Swept by Cardinals, Cubs still feeling Super


Swept by Cardinals, Cubs still feeling Super

ST. LOUIS Shawn Camp zippered up the back of Ryan Dempsters Captain America costume before getting into his Wolverine outfit.

Alfonso Soriano looked like he couldnt believe the Cubs were actually going to do this. He changed out of his jeans and polo shirt and reluctantly put on his Batman suit, to go along with Starlin Castros Robin.

Dale Hellboy Sveum looked like he had just escaped the Wrigley Field dungeoninterview room and flipped to the dark side after too many questions about changing the culture.

Dressed in khaki pants and blue Cubs polo shirts and with ID badges hanging around their necks, Jeff Baker and Reed Johnson (in a wig) wheeled their suitcases through the clubhouse. They were supposed to be executivessaviors Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, flying off to work on parallel fronts and build the foundation for sustained success.

This was the exclamation point to Sundays 7-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, which completed a three-game sweep in which the Cubs were outscored 23-1.

Yes, the Cubs went through with their Superheroes theme for the charter flight to Pittsburgh, and theres no doubt people back in Chicago will try to turn this into a hot-button issue.

Eh, first give Sveum some props for this idea: Seven Cubs ran out from the dugout together and clicked their heels as they crossed the white line for the bottom of the first inning.

Opponents used to hate seeing that. But this was a classy tribute to the late Ron Santo, whose family and friends had gathered in Cooperstown, N.Y., to celebrate his induction into the Hall of Fame.

The Cubs (38-56) wore No. 10 patches on their sleeves, and you wondered what Santo would have sounded like on WGN Radio during this lost weekend at Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals (50-45) placed doubles on the left- and right-field lines and put up four runs in the first inning against Travis Wood, who later gave up back-to-back homers to Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran that traveled a combined 843 feet.

That was kind of a nice touch to the start, Sveum said, and then downhill after that.

Otherwise, this was a Matt Garza production. In spring training, Sveum had suggested a team-bonding dress code for a road trip, like maybe wearing hockey or football jerseys, which didnt go over well with Garza.

Garza had played for Joe Maddon, the free-thinking manager whos had the Tampa Bay Rays dress up as nerds and do white-out trips to Miami. Garza took his son to see The Avengers and a light bulb went off.

I looked at the guys in the outfield and said: (Bleep) this, lets do like a Superhero trip and then just ran with it, Garza recalled.

Sveum pointed out this had been planned for awhile, and already canceled once. It came right after the unthinkable violence at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises.

Thats a horrible situation in Colorado, Sveum said. Our hearts go out to all the families in the city.

Most of the guys seemed pretty pumped about playing dress-up, but the feeling definitely wasnt universal among players and coaches.

Last September here, the Cubs did some rookie hazing and had them wear ridiculous short skirts (among other things) after a brutal loss to the Cardinals, which helped their archrivals sneak into the playoffs and launch a World Series run.

This was before Epstein was hired, when everyone expected manager Mike Quade to get fired, and it was hard to tell who exactly was in charge. This was also the same room where Carlos Zambrano went on his We stinks! rant last season.

But this year the chemistry has improved and Sveum has run a no-nonsense clubhouse. An experienced coaching staff has set a professional tone. Effort hasnt been a problem.

Until this sweep, the Cubs had won 14 of 19 games, a best-in-baseball snapshot, even while trade rumors could have smashed the barriers to the distraction-free zone.

When youre a seller, all the guys on your team sit there and look over their shoulder, Hoyer said. Thats not a good process for anyone. I think everyone sort of exhales after the deadline for that reason, because no one really feels all that safe.

Heck, I think every player on that field has probably been part of some rumor at some point this year, even Starlin for awhilewhich was unfounded.

The coaching staff (stayed) calm. They stayed focused through a really bad stretch and got through it. They did the right thing. They stayed steady.

So it will be interesting to see what happens, if the Cubs can keep it up between here and the July 31 deadline.

I hope that they dont pay attention (to the trade rumors), Soriano said, because they dont have the control (over the situation). Focus on what we do. Just play baseball and let the front office do their job.

Epstein and Hoyer have a pretty good sense of humor, but we all know what the first question will be if they trade Baker andor Johnson, two glue guys in the clubhouse who would also fit a contender that needs a good role player off the bench.

This is the grind. Its what you make of it. Maybe Garza should be traded to the marketing department.

Its to see guys let it loose, have a little fun, take a little pressure off, Garza said. A little bit of embarrassment can go a long way, get you out of your own skin a little bit.

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NBC Sports Chicago

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