Another win over D-backs sends Cubs back to Wrigley riding wave of momentum


Another win over D-backs sends Cubs back to Wrigley riding wave of momentum

PHOENIX — The wall of sound will keep building and building once Cubs fans get their first Wrigley Field look at this team since last year’s National League Championship Series.

Any disappointment from that four-game sweep by the New York Mets quickly disappeared. It didn’t sting a franchise used to heartbreak because nobody predicted 97 wins — and everyone saw how much talent would be in place for years to come.

After being anointed as a preseason World Series favorite, the Cubs haven’t quite played 4 percent of their 2016 schedule yet, but the early returns make them look as good as advertised.

The Cubs packed up after Sunday’s 7-3 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field and will ride a wave of momentum into a brand-new, state-of-the-art clubhouse and their 101st Wrigley Field home opener.

Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta punctuated a 5-1 road trip where the Cubs had a one-run lead with two outs in the eighth inning of the only game they lost.

After throwing seven scoreless innings against the Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels on Opening Day, Arrieta showed off a different kind of power by crushing a two-run homer off Shelby Miller in the second inning, again showing that this lineup really doesn’t have any breaks.

“Felt like hitting it off the sweet spot on a 7-iron,” Arrieta said.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs should give Kyle Schwarber his moment at Wrigley Field opener]

Within his last 22 regular-season starts, Arrieta has now hit three home runs while allowing only four, according to Comcast SportsNet Chicago stats guru Christopher Kamka.

Arrieta set impossible standards after last year’s breakthrough season and admitted he didn’t have the same stuff to attack the Diamondbacks (2-5) with surgical precision. But he did manage to navigate a dangerous Arizona lineup, giving up three runs on eight hits across seven innings.

Maybe the Cubs will feel the pressure and expectations by September and play tight in October. But this is an extremely loose group that welcomes the hype.

Before the game, David Ross and Anthony Rizzo sung along with the Justin Bieber song (“Love Yourself”) playing on the clubhouse sound system. Hitting consultant Manny Ramirez bounced around the room, playfully tapping one reporter on the shoulder and hugging another. Justin Grimm asked who sang “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” (Whitney Houston) and explained how it would be an awesome walk-up song out of the bullpen.

The only what-if image would be Kyle Schwarber walking to his locker in crutches after suffering season-ending damage to his left knee. The Cubs still outscored the Angels and Diamondbacks, 42-15, combined.

“Relentless at-bats,” manager Joe Maddon said. “There’s nobody giving up anything. It’s bleeding up and down the lineup. It’s really fun to watch that part of it. We’re accepting our walks. We’re seeing a lot of pitches. Everybody’s feeding off the other guy.

“It’s a nice vibe to be riding back home.”

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Jorge Soler — the gifted-but-inconsistent player the Cubs hope will grab the left-field job and run with it — responded by hitting the go-ahead home run off Miller in the sixth inning and driving in an insurance run with a sacrifice fly in the seventh.

“It’s really tough to replace a guy like (Schwarber),” Arrieta said. “But when you have a young guy with the talent that Soler has, it makes you feel pretty good about where you stand.

“That’s what I expect from our guys — top to bottom, we’re going to see contributions from (everyone). All the way up and down our lineup — that’s kind of going to be a theme of our year. We’re going to be a tough team to face — regardless of who you are.”

By late Sunday afternoon, the noise at Chase Field became a mixture of boos and the “Let’s go Cubbies!” chants from the crowd of 33,258. The Cubs will be an attraction everywhere they go this season.

The playing-for-tomorrow Cincinnati Reds have to know it will be cold and loud on Monday night at Clark and Addison, with Jon Lester taking the ball and a booming lineup ready to get the bleachers rocking again.

“It’s going to be an atmosphere that we’ve seen before,” Arrieta said. “We’ve seen some pretty incredible turnouts. Our fans are locked in from the start until the very end. That’s something you don’t see everywhere.

“Everybody’s going to be excited and ready to get after it.”

Cubs fight back after Javy Baez ejection: 'We're not animals'

Cubs fight back after Javy Baez ejection: 'We're not animals'

If baseball wants stars that transcend the game, they need guys like Javy Baez on the field MORE, not less.

That whole debate and baseball's marketing campaign isn't the issue the Cubs took exception with, but it's still a fair point on a nationally-televised Saturday night game between the Cubs and Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

Baez was ejected from the game in the bottom of the fifth inning when he threw his bat and helmet in frustration at home plate umpire Will Little's call that the Cubs second baseman did NOT check his swing and, in fact, went around. 

Baez was initially upset that Little made the call himself instead of deferring to first base umpire Ted Barrett for a better view. But as things escalated, Baez threw his bat and helmet and was promptly thrown out of the game by Little.

"I don't think I said anything to disrespect anything or anyone," Baez said after the Cubs' 6-3 loss. "It was a pretty close call. I only asked for him to check the umpire at first and he didn't say anything.

"I threw my helmet and he just threw me out from there. I mean, no reason. I guess for my helmet, but that doesn't have anything to do with him."

Baez and the Cubs would've rather Little check with the umpire who had a better view down the line, but that wasn't even the main point of contention. It was how quickly Little escalated to ejection.

"We're all human," Baez said. "One way or the other, it was gonna be the wrong [call] for one of the teams.

"My message? We're not animals. Sometimes we ask where was a pitch or if it was a strike and it's not always offending them. I think we can talk things out. But I don't think there was anything there to be ejected."

Upon seeing his second baseman and cleanup hitter ejected in the middle of a 1-0 game against a division rival, Joe Maddon immediately got fired up and in Little's face in a hurry.

Maddon was later ejected, as well, and admitted after the game he was never going to leave the field unless he was tossed for protecting his guy.

"He had no reason to kick him out," Maddon said. "He didn't say anything to him. I mean, I watched the video. If you throw stuff, that's a fine. That's fineable. Fine him. That's what I said — fine him — but you cannot kick him out right there.

"He did nothing to be kicked out of that game. He did throw his stuff, whatever, but he did not say anything derogatory towards the umpire.

"...You don't kick Javy out. If he gets in your face and is obnoxious or belligerent or whatever, but he did not. He turned his back to him. That needs to be addressed, on both ends."

Maddon and the Cubs really want Major League Baseball to get involved in this situation. 

There are many other layers to the issue, including veteran Ben Zobrist having to come into the game as Baez's replacement. Maddon was not keen on using the 37-year-old Zobrist for 1.5 games during Saturday's doubleheader and now feels like he has to rest the veteran Sunday to lessen the wear and tear of a difficult stretch for the team.

There's also the matter of the groundball basehit in the eighth inning that tied the game — a seeing-eye single that just got past Zobrist as he dove to his left. It tied the game at 3 and the Cardinals took the lead for good the following inning.

Does Baez make that same play if he were out there instead of Zobrist? It's certainly possible.

"The dynamic of our defense was lessened by [the ejection]," Maddon said. "Again, listen, if it's deserved, I'm good. It was not. They don't need me out there, we need Javy out there.

"And it surprised me. I stand by what I'm saying. It was inappropriate. MLB needs to say something to us that it was inappropriate because it was and it could've led to the loss of that game."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 37th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 37th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 37th homer of the 1998 season was a big one, an opposite field blast off the front row of fans in right field and into the basket at Wrigley Field.

The eighth-inning 3-run shot gave the Cubs some insurance in a game they ultimately won 9-5 and the Wrigley faithful responded by throwing a bunch of trash on the field.

Earlier in the contest, Sosa tied the game with an RBI single in the fifth inning. He finished with 4 RBI, giving him 93 on the season with more than 2 months left to play.

Fun fact: Vladimir Guerrero was the Expos' No. 3 hitter for this game an dhe also hit a homer (his 20th). Now, Guerrero's son is nearing his MLB debut as a top prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays system.

Fun fact No. 2: Mark Grudzielanek - who later played for the Cubs in 2003-04 - was Montreal's No. 5 hitter for the game at Wrigley. He was traded 10 days later from the Expos to the Los Angeles Dodgers for another fellow Cub - Ted Lilly.