our center fielder and youre going to play every day.

Maybe thats why Byrd doesnt take much for granted. He vows to go hard for all nine innings. He trains as if hes going to play in all 162 games and into October.

It has to be reassuring for a player who spent parts of seven consecutive seasons on the Triple-A level before having a breakout year with the Texas Rangers in 2009. That earned him a three-year, 15 million contract and the platform he used to become an All-Star in 2010.

Thats not what drives me, Byrd said. What drives me is trying to get better every year. You pick apart (the) season that you had. Everybody knows my second half I wasnt happy with it.

Byrds batting average dropped 56 points to .261 and he generated only three homers and 26 RBI after the first half. He also points to his homeroad splits (.271.315) and says he needs to play better at Wrigley Field and be more prepared for all the day games.

Byrd has dropped around 15 pounds and plans to play at 225. Hes hitting .478 this spring and understands that will come with suspicions because of his association with Victor Conte. He already addressed it with the media and Major League Baseball in 2009. He hasnt ducked the topic ever since.

In a recent group interview, Byrd called out a beat writer by name, jokingpredicting that the reporter will bring it up if he has 20 homers by the All-Star break.

You guys are going to ask me questions about it all the time, Byrd said. Its always going to be scrutinized. Victors the black cloud over baseball, so everybody knows about the BALCO issues. Everybody knows that I work with him.

We try to move forward. Again, when I put up good numbers some people are going to say certain things. But that happens with any guy that comes out of the woodwork.

Byrd is obsessed with his routine and ways to improve. Young players often seek him out for advice on how to prepare.

He is someone who didnt truly enjoy success until relatively late in his career. He wants to play until the age of 38, which would take him through the 2015 season, or three years beyond his current contract.

Byrd never wants to sit on the bench. If that caused any friction with manager Mike Quade late last season, he didnt let it show too much. They came to an understanding.

He knows I was one of those guys that he didnt have to worry about, Byrd said. There were certain days Id walk in, hed look at me and hed shake his head.

I shook my head (back) at him and I wouldnt be in the lineup, but Q knows the type of player I am. Im his type of guy.

Byrd still has friends in the Rangers clubhouse and he keeps a home near Philadelphia, where he first broke into the big leagues. He went to playoff games at Citizens Bank Park last year, and watched the Rangers on television, right up to the point they started celebrating.

It was a little sad seeing what he missed out on, but also time to get back to work.

Every year Im going to try to keep finding out whats going to make me better as I get older, Byrd said. You dont know what it takes at 23. You know what it takes at 33 to get ready for a season.

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

Get off my lawn: Jon Lester breaks down big Cubs win

Get off my lawn: Jon Lester breaks down big Cubs win

ST. LOUIS – Jon Lester went into get-off-my-lawn-mode, tired of math nerds and people being famous for no reason and the questions about whether or not he will be ready for the playoffs.   

Lester is actually a great talker when he gets going, introspective, self-deprecating and a voice of authority after winning three World Series rings with the Cubs and Boston Red Sox.

But Lester didn’t exactly sound ready to pop champagne bottles after Monday night’s 10-2 win at Busch Stadium eliminated the St. Louis Cardinals from the National League Central race and guaranteed at least a tie with the Milwaukee Brewers for the division title.  

Whether it was Lester’s brutal honesty, simmering frustration or high expectations for himself, he downplayed a quality start against a team still battling for a wild-card spot. He also took a subtle jab at the team’s sophisticated game-planning system and ripped the culture that brought us “Nacho Man.”

“I got to get back to being me,” said Lester, who had given up 27 hits and 12 walks in his previous four September starts since coming off the disabled list with what the Cubs termed left lat tightness/general shoulder fatigue. “I got to get back to putting the hitters on a defensive mode, as opposed to trying to pitch to a scouting report from pitch 1.

“That was a conscious effort going into tonight, and I felt a lot better with everything, based off of that.”

Lester attacked the Cardinals with fastballs, working with 4-0, 5-0 and 8-1 leads across six innings. Once again, he found his rhythm later, giving up two walks in the fourth, getting his only 1-2-3 innings in the fifth and sixth and maxing out at 103 pitches.

The Cardinals scored their only run off Lester in the second inning when Jedd Gyorko launched a ball 410 feet out toward left field and “Big Mac Land” – in the same at-bat where shortstop Addison Russell almost made a Derek Jeter catch and turned “Nacho Man” into an instant celebrity.   

“I’m laughing more at the fact that the guy’s taking pictures and signing autographs,” Lester said. “I really don’t know what he did. A guy fell into him and got nacho cheese on his arm and now he’s taking pictures and signing autographs. I guess that shows you where our society is at right now with all that stuff.

“I really didn’t think it was that far foul. I thought it was a pretty routine play that just kept going. And I think it surprised Addie as well. So great effort, but I don’t understand the other stuff.”

Classic Lester, who changed the clubhouse vibe and fundamental nature of this rivalry when he decided to sign with a last-place team after the 2014 season and will be 3-for-3 in playoff seasons as a Cub.

“I don’t know,” Lester said three times when asked if those command issues are rooted in taking more than two weeks off in the middle of the season. “I haven’t had stuff like this before, so figure it out as we go.”

How close are you to where you want to be?

“I don’t know,” Lester said. “I was good tonight, so let’s go with that.”

The Cubs trusted Lester enough to give him $155 million guaranteed and make him their Game 1 starter in all three playoff rounds last year. But the team’s inner circle of decision-makers had to be breathing a sign of relief, knowing that plans will take shape before Lester’s final regular-season start, what should be a meaningless Game 161 against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.  

“He’s just been searching, command-wise, (and) I can’t give you an exact reason why,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We just need to get him out of the gate a little bit more on top of his game. Again, I can’t give you a solid reason. He’s well. The numbers on the gun are good. It’s just a matter of executing his pitches and finishing them.”   

Lester always seems to be so hard on himself on the mound, and that competitive fire has made him one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation. The Cubs expect to see that guy show up in October against the Washington Nationals.   

“Everything was just a little bit sharper today than it has been in a little while, so that’s good, moving in the right direction,” Lester said. “There’s a few things in there that I need to clean up. But as far as overall, it’s definitely a positive."

With no more drama left in division race, Cubs-Cardinals turns into Addison Russell vs. Nacho Man

With no more drama left in division race, Cubs-Cardinals turns into Addison Russell vs. Nacho Man

ST. LOUIS – The Cubs played with an all-out intensity that drove Addison Russell to sprint over from shortstop and dive headfirst into the front-row seats beyond the left-field line, kicking a tray of nachos out of some dude’s left hand.

The St. Louis Cardinals have sunk to the point where Nacho Man became their biggest star on Monday night, going viral on social media and getting interviewed by the Chicago Tribune and both CSN Chicago and Fox Sports Midwest during the in-game broadcasts.

Russell didn’t catch that foul ball in the second inning with a Derek Jeter leap that left his right hand covered in cheese. He got booed when the Busch Stadium video board showed the replay of the nachos hitting the ground. He made amends by bringing out another order of nachos and taking a selfie with the Cardinal fan.

“He had a great night at the ballgame,” Russell said. “Initially off the bat, I was thinking that I could make the play. I didn’t see the fence and collided with it and got all nacho-d up.”

No, this didn’t feel like a playoff atmosphere at all, beginning with the 85-degree heat and ending with entire sections of empty seats. Jedd Gyorko actually homered during that at-bat, but it didn’t matter because the Cubs had already given Jon Lester a four-run lead before he threw his first pitch in what was supposed to be a dress rehearsal for October.

The Cubs will be there as the National League Central champions, eliminating the Cardinals from the division race with a low-stress 10-2 victory that sets up the chance for a blowout party late Tuesday night in the visiting clubhouse with another win or a Milwaukee Brewers’ loss.

“Woof,” catcher Willson Contreras said when asked what it would mean to clinch in St. Louis. “It always means a lot.”

Sensing the opportunity to bury the Cardinals, the Cubs jumped St. Louis right-hander Luke Weaver, a talented rookie who came in with a 7-1 record and a 2.05 ERA and lasted only three innings. Russell – who had been such a clutch performer late in last year’s playoff run – started it by driving a two-out, bases-loaded double into the right-field corner in the first inning.

Kris Bryant, the reigning NL MVP, drove Weaver’s 93-mph fastball beyond the left-field wall and into the visiting bullpen for his 29th homer and a 5-0 lead in the second inning. Javier Baez, the No. 8 hitter, launched a three-run homer that traveled 422 feet and slammed off an advertisement overhang above the bullpen in the third inning.

This is like a dream for Cubs fans enjoying this road trip to St. Louis and trolling Cardinal fans this week (with or without taking their nachos).

“I just want to win, honestly,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I understand all that. But I’m so contrary to coming to try to force those kind of thoughts in my methods. It’s about tonight’s game. And whenever we have this first chance to get there, let’s get there. You never want it to drag out. You want to be able to set things up, so it doesn’t matter to me.

“Believe me, man, I just want to win tonight.”

Or, as 2016 World Series MVP Ben Zobrist said: “The testosterone probably raises a little bit this time of year.”

Get your goggles and trash bags ready. The Cubs are the type of team that designed a Party Room into their state-of-the-art clubhouse as part of the $600 million Wrigleyville development and stretched out their World Series victory lap across Disney World, “Saturday Night Live,” and countless talk shows, commercials and ring ceremonies.

Anthony Rizzo – the only player left from the 2012 team that lost 101 games and a consultant on that Party Room project – insisted that celebrating in front of their rivals at a stadium that used to give the Cubs nightmares wouldn’t make a difference.       

“I really would love to be able to do it at Wrigley and use our new facilities even more,” Rizzo said. “But St. Louis is a good baseball city. They appreciate good baseball.

“If it was there, if it was in Arizona, it doesn’t matter where we clinch. Our goal was to win the division.”  

Even if it took until Sept. 26.

“It’s starting to smell like playoff baseball,” Russell said. “I know that these guys are amped up. It’s definitely feeling like playoff baseball."