Pirates rain on Cubs' Opening Day parade


Pirates rain on Cubs' Opening Day parade

Friday, April 1, 2011
Posted: 4:39 p.m. Updated: 8:08 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney

Distractions always rush in on Opening Day. There was the overflow media crowd, Robert Redford throwing out the first pitch and steady rain on a cold, gray afternoon.

WATCH: High expectations among Cubs fans on Opening Day

Kerry Wood came home again and received the loudest ovation during pregame introductions, wearing a No. 10 hat to honor the late Ron Santo. Manager Mike Quade took the Red Line to work on Friday morning, after so many years of riding buses from one minor-league city to the next.

Finally, baseball was back for the 41,358 fans inside Wrigley Field. Even if it was 41 degrees, summer didnt seem quite as far away.

But once the adrenaline wears off and the initial excitement goes away, this much becomes clear: Anything the Cubs hope to do this season is premised upon pitching, from the front of their rotation to the back of their bullpen.

It didnt happen in a 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Ryan Dempster cruised through 4 23 scoreless innings before giving up two home runs that made the difference. By the end, large sections of Wrigley Field were almost completely empty.

No storybook ending, but I dont believe in those things anyway, Quade said. Youre going to earn what you get and we didnt earn it today. We got beat.

Dempster lost a seven-pitch at-bat against Neil Walker with two outs in the fifth inning. Walker crushed a 3-2 fastball onto Sheffield Avenue for a grand slam that gave the Pirates a 4-2 lead.

But what really burned Dempster was his 114th and final pitch sailing away, the two-out, two-run homer Andrew McCutchen drove into the left-field bleachers. That seventh-inning sequence opened Quade up to second-guessing.

Those add-on runs (usually) end up putting you away for the rest of the game, Dempster said. I still felt good and I felt strong, but I wasnt able to get the job done.

Quade visited the mound in the seventh but liked what he saw from Dempster the inning before. Dempster was still within his pitch-count range and McCutchen was going to be his last hitter anyway. The manager left the ball in the hand of his most reliable pitcher.

Hes earned the right to do that, Quade said.

Pitching depth is the obvious strength of this group, from a rotation fronted by Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza, to a bullpen built around Wood, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol.

Its supposed to mask a lineup that will struggle to score runs, make up for some shaky defense and protect the middle relievers. Opening Day almost flipped the script.

The Cubs pounded out 11 hits, but those were 11 singles and none broke open the game. The middle infield looked strong particularly the range, reactions and decision-making by 21-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro. James Russell, John Grabow and Jeff Samardzija combined for 2 13 innings of scoreless relief.

Sometimes we look at the whole entire season and it seems like a lot (to) carry on our shoulders, Carlos Pena said. But this group (is) wise enough (to know) how important its going to be to take a pitch at a time. As clichd as that may sound, its something that we can handle.

Lets keep pressing for every single pitch. And at the end of the day we know that we have given our best and hopefully that will be many, many wins.

Pena missed the take sign on a 3-0 pitch during one at-bat and popped out during his first game at Wrigley Field. But the new first baseman preferred to take away the positives. And pitching should keep the Cubs optimistic and hoping that tomorrow will be a better day. If nothing else, it should be interesting Zambranos up next.

It wasnt the way we liked, Aramis Ramirez said, but we got 161 to go.

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

Feeding off 'good karma,' Cubs believe everything happens for a reason

Feeding off 'good karma,' Cubs believe everything happens for a reason

LOS ANGELES - Ben Zobrist leaned to Matt Szczur and asked, "Hey, what do you got for me?"

Everybody wants a piece of Szczur's "good karma" right now.

And why not?

Anthony Rizzo breaks his bat in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. Then he strikes out twice to begin Game 4 and decides to switch to Matt Szczur's bat.

Boom: Home run and just like that, Rizzo is out of his postseason funk.

Addison Russell forgets his leggings. No matter. Szczur has some Russell can wear.

Boom: Two big home runs and just like that, Russell came to life and lifted the Cubs to two key victories.

Just as importantly, Russell has his mojo back.

"Definitely. I feel like my at-bats haven't been that bad this whole postseason, but you stick to your work ethic and you believe in yourself and you stay confident," he said after Thursday's Game 5 victory. 

"There's a little frustration there, but it's a different type of frustration. It's a frustration where you know you have the stuff to get the job done, but you want to help produce for your team and for your offense. And that's where I was kind of struggling a little bit with that frustration."

Szczur's not even on the Cubs' playoff roster, yet spent a second straight night in the bright lights of Hollywood, giving his take to reporters crowded around his locker and delivering a live interview on national TV talking about his underwear.

The good-natured outfielder believes it's all good karma coming back to him and the Cubs.

Before Game 4 Wednesday, ESPN re-ran a feature on Szczur's heroic act - donating bone marrow to a young girl from the Ukraine, which helped save her life at a time in his life when he was trying to make the nearly-impossible leap from college athletics to the pros.

"I didn't expect to talk to the media at all," Szczur said with a grin. "A lot of things have been coming out - the bone marrow story. 

"The same day everything came out, they ended up breaking out of slumps. And it just so happened to be with my stuff. It's good karma. I feel like a lot of things happen for a reason."

And now the Cubs are positioned just one win away from history. 

It's about time this franchise had some good karma in the postseason, eh?

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Szczur isn't just giving the interviews and absorbing the attention. 

Before Russell's offensive breakout in Game 4, the young shortstop asked Szczur - the ex-Villanova football star - to throw a football around in the outfield to loosen up and just get back to having fun on a baseball field. Now, the two plan to make it a part of their regular routine.

Szczur also wrapped another bat for Rizzo, just in case something happened to the one that helped the face of the franchise return to his typical self at the plate.

With a lineup now featuring confident, relaxed versions of Rizzo and Russell, the Cubs love their chances against Clayton Kershaw in a possible NLCS clincher in Game 6 Saturday at Wrigley Field.

So much so that they felt they could joke about the Cubs' World Series drought before boarding a plane back to Chicago.

A reporter asked Dexter Fowler how the Cubs get past the history of a team that hasn't made it to the World Series in 71 years.

"Well, for starters, I don't think any of us are 71 years old," Fowler deadpanned.

Jason Heyward interjected.

"I didn't know that," he said, poking some fun at the franchise drought.

"We weren't alive then," Fowler continued. "We've heard the history, but at the same time, we're trying to make history.

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

LOS ANGELES – Within minutes of the last out on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, ESPN’s @SportsCenter account sent out a photo of Moises Alou at the Wrigley Field wall to more than 30 million Twitter followers: “The last time the Cubs were up 3-2 in an NLCS was Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS vs. the Marlins. Most remember it as ‘the Bartman Game.’”

As Kerry Wood once said: “Irrelevant, dude.”
Look, the Cubs still need to find a way to beat either Clayton Kershaw or Rich Hill this weekend, with Kenley Jansen resting and waiting for the multiple-inning saves. The obligatory description for Kershaw is “the best pitcher on the planet.” Hill’s lefty curveball – and “the perceptual velocity” of his fastball – freezes hitters. Jansen has a mystical cutter reminiscent of the great Mariano Rivera. The top-heavy part of this Los Angeles playoff pitching staff has held the Cubs to zero runs in 16.1 innings.

But until proven otherwise, forget about this idea of a Cubs team weighed down by the history of a franchise that hasn’t played in the World Series since 1945.

Just look at Javier Baez getting in Anthony Rizzo’s airspace during Game 5, the human-highlight-film second baseman standing right next to the All-Star first baseman as he caught a Kike Hernandez pop-up for the second out of the third inning.

It didn’t matter that this was a 1-0 game and MVP-ballot players Justin Turner and Corey Seager were coming up. This is what the 2016 Cubs do. Rizzo caught the ball, quickly flipped it underhand and it bounced off Baez’s chest – in front of a sellout crowd of 54,449 and a national Fox Sports 1 audience.

“We always mess around,” Rizzo said at his locker inside a tight clubhouse jammed with media after an 8-4 win. “So I’m screaming: ‘Javy! Javy! I got it! I got it, Javy, I got it!’

“And usually he’ll yell at me: ‘Don’t miss it!’ Or I’ll yell at him: ‘Don’t miss it!’

“We do that a lot. If it’s a pop-up to him, I’ll go right behind him. It’s just little ways of slowing the game down and having fun, too.”

Rizzo is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman for a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency this year. As a super-utility guy, Baez got credit for 11 defensive runs saved in 383 innings at second base, or one less than co-leaders Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler, who each did it in almost 1,300 innings.

“Sometimes when I call (Rizzo) off to get a fly ball, he starts talking to me,” Baez said. “I tell him: ‘Hey, you can do whatever you want. Just don’t move my head. You can touch me if you want. Just don’t move my head.’

“And I told him to be ready for it, because I was going to do the same thing. You just got to be focused on the fly ball. No matter what’s happening around you, you just got to catch it.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

This isn’t about Bartman. It’s about a group of young, confident players who are growing up together and absolutely expect to be in this position. It’s manager Joe Maddon designing “Embrace The Target” T-shirts and telling them to show up to the ballpark whenever they want and then blow off batting practice.

“For sure, we’re relaxed,” said Baez, who’s gone viral during these playoffs, the rest of the country witnessing his amazing instincts and flashy personality. “I’m relaxed when I play defense.”

The thing is, Rizzo and Baez could be playing next to each other for the next five years, the same way Kris Bryant and Addison Russell will be anchoring the left side of the infield.

This is how Rizzo introduced Russell to The Show when a natural shortstop tried to learn second base on the fly last year and track pop-ups in front of 40,000 people: “Hey, watch out for that skateboard behind you! Don’t trip!”

“Oh yeah, we yell at each other all the time,” Rizzo said. “It’s just one of those things where you got to stay loose.”