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Cubs, Marmol: No one better than the great Rivera

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Cubs, Marmol: No one better than the great Rivera

Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011
Posted: 3:57 p.m.

By PatrickMooney
CSNChicago.com CubsInsider Follow @CSNMooney
Carlos Marmol pulled the souvenir from a bag stashed in the back of his locker and yelled out: BAM!

Marmol proudly unfolded the white pinstripe jersey with the interlocking NY on the front. Inside No. 42 on the back, the great Mariano Rivera had written a personalized message in Spanish to the Cubs closer. Roughly translated, it read: God bless.

Marmol met his hero for the first time when the Yankees came to Wrigley Field in June. The autographed jersey will be framed this winter and hang somewhere in his house in the Dominican Republic.

Its another sign of the universal respect given to the 41-year-old man about to break the career record for saves.

He is simply the best, Marmol said. Every closer in the big leagues wants to follow Mariano. No doubt about it.

Rivera remained stuck on No. 601 which is tied with Trevor Hoffman for first all-time after not pitching in Sundays 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays in Toronto. Francisco Cordero began the day second on the active list with 323 saves. Thats the gap between Rivera and everyone else.

Rivera has been around long enough that hes the last player still wearing Jackie Robinsons number, which Major League Baseball retired in 1997. He brings grace and a quiet dignity to a job usually done by hyperactive players with mohawks.

As a young player, Alfonso Soriano had a locker next to Rivera in the Yankee clubhouse. Rivera was one of several veterans who looked after Soriano (which is why hes done the same with Starlin Castro in Chicago). The two would talk often.

Nothing negative, always positive, Soriano said. Hes got passion for the game, because you have to love (it) to be that good for so long. He believes in his pitch and what hes doing.

Rivera has been generous enough to teach Kerry Wood and others how to throw his devastating cutter. As a setup man for Rivera late last season, Wood could sense his presence, the calming influence over his teammates.

There was never any panic over there when the phone rang in the bullpen, Wood said when he returned to the Cubs this year. Everybody was real calm and Im sure Mariano has quite a bit to do with that.

Thats what Marmol is trying to remember during a difficult season in which hes converted only 34 of 43 save opportunities. Hes trying to regain the feel for his slider, his one almost unhittable pitch. He briefly lost his job and has been booed constantly at Wrigley Field.

Youre not perfect, Marmol said. Youre going to blow saves and youre going to go through a good stretch and youre going to have a bad one, too. (But) I understand the fans. Theyve been here a long time (without a) winner. Its tough.

The Yankees first scouted Rivera as a shortstop in Panama, where he once worked as a fisherman. For all his physical gifts it seems like Rivera has not aged at all in this high-stress job Marmol has noticed his mental edge.

The confidence that he has on the mound, Marmol said. You got to watch him.

Rivera has done it on an even bigger stage in New York, without being swallowed up by the citys tabloids.

Cubs manager Mike Quade listens to hard rock, but he cant stand the sound of Metallicas Enter Sandman, the ominous song that blasts through Yankee Stadium when Rivera jogs in from the bullpen.

Quade was an Oakland coach in 2000 and 2001, when Rivera saved five of the six games the Yankees won to eliminate the As from two playoff series. Thats where Rivera has cemented his reputation as a no-doubt, first-ballot Hall of Famer.

When the lights are brightest, Rivera has notched 42 saves and gone 8-1 with a 0.71 ERA in almost 140 postseason innings.

To put this career in perspective, a closer could string together 10 consecutive seasons of 30 saves and still be almost halfway to Riveras mark. Seventeen straight years of 35 saves would still leave him just short of 600.

Rivera has made around 130 million in his career, according to the salary database at Baseball-Reference.com. When you live on the margins of World Series title or total failure, a bulletproof closer is worth every penny.

As soon as Mariano came (in), wed say its game over, Soriano said, because 99 percent of the time we were going to win.

Thats why players become fans and ask Rivera for his autograph.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Adbert Alzolay makes some memories on an otherwise forgettable night for the Cubs

Adbert Alzolay makes some memories on an otherwise forgettable night for the Cubs

The Cubs lost an entirely forgettable game on Tuesday night, dropping the second of their four games against the NL East-leading Braves by a score of 3-2. They left four men on base, only managed four hits, ran into two outs, and made one error in a game that was over well in time for a Clark Street nightcap, or three. 

What was memorable about Tuesday night was the performance of Adbert Alzolay, the Cubs’ top pitching prospect who was making his first major league start. The final line: 4.2 innings pitched, one hit, one run, four walks and four strikeouts. It’s certainly not the prettiest line you’ll see in tomorrow’s box scores, but the 24 year old passed the eye test with flying colors. 

“Everything was good - he was outstanding,” Joe Maddon said after the game. “I just think he hit a well there at the end. We just have to get him more used to that. Listen, he’s been injured in the past, he’s coming back - you’ve got to be real sensitive to the number of pitches and workload you put on him, because you can see how good he’s going to be.”

Things got off to an inauspicious start for Alzolay, whose first pitch of the game was crushed 413 feet into the left field bleachers for a leadoff homer, courtesy of Braves’ outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. It would prove to be the only hit and run that Alzolay allowed on the night. 

“It’s just one pitch,” he said. “You have to keep working - the game continues. I was just starting the game, so if you lose your mind in that situation than you’re not going to last a lot of innings.

“Even after the home run, he came right back and said, ‘I’m fine’,” Maddon added. “Then he went up and got three really good hitters out. I liked the mound demeanor, we’ve just got to get him a little further along in regards to being stretched out.”

After coming out flat with his secondary pitches during his 4-inning relief appearance on June 20th, Alzolay flashed better command and execution of both his curveball and changeup. Half of his strikeouts came on the curveball - one to get left fielder Austin Riley in the 2nd and one to get Acuña in the 3rd. After throwing 13 changeups in his debut, Alzolay double that number on Tuesday (27). 

“I’m feeling really confident throwing the pitch in any count,” Alzolay said of his changeup. “Tonight I threw it a couple times when I was behind in the count and I got a good result after that, so I’ll just keep on throwing it.

“For us to get confident at something, you have to practice, you have to execute it, and you have to use it in the game,” said catcher Willson Contreras, who plated both of the Cubs’ two runs with a double in the 4th. “For him to be able to throw the changeup for a strike, and strikeout people, it’s really good - especially at his age.”

Maddon couldn’t answer when Alzolay would make his next start. With Kyle Hendricks eyeing a return around the All-Star break, there would seemingly be a few more opportunities ahead of the rookie. Given what he showed on Tuesday night, it’d be hard to argue against it.

"He can be really good in the big leagues," Contreras said. "He still needs to make adjustments like all of us, but with the confidence he has, the ability he has, and the way he prepares before the games, it's going to take him a long way."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ryne Sandberg: Part 1

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ryne Sandberg: Part 1

Luke Stuckmeyer sits down with Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg for a wide-ranging conversation centered around the infamous "Sandberg Game."

Ryne gives insight into his feelings upon being traded to the Cubs (2:00), and discusses the reason he ended up with the No. 23 (5:00). Plus, how the 1984 season changed everything and raised his personal expectations sky-high (9:00) and the "Daily Double" dynamic between him and Bob Dernier (16:00).

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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