September 2013

9/24 Good cause

On Thursday, Cubs executives will be on hand to help unveil a new playground for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes at Horace Greeley Elementary School in Lakeview. Chicago Cubs Charities donated $25,000 for the new playground, which will be accessible for children with disabilities and will include separate areas for young children in the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes. Greeley is focused on improving health and wellness for students, with increased physical education in a longer school day. It also recognizes the importance of recess and free play for intellectual and social development.

9/24 Cubs lineup

Chris Rusin makes his final start of the season on Tuesday as the Cubs play host to the playoff-bound Pirates at Wrigley Field. Logan Watkins will start at second in place of Darwin Barney.

Rusin and All-Star Travis Wood (2.98 ERA) both have ERAs under 3.52. The Cubs look to have two left-handers make at least 10 starts and each turn in an ERA of 3.80 or less in the same year for the first time in 46 years when Rich Nye (3.20 ERA, 30 starts) and Ken Holtzman (2.53 ERA, 12 starts) did so.

Here’s the lineup:

Castro SS
Lake LF
Rizzo 1B
Navarro C
Schierholtz RF
Murphy 3B
Bogusevic CF
Watkins 2B
Rusin P

9/23 Pirates 2, Cubs 1

For the second straight day, champagne was sprayed at Wrigley Field, and once again, it was on the visitor’s side. One day after the Braves clinched the NL East title, the Cubs watched the Pirates party as they secured their first playoff berth since 1992 with a 2-1 win Monday night.

“It’s a tough one to lose after coming back like that,” said Dale Sveum, whose team tied the game in the eighth on pinch-hitter Donnie Murphy’s RBI single.

Starling Marte smacked a tiebreaking solo home run with two outs in the ninth off Kevin Gregg to lift the Pirates to victory but it took a close play at the plate to clinch it. Marte had entered in the seventh as a defensive replacement in left field, and his at-bat in the ninth was his first of the game. He launched a 2-2 pitch from Gregg into the left-field bleachers. Marte’s last two home runs have come off Gregg in the ninth; he also connected July 7 on a homer that tied the game.

The Cubs tried to answer in the ninth. With one out and one on, Nate Schierholtz reached on a fielder’s choice, and Ryan Sweeney then singled into the gap in right center. Schierholtz was thrown out at home on an 8-3-2 relay.

Schierholtz has played in a World Series, doing so with the Giants in 2010.

“It brought back some memories,” Schierholtz said of watching the Braves, then the Pirates. “That’s why we play this game. It’s pretty exciting being in the postseason and I obviously want to get back there one day.”

Jeff Samardzija, who also knows about championship seasons, having played football at Notre Dame, had talked to Schierholtz after Sunday’s game.

“We mentioned to each other that’s what it’s all about, that’s why you work in the offseason, that’s why you work hard in Spring Training, that’s why you want to get off to a fast start in April and May so you can have those moments,” Samardzija said. “That’s what you want. If you’re just here just to play until next year, that’s not what it’s all about. You have to let it all hang out and you have to play for right now. That’s what we need to do.

“I think we’re getting there,” Samardzija said, “but I think we need to get some things ironed out and get this team mentally in a spot where that’s what we’re shooting for, and we’re not shooting to survive but we’re shooting to win and thrive out there.”

The Pirates needed to beat the Cubs and have the Cardinals beat the Nationals to secure a playoff spot, and the Cards won, 4-3. Samardzija tried to delay having to watch their fun in his career-high 32nd start. He did serve up Neil Walker’s home run on a 1-1 fastball with one out in the first, but that was really the only hard hit ball.

This was his fifth start against the Pirates this season, including Opening Day, when he threw eight shutout innings. That was his only win against Pittsburgh this year.

“They’re aggressive,” Samardzija said. “They’ve seen me a lot and know I throw a lot of fastballs early in the count. You could tell when one was in the zone, they were hacking. I threw a couple cutters early which kept them off balance. It’s the fifth, sixth time I’ve faced them this year. You have to keep adjusting to what you’re doing against them.”

The Cubs dropped to 30-49 at home, and have two games left at Wrigley Field. They’ve never lost 50 games at home in a single season.

– Carrie Muskat

9/23 Extra bases

* Jeff Samardzija will make his career-best 32nd start of the season Monday night. He has 203 strikeouts and 201 2/3 innings pitched. He’s the first Cubs pitcher to reach both 200 strikeouts and 200 innings pitched since Ryan Dempster in 2010 (208 strikeouts, 215 1/3 innings pitched).

Samardzija is in good company. The other five pitchers with 200 Ks/200 innings includes: Detroit’s Max Scherzer (230 strikeouts, 207 innings), St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright (209, 229 1/3), Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw (224, 230), Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee (209, 214 2/3) and the White Sox’ Chris Sale (221, 209).

* The Cubs finished at nearly .500 against teams outside their division this year at 41-45 while they are 24-46 against the NL Central teams, the second-lowest winning percentage (.343) by any team against its own division in baseball (Houston is lowest at 25-48, .342 vs. the AL West)

* Pedro Strop on Saturday became the fifth Cubs pitcher to record a save this season, joining Kevin Gregg (32 saves), Kyuji Fujikawa (2), Carlos Marmol (2) and Blake Parker (1). Chicago has five pitchers with saves for the first time since 2008 when Kerry Wood (34), Marmol (7), Bob Howry (1), Sean Marshall (1) and Samardzija (1) did so.

9/23 Cubs lineup

The Cubs open their final homestand on Monday night against the Pirates, sending Jeff Samardzija against Charlie Morton. Here’s the lineup:

Castro SS
Valbuena 3B
Rizzo 1B
Navarro C
Schierholtz RF
Sweeney CF
Bogusevic LF
Barney 2B
Samardzija P

Here are the pitching matchups for the series:

Monday: RHP Jeff Samardzija (8-12, 4.42) vs. RHP Charlie Morton (7-4, 3.35)
Tuesday: LHP Chris Rusin (2-5, 3.52) vs. RHP Gerrit Cole (9-7, 3.23)
Wednesday: RHP Jake Arrieta (3-2, 3.94) vs. LHP Francisco Liriano (16-7, 2.88)

9/23 “Let’s go Mo”

Cubs coach Mike Borzello was the Yankees bullpen catcher from 1996-2007, and prepped Mariano Rivera before every outing. On Sunday, he reflected on his days with the game’s greatest closer:

The phone in the Yankees bullpen would ring and the message was always the same. Get Mo going. Mike Borzello, sitting in the dugout at Wrigley Field, 800 miles from Yankee Stadium and Mariano Rivera, knew what that meant. Borzello, 43, was the Yankees bullpen catcher from 1996-2007, and his job was to get Rivera ready, which meant doing the same routine before “The Sandman” began to play.

Rivera would loosen up with a weighted ball, then pick a baseball and throw three times, long toss, to Borzello, then tell the catcher to get down. He’d throw six or seven to his glove side, then five or six to the other side, then a few more back on the glove side.

“Once he was loose, whether the inning was over or not, he’d stand there and watch the game and there was no nervousness at all,” Borzello said Sunday. “He never over-threw, never got jittery, and he would just wait and see the third out, say, ‘Three more,’ then throw one easy, then one hard, and then let the last one go, and he was gone into the game. You always felt like the game was over.”

Borzello is now a special assistant on manager Dale Sveum’s staff, but on this sunny day prior to the Cubs’ series finale against the Braves, he could see Rivera go through his drill as if it was yesterday.

“The last throw, I’d always yell, ‘Let’s go, Mo,’ and you’d see NO. 42 go through the door and you were in good hands,” Borzello said.

Sunday was Rivera’s last game at Yankee Stadium, and this week will be the closer’s final stretch of his farewell tour as he heads into retirement. Borzello was a little sad, but also felt the timing was right.

“I can’t picture the Yankees without Mariano there,” he said. “I didn’t think he’d pitch this long. I think as time went on, he really — not that he didn’t love the game — but he really fell in love with it and it’s hard to let go. He could stay another three, four years.

“I think it’s the right time [to retire],” Borzello said. “I didn’t want to see him limp to the finish line, I didn’t want to see him taken out of the closer’s role and used as a set-up guy and chasing a number. I’m happy it’s ending the way it is.”

Borzello first met Rivera in Spring Training in 1996. Rivera had pitched in 19 games with the Yankees in 1995, including 10 starts.

“He was trying to figure out what he was going to be,” Borzello said. “He was basically going to make the team as a long man.”

The Panamanian pitcher and the native New Yorker, who are the same age, meshed. And Borzello was there when Rivera started to throw his trademark cutter, although it wasn’t planned.

“For most of ’97, he was a four-seam, slider guy,” Borzello said. “It was a true four-seamer and he could spot it and elevate it. That was his weapon. Because of his easy delivery, it got on guys. He was successful as the set-up man to [John] Wetteland.”

But one day in Detroit, in Rivera’s second year as the Yankees closer, the right-hander was warming up in the bullpen and something odd happened.

“All of a sudden, he’s throwing the ball and it’s cutting late, almost like there’s something wrong with the ball,” Borzello said. “Back then, the cutter was just coming around and there was no such thing as a cutter. There was a four-seamer, there was a sinker, there was a slider and [the cutter] wasn’t a prevalent pitch then. All of a sudden, this ball is cutting late and I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ He’s looking at me with the same look that I’m looking at him. Now we switch the ball out. I remember it like it was yesterday. We switch the ball and it’s the same thing.”

Rivera didn’t change his grip, hadn’t altered his routine. He did throw his four-seam fastball with two fingers close together; Borzello said most pitchers spread their fingers apart. But now Rivera couldn’t throw the ball straight.

Still, he went into the game, and picked up the save. The next day, Rivera, Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre and Borzello headed to the bullpen.

“[Rivera] wanted to try to fix what he thought was a problem,” Borzello said. “The ball is cutting — it looks like a straight four-seamer for probably 55 feet, and the last five feet, it’s darting. He’s trying to change things and he can’t fix it.”

Rivera was frustrated but said he’d figure it out, and the rest is history. Rivera will leave baseball as the all-time saves leader, and is one of two players to top 600 saves.

“He always talks about this being a gift from God, and it’s almost like it was because in one day, this guy went from the truest four-seam fastball you could ever catch to this ridiculous cutter that revolutionized the game,” Borzello said. “From that year forward, everyone wants to throw a cutter like Mariano Rivera, and it’s not easy to do. Guys have come and gone trying. They get close but no one’s like Mariano.”

Borzello hasn’t talked to Rivera since 2010. That year, Borzello was on the Dodgers’ coaching staff, and the two met during an Interleague series. How classy is Rivera? Borzello asked if the right-hander would talk to Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton about the mindset needed to be a successful closer, and Rivera spent 30 minutes in the field during batting practice with him.

“He’s the most calm and collected player — him and Derek Jeter are similar in that way — but as a reliever, you see the anxiety build as the game goes on,” Borzello said of Rivera. “Guys know their role and know they’re getting close, and there’s a lot more tension as the game gets closer to the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth innings. His personality and his demeanor never changed from the day I met him in Spring Training in ’96 to getting the last out in a World Series. It was always the same demeanor and you felt he was always in control.”

Borzello’s father lives in the Los Angeles area and saw Rivera this year when the Yankees played the Dodgers. The closer asked to pass on a message to have “Borzy” call him. Borzello still has his catcher’s gear from his days with the Yankees and the glove he used to warm up Rivera for the 433 saves he recorded when the two were together in New York.

He also has four World Series championship rings.

“If you’ve got one of those World Series rings, you know he was the one who gave it to you — he was a big piece,” Borzello said of Rivera. “I look at them, and it takes me back to all those times.”

– Carrie Muskat

9/21 Cubs 3, Braves 1

The Cubs scored three runs in the eighth to post a 3-1 victory Saturday over the Braves, and force Atlanta to wait a little longer before clinching the NL East division. The Braves’ magic number is one. Anthony Rizzo hit a RBI double, Dioner Navarro smacked a RBI single and Nate Schierholtz hit a sacrifice fly in the eighth for the win. Pedro Strop pitched the ninth for his first save of the season. Carlos Villanueva got the win in relief of starter Travis Wood, who gave up one run over seven-plus innings. It was Wood’s 24th quality start. Wood is one inning shy of 200, and will get that in his next start Friday against the Cardinals.

Rizzo’s double was his 62nd extra base hit, the most by a left-handed Cubs batter since Corey Patterson’s 63 in 2004. Villanueva is now 5-0 with a 0.93 ERA in his last eight relief appearances.

The Braves may stay at Wrigley Saturday night to celebrate. They clinch the division if the Nationals lose to the Marlins

“One day, hopefully that will be us and we’ll move forward from there,” Wood said of the Braves.

– Carrie Muskat

9/21 Hendricks, Baez honored

Kyle Hendricks knows the importance of a good education. Hendricks, honored on Saturday as the Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year, returned to classes at Dartmouth last Monday to finish his degree. He’s majoring in economics with a minor in math.

“It’s tough,” Hendricks said about going back to school after a summer of baseball. “It’s fun being back and I still know some of the guys on the baseball team there. It’s definitely difficult being back in the classroom, taking classes.”

He’d rather focus on his fine-tuning his changeup, but he’ll graduate after this final semester and then it’ll be full time baseball.

Hendricks hasn’t received the amount of attention Javier Baez has. Baez was honored as the Cubs’ Minor League Player of the Year on Saturday after hitting 37 home runs and driving in 111 runs at Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee combined. Baez had an eye opening Spring Training with the big league team.

“The guy’s a super athlete,” said Cubs Minor League director Brandon Hyde of Baez. “There’s still a lot of developing left. Sometimes he gets big and tries to do too much but that’s just youth. As soon as he matures as a hitter and continues to grow, it’ll be scary.”

Baez, 20, was going to continue his season in the Arizona Fall League but the Cubs decided the shortstop needed some rest, so he will instead go home to Florida, but take part in two mini camps in Mesa, Ariz., in November and then January. He downplayed his impressive statistics this season.

“I was just trying to do my best every time I played on the field and tried to do good,” Baez said.

Hendricks was Baez’s teammate at Tennessee, and knows how to deal with the shortstop.

“Don’t leave it over the plate,” Hendricks said about pitching to Baez. “[If you do] it’s going to go a long way. He’s a real good player. I’m excited to be here and share this with him.”

Hyde said he’s not just impressed by Baez’s power but also his baserunning and defense. The errors he made were mainly because the shortstop tried to do too much, Hyde said.

“His instincts to play are off the charts,” Hyde said. “I think he’s just scratching the surface to be honest.”

Baez was the Cubs’ first-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. Hendricks, 23, was acquired in July 2012 from the Rangers in the Ryan Dempster deal.

“He was opening our eyes from the beginning,” Hyde said of the right-hander. “He’s unbelievably intelligent, knows how to attack hitters, knows hitters weaknesses, knows hitters strengths. He’s developing a better breaking ball. What an incredible year he had.”

Hendricks combined to go 13-4 with a 2.00 ERA and a complete-game shutout in 27 starts between Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. He struck out 128 batters and walked 34 over 166 1/3 innings pitched. The right-hander limited opponents to a .229 batting average.

Being at Wrigley Field on Saturday was eye opening for Hendricks.

“This is what you dream of, being on this field,” he said. “It’s awesome.”

For now, it’s back to school on Monday.

“This is my last quarter,” Hendricks said. “I have four classes and then I graduate. I figure while I have the opportunity, I might as well go back. It’s only a nine week quarter, so it’ll go by quick. It’ll go by quick.”

– Carrie Muskat

9/21 100th Anniversary Logo

WRIGLEY_FIELD_100_LOGO

9/21 Wrigley Field logo

The Cubs kicked off the celebration of Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary on Saturday with the unveiling of a logo designed by Brandon Ort of New Bremen, Ohio, whose design was picked from more than 1,200 entries. The logo will be featured as a patch on the team’s home uniforms next season and on a variety of items, including collectible memorabilia and commemorative baseballs. Examples of the stamped baseballs, jersey and patch will be on display at the Cubs Authentics kiosk in Wrigley Field’s main concourse, starting Saturday.

Ort’s design plus three other finalists in the “Wrigley Field Turns 100” logo contest were posted on Cubs.com for fans to cast their vote. Ort and guests attended Saturday’s game and were honored in a pre-game ceremony.

The design plays off the famous red marquee outside the ballpark’s main entrance at Clark and Addison streets, and has a dark green silouette of the light standards.

Fans eager to celebrate the ballpark’s birthday can purchase official Wrigley Field 100th merchandise in special sections of the ballpark gift shops and at “The Cubs Store” on Clark Street. More than 30 different apparel styles will feature the logo, including hats, T-shirts, polo shirts and sweatshirts, as well as novelty items such as key chains, glassware, pins and pennants.

Chicago Cubs Charities also has introduced a limited-edition Wrigley Field 100th anniversary Christopher Radko ornament. Each hand-painted, hand-blown glass ornament includes the production number of the ornament purchased in the series. Ornaments are available, starting Saturday, for $55 plus shipping and fees at http://www.cubs.com/ornament, with proceeds benefitting Chicago Cubs Charities.

Throughout the 2014 season, the Cubs will celebrate 100 years of Wrigley Field with promotions, events and collectible memorabilia. Additional details will be revealed later this offseason, and attendees at the 2014 Cubs Convention, Jan. 17-19, will get a first look at many aspects of the celebration.

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