Cubs

Cards make it another frustrating night for Cubs, Jon Lester

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Cards make it another frustrating night for Cubs, Jon Lester

Jon Lester broke an 0-for-66 streak for his first big-league hit — and took a no-hitter into the seventh inning — and still wound up screaming and cursing at himself while walking off the mound.   

The St. Louis Cardinals will do that to you.

The Lester signing is supposed to help change the culture around the Cubs — and eventually reset this lopsided rivalry with the Cardinals — because the big-game lefty beat St. Louis twice in the 2013 World Series and won two championship rings with the Boston Red Sox.    

But Monday night’s 6-0 loss at Wrigley Field had a familiar feeling and a seen-that-before ending. The Cubs have now won only two of their 10 games against the Cardinals this season, falling to 9.5 games back in the National League Central.

“Worthless” is how Lester described that infield single off John Lackey when a reporter tried to toss him a softball to begin his postgame news conference. 

Lester threw a no-hitter with the Red Sox in 2008, but this chance to make history vanished with one out in the seventh inning. Jhonny Peralta smashed a ball that bounced off Kris Bryant’s left arm as the third baseman tried to make a backhanded play. It rolled away for an infield single.

Two pitches later, Bryant — who found out that he made the National League All-Star team a little more than an hour before the game — made a wild throw to second base on a potential double play.

[MORE: Cubs: All-Star future is now for Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant]       

The Cardinals (54-28) are the best team in baseball because they capitalize on mistakes like that. Yadier Molina’s sacrifice fly and Kolten Wong’s RBI single quickly made it 2-0.

“They’re a veteran team,” Lester said. “They do everything right. They make the plays when they’re in front of them. They have timely hitting. They understand it takes nine innings to win a baseball game.

“We’re close. We got a bunch of young guys that are just trying to — I don’t want to say survive — because they’re beyond that point. They’re too good to survive. They’re here for a long time.

“But when you’re used to winning, you understand how to win. And that will take some time here.”

It got ugly after a rain delay that lasted one hour and 16 minutes in the middle of the eighth inning — and Edwin Jackson’s four-run ninth. But Lester left a 2-0 game after only giving up those two hits while throwing to Miguel Montero with personal catcher David Ross (concussion) on the disabled list.

After 81 games, the Cubs are 44-37 and in a wild-card position, even without Lester coming close to adding a fourth All-Star selection to his resume.  

Halfway through the first season of a six-year, $155 megadeal, Lester just about delivered what the Cubs should have reasonably expected: 3.48 ERA, 101 strikeouts through 103.1 innings and a no-nonsense attitude in the clubhouse.

But Lester also has a losing record (4-7) and dramatically different month-to-month splits: bad April (6.23 ERA); good May (1.76 ERA); bad June (5.74 ERA); and what the Cubs hope will be a lights-out second half (zero earned runs in two July starts).

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“You judge a starting pitcher on wins and losses,” Lester said, “and I’m not doing my job right now. Hopefully, that evens out at the end of the year.”

When the Cubs made their face-to-face recruiting pitch to Lester last November, they showed what his .000 average would look like on the video board at a renovated Wrigley Field.

Lester finally notched his first hit in the majors with a line drive that ricocheted off Lackey’s leg for an infield single in the second inning. Lester and Lackey are good friends from their time together in Boston.

The crowd of 37,609 loudly cheered Lester, who stood at first base and showed his sense of humor by pointing to the sky with both index fingers.

“Just kind of making light of it,” Lester said. “I know ‘Lack.’ I’ve played a long time with him. We had some bets going into the game and all that — a little trash talking involved. It’s been a long time coming. It’s nice, but at the same time, it’s something that you can’t really enjoy right now.

“You lose the game, it really doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, we lost the game, so that’s the storyline.”   

 

Nationals fans sent Kyle Schwarber from hero to villain in monumentally entertaining Home Run Derby

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USA TODAY

Nationals fans sent Kyle Schwarber from hero to villain in monumentally entertaining Home Run Derby

WASHINGTON, D.C. — How could someone like Kyle Schwarber play the villain?

The fan favorite who’s always quick with a smile — or an Uncle Sam costume on the Fourth of July — Schwarber doesn’t fit the mold of a loathsome target of boos. But he made quite the heel turn in the minds of Washington Nationals fans Monday night, and of course he knew it was coming.

Schwarber went from getting cheered by the legions in attendance at the Home Run Derby to getting booed when he took on, and eventually lost to, hometown hero Bryce Harper in the final round.

“I was down in the tunnel saying, ‘If we get to the finals, Harp, they’re all going to be against me. I think they’re all going to be against me,’” Schwarber said Monday night. “And then I went out there and got booed after they all got pumped up for me. That’s just the beauty of it, and I was happy for Bryce that he won it in front of the home crowd.”

Harper delivered an incredibly memorable baseball moment Monday night, catching up to Schwarber’s 18 home runs with a ridiculous display of repetitive power to win a Home Run Derby for the ages. The format of this event, revamped a couple years ago, made for a dramatic and hugely entertaining evening. Harper smacked nine homers over the final 47 seconds of the final round to tie Schwarber, then bested him in bonus time. Unsurprisingly, the home crowd was going ballistic for their boy.

But earlier in the night, it was Schwarber getting all the cheers, when he made his own last-second comeback to beat Philadelphia Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins in the second round. Schwarber was pumping up the crowd, pumping his fists and screaming while putting on a show of his own to catch and pass Hoskins' 20 home runs and advance to the finals.

How quickly the locals forgot.

By the finals — during which Schwarber looked understandably exhausted — the crowd had turned on him, trying to get every advantage for Harper.

“As soon as I got done with that round, I told myself that he had it,” Schwarber said. “I knew that he had the home crowd behind him, and I knew that he was a very prolific power hitter with a great swing. For him to come in and do that and started getting down to the wire, all of a sudden he started racking them up one at a time. You kind of just accept your fate there.”

Perhaps the night could’ve ended differently for Schwarber had he listened more closely to the advice of his teammates, Javy Baez and Willson Contreras, who were quick with Gatorade, a towel and words of encouragement on Monday. Baez hit 16 home runs in his own first-round appearance, though Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Max Muncy knocked him out.

“I was just telling him to slow down,” Baez said. “He was kind of rushing a little bit, that’s why he was jumping to the ball.”

“They were actually giving me really good advice that I didn’t take because I was really dumb-headed,” Schwarber said. “‘Make sure you take some pitches and get the pitch that you want.’ At the end, I felt like I was swinging at everything. I was just running out of gas. I felt like I had to put up as many swings just to try to put a couple out.”

Schwarber was totally content with losing out to Harper’s home-field advantage. Though as his homers flew out deep into the right-field seats Monday night, you couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if Schwarber was instead taking aim at Sheffield Avenue and getting his own home-field advantage from Cubs fans.

The North Side hasn’t played host to the All-Star Game since 1990, so perhaps Schwarber will still be slugging the next time the Friendly Confines are the site of the Home Run Derby.

“That’d be really cool one day if the All-Star Game’s at Wrigley,” Schwarber said, “and to participate in the Derby, that’d be fun.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 36th homer in 1998

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AP

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 36th 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 went down and golfed a pitch out for his 36th homer on July 17, 1998. He smacked Marlins reliever Kirt Ojala's (who??) pitch just over the wall in center field at Pro Player Stadium for a 2-run shot that closed out the Cubs' scoring in a 6-1 victory.

 

The blast accounted for Sosa's 88th and 89th of the season. By comparison, Javy Baez currently leads the Cubs (and the National League) with 72 RBI on July 17, 2018.

 

Steve Trachsel tossed a complete game for the Cubs in the victory that day and Sosa finished with the only extra-base hits for either team (he also had a double).

 

Fun fact: Former Cub Ryan Dempster started the game for the Marlins, but lasted just 4.1 innings to run his season record to 1-4 with a 6.70 ERA.