Cubs

Fire seeking consistency heading into Columbus

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Fire seeking consistency heading into Columbus

The Fires record (5-3-3) isnt bad, but the club has been inconsistent in the first third of the Major League Soccer season.

While the Fire are coming off a 2-1 home win over FC Dallas, Saturdays road match against the Columbus Crew would be a good place for consistency to kick in. The Fire are fourth and the Crew (4-4-3) fifth in the Eastern Conference so this amounts to an early-season meeting of teams on the playoff bubble, and a Crew victory will pull Columbus into a tie with the Fire with 18 points. This will also be the first match in Fire history carried on NBC5, and the club is paying for 10 busloads (600 fans) to attend the game.

The Fires visit to Columbus last season was encouraging. A late goal by the now-departed Christian Nazarit gave the Fire a 1-0 victory, and it was also Frank Klopas first win as the clubs interim head coach. The Fire, of course, played well after that and Klopas interim tag was dropped by owner Andrew Hauptman in the offseason.

Wednesdays home win over FC Dallas was encouraging as well. It marked the first time the Fire could beat FC Dallas at Toyota Park. FC Dallas was 5-0-1 there until goals by Marco Pappa and Sebastian Grazzini and a big save by goalkeeper Sean Johnson finally enabled the Fire to break that strange hex.

That win could also mean the Fire finally won the Brimstone Cup, which is symbolic of the superiority of one club over the other each season. It has become a silly competition anyway. The Cup rivalry was established when FC Dallas was known as the Dallas Burn, meaning the Fire would meet the Burn. Cute, eh?

The rivalry never was given much more meaning than any other regular season MLS match by either team, and when the Burn was no longer part of the equation the whole rivalry aspect diminished still further. Still, the Dallas franchise held possession of the Brimstone Cup every year since 2001, but Wednesdays match was their only MLS matchup of this season.

Rivalry or not, the win was big as far as Klopas was concerned.

"It was just a huge win. We scored from behind again, which shows a lot of character for this group," he said.

Once again the Fire gave up the games first goal. Then Grazzini tied it before halftime with what Klopas described as "fantastic.a world-class goal." Marco Pappa got the game-winner in the second half and Johnsons save on a penalty kick was also critical to the Fire rebounding from a 2-1 road loss to the lowly Portland Timbers on Sunday.

"Its sometimes difficult with road trips," said Klopas. "We came back from Portland, and we had a great response from the group."

The Crew is coming into this match unbeaten (2-0-2) in March, and a 2-0 road win over the Seattle Sounders in Columbus' last outing was especially impressive.

This road trip to Columbus wont be as long mileage-wise for the Fire, but itll lead into another important match Tuesdays first in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The Fire will face a minor league club, the Michigan Bucks, on Tuesday at Pontiac, Mich. The Open Cup is more important to the Fire than it is to many MLS clubs. The team has won it four times and fell 2-0 in Seattle in last years final.

On the injury front the Fire came through the Dallas match relatively unscathed and striker Chris Rolfe resumed training with the full squad after nursing a sprained left ankle. Whether hell be available against the Crew, however, is still yet to be determined.

The Fire will lose Pappa for the Open Cup match. Hell be with Guatemalas national team for a match against Costa Rica in Guatemala City.

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

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USA Today

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Joe Maddon needed Mike Montgomery to get through at least six innings given the circumstances presenting the Cubs' manager before Game 2 of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Not only were the Cubs short a man in the bullpen (thanks to Brandon Morrow’s pants-related back injury), but Maddon had to use four relievers — including Pedro Strop for two innings — after Tyler Chatwood managed only five innings in Game 1 earlier in the afternoon. 

So when Montgomery — who had only thrown over 100 pitches once in the last two and a half seasons before Tuesday — saw his pitch count sit at 40 after two innings, and then 63 after three, he knew he needed to regroup to avoid creating a mess for the Cubs’ bullpen. 

What followed was a start that, statistically, wasn’t the most impressive of the five Montgomery’s made since re-joining the Cubs’ rotation earlier this year. But it was an important start in that the 28-year-old left-hander didn’t have his best stuff, yet didn’t give in to a good Dodgers lineup. And holding that bunch to one run over six innings was exactly what the Cubs needed in what turned out to be a 2-1 extra-inning win. 

“Especially when you don’t have have your best stuff, you always gotta — that’s when you really learn how to pitch,” Montgomery said. 

It’s also the kind of start that could be a major point in Montgomery’s favor when Maddon is presented with a decision to make on his starting rotation whenever Yu Darvish comes off the disabled list. Knowing that Montgomery can grind his way through six innings when his team needs it the most without his best stuff only can add to the confidence the Cubs have in him. 

Montgomery didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, issuing more walks (four) than he had in his previous four starts (three). He threw 48 pitches between the second and third innings, and only 25 of those pitches were strikes. Of the nine times the Dodgers reached base against Montgomery, six were the result of fastballs either leading to a walk or a hit. 

Even though the Dodgers were able to bother Montgomery a bit on his fastball, Maddon said that’s the pitch of his that’s impressed him the most over the last few weeks. 

“He never got rushed,” Maddon said. “In the past he would seem to get rushed when things weren’t going well, when he spot-started. Overall, fastball command is better — even though he was off a little bit tonight, the fastball command still exceeds what I’ve seen in the past couple of years on a more consistent basis. The changeup, really, good pitch. He got out of some jams but I think the fact that he knows where his fastball is going now is the difference-maker for him.”

Darvish will throw a simulated game on Wednesday after throwing two bullpen sessions last week. Maddon still doesn’t have a timetable for the $126 million right-hander’s return, and said he’s not entertaining what to do with his rotation until Darvish comes off the disabled list. But Maddon did mention Montgomery’s relative lack of an innings load — the most he’s thrown in a season in 130 2/3, which he did in 2017 — as a reason to perhaps not rush him into a permanent starting role the rest of the season. Going to a six-man rotation is a possibility, too, Maddon said. 

But the over-arching point is this: Montgomery will remain in the Cubs’ rotation as long as he keeps earning it. That can be the product of strong outings in which he has good stuff, or games like Tuesday in which he shows the Cubs the kind of resiliency most starters need to get through a full season. 

“I pitch well, good things happen,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always thought that. Opportunities, you just gotta make the most of them.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers 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.

For the second time in 1998, Sosa went back-to-back games with multiple home runs. After going yard twice on June 19 of that season, Slammin' Sammy again sent two balls into the bleachers on June 20.

He singlehandedly beat the Phillies that night, driving in 5 runs in a 9-4 Cubs victory.

But that wasn't the most impressive feat of the day from Sosa. His second homer was actually measured at a whopping 500 feet! It was the longest of the season, but not the longest of his career. On June 24, 2003, Sosa hit a homer at Wrigley measured at 511 feet.

The back-to-back big games raised Sosa's season OPS to 1.083 with a ridiculous .685 slugging percentage. He began June 1998 with a .608 slugging percentage.

Fun fact: Kerry Wood struck out 11 batters in 7.1 innings on June 20, 1998 to pick up his 7th big-league victory. As Wood marched to the National League Rookie of the Year that season, he finished with a 13-6 record and 233 strikeouts in only 166.2 innings for a career-high 12.6 K/9 rate.