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

August 2011 Archives

Spoiler alert: Cubs stall Giants' playoff drive

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Cubs starter Matt Garza didn't like leaving the game in the seventh inning for a reliever, but he had no problem watching the Cubs bullpen finish off a 5-2 win over the San Francisco Giants Tuesday night that knocked the Giants another game behind the streaking Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League West.

A year ago the Cubs helped put the Giants in the playoffs by beating second-place San Diego three out of four times in the final week of the season.

This time the Cubs have done serious damage to the Giants' playoff hopes with back-to-back wins to start the three-game series.

``Well, people damaged our playoff hopes for the first four months, so I'm fine with paying back,'' said Garza (7-10), who went 6 2/3 innings before Sean Marshall, Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol held the Giants hitless the rest of the way.

``If we're not in, we might as well play spoilers,'' Garza said. ``Playing spoilers isn't as fun, but why not do it and make some people mad at you.''

The Cubs did so much to help the Giants reach the playoffs on the way to an eventual World Series championship last year that the San Francisco that Giants manager Bruce Bochy said it played into his decision to select Quade to his All-Star coaching staff this year.

Quade can kiss any goodwill and gifts from the San Francisco staff goodbye this time around.

``That's all right. It's a good way to go,'' said Quade, who bristled at the idea of enjoying the spoiler role. ``It's a lot more fun to have somebody trying to play spoiler against you. It's always fun to play well, but I don't think anybody relishes that role.''

For the second straight game, Alfonso Soriano got the Cubs' scoring started with a home run - this time a first-inning shot that locals say was the longest home run to left field in the 11-year-old history of AT&T Park.

Cubs' Wells gets ``kick in the butt,'' gets rolling

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Randy Wells' best start of the season - to beat Atlanta 3-2 Wednesday night -- might have come just in time for him to remind the Cubs they could have more than a two-man starting rotation coming out of this season.

Even if it took a teammate jumping his ass a few starts back.

``It took a good kick in the butt from a teammate to remind me of the right mindset to go out there and pitch and make things happen,'' Wells said.

Wells retired the first 10 batters he faced Wednesday night and went two outs into the seventh inning with a one-hit shutout - until Chipper Jones unloaded on a long home run over the center field wall.

That was Wells' last batter but it didn't diminish the performance the Cubs have been looking for since a forearm strain sidelined him after a lights-out spring and one strong start in April.

``This one feels pretty good,'' said Wells (5-4), who missed two months with the injury. ``I still won't make any excuses for it, but it definitely was a hard thing to come back from. I think the biggest thing obviously is the physical health, but besides that the confidence - cutting the ball loose and having the confidence that it's going to carry and stay on the line that you want it to. ... Every start the confidence starts to come back and start to feel better.''

With Carlos Zambrano not expected back for the final year of his contract after he quit on the team two weeks ago, only Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster are assured of spots in next year's rotation from the current one.

Rehabbing Andrew Cashner is expected to get another shot at the rotation next spring.

And with Casey Coleman and Rodrigo Lopez the extent of the rest of the depth in that area, Wells could become increasingly important to the Cubs' plans if he closes out the final five weeks of the season strong.

``Coming out of spring training, I never had any doubt that I was going to have a good season,'' he said. ``I learned a lot last year, and even coming off the DL - just a lack of confidence, not sure of yourself.''

Enter the teammate with the swift kick.

``Ever since that day I've felt confidence and been throwing the ball really well,'' he said.

NOTES - Alfonso Soriano, whose two-run homer in the second gave the Cubs the lead for good, had his right forearm bandaged after the game because of a bad bruise from being hit by a pitch in the eighth. He said he was fine and expected to return to the lineup Thursday. ... Carlos Marmol became only the second pitcher in Cubs history to record 30 saves in consecutive seasons when he got No. 30 Wednesday (Lee Smith had four straight 30-save seasons in the 1980s). ... Aramis Ramirez extended his hitting streak to 13 games, during which he's hitting .560 (28-for-50) with four homers, three doubles, 14 RBIs and seven walks.

Cubs' Castro ripped by ESPN's Valentine

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ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine spent a chunk of Sunday night's broadcast picking apart Starlin Castro's body language and apparent lack of readiness between pitches - even using a split screen to catch him digging for sunflower seeds and otherwise not being prepared to field his position as his pitcher began his delivery.

Valentine suggested it was something that needed to be ``addressed,'' and specifically by veterans on the team such as Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena.

But Cub manager Mike Quade, who has not shied from his own public critiques of his 21-year-old shortstop this season, said he didn't see a problem.

Castro made a throwing error in the fifth inning but it had nothing to do with preparedness.

``I'll have to talk to my infield people about that,'' Quade said of the criticism from a broadcaster who was open about his interest in the Cubs' managing job a year ago.

``The sunflower seed thing - guys stay loose, with sunflower seeds, whatever. I don't know,'' said Quade, who seemed to see much ado about nothing in the criticism. ``[Matt] Holliday must have been doing some seeds, too, when [Rodrigo Lopez and Castro] picked him off. ...

``I'll have to ask [my coaches] about that and maybe call Bobby and see what he saw.''

Cubs' Coleman: ``not looking to replace Z''

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HOUSTON - Casey Coleman doesn't even flinch anymore when the unexpected call comes - even when it follows the strangest Cub episode of the season.

``It's something new every time,'' said Coleman, who joined the team in Houston Monday in advance of his fourth recall from AAA Iowa of the season - this time to take Carlos Zambrano's spot in the rotation, starting Wednesday. ``I'm just glad to be here.''

Even though manager Mike Quade said he envisions the right-hander ``in the rotation for quite some time,'' Coleman says he's under no illusions about filling the shoes of the departed Zambrano.

``I'm not looking to replace Z,'' he said. ``No one will be able to do that with the Cubs for a long time. I'm just coming up here trying to help give this team innings and stay out of the bullpen as long as possible ... and help the team stay on the roll that they're on.''

If anyone doubted the Cubs' ability to handle life without Z, the results seem to speak for themselves - going 3-for-3 since he cleared out his locker Friday night, including a 4-3 win over Houston Monday night on the strength of a pair of two-run doubles by Carlos Pena and Geo Soto.

The Cubs have won 12 of 15 games in all, and a victory in either of the next two games would give them five straight series wins.

For Coleman, who struggled in his first two stints with the Cubs this year - in part because of an abbreviated spring training - the past few weeks have been his best of the season.

``No excuses. I needed to do a better job earlier in the year,'' said Coleman, whose strong finish with the big-league club last year suggested bigger things for 2011 . ``At the same time, when they sent me down I went down there and got some things together and started throwing strikes again. I feel like I'm at the point where I was last year at the end of the year.''

Cubs' Soriano confronted Zambrano before desertion

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One of the last conversations Carlos Zambrano had with any of his teammates before clearing out his locker Friday night and ``retiring'' was a confrontation with left fielder Alfonso Soriano that may have helped precipitate Zambrano's departure.

``I told him what he did was wrong,'' Soriano told the Sun-Times on Sunday, confirming a report attributed to an unnamed source.

After Zambrano was ejected in the fifth inning for trying to hit Atlanta's Chipper Jones with a pitch, Soriano went into the clubhouse once the half-inning ended and confronted Zambrano.

``We are human. We are not machines. He had a bad day, but you're not supposed to hit some guy because they hit [home runs off] you,'' Soriano said. ``Now you put [your] hitters in a tough position because maybe sooner or later they want to hit one of us. That's what I said to him. And I'm surprised they haven't hit nobody yet.''

Zambrano's response was not a lengthy one, Soriano said.

``He was angry and at the same time I think more frustrated,'' he said. ``I just said it, and he told me one word that I don't want to say, because he's frustrated.''

Soriano, due up fifth that inning, returned to the dugout soon after.

``Then I come up [to the clubhouse] in the seventh to see video of my at-bat and I see him dressed up,'' Soriano said. ``I see him like ready to go, but I thought maybe he'd wait for the media and he'd want to explain what happened. I never even thought he might leave. When the game was over, I come in the room, and he's not here.''

Soriano said he hasn't talked to Zambrano or seen him since, and remains puzzled over why any 30-year-old ballplayer would pack up and say he's retiring after one rough game.

``You see all the people who want to be like we are, who want to be big-league players,'' Soriano said, ``and you [throw it away]? Come on, you got to be smarter [than that].

``He's not a bad person. I mean, the attitude that he has in the game, that makes everybody, like, tired, because it's not one, it's not two. At least every year he does something the hurts the team. At least once every year. But he's not a bad person. He's got to calm down his emotions in the game.''

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