Cubs

Cubs' roller coaster season continues

Cubs' roller coaster season continues

For all the distractions and potential turning points in their season as defending champions, the Cubs will wake up Saturday morning with a .500 record.

The roller coaster season continues as the Cubs went 7-2 on their last homestand before an 0-6 trip out west and then a 5-0 start to this current homestand.

But with Friday's 5-3 loss to the red-hot Colorado Rockies in front of 41,229 fans at Wrigley Field, the Cubs have now lost three straight and sit at 30-30 overall on the season.

Mike Montgomery finally got his opportunity in the rotation, filling in for the injured Kyle Hendricks and giving up only two runs over four innings, both of which came on a two-run homer by Colorado catcher Ryan Hanigan in the second inning.

Seth Frankoff — the 28-year-old right-hander who was recalled from Triple-A Iowa this week when Hendricks hit the disabled list — made his MLB debut and gave up a two-run shot to Charlie Blackmon in the fifth inning and the Rockies never looked back from there. They added an insurance run in the seventh on Nolan Arenado's two-out RBI hit off Carl Edwards Jr.

Meanwhile, the Cubs offense struggled again, picking up only three hits on the afternoon. 

They scored two runs with two outs in the first inning when Jason Heyward's single was bobbled by Blackmon in center, allowing Ben Zobrist to score from first-base.

But a Heyward RBI ground-out was the only other offense the Cubs could muster up despite nine walks and two hit-by-pitches and the Rockies' starting pitcher (German Marquez) lasting only three innings.

The Cubs threatened in the ninth against Rockies closer Greg Holland for the second straight day, this time by working three walks in a row with one out. But Zobrist popped out to shallow left and Jason Heyward struck out and chucked his bat toward the Cubs dugout in frustration.

"I wish I would've come through in that at-bat right there," Heyward said. "We did a good job against the closer getting the bases loaded. We had a couple shots to get guys in. Wish it would've ended differently.

"You want to have opportunites — we had 'em."

The only three Cubs runs came home on Heyward's at-bats (two RBI plus Blackmon's error fielding Heyward's first-inning hit). Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo combined to reach base seven times, but scored just twice on the afternoon.

The Cubs forced the Rockies to throw 182 pitches, but weren't able to break through with that big hit. 

"We saw 180-something pitches today and scored three runs," Joe Maddon said. "That's nearly impossible with the number of walks, hit batters, etc. That just speaks to we do have to do a better job with hitting with runners on base, runners in scoring position. Make adjustments to move the baseball to the middle and opposite field — been talking about that pretty much for the entire season.

"We made our noise by walking and getting hit by a pitch. At the end of the day, when you see that many pitches — 182 — you should be able to score more than three runs."

Maddon compared this recent three-game losing streak to the Cubs' 0-6 West Coast trip in terms of a punchless offense.

"I can't overemphasize enough — we've seen this happen too often where we've seen a lot of pitches and not made the adjustment with runners in scoring position," Maddon said. "That's the next challenge for us."

Fergie Jenkins adjusts to new normal during what was his signature week of season

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USA TODAY

Fergie Jenkins adjusts to new normal during what was his signature week of season

Fergie Jenkins just got back from Lowe’s.

“They want people to stay inside,” he said. “I went out to get some fuel for my weed whacker.

“There’s still a lot of people shopping.”

The legendary Cubs pitcher spoke by phone from home in Frisco, Texas, late last week, the day after Texas’ stay-at-home order went into effect.

Jenkins, 77, is well aware he’s in the high-risk age range for COVID-19 reaction. So he’s being careful, mostly staying inside, using a lot of hand sanitizer, he said, and taking precautions the few times he goes out.

He picked a hell of a time to move from Scottsdale, Ariz., to his new place just north of Dallas — arriving barely a week ago just as the state of Texas braces for what authorities expect to be a steep rise in coronavirus cases in the coming weeks.

It’s why he needs a few more trips to the hardware store than usual as he tries to settle in, for a lamp, a small appliance or a screwdriver. And why he usually needs to stop at the local Kroger’s grocery while he’s out or to handle another delivery of furniture when he gets back.

“I wash my hands about every 30 minutes,” he said, “with Dial soap and dry off with a paper towel. And I have Lysol spray. When I make a sandwich, I spray down the kitchen counters, and I spray the doorknobs, everything.”

If there’s a small silver lining in the moment for Jenkins, who expected to be spending last week in Chicago for the Cubs’ home opener, it might be that his focus on the move and on staying safe has distracted him from the closed ballparks during a time on the baseball calendar that was once his signature week throughout a 19-year Hall of Fame career.

Only nine pitchers in history have made more Opening Day starts than his 11 — including a franchise-record seven for the Cubs.

RELATED: Ranking Cubs' legend Fergie Jenkins' 11 career Opening Day starts

His last Opening Day start was 37 years ago today in his final season; his best, 49 years ago today when he pitched 10 innings to beat Bob Gibson 2-1 at Wrigley Field on a walk-off home run by Billy Williams.

“That was the fun part of it,” said Jenkins, whose Hall of Fame opponents in openers also included Jim Palmer, Steve Carlton, Jim Bunning, Dennis Eckersley and Bert Blyleven. “Just to tell yourself after all the hard work you did in spring training that if I’m not ready to compete today, I’m going to lose.”

He almost always was ready — his 2.58 career ERA on Opening Day compared to 3.35 the rest of the year attesting to that much.

The one he remembers most fondly is the first, in 1967, against the Phillies — his original team — at Wrigley Field with his parents in attendance.

“My mother had glaucoma and had never seen me pitch. She listened to games on a transistor radio. My dad had watched me pitch other ballgames in relief,” he said. “And just the fact that Leo [Durocher] gave me that opportunity in 1967…”

He pitched a complete game and beat Bunning 4-2.

A half century later, he finds himself opening boxes instead of seasons and wondering like the rest of us when the world — including sports — will find a semblance of normalcy again.

Jenkins, an ambassador with the Cubs, was in camp during spring training until Major League Baseball shut things down in mid-March and delayed the start of the season.

A year after losing his wife following a long series of health issues, he bought his new place in Texas at the end of last year, but he didn’t make the long drive from Scottsdale for the move until a couple of weeks ago.

“It’s been an experience. A little different,” he said. “I’m just doing things one day at a time.”

That means making use of his Weber grill, considering making use of his new bike in the new neighborhood and continuing his Cameo side gig on Twitter — which he used to help raise money for suddenly displaced game day workers at Sloan Park in Mesa after the shutdown last month.

“The world’s going through a crisis, and sports is the last thing on people’s minds right now,” Jenkins said. “When we had 9/11, especially in New York, they thought by playing baseball it would help give people something to think about besides what had just happened on 9/11.

“This is totally different.”

Ongoing. Uncertain. Spreading.

“It’s scaring people,” he said. 

“Sure, I miss the sport. I especially miss seeing hockey and basketball,” added the Canada native and one-time Harlem Globetrotter.

“Now it’s all changed. Now you turn the news on and see how many [new cases and media briefings] we’re having. And the president trying to do this and that. The world’s changed, and not for the good. Even beyond this [crisis].”

Jenkins said he’s confident baseball will be played this season, whether a 100-game season or 80, mostly based on a faith in medical science to provide at least more definition, if not reliable treatment for the virus.

A return in June? July? “Who knows?” he said.

What he might know as well as anyone, however, is the collective attention span and endurance level of a group of ballplayers during a lengthy shutdown.

As Cubs and other big-league players use Twitter and Instagram to show how they’re individually working out during shelter-in-place practices, Jenkins recalls how he and Texas Ranger teammates handled the longest single-season shutdown in major league history.

The Rangers were 33-22 and 1 1/2 games out of first place in the American League West when players began a two-month strike in June of 1981.

“Maybe 15 guys stayed around,” Jenkins said, rattling off the names of teammates such as Jim Kern, Doc Medich, Buddy Bell and Jim Sundberg.

They procured about six dozen balls from the team, Jenkins said, and then went to local parks to throw, run, take infield and take batting practice.

“Just a regular park,” he said. “Everybody would phone each other every day: ‘You coming to the park?’ … ’You coming to the park?’ “

After a day of workouts, they would head somewhere for an early dinner and talk about the latest strike news, he said.

“After about 40 days guys got sick and tired. It got to the point where guys were getting bored,” he said. “Then only a half-dozen guys were showing up. It just petered out.”

It would be another three weeks at that point before the 1981 season restarted.

If that experience is indicative of anything, it might simply underscore the need for at least three or four weeks of a second “spring training” once a start date is determined — if not suggest a reminder for how much of a gift any baseball at all this year might be.

As Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said the week after the shutdown: "If there’s not [a season], then obviously our world’s not in a good spot. This is bigger than baseball.”

Until then, Jenkins has a grill and a weed whacker to fire up. And Lysol to spray.

“I’m going to stay busy,” he said, mentioning some bass fishing he’d like to do once the stay-at-home order is lifted.

So he'll do his best to stay safe and well, he said.

“People are taking it to heart now, what’s going on. A lot of people are losing their lives. And now it’s the younger people,” he said. “It teaches you a lesson. They tell you what to do: Just do it.”

After all, this is a guy with a lot more Opening Days in mind — including this one.

“If they get everything settled, I’ll be back,” he said of joining the crew of Cubs Hall of Famers who were scheduled for the opening festivities, including Williams, Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg and Lee Smith.

“Hopefully, we’re all there,” Jenkins said, then laughed a little. “If we’re all still kicking.”

Ranking Cubs' legend Fergie Jenkins' 11 career Opening Day starts

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Ranking Cubs' legend Fergie Jenkins' 11 career Opening Day starts

Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins is tied for 10th all-time with 11 Opening Day starts for three teams, including a franchise-record seven for the Cubs (two each with the Rangers and Red Sox). He compiled a 2.58 ERA on Opening Day (compared to 3.35 the rest of the year).

Monday marks the anniversary of three of those starts, including his best one, and his last one. He faced six other future Hall of Famers along the way in those openers. Ranking those 11 starts:

Ranking Fergie Jenkins' 11 career Opening Day starts

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