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

Cubs ditch last -- move into 4th-place tie with 'W'

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It took a month, but the Cubs finally shed the last-place label they've been wearing most of the season.

Their 6-3 victory Wednesday night over the Colorado Rockies behind eight powerful innings from Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija lifted them into a tie for fourth place in the National League Central with the Milwaukee Brewers - who lost Wednesday to Pittsburgh.

"It's a good feeling," said new millionaire Anthony Rizzo, whose second hit drove in a run during the Cubs' three-run seventh.

Whether they can keep up this mini surge long enough to keep the team intact through the trading deadline is anything but certain. But a 6-3 stretch that includes back-to-back series victories for the first time since Sept. 7-12 has players talking about "excitement" and "energy" and "momentum."

Samardzija pointed to "big confidence builders" like the Cubs' one-run comeback win in Washington Sunday.

"This game's a lot about confidence, a lot about how you feel out there on the field, and you make your own breaks," he said.

Samardzija (2-6) lived the words during his best start since the season opener, pitching an efficient eight innings to snap a personal seven-start winless streak.

Making his own breaks?

Samardzija hit his first homer in four years with Darwin Barney on second base in the second inning to give the Cubs an early 2-1 lead, and they never trailed again.

"That was huge at the time," manager Dale Sveum said.

Samardzija brushed it off as "luck."

"I need to slow down around the bases and enjoy it a little bit," he said. "It doesn't happen too often."

He's not the only one hitting lately. A Cubs lineup that ranked near the bottom in the majors in most hitting categories through April has averaged 5.2 runs per game during their nine-game run, scoring six or more four times.

A lot of that might be Rizzo, the No. 3 hitter who has been on a personal tear in his last 19 games: .392 with nine doubles, three homers and 16 RBIs.

The difference? "Maybe the contract, I don't know," he said with a laugh.

Whether the $41-million family security his new deal assures, or the more simplified approach he's taking at the plate, it seems to be having a contagious effect.

"I say this on every team, I feel like wherever I hit, if I hit we go," he said. "That's the pressure I put on myself, to hit well. But it's very contagious. ..."

David DeJesus led off the game with a homer for the Cubs, who scored three times in the seventh, sending seven men to the plate, to break open a close game.

As for Rizzo, he said the whirlwind surrounding his new contract had finally calmed some by Wednesday.

"It's been crazy," he said. "A lot of interviews, being pulled in different ways. But I've got a lot of support from friends, family, coaches, all congratulating me, and I'm very thankful. It was nice today, just an under-the-radar day. I just came to the park and got ready to play."

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This page contains a single entry by Gordon Wittenmyer published on May 15, 2013 11:20 PM.

Cubs' Marmol denies Twitter "spy's" claim was the previous entry in this blog.

Cubs' Samardzija ready to talk contract? "Absolutely not" is the next entry in this blog.

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