Cubs get some help from unlikely heroes in win over Cardinals

Cubs get some help from unlikely heroes in win over Cardinals
July 25, 2014, 6:45 pm
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Tony Andracki

In a year where Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro have provided most of the offense, the Cubs got a lift from a pair of unexpected sources Friday afternoon.

Ryan Sweeney drove in four runs and Luis Valbuena hit a game-winning homer as the Cubs beat the Cardinals 7-6 in front of 41,534, the largest Wrigley Field crowd of the season.

"It was awesome," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "Obviously, Rizz and Starlin have been generating a lot of the offense for us, but along the way, a lot of the other guys have been chipping in here and there in their own way.

"You need to have that in order to win ballgames. Today was a couple of the other guys and it was nice to see."

Sweeney hit an opposite-field three-run homer to tie the game in the second and collected an RBI single an inning later to give the Cubs their first lead.

"It's huge," Sweeney said. "Anything I can do to help the team. I just wanted to go in there and try to do what I can and today, it worked out.

"It was a good win for us. There were a lot of people here today and it was a fun atmosphere and a good game to play in."

Sweeney is a 29-year-old outfielder who has been around the block, making the transition from a top prospect in the White Sox organization to a role player in the big leagues.

After posting a .772 OPS in limited duty in 2013, the Cubs inked Sweeney to a two-year deal with a club option for a third year. He's a good clubhouse guy, but has never really been able to find his rhythm this season after blowing out his hamstring in early May.

Sweeney entered play Friday sporting a .534 OPS and hasn't seen consistent playing time as Renteria manages the Cubs' cluster of outfielders that has only gotten more complicated with the arrival of Arismendy Alcantara and the return of Emilio Bonifacio.

But Sweeney has kept his head down and knows the value of grinding it out, something the Cubs have had to do since dealing away Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel on the Fourth of July.

"We've had a rough couple of weeks, but we just have to keep a positive attitude and just play with the guys that we have here," he said. "We can't really look at what's going on outside of the lines. We just have to focus on what we're doing and play hard every day."

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Like Sweeney, Valbuena has had to grind it out lately, entering play Friday hitting just .161 with a .504 OPS in July. But the 28-year-old utility guy will see consistent playing time at third base with Mike Olt back in the minors and Valbuena made the most of it Friday, walking twice and scoring three runs. His two-run homer to left-center in the seventh inning gave the Cubs the lead for good.

Travis Wood allowed only two earned runs in five innings, but surrendered three unearned tallies in the first on a pair of Cubs errors. He helped his own case with a solo homer in the fourth and threw a season-high 113 pitches, allowing seven hits and a walk while striking out five.

Justin Grimm picked up the victory as four Cubs relievers worked around jam after jam, allowing only an unearned run in four innings of work.

Rookie Neil Ramirez notched his 10th hold, striking out Cardinals pesky leadoff man Matt Carpenter with a high fastball and sending the Cubs fans in the crowd into a frenzy.

The 25-year-old righty got his "welcome to the big leagues" moment in the Crosstown series in May and got a taste of what the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry could be like when both teams are in contention.

"That's the situation you want to be in," Ramirez said. "That's why you play the game. I was just happy to make a pitch in that situation and get the job done for those guys out there."