Chicago Sun-Times
with sports reporters Chris De Luca and Gordon Wittenmyer

May 2011 Archives

Cubs win, nobody cares as Bulls rule Wrigley

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It was playoff time all over again at Wrigley Field - as soon as tonight's the baseball game was done, with fans taking over the concourses to stay and watch the end of the Bulls' overtime loss on ballpark TVs.

Even Cubs manager Mike Quade seemed relieved as he rushed into the postgame interview room and saw media watching the final minutes of regulation.

``You stay right there,'' Quade said to a reporter sitting in his chair at the podium. ``I was hoping you guys had the game on.''

And then he stood watching with media members until the game headed to overtime - chants of ``MVP! MVP! MVP!'' audible from the concourse.

That was until Derrick Rose missed the would-be winner as time expired - at which point, Quade finally sat down, smiling, and said, ``OK, you guys got three minutes.''

First question: ``What'd you think of Derrick's play tonight?''

Response: ``It's not over yet.''

The gravity and thrill of the Bulls game naturally trumped the Cubs' 11-1 win over the New York Mets even for fans who paid hundreds of dollars brave the cold of the ballpark - as they clustered by the dozens at each concourse monitor cheering and moaning at every play long after the baseball game.

``I don't think there's a sports fan in Chicago who cares what I have to say right now,'' winning pitcher Ryan Dempster said as he entered interview room.

``I'll keep this quick and painless,'' he said. And then he did, before darting back to teammates watching in the clubhouse, adding, ``Go Bulls,'' as he headed out the door.

Minutes later, in the clubhouse, the mood shifted downward as Miami took control of the game.

``Why? Why?'' Carlos Zambrano said to the TV near is locker stall as he watched Carlos Boozer miss a shot - Big Z then throwing down the shirt he was holding.

In case anybody noticed, the Cubs played errorless baseball, banged out 13 hits and got seven quality innings out of Dempster.

Uh, never mind.

The Legend of Crane Kenny and the Salty Home Run

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The rest of the story on that Jarrod Saltalamacchia home run that landed at the feet of Cubs' president Crane Kenney sitting in the Green Monster seats Friday night:

Kenney said the reason he didn't throw the ball back onto the field in Cubs' Wrigley tradition is because he knew that the road-tripping Purdue frat kid he gave the ball to planned to do it.

And then the kid did, even as his Red Sox-fan pal tried to hold him back from doing it.

Kenney said he'd talked to the kid earlier in the game, and the kid said he wanted to get a home run ball so he could throw it back.

In a moral-of-the-story side note: Unlike Wrigley, throwing objects -- including home run balls -- onto the field is forbidden at Fenway and punishable by ejection from the park.

Naked guy, Cubs take talents to South Beach

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Even before the naked guy ran onto the field in the fifth inning Wednesday night, providing comic relief - and maybe the exhale some clenched-effort players needed - the simple change of scenery from cold, bitter Cincinnati to balmy, breezy South Beach might have come at just the right time.

Both manager Mike Quade and assistant GM Randy Bush talked about guys trying too hard and pressing to prop up the team's wilting season as one of the Cubs' biggest problems right now - both emphasizing the need for some of the veterans to ``relax'' and play like they've done in the past.

``This is a relaxed atmosphere,'' said catcher Koyie Hill, who delivered three hits in a game for the first time since last August. ``The beach, the palm trees, the good weather - just the whole atmosphere. It seems like it's just a slower pace, seems like your mind slows down a little bit, and you kind of remember to live your life.''

Of course, the naked guy might have been the key on this night.

``Definitely the naked guy,'' said Reed Johnson, whose two-run, pinch home run with two out in the sixth tied the game.

If nothing else, the opener of this week's two-game series in Florida - against a team that trailed NL East-leading Philadelphia by a half-game entering play - offered the Cubs a welcome chance to laugh for the first time in since last week.

``The more fun you have, the better you're going to play, and when you don't play well, the easier it is to turn the page and move on to the next day,'' Hill said. ``I think it's just as important, to remain calm - you see it in good teams. Even when they get behind, they don't panic. They have a lot of confidence, their heads are up. If they don't do the job, they're going to get it done next time. But you're giving your best effort. You give your best effort, you go home and can look yourself in the mirror.''

The Cubs are a long way from being that kind of team that is going to remind anyone of the Yankees or Phillies. They haven't even put together three straight wins and they're more than a quarter through the season.

And because they're not a very good fielding team overall, they need relentless concentration, and they need to be able to beat teams with other areas of their game.

That's a breeding ground for inconsistency, but if they can take advantage of mistakes like they did tonight and pitch well when they have their best pitchers on the mound, they have a chance to be fairly competitive into the summer months.

To that end, the new guy, little-known rookie Tony Campana, already has put a charge into things in two games off the bench. Tonight he pinch-ran for Alfonso Soriano and stole second on the first pitch, allowing Hill to then bunt him to third, which, in turn, gave him a chance to score on a slow bouncer to third.

``He's energizing,'' starter Ryan Dempster said.

``This is the way I see using him right now,'' Quade said. ``That's the perfect situation. If we get Soriano on late in the game, why waste a bunt if we can steal a base. Then we can bunt him to third. He's a real nice player. And more than just a fast runner - he can play.''

CINCINNATI - Cubs starting pitcher Andrew Cashner could be sidelined until after the All-Star break after aggravating the rotator cuff strain that originally put him on the disabled list six weeks ago.

An MRI in Chicago today revealed the same inflammation in the same spot as the first MRI did in early April - prompting the Cubs to shut down Cashner again and putting his recovery process back at square one.

Until feeling the pain Monday while warming up for a scheduled extended-spring start, Cashner had not had a setback during rehab and was expected to start a minor-league rehab assignment sometime this weekend.

``I feel real bad for him,'' general manager Jim Hendry said. ``He's worked real hard. His rehab's gone really well up to this point. Obviously, the main goal will be just to continue to get it right so an continue to have a bright future.''

Cashner, the team's first-round draft pick in 2008, debuted last May and by the end of the season was an effective late-inning setup man.

He spent spring training building strength and stamina for the fifth-starter job and pitched well in his first start of the season until being forced from that start in the sixth inning because of the shoulder pain.

Stars come out in Hollywood for Cubs

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For one night in Hollywood, the Cubs who needed it most finally got the happy ending they were looking for.

Whether guys like Ryan Dempster and Carlos Pena turn Tuesday's results into the start of something bigger, they at least offered a glimpse for one night of how the Cubs planned for this season to look.

And whether the ninth-inning rally that produced a 4-1 win leads to the elusive streak the team has been searching for they at least take the field Wednesday with a chance for a winning road trip through Phoenix and L.A.

Dempster, who lugged a 9.58 ERA into Tuesday's start, pitched seven impressive innings after walking the first two guys of the game on eight pitches. And Pena, who endured the first homerless April of his career, finally got his first Cub homer - to tie the game in the seventh.

``He needed that, and we needed that,'' manager Mike Quade said of Pena's homer - but who might as well have been talking about both guys.

That set the stage for another pair of struggling Cubs, Geo Soto and Blake DeWitt, to deliver back-to-back, run-scoring hits with two outs in the ninth for a 4-1 Cubs win.

``That was as big win for us,'' said Dempster, whose April was so rough that he still has the worst ERA in the majors (8.05). ``If we can win tomorrow, we can have a winning road trip on the West Coast - that's not easy to do.''

Of course, easy doesn't describe much of anything for the fifth-place Cubs this season - or even for much of this night.

And when Dempster opened the game with a pair of walks it only looked like a continuation of all that had gone wrong for more than four weeks - with hit-streaking Andre Ethier stepping to the plate.

``It was like a moment of decision,'' Quade said. `` `Where are we going' for Demp. Where's he going? Let's see.''

Said Dempster: ``Geo came out and talked to me, and I just decided to try to get back to being aggressive.''

And when Ethier grounded a 3-2 pitch to second for a double play, it was on.

That was the first of nine straight retired by Dempster, who didn't walk another batter and allowed only six singles in his seven-inning start - good enough for his first quality start, even though he didn't get the win.

``He located. His slider looked better,'' Quade said. ``There were a lot of reasons once he got through those first two hitters that he had success. His stuff was just much better and he located it real well.''

The start of some kind of streak for Dempster? ``Trust me,'' he said, ``I'm not going to let this one outing let me relax at all. I've got to just keep going out and executing pitches.''

For Pena, his first homer since Sept. 28 not only tied the game in the seventh but it finally rewarded him after three near misses over his previous two games.

``It sure feels nice to have one finally go over the fence,'' said Pena, who had just three hits in his last 37 at-bats leading up to the homer. ``It's definitely a relief feeling. ... My teammates have been right behind me, always cheering me on, always supporting me. That certainly helps.''

One night after missing his first home run of the season by an inch or two in Phoenix, struggling Cubs' slugger Carlos Pena belted two more long shots into the cooling nighttime ether of Dodger Stadium and came up empty again on balls that died at the wall.

``This is such a great ballpark, but it plays so much differently in batting practice than it does after the sun sets,'' manager Mike Quade said after the Cubs lost 5-2 to the Dodgers in the opener of a three-game series.

``I hope he takes out of it that he's taking some real good swings, and the home runs will come. I think he's made better contact.''

Pena was paid $10 million to look more like Alfonso Soriano so far -- .267, 11 home runs - than pitcher James Russell at the plate (actually, Russell's hitting 10 points better than Pena's .157).

It's the lack of home runs that has been baffling. Pena's homerless April was the first of his career, and he's just 3-for-22 (.136) overall with men in scoring position.

Monday, with agent Scott Boras in attendance, he was bumped down to the seventh spot in the batting order.

``Pena's a guy that obviously was never going to be a high average guy,'' GM Jim Hendry said of the lefty power guy who hit just .196 last year for Tampa Bay (with 28 homers). ``I thought he squared up four or five balls real well at Wrigley Field, and it's just the nature of our world. We know how April is [there].'

``And when you're not a high average guy and then you get one or two in the game and they don't leave the park and you still get a K here or there, all of a sudden ...

``We've had that with a lot of new guys for whatever reason,'' he added, of Moises Alou, Alfonso Soriano, Mark DeRosa and others.

``But it's still the beginning of May and he certainly has the chance to be a streaky home run guy, so I'm sure he'll get in that column pretty soon and hopefully get a bunch together.''

Said Soriano: ``I've seen him hit a couple balls good, so I think that's a good sign. A couple in Arizona, a couple here today. If he keeps hitting the ball like that, he'll hit some homers.''

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