May 2012

5/23 The perfect ending

It seemed as if Kerry Wood’s final appearance was perfectly scripted but Cubs bench coach Jamie Quirk said the right-hander almost went longer in the game rather than the drama of striking out one batter and exiting. Quirk, manager Dale Sveum and the other coaches had talked about Wood’s request to have one more appearance before retiring. They weren’t sure exactly when it would happen. What complicated things a little was that Sveum was ejected in the fifth, which meant the final decision was up to Quirk.

“We knew we wanted to get him in — we didn’t know it would be that day, that weekend,” Quirk said Wednesday. “It was emotional, even for me, and I’ve only been around Kerry for three months. I was literally thinking he would pitch to the two right-handers [Dayan Viciedo and Alex Rios]. [Wood] was due up sixth [in the Cubs eighth]. The worst case scenario is he would pitch to the two right-handers, and I told [pitching coach Chris Bosio] if we don’t get to his spot, I can send him back out and then we can go get him and he can get his ovation.”

Wood struck out Viciedo on three pitches and Rios had poor numbers against left-handed pitchers so Quirk decided to pull Wood at that point and called on left-hander James Russell.

“What better time? He just struck him out, we still had a ballgame,” Quirk said. “I knew I wasn’t hurting our chances to win to bring in Russell to face the right-hander because the right-hander didn’t hit lefties well. I wasn’t putting the game in jeopardy. If it was in jeopardy, I would’ve had [Wood] face the right-hander. It was just right to do it at that time.”

— Carrie Muskat

5/23 Lineup & extra bases

* The Cubs have scored in three of their last 38 innings, and are looking to take their first lead in a game since one week ago today when Alfonso Soriano hit a two-run homer in the fourth against the Phillies. The Cubs have gone 59 innings without having the lead. After batting .277 with 21 extra-base hits and scoring 29 runs in the last five-game road trip against the Brewers and Cardinals, the Cubs have hit .223 with 17 extra-base hits and 20 runs scored in their last seven games.

* Starlin Castro notched his 400th career hit Monday at the age of 22 and in his 325th game. He’s the fifth Cubs player since 1920 to reach 400 hits by his 325th game, and the second in the last 79 years. He joins Bill Madlock (325 games) in 1976, Billy Herman (323) in 1933, Riggs Stephenson (321) in 1928, and Jigger Statz (308) in 1924.

* Mark your calendars: The Cubs-Red Sox game June 17 will begin at 7:05 p.m. CT to accommodate ESPN.

* The Cubs have made 12 moves on the 25-man roster in the last seven days.

* Here’s the lineup:

DeJesus RF

Johnson CF

Castro SS

Soriano LF

Mather 3B

Baker 1B

Barney 2B

Hill C

Samardzija P

— Carrie Muskat

5/23 Minor League report – Tuesday’s games

Anthony Rizzo tied an Iowa Cubs franchise record by scoring five runs and hit his 15th homer to back Chris Volstad and lift the Triple-A team to an 18-8 win over Tacoma. Rizzo was 3-for-5 with three RBIs, and now has 42 RBIs for the season. Volstad, making his first start for the Iowa Cubs, gave up four runs on seven hits over six innings and struck out six. Three of the runs came in one inning. Luis Valbuena also had three hits and homered.

Junior Lake had three hits including his second homer in Tennessee’s 4-3 loss to Mobile. Jeff Antigua gave up two runs on six hits over four innings. Justin Bour had three hits and a stolen base.

P.J. Francescon, making his first start for Daytona, gave up two runs, one earned, on three hits over six innings in a 6-5 win in 10 innings over St. Lucie. Greg Rohan and Nelson Perez each homered. Matt Szczur had two hits and stole a base.

Peoria had the day off and opens a series Wednesday against Clinton.

— Carrie Muskat

5/23 Tony takes off

5/22 Good Wood

Travis Wood made his first start in Chris Volstad’s spot on Tuesday in Houston. Volstad made his first start for Triple-A Iowa Tuesday in Des Moines. Volstad was the winner in an Iowa’ s 18-8 romp over Tacoma. He didn’t get that kind of offensive support in his eight starts with the Cubs when he was 0-6. Wood didn’t get any help Tuesday.

Chicago stranded six and Astros pitchers totaled 13 strikeouts, which matched a season high for the Cubs. Jose Altuve hit Wood’s third pitch of the game for his homer and Jed Lowrie followed with a double for the only hits off the lefty.

“The first pitch [Altuve] hit out wasn’t where it was supposed to be and he put a good swing on it and hit it out,” Wood said. “The second one that [Lowrie] hit was where it was supposed to be and he hit it down the line for a double.”

Wood had a rough Spring Training, yet seems back on track. He also posted a quality start May 6 when he subbed for Matt Garza.

“I tip my hat to him,” Sveum said of Wood. “I know he’s gone through some adversity through all this and he’s had two really impressive starts for us.”

The left-hander was able to settle down after giving up extra-base hits to Altuve and Lowie.

“The first batter of the ballgame, [Altuve] hits a home run and I guess everything is out of the way,” Wood said. “You’ve already given up a hit, you’ve already given up a home run, so there’s not much left to do but bear down and get after it.”

— Carrie Muskat 

5/22 It’s a bird, it’s a plane …

The Cubs lost their eighth in a row Tuesday night, dropping a 2-1 decision to the Astros. They had a chance in the eighth. Reed Johnson singled with one out and was lifted for pinch-runner Tony Campana, who reached third on an errant throw by Wilton Lopez. Campana did a Superman-style dive over third baseman Matt Downs and sailed past the bag but was able to scamper back in time. However, the acrobatics were wasted as Lopez struck out both Starlin Castro and Alfonso Soriano.

“With Campana there, it was huge,” Dale Sveum said. “Anything put in play, he would score on it. [Soriano] hit a solo shot but we can’t seem to get that three-run shot.”

Give Campana credit for hustling.

“That’s unbelievable, man,” Soriano said. “That dive he made — I thought we had an opportunity to tie the game but we came up short.”

What was Sveum thinking when Campana was halfway between second and third?

“[I was thinking] ‘Uh oh,'” Sveum said. “You’ve got to be able to use that speed and test it. I would’ve had no problem if he was thrown out because he was being aggressive and he was in the game for that reason.”

— Carrie Muskat

5/22 LaHair gets a break

Bryan LaHair got a day off Tuesday. The first baseman, who is 1-for-19 in his last six games, did not start against the Astros to get what Dale Sveum called a “mental breather.” LaHair has started 36 of 43 games.

“He’s never really gone through this mental grind in the big leagues and played this many games in a row,” Sveum said.

LaHair, batting .315 overall, took early batting practice and also was able to workout in the weight room and on the field before the game. Can he explain the last few games?

“I’ve had some rough luck for a few games there where I had no results,” said LaHair, whose 10 home runs lead all Major League first basemen. “I thought I was having good at-bats. A couple games against the White Sox, I just didn’t feel good at the plate. Last night, I gave the first at-bat away and I was [ticked] about that and then I just missed a three-run homer [in the third]. It is what it is, it’s baseball. Everybody goes through it. I go through it a couple times a year. I feel like I’m one click away from getting back to where I was.”

He felt as if he knew what to expect but didn’t react. Take Monday against the Astros’ Bud Norris.

“I could’ve bet my life the second pitch would be a curveball and for whatever reason I just didn’t swing and I knew it would be there,” LaHair said. “Just like my second at-bat — I knew the first pitch would be a fastall and I just missed it.”

The early batting practice session was loud as players hit more than a few balls into the empty outfield seats.

“It’s always nice to take early B.P. in parks like this,” Sveum said. “Sometimes that’s what it takes.”

Even Tony Campana, more likely to get an inside the park home run than launch one over the fence, was able to drop a ball into the seats and it rattled around.

“Like I said, it’s nice to take early BP here,” Sveum said, smiling.

— Carrie Muskat

5/22 Volstad wins; Rizzo HRs

Chris Volstad got a win. The right-hander struck out six and gave up four runs on seven hits and two walks over six innings in Iowa’s 18-8 win over Tacoma on Tuesday. It was Volstad’s first start since being sent to the Minor League team. Anthony Rizzo was 3-for-5, hitting his 15th homer, and raised his season RBI total to 42. Luis Valbuena had three of the Iowa Cubs’ 17 hits. Tacoma committed six errors in the game. Steve Clevenger, making a rehab start, started as DH and was 1-for-2.

— Carrie Muskat

5/22 Cubs lineup

Blake Lalli gets his first Major League start and Bryan LaHair gets a day off Tuesday as the Cubs face the Astros in Game 2 of a three-game series. Lalli has most likely caught Travis Wood at Triple-A Iowa. No roster move yet to open a spot for Wood. LaHair is 1-for-19 in his last six games, and Dale Sveum wanted to give the first baseman a breather. Here’s the lineup:

RF DeJesus

CF Johnson

SS Castro

LF Soriano

3B Mather

1B Baker

2B Barney

C Lalli

P T. Wood

— Carrie Muskat

5/22 Extra bases

* The Cubs have scored 31 runs in the ninth inning this season, their most productive inning, and the most runs by any team in the ninth.

* Chicago pitchers have served up three home runs in each of their last three games. This is the first time they’ve done that since Sept. 7-9, 2006, when the Pirates and Braves connected.

* The Cubs will make a roster move today to open a spot for starter Travis Wood. That will mean they’ve made 12 moves on the 25-man roster in the last six days, starting May 16.

* On Tuesday, the Cubs will try to grab their first lead in a game since last Wednesday when Alfonso Soriano’s two-run homer gave the team a 2-1 edge in the fourth against the Phillies. Chicago has gone 50 innings without having the lead.

— Carrie Muskat