Cubs

Cubs send message in DC: ‘We can play with the big boys’

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Cubs send message in DC: ‘We can play with the big boys’

WASHINGTON – Deep inside Nationals Park, the thumping dance music could be heard on the other side of the clubhouse walls, the Cubs whooping it up with another postgame celebration.

The Cubs sent a message with Sunday’s 6-3 victory over Washington, taking this four-game series from a trendy pick to win the World Series, a franchise using a similar blueprint to build a perennial contender.

“It just validates,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I’ve been saying all along: I know we can play with the big boys in this league. But you got to prove it.”

This road trip, which continues with another big test on Tuesday night in Detroit, has been a microcosm of the season, the Cubs going 1-for-3 against the dysfunctional Miami Marlins before going 3-for-4 against the no-longer-in-first-place Nationals.

[MORE: Baez sidelined with fractured finger]

“We have played less effectively against teams that have been struggling this year,” Maddon said. “We’ve been playing well against teams that are going well. And we got to stop that. We got to play well against everybody.”

The Cubs (30-25) didn’t play a perfect game, but they did beat Jordan Zimmermann, wearing out the Nationals (30-27) with 14 hits. They squeezed five innings out of Kyle Hendricks (2-2, 3.96 ERA) before Maddon started pushing the bullpen buttons.

With Hector Rondon struggling and Pedro Strop unavailable, Jason Motte became the third different Cubs reliever to notch a save during this series. Rondon worked the eighth inning and for now it looks like this team will go without a set closer.

“I wanted him to get less stressful work,” Maddon said. “It’s still a three-run lead and you got three really good hitters coming up, (but) it’s not the mental thought of the ninth inning.

[ALSO: Will Cubs make splash in MLB Draft at No. 9?]

“He did exactly what we talked about. He worked on some things, and he was outstanding.”

Rondon shrugged off the demotion and it looks like there will be plenty of high-leverage moments to go around for a team that’s 15-10 in one-run games. 

“I’ll come into any situation,” Rondon said. “It doesn’t matter.”

The concentration sometimes comes and goes – Starlin Castro made his 13th error – but the Cubs have definitely shown their potential. They swept the first-place New York Mets out of Wrigley Field after a four-game series last month. They have gone 6-4 against the Pittsburgh Pirates – a playoff team two years running – and 2-4 against the last-place Milwaukee Brewers.

“We definitely have that competitive edge,” Hendricks said. “We want to beat the good teams. That’s definitely part of it. But at the same time, we can’t take (teams lightly). All teams in this league (have) major-league hitters and major-league pitchers.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“You got to get up for every game, and I really don’t think we have a problem with that. We come to play every day.”

Maybe some of this can be written off as youth and inexperience, but the Nationals know the Cubs won’t be pushovers anymore.

“It’s hard to explain that – I guess you could say maybe playing to the level of your competition,” said Kris Bryant, who singled, doubled, tripled and walked. “It’s good to beat a team like that.

“They’re going to go deep in the postseason and we sure hope to be there playing against ‘em. But to go out there and put (up four) runs off of a guy like Jordan Zimmermann, it definitely gives us that confidence going forward.”

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.