Cubs

Kris Bryant powers Cubs past Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

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Kris Bryant powers Cubs past Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

If Kris Bryant is still playing fantasy baseball, he might want to sit pitchers the night he faces them.

The Cubs slugger formed another "notch on his belt" with his first multi-homer game in the big leagues, including a two-run shot off Clayton Kershaw as the Cubs took down the reigning Cy Young winner with a 4-2 victory Monday night in front of 35,147 fans at Wrigley Field.

"It's kind of surreal," Bryant said. "I'm facing guys that were on my fantasy baseball team growing up."

Bryant's home run was also the first off a Kershaw curveball this season. The rookie waited back and went with the two-strike offering for his first career opposite-field blast.

"I was hoping I'd get a curveball, especially with the wind blowing out," Bryant said. "I just tried to put it in the air. I got one, and I did what I was supposed to do.

"(Kershaw is) the best pitcher in the game. I just got a good pitch to hit."

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Kershaw came out of the game after seven innings, and he might have been rattled a bit after a wacky occurrence in the sixth inning. The lights at Wrigley Field went out momentarily, and even when they came back on, several bulbs were out in some lighting docks.

That prompted Cubs manager Joe Maddon to come out of the dugout, and the game was delayed for almost 15 minutes as Maddon stated his case to the umpiring crew.

The game resumed even though all the lights had not come back on yet. But not before Maddon and the Cubs filed an official complaint.

"I didn't like the idea that we had to play against a guy that's really, really, really, really, really, really, really good," Maddon said. "You gotta see spin, you've gotta be able to read everything. I did not like the fact that we had to go out and play without all the lights on.

"Just be a little bit more patient and wait for the lights — that was my argument. I just thought it was inappropriate and I made my case.

"Originally, they said I could not protest, then we kept banging on it, because you can't protest a judgment call. In my opinion, that's not a judgment call. That's not in the book that the umpire can decide whether the lights are good enough or not. That was my contention."

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Kershaw exchanged a few calm words with Maddon at the beginning of the delay, and as the down time wore on, the Dodgers ace started to stalk around the grass between the pitcher's mound and home plate.

He then warmed back up, only to be shut down again when Maddon came back out to file a protest. That led Kershaw into a little argument with the umpires.

"I have no idea (what Kershaw was arguing about)," Maddon said. "Probably that he had to stand out there for at least 15 minutes. I would have argued, too."

Maddon's filibuster worked, as Kershaw surrendered a home run to Matt Szczur — who was just called back up Monday — that gave the Cubs what proved to be a vital insurance run.

Bryant added a solo shot in the eighth inning, a rocket to the left-field seats off Dodgers reliever Adam Liberatore. The Cubs put a live shot of Bryant in the dugout on the video board in left field, and the fans got on their feet for a curtain call.

"That's another first, too," Bryant said. "That was pretty cool to get that reception."

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Bryant has always seemed to keep his even-keeled demeanor no matter what happens. Shrugging his shoulders and showing off his "aw shucks" smile is as much as he'd let himself outwardly celebrate his big night.

"I love the way he approaches the day, man," Maddon said. "You see he hits the home run, they force him to go out for the curtain call, but he comes back in, gives you a nice high five like, 'I'm gonna do this again.' I really like the way he handles all that."

Bryant had actually been struggling coming into the game, in the middle of an 0-for-14 stretch that saw him go hitless during the three-game series in Minnesota. Before Monday, he had hit just one home run in the last 22 games, and that longball came off a position player in the 17-0 blowout in Cleveland on Wednesday.

"It's a game of peaks and valleys, and I was on a valley," Bryant said. "I just went into the game telling myself I'm due and I'm due for a big game. And I got it.

"You just always gotta think that way in this game. It's crazy. It's so easy to get down on yourself. But those are the types of runs that make you the type of player you're going to be. I'm glad I came out of it tonight."

Maddon said guys like Bryant "always get clumpy with homers," and the Cubs manager hopes the rookie is on another one of those hot stretches, like when Bryant hit seven homers in 17 games in May.

"I have so much faith in him," Maddon said. "When a guy that good goes through a drought like that, it takes one. The home run he hit in Cleveland was against a position player, but I still was good with that. Because he felt it again, he felt the swing path and hit the ball to dead center field.

"He's going to continue to ascend. There's no doubt in my mind."

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

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USA TODAY

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

A few weeks after the we (the Cubs) were eliminated from the 2003 playoffs, I got a phone call from my college professor. Since it was officially the off-season, I was in the early stages of a break from following a pocket schedule to tell me where to be every day for nearly eight months.

But this was a man I could not refuse. I chose my college major to go into his field of transportation engineering and he was calling because he needed a teaching assistant to accompany him on his trip to South Africa.

One minute I could barely move off of my couch in my Chicago apartment after losing Game 7 against the Marlins. The next minute, I would be standing within miles of the Southern most point in Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. Why not? I needed the distraction so I agreed to go.

The offseason is its own transition. Leaving the regimen of routine, of batting practice and bus times, to an open ended world that you have to re-learn again. When I finished my first full major league season in 1997, I lived in Streeterville at the Navy Pier Apartments.

That offseason, I decided to stay an extra month in Chicago only to wake up panicked for the first two weeks because I thought I was missing stretch time for a home day game. A major league schedule becomes etched in your DNA after a while.

It is also a time that you get to reflect. The regular season does not give you a moment to really get perspective on what was just accomplished, what it all means, what you would change. I always joked about the T-shirt I wanted to a sell that listed all of the things a major league player figures out during the off-season. From the perfect swing to the ex-girlfriend you need to un-break-up with next week.

It all becomes so clear when a 96 MPH fastball isn’t coming at you.

For years, I would arrange a training program to follow, but I quickly learned that I had to mix it up. There was only so much repetition I could stand in the off-season. So some years, I moved to the site of spring training and worked out early with the staff, other years I found a spot at home where I grew up or wherever I played during the season, to train.

I was single when I played, but now with a family, I have a better understanding of the challenges my teammates would express as they were re-engaging as a daily father again after this long absentee existence.

To keep it fresh and spicy, when I got older in the game, I enrolled in a dance studio and took a winter of dance lessons. Salsa, Foxtrot, Rumba, you name it. On Thursdays we had to dance for an hour straight, changing partners in the room every song change. Dancing with the Stars had nothing on me.

Of course, not every offseason is fun and games. There were years when I wasn’t sure I would have a job the next year, or I was in the throes of a trade rumor. In 1997, I was traded from the Cubs to the Phillies two days before Christmas. In 2002, my father passed away on the last game of the season, leading the offseason to be a time of mourning.

By my final season in 2005, I thought I was officially on my couch forever. I was going to fade away into oblivion like many players do. No fanfare, the phone just would stop ringing and I would just let the silence wash over me. The Yankees had called earlier in that off-season, acting like they were doing me a favor which I turned down, then they called back later with a more open tone, seeing me as a potential key piece in their outfield with Bernie Williams slowing down quite a bit at that point.

I did get off that couch for that call, only to get released the last week of camp, so I was back on the couch, with a fiancé and some extra salt in the wounds after that final meeting with Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, who boxed me into the coaches office to tell me I was released. Released? Come on. Never had that happen before.

The Cubs players will go through all of this if they have the good fortune of playing a long time. The wave of uncertainty, the meaning of age in this game spares no one. Each offseason is a time to reset, a period where you get away, seemingly adrift from the game, then as spring gets closer, the shoreline comes up in the horizon once again, magnetically drawing you to its shores for another season.

Amazingly, you don’t always know your age and what it has done to your body. 34 can’t be that old, right? I can still run, or throw 95. Then those 23-year-olds in camp are the wake up call, or maybe you are that 23-year-old and can’t believe your locker is next to Ryne Sandberg’s.

Then you blink, and you are advising Jimmy Rollins about etiquette and realize you have become that guy, the seasoned vet, preaching about locker room respect.

For the 2018 Cubs, they fell short of their goal to repeat their 2016 magic. Failed to meet their singular destination that meant success over all else. Yet, those who come back for 2019, will not be the same player, the same person, that left the locker room at the close this season. They will have grown, changed, aged, wizened up, rehabbed, hardened. All of which means that new perspective is the inevitable part of this time off, whether you like it or not.

Baseball is a game that has this unique dynamic. The highest intensity rhythm of any sport. Every day you are tested. You are pushed to the brink by sheer attrition. According to my teammate Ed Smith, who was playing third base at the time when Michael Jordan reached third, Jordan, after playing well over 100 games in a row, said to him “Man, I have never been this tired in my entire life.”

The grind.

Then it stops on a dime. Season over. Only on baseball’s terms.

But you may be granted another spring. Another crack at it. Until one day, the baseball winter never ends and its time for you to plant your own spring.

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.