Zambrano isn't here to talk about the past

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Zambrano isn't here to talk about the past

Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011
Posted 12:24 AM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Carlos Zambrano has studied film of the pitcher he used to be, when he made All-Star teams and earned that 91.5 million contract. He says he has a good idea of what he needs to do to be that player again.

There are mechanical adjustments to maintain and ways to offset his declining velocity as he approaches his 30th birthday. But the rest of it, the psychoanalysis and public introspection on command, well, Zambrano doesnt have much use for that.

Like when a television reporter asks about his personal ups and downs last season.

Lets talk about this year, Zambrano said, turning his head to the next question. Im ready for this season and Im excited for this season.

In a sense, this entire organization cant distance itself from 2010 fast enough. Forbes had the Cubs as the industrys least-efficient team last season, shelling out around 145 million to win 75 games, and spending not a single moment above .500. That undercut the Ricketts family and their market-based approach.

As the Cubs Convention opened Friday at the Hilton Chicago, chairman Tom Ricketts said organizations wins championships. There were boos for team president Crane Kenney and general manager Jim Hendry. There was a fan wearing a Ryne Sandberg jersey, but no Ryne Sandberg.

WATCH: Jim Hendry appreciative, optimistic

The video looking back on 2010 featured a touching tribute to the late Ron Santo. With the lights dimmed inside a packed hotel ballroom, Lou Piniella didnt appear once on the big screen.

Manager Mike Quade received a warm reception from the crowd when he walked out on the balcony, but the loudest cheers were saved for Kerry Wood. Between Wood, Carlos Pena and Matt Garza, the Cubs will have a new clubhouse dynamic, and its hard to argue they didnt need that.

Jim Hendry got the entire package. He got great teammates, guys that can play and know how to win, outfielder Marlon Byrd said. Everybody knows how competitive it is over there (in the American League East). They know about the pressure and they know what it takes to get over the hump.

Most of all they have survival instincts. Wood reinvented himself as a reliever after his body nearly broke down. Pena was released by two different teams in 2006. Garza is already on his third team and he hasnt turned 28 yet.

The question is whether Zambrano, who has grown his hair out into tight curls, has found something lasting and can build off his last 11 starts (8-0, 1.41 ERA).

Hendry helped negotiate the settlement that put Zambrano in anger-management counseling last summer. The general manager called Zambranos mistakes easily correctable.

Before you laugh at that quote, you should know that Zambrano does have a pretty good sense of humor. He is devoted to his family and his charities. And he has so much natural ability.

I dont see why theres any reason that he cant continue and be that successful, Hendry said. Hes no different than anybody else. He certainly has learned from some of his mistakes, like we all should in life. I feel in my chats with him (during) the offseason that he seems to have a good handle.

Sometimes you walk that fine line when guys thrive on emotion sometimes (they) have a few bad situations because of (that). But I find him to be in a real good place.

For now Zambrano said hes cool with whoever Quade decides to start on Opening Day, and reaffirmed how much he wants to stay in Chicago (no matter how many rumors ignore his no-trade clause and put him on the Yankees).

So its going to be Zambrano and Garza, two intense pitchers getting after it, and that will be something to look forward to, whether or not everything goes as the Cubs hope.

Hes a grown man. He has to calm himself down and I have to calm myself, Zambrano said. But that same emotion, the same passion for the game nobody will take that away from (us).

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor 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.”