Chicago Fire

Garza says Cubs aren't 'quitters,' cant worry about the backlash

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Garza says Cubs aren't 'quitters,' cant worry about the backlash

PITTSBURGH Matt Garza prides himself on being a big-game pitcher, someone with enough guts to want the ball in October.

Garzas supposed to be the guy the Cubs count on to shut it down. But he wilted in the 88-degree heat on Sunday at PNC Park, serving up three homers in a 10-4 blowout loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Cubs have now lost 12 straight games. They return home on Memorial Day, a traditional mile marker for a six-month season, buried in last place with the worst record (15-32) in the National League.

Even if Cubs fans didnt expect to see team president Theo Epstein riding on a float down Michigan Avenue this October, they also probably didnt expect it to bottom out this quickly.

We just got to play, Garza said afterward. Yeah, we have great fans. They know the game, but we cant play for the fans right now. We have to play for every guy in here. Every guy has to pull on the same side of the rope.

Its going to kind of test our character as a club right now. Were just going to keep grinding it out. No matter what anybody says, we got to keep whats in here tight, not let it break (us) up.

The last time the Cubs lost this many games in a row a franchise-record 14 to start the 1997 season manager Dale Sveum was playing for the Pirates, Alfonso Soriano was playing in Japan and Starlin Castro was seven years old.

The last time the Cubs won a game, The New York Times hadnt yet brought to light Joe Ricketts political activities, which forced the Cubs board of directors into damage-control mode as they try to secure financing for the Wrigley Field renovation.

Kerry Wood hadnt yet held two retirement press conferences, or eloquently explained away Irrelevant, dude by talking about his baseball mortality, replacing the video of him throwing his hat and glove into the stands with the shot of him hugging his son.

Theres a different psychology to it now. Garza made another wild throw after fielding a sacrifice bunt in the first inning. He now has 10 errors in 40 starts for the Cubs. He had committed six errors in 121 games with the Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays.

Moments later, Pedro Alvarez put one in the right-field seats, and the Pirates (23-24) got their first three-run homer this season in Game 47. That felt like game over for a Cubs team that has labored to score runs.

My first job is to keep runs off the board, Garza said. Giving up a three-spot in the first doesnt really help anybody. All it does is just build pressure and make guys have to do stuff and then we get uncomfortable.

Garza also surrendered home runs to Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones, and his manager wasnt sure why he was throwing changeups.

He just got beat by pitches he shouldnt be throwing people. He got beat by his fourth-best pitch, Sveum said. Ill have to talk to him again. He had a great fastball today and got in those situations against a couple guys (where) velocity gets em. He decided to throw changeups. Its not exactly protocol, or what the game plan was.

Garza (2-3, 4.22 ERA) is looking for a big contract extension, and you thought this was a lineup he could dominate. Figuring it out will be a central theme for the 2012 Cubs, even if you cant put that on a billboard.

Patience is something that a lot of fans dont have, no matter what you go through, Sveum said. Im a huge football fan, and I dont understand the Oakland Raiders losing every game. Thats just kind of the way it is. They want to win, just like we want to win.

Thats just part of every city, especially any city thats as passionate as (Chicago).

Just win, baby is a little catchier than Progress as an organization isnt linear.

But Epstein isnt Al Davis, and this isnt the NFL. It will take years to rebuild the team at Clark and Addison, which is why the front office is so focused on the upcoming amateur draft.

Until then, there will be long, hot days in Pittsburgh, and maybe a sea of empty green seats at Wrigley Field.

Guys in here dont stop, Garza said. Were not quitters. Its gonna turn. Were gonna keep fighting and were gonna catch a little roll soon.

With tougher games awaiting, Fire miss opportunity to gain ground in standings

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USA TODAY

With tougher games awaiting, Fire miss opportunity to gain ground in standings

Saturday got off to a good start for the Fire with New York City FC drawing at home, but the Fire were unable to gain ground in the race for second place in the Eastern Conference.

Not only did the Fire fail to gain ground, they lost ground. Philadelphia smashed the Fire 3-1 on Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium, leaving the Fire four points behind NYCFC for second and vulnerable to the chasing pack. Atlanta can pass the Fire for third place with a win against Montreal on Sunday, and still would have a game in hand.

Things don’t get any easier for the Fire with a trip at San Jose coming up on Wednesday. The Earthquakes are in the thick of the playoff race in the Western Conference and have one home loss this season.

While Philadelphia has won a majority of its home matches this season, it was the easiest of the three remaining road games on the Fire’s schedule. In addition to the trip to San Jose, the Fire close the regular season at Houston, another team in the playoff hunt that has just one home loss this year.

So Saturday wasn’t such a good day for the Fire.

The game marked the first start for defender Joao Meira since Aug. 16, but midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger and Juninho missed once again. This was the third straight game Schweinsteiger missed and two straight for Juninho.

Philadelphia took the lead on a Chris Pontius header in the 10th minute and added goals in the second half by Pontius and C.J. Sapong to secure a three-goal lead. Luis Solignac, who came off the bench to replace David Accam in the 60th minute, provided the Fire with a consolation goal, but there wasn’t another to make things interesting in the final minutes.

With four games left in the regular season, the Fire have a pair of tricky games coming up with that trip to San Jose before a big one at home against NYCFC.

Justin Wilson isn’t running away from big moments with Cubs: ‘I want the ball’

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AP

Justin Wilson isn’t running away from big moments with Cubs: ‘I want the ball’

MILWAUKEE – The Cubs have tried to find lower-pressure spots for Justin Wilson to work on things and rebuild his confidence without publicly burying a lefty reliever they specifically targeted before the July 31 trade deadline.

Both manager Joe Maddon and team president Theo Epstein have given Wilson the vote of confidence, though the real test will be whether or not the Cubs actually trust him in the playoffs.

“It’s an open book of communication here,” Wilson said. “We talk. I’ve talked to them and said: ‘Hey, I’m going to get right. I want the ball. I just want to keep getting back out there.’”

Even after All-Star closer Wade Davis blew his first save in more than a year, the Cubs could find big-picture optimism about their bullpen because Wilson got four outs during Saturday’s 4-3 10-inning loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.

“How good was that?” Maddon said. “That’s really something looking forward. He made a nice adjustment out there. It looked really good from the side. If we get that out of him, that could be a huge difference-maker for us.”

That was the idea when the Cubs made Wilson their headliner in the package deal with catcher Alex Avila and reinforced the bullpen for another World Series run. Wilson closed for the Detroit Tigers, notching 13 saves for a bad team, putting up a 2.48 ERA in 42 appearances and shutting down left- and right-handed hitters.

Wilson – who gave up 16 walks in 40.1 innings for Detroit – allowed 16 walks and 17 hits through his first 14.1 innings as a Cub while putting up a 6.28 ERA.

On a smoking 88-degree afternoon and in front of a loud crowd of 44,067, Wilson faced the top four hitters in the Milwaukee lineup and unleashed 17 fastballs in a row, all of them buzzing around 95-97 mph across the seventh and eighth innings. Wilson struck out Eric Sogard and Neil Walker, forced Ryan Braun to fly out to left field and struck out Travis Shaw swinging.

With stuff like that, the magic number to clinch the National League Central title in the low single digits and another week left in the regular season, the Cubs hope Wilson can figure it out and become the late-inning weapon they envisioned.       

“Clearly, it hasn’t been the same for me from before the trade,” Wilson said. “I just want to keep pitching.”