Bears

Even after Pujols, Cardinals still running like a machine

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Even after Pujols, Cardinals still running like a machine

ST. LOUIS After Paul Maholm gave up a bomb to Albert Pujols in spring training, he joked that there was a reason why no American League West teams were on his wish list as a free agent.

The Cubs werent in the market for a megadeal last winter. They bought low on guys like Maholm, a veteran left-hander who had spent his entire career in the Pirates organization.

The plan was to collect enough starting pitchers so that the 2012 Cubs could have a chance every night, while Theo Epsteins front office built the infrastructure for a perennial contender.

With Sundays 10-3 loss at Busch Stadium, the Cubs are 3-7 after two turns through the rotation. Pujols wasnt here for the banner raising or ring ceremony over the weekend, part of a power play by the Angels to gain ground in Southern California.

But its clear that the Cardinals are still running like a machine, even with a first-year manager (Mike Matheny) replacing a legend (Tony La Russa).

Maholm didnt have to face Pujols whos 22-for-39 (.564) for his career against the left-hander or World Series heroes Lance Berkman and David Freese, who both sat out on Sunday.

Instead, Maholm watched Yadier Molina hammer a 3-2 pitch 359 feet beyond the wall in left for a three-run homer that made it 6-0 in the third inning. The Cubs dont have the lineup to win those high-scoring games often.

Maholm hit two batters, walked another and gave up six runs in four innings, running his ERA to 13.50.

Yeah, obviously, Id much rather be 2-0 with a zero right now, Maholm said. But thats not how it is. Im going to learn from it.

Its a long season. Im going to get it going. And all these guys in here are busting it and expecting to win and thats how were going to do it.

Or, as manager Dale Sveum said, It wasnt real pretty again.

Maholm will make 4.25 million this season (the Cubs hold an option for 2013). He hasnt won a game since July 10 of last season, when he beat the Cubs (a streak skewed in part because he was shut down with a shoulder issue).

The Cubs took a game on Friday against Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals ace still recovering from Tommy John surgery, but were outscored 15-4 the next two games in front of sellout crowds.

Its such a great baseball atmosphere, said Cubs utility man Joe Mather, who came up through the Cardinals system. You cant deny that, no matter what team youre on. Even once the games over, you go try to get some food and theres red everywhere.

Coming into St. Louis, where were not fan favorites, its always nice to come in and play close games. I think were probably just a little more disappointed we arent playing as competitive a game as we think we can.

The Cardinals (7-3) didnt have a problem with the back end of the Cubs rotation Maholm or Chris Volstad and they exposed the gap in the National League Central.

We just got to do things a little bit better, Sveum said. We got to make our pitches when we have to and stay away from slugging percentage. We didnt do that too well in this series. Even though they didnt hit a lot of home runs, there were a lot of doubles and triples with guys on base.

Even without Pujols, the World Series champs are going to defend their title.

Under Center Podcast: Saying bye to Elliott Fry

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: Saying bye to Elliott Fry

On this episode of the Under Center Podcast, J.J. Stankevitz is joined by John "Moon" Mullin. To start, Moon takes a moment to remember Cedric Benson, who died in a motorcycle accident on Saturday night (00:30). Then, the guys discuss the Bears' surprise announcement that they released Elliott Fry, leaving Eddy Pineiro as the only kicker on the roster (05:40).

The guys toss to highlights from Matt Nagy's press conference on Sunday morning where he explains why the Bears decided to cut Fry now, how they think the move will help Pineiro and whether the competition is officially closed (07:55).

Finally, J.J. explains why the end of the kicking competition was just like the end of the Bachelorette (12:10), and which kickers on other teams the Bears may still have their eyes on in the upcoming preseason games (16:40).

Listen to the entire episode here or in the embedded player below.

Under Center Podcast

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Death of former Bears RB Cedric Benson a blow – and a reminder

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AP Images

Death of former Bears RB Cedric Benson a blow – and a reminder

Getting the news that Cedric Benson had died last night in a motorcycle accident was a blow on Sunday. The former Bears running back and a passenger were killed when the bike they were riding collided with a minivan in Austin, Tex. As former Bears defensive end and Benson teammate Adewale Ogunleye tweeted Sunday, “What the hell is going on? The Bad news wont stop.”

Personally, this sort of thing hits hard. The passing of receivers coach Darryl Drake last week, former 1994 first-rounder John Thierry dying last November – of a heart attack at age 46 – Rashaan Salaam committing suicide in December 2016, and now Ced. That’s too many good dying young.

And yet even as the Benson news was sinking in, Bears beat colleague Rich Campbell over at the Tribune was celebrating the birth of his daughter. Not sure why that seems so striking, maybe just something about the circle of life, or just how there’s a spot of sunshine somewhere. 

As in so many of these things, the Ced death sparks memories, and in this case, good ones. Which may seem a bit unlikely, since Ced was one of the least popular Bears during his three (2005-2007) years after the organization made him the fourth-overall pick of that 2005 draft.

But things are not always as they seem.

Benson went through a 36-day holdout before reporting to the team, missing just about all of the 2005 training camp and preseason. When he arrived, the locker room seemed pretty set against him, for various reasons:

He was drafted as the replacement for Thomas Jones, the very popular tailback who’d been signed in the 2004 offseason but who failed to impress in the first year of a four-year, $10 million contract. He and Jones did not get along, coming to blows in one practice, and teammates were clearly Jones supporters.

But Jones had zero 1,000-yard years over his first five seasons; beginning with ’05 and the arrival of Benson, he went on a run of five straight seasons of no fewer than 1,100 yards, two with the Bears followed by three with the New York Jets after he engineered a trade to get out of Chicago.

And Ced was just…different. But to this reporter, different in good ways. He was very thoughtful; more than a few times, he’d have a question posed to him, then take an unusually long time before answering. But he was simply a thoughtful guy.

Case in point: I did a lunchtime sit-down with Ced outside the Olivet Nazarene mess hall during the 2006 training camp in Bourbonnais. To one of my questions, Ced said, “Hmm, that’s an interesting question. Let me get back to you about that one.”

Much later that afternoon, after a brutal, full-pad practice, I was walking away from the fields. Ced came running over, still in pads. “Hey,” he said. “I was thinking about what what we were talking about… .” And he had. And he also was honest about getting back to me. Yeah, I liked the guy.

The Bears let him go after a disappointing 2007 season and he caught on with the Cincinnati Bengals the next year. In 2009 the Bears went to Cincinnati and were annihilated 45-10, putting 215 rushing yards on a very good Bears defense and Benson accounting for 189 of those yards.

Afterwards I was able catch Ced before he left, and I was stunned to see how good he looked physically. He laughed at my surprise, then talked a long time about how he’d discovered a severe gluten intolerance. With that fixed, his complexion cleared up and he wasn’t dealing with the intestinal issues that any gluten-challenged fan out there knows too well. Anyhow, it was great to see a young man moving on to some sort of career, which included that year and the next two with more than 1,000 yards.

That it didn’t happen for him in Chicago was always a little puzzling. He was a phenomenal athlete, good enough to be drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers as an outfielder and play in their summer league.

He was a very, very emotional guy; at Halas Hall Sunday it was recalled how he’d cried during his conference call with the media following his drafting by the Bears. And he had his problem situations off the field, and he was waived in the 2008 offseason after a couple of arrests involving suspected alcohol abuse.

Those are probably the things too many people will remember about Ced. Too bad. There was much more to the young man. And as was said before, things — and people — are not always everything they seem to be. Under that heading I’d include Thomas Jones’ tweet on Sunday. From a supposed “enemy:”

“Woke up to the horrible news of Cedric Benson's passing,” Jones said. “My heart aches for him and his family. Sending love, peace and blessings their way. Gone way too soon my brother. Rest well young King. You will truly be missed…. “