ATLANTA It looked like another showdown, Dale Sveum getting in Starlin Castros face with the television cameras rolling.
The Cubs manager and the All-Star shortstop exchanged words in the dugout, before Anthony Rizzo walked into the picture on Monday night at Turner Field.
At first glance, Castro looked almost casual, in no hurry to throw from deep in the hole over to first base. Dan Uggla sprinted down the line for an infield single, and that second-inning snapshot seemed like perfect material for the message boards and talk radio.
But the Cubs immediately addressed it and moved on, watching Jeff Samardzija finish with a career-high 11 strikeouts and win his first game since May 29. Rizzo also smoked a first-pitch fastball from Tommy Hanson and showed some leadership in a 4-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves. This didnt spiral out of control.
It was one of those things where I apologized to Castro afterward, Sveum said. Rizzo came to his rescue right away and said, Skip, that was my fault. I just told him to give me time. And obviously on that ball you cant take your time.
The last time the Cubs were in Atlanta, Carlos Zambrano cleaned out his locker, told people he was thinking about retiring and headed back to the teams downtown hotel. This was the point of no return.
Jim Hendry the general manager who already knew he was fired had no patience left for Zambrano. Hendry even felt compelled to call Atlanta general manager Frank Wren and apologize for Zambrano, who had thrown at Chipper Jones. It all went down on a night where the Braves were trying to honor legendary manager Bobby Cox.
In trying to create a distraction-free zone, Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer didnt have room for Zambrano, who took his talents to South Beach to be reunited with old friend Ozzie Guillen and the Miami Marlins reality show.
The guy Zambrano was traded for Chris Volstad will get a spot start on Tuesday night and there are reminders all around of how much things have changed.
The Cubs (30-49) have won four in a row, and six of their last seven, and even if it all cant be traced back to the Rizzo bounce, the 22-year-old first baseman has so far lived up to the hype.
Rizzo has five RBI in the six games since his promotion from Triple-A Iowa, and each one has put the Cubs in the lead. Hes supposed to be a glue guy in the lineup as well as the clubhouse. You saw it during that moment in the dugout.
I took full blame for it its my fault, said Rizzo, who was on a defensive shift for that at-bat. I told him before that to give me a little time, and thats just me not knowing Ugglas speed. I thought I had time to get there. I busted there right away, but he just beat the throw.
One week in, Rizzo is still learning his teammates, but he understands the importance of the chemistry between him and a potential franchise shortstop.
I want Castro to feel comfortable with any play, Rizzo said. Any throw he wants to make, Ill be there to catch it. If I miss that pick, its my fault.
Samardzija who was on the mound when Castro forgot how many outs there were last month in San Francisco took it all in stride and limited the Braves to one run in seven innings.
Samardzija (6-7) hopes July will be more like May (2.48 ERA) than June (10.41 ERA). He likes the idea of Castro and Rizzo playing behind him for years to come.
Things happen, Samardzija said. Ive been frustrated with myself before for letting things get to me those last few starts. As a pitcher, you got to put things out of your mind.
Were a young team. Were going to make mistakes. But I feel we have the resilience to bounce back and correct them. You learn from them.
You learn whats wrong and what you need to fix. Castro brings a lot to this team. When those plays start becoming routine for him, hes going to be an amazing player.
Sveum sat back in the same office where Mike Quade seethed one night last August, watching reporters punch the Zambrano retirement news into their BlackBerrys, right in front of his face.
With the bald head, five oclock shadow and tattoos all over his body, Sveums supposed to be a billboard for no-nonsense, the face of this culture of accountability. He knows what the next decade could look like, and how essential it will be for Castro and Rizzo to be on the same page.
Hopefully, Im around when theyre here in 10 years, Sveum joked, but its nice to know you have two corner guys that are going to be pretty good for a long period of time.