MLB pitcher nearly throws 2nd career no-hitter

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MLB pitcher nearly throws 2nd career no-hitter

From Comcast SportsNet
CHICAGO (AP) -- One thought kept crossing A.J. Burnett's mind as he made his dramatic push for a no-hitter. He wanted it -- badly. Instead, he will have to settle for a close call and maybe the best performance of his career. Burnett pitched a one-hitter, Neil Walker drove in five runs and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat Chicago 5-0 on Tuesday night, hours after the Cubs traded ace Ryan Dempster. Burnett started thinking about a no-hitter in the third or fourth inning. "I'm not going to lie," he said. "So, it's one of those things that you want to do, you want to take pride in, but at the same time a lot of luck's got to go into it. I had a lot of great plays behind me. ... Bottom line is it's a W' for us." Burnett just about stole the spotlight after the Cubs traded their best pitcher to Texas just before the non-waiver deadline. His bid for a second career no-hitter and the sixth in the majors this season ended with two outs in the eighth. He had already hit Darwin Barney in the helmet with one out before striking out Luis Valbuena, but his no-hit bid ended at the hands of a rookie when pinch-hitter Adrian Cardenas lined a 3-2 pitch to right for a single after two close pitches were called balls. Burnett said he was angry about a 2-2 curve that just missed outside, and he appeared to be yelling at the umpire after the hit. But he struck out David DeJesus with runners on first and third to end the inning. That's probably not much consolation for the veteran, who pitched a wild no-hitter for the Marlins against San Diego on May 12, 2001. He walked nine in that game, two in this one while striking out eight. "I always think about it," he said. "I want to clean that one up. That was a wild one." That a Miami-area native, who was 13-years-old back then, broke it up was a bit of an ironic twist. Not since Sandy Koufax did it to them in September 1965 have the Cubs been no-hit, and the last no-hitter at Wrigley Field came when Milt Pappas pitched one for Chicago against San Diego in September 1972. Burnett sure made it interesting, though. His curve was as sharp as it's ever been, and he just missed the eighth no-hitter in franchise history. "I thought he had a shot," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He was just so efficient, pinpoint command. He pitched the left-handers so extremely well tonight. Fastball gloveside, his curveball was sharp for strikes, for chase. Great tempo -- 25 out of 31 first-pitch strikes. The pitch count was in a great place. That's one of the best games I've seen pitched ever." Cubs manager Dale Sveum was impressed, too. "He probably threw 60, 65 curveballs," he said. "Even his fastball, he kept it out of the middle of the plate. We hit a few balls hard. A couple balls without the wind might have been home runs, but he pitched a heck of a game." He retired the first 11 batters before walking Anthony Rizzo, and as the game wore on, the sense that something special was happening filled the old ballpark. There was a loud gasp when Alfonso Soriano sent a drive to deep left-center in the seventh that Andrew McCutchen caught, and first baseman Garrett Jones then made a sliding stop on Bryan LaHair's grounder to end the inning. The Cubs got some relief when Cardenas finally broke through, but even that was tempered by the reality that they got shut down. Cardenas faced Burnett in late May and didn't do so well, going 0-for-3 with two errors in a 1-0 loss. "I remember him and seeing how he was working throughout that game," he said. "When I was able to get that hit, it was great but it was very short-lived because we lost 5-0. ... It's definitely sweet to break up the no-hitter here at our place. That's something you don't want to be a part of." While Burnett cruised along, Casey Coleman had a rough night after being recalled from the minors. Pitching in Dempster's place, he lasted just 4 2-3 innings, allowing four runs and seven hits. Walker quickly put the Cubs ahead in the first when he drove a 2-1 pitch to right for a grand slam -- the second of his career and second at Wrigley Field. He also had a sacrifice fly in the seventh. Burnett's performance overshadowed the big news before the game, with Dempster going to the Rangers for two prospects. The Pirates were a busy bunch, too. They acquired former All-Star first baseman Gaby Sanchez from Florida and sent third baseman Casey McGehee to the Yankees for reliever Chad Qualls. Notes: Along with Coleman, the Cubs also recalled Cardenas and C Welington Castillo from Triple-A Iowa before the game. ... GM Jed Hoyer said it might not be long before Josh Vitters is called up from Triple-A. He was batting .298 with 15 homers. ... In the Sanchez deal, Pittsburgh also got minor league pitcher Kyle Kaminska for minor league outfielder Gorkys Hernandez and the extra draft pick for 2013 that the Pirates won in the competitive balance lottery for financially weaker teams. ... The Pirates recalled RHP Daniel McCutchen from Triple-A Indianapolis to take Brad Lincoln's spot in the bullpen. Lincoln was dealt to Toronto for Travis Snider on Monday.

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Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

“That’s what we’re supposed to look like,” Joe Maddon said Monday night after a 6-4 loss where the San Francisco Giants scored the first six runs and Wrigley Field got loudest for the David Ross “Dancing with the Stars” look-in on the big video board, at least until a late flurry from the Cubs.

But for a manager always looking for the silver linings, Maddon could replay Addison Russell’s diving stop to his right and strong throw from deep in the hole at shortstop to take a hit away from Christian Arroyo. Or Albert Almora’s spectacular flying catch near the warning track in center field. Or Anthony Rizzo stealing another hit from Brandon Belt with a diving backhanded play near the first-base line.

The highlight reel became a reminder of how the Cubs won 103 games and the World Series last year – and made you wonder why the 2017 team hasn’t played the same consistently excellent defense with largely the same group of personnel.

“Concentration?” Jason Heyward said, quickly dismissing the theory a defensive decline could boil down to focus or effort. “No shot. No shot. It is what it is when it comes to people asking questions about last year having effects, this and that. But this is a new season.

“The standard is still high. What’s our excuse? We played later than anybody? That may buy you some time, but then what?

“The goals stay the same. We just got to find new ways to do it when you have a different team.”

FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s statistical website, framed the question this way after the Cubs allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play ever last season, an analysis that goes all the way back to 1871: “Have the Cubs Forgotten How to Field?”

Even if the Cubs don’t set records and make history, they should still be better than 23rd in the majors in defensive efficiency, with 37 errors through 43 games. The Cubs have already allowed 28 unearned runs after giving up 45 all last season.

“We just got to stay on it and keep focusing and not let the miscues go to our head,” Ben Zobrist said. “We just have to keep working hard and staying focused in the field. A lot of that’s the rhythm of the game. I blame a lot of that on the early parts of the season and the weather and a lot of difficult things that we’ve been going through.

“If we’re not hitting the ball well, too, we’re a young team still, and you can carry that into the field. You don’t want to let that happen, but it’s part of the game. You got to learn to move beyond miscues and just focus on the next play.”

Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, missed two weeks with a sprained right finger and has already started nine times in center field (after doing that 21 times all last season). Zobrist has morphed back into a super-utility guy, starting 16 games at second base and 15 in two different outfield spots.

[MORE CUBS: Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?]

Maddon has tried to drill the idea of making the routine play into Javier Baez’s head, so that the uber-talented second baseman can allow his natural athleticism and instincts to take over during those dazzling moments.

The Cubs are basically hoping Kyle Schwarber keeps the ball in front of him in left and setting the bar at: Don’t crash into your center fielder. Like Schwarber and Almora, catcher Willson Contreras hasn’t played a full season in The Show yet, and the Cubs are now hoping Ian Happ can become a Zobrist-type defender all over the field.

“I’m seeing our guys playing in a lot of different places,” Heyward said. “It’s not just been penciling in every day who’s going to center field or right field or left field. We did shake things up some last year, but we did it kind of later in the season. We had guys settle in, playing every day. This year, I feel like we’re having guys in different spots.

“It’s May whatever, (but) it seems like we haven’t really had a chance to settle in yet. Not that we’re procrastinating by any means, but it’s just been a lot of moving pieces.”

The Giants won World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with a formula that incorporated lights-out pitching, airtight defense and just enough clutch pitching. The Cubs are now a 22-21 team trying to figure it out again.

“Defense comes and goes, just like pitching,” said Kris Bryant, the reigning National League MVP, in part, because of his defensive versatility. “I feel like if you look at last year, it’s kind of hard to compare, just because it was so good. We spoiled everybody last year. Now we’re a complete letdown this year.”

Bryant paused and said: “Just kidding. Different years, things regress, things progress, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.”