Miami Marlins

Marlins pitcher puts White Sox on Perfecto Watch on anniversary of Mark Buehrle's perfect game

Marlins pitcher puts White Sox on Perfecto Watch on anniversary of Mark Buehrle's perfect game

Rick Renteria called it "eerie."

Ten years to the day after Mark Buehrle delivered one of the most memorable moments in White Sox history with a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays, there was another Perfecto Watch on the South Side.

Miami Marlins starting pitcher Caleb Smith didn't reach "call your neighbors" territory, but he retired the first 17 batters he faced in order, taking a perfect game into the sixth inning Tuesday night against the White Sox.

"I'll be honest, it was a little eerie for us," Renteria said after the 5-1 loss. "I kept thinking, I wasn't here 10 years ago for that. And he was working that, and I was like, 'Hey, (pitching coach Don Cooper), I don't like what I'm seeing here.'"

Smith was excellent, striking out nine of those first 17 hitters he put down in order. On a night when White Sox fans were celebrating the anniversary of Buehrle's feat, this was not the type of celebration they had in mind.

"You start to see," White Sox shortstop Ryan Goins said. "Anybody says they don’t feel it, he can say he doesn’t feel it but everybody knows the perfect game is going on. ... But he did a god job keeping us off-balance today."

The White Sox broke up the Perfecto Watch with two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Adam Engel putting an end to Smith's stretch of five consecutive strikeouts with a walk. Leury Garcia followed that with a walk of his own, and Jon Jay put an end to the no-hit bid and the shutout with an RBI single.

Smith gave up a base hit to AJ Reed the following inning, but he finished his effort with one run and just four base runners allowed over seven innings. Smith's had himself a nice season for the last-place Marlins, his ERA down to 3.30 after Tuesday night's game.

The four base runners the White Sox got against Smith were the only ones they had on a silent night for the bats. A pair of Marlins relievers followed up Smith's work with two 1-2-3 innings. The White Sox struck out 10 times.

A decade later, Renteria might have been one of the few in the White Sox dugout putting the history together with what was happening on the field Tuesday night, but that didn't make Smith any less dominant on the anniversary of Buehrle's dominance.

"I don’t think we are thinking that far back," Goins said. "We are just trying to go up there and have good at-bats, honestly. He did a great job of not really leaving anything in the middle of the plate to hit, mixing his pitches up and throwing everything for a strike. And then throwing chase pitches when he needed to."

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As Yu Darvish struggles again, Cubs search for answers

As Yu Darvish struggles again, Cubs search for answers

Yu Darvish might be one of the first pitchers in history to hear boos from fans during a no-hit bid...in his own ballpark.

However, is it possible to actually call an outing a "no-hit bid" if the starter doesn't even throw a pitch in the fifth inning?

Darvish managed just 4 innings in the Cubs' 4-1 victory Thursday afternoon but allowed only 1 hit — a groundball through the right side with 2 outs in the fourth inning. That single — off the bat of .188-hitting outfielder Rosell Herrera — also drove in the only run off the Cubs starter, so Darvish was actually able to lower his season ERA to 5.40 on the afternoon.

But his walk rate is going in the opposite direction after doling out 6 free passes against a Marlins team that ranks dead last in Major League Baseball in just about every offensive category.

Darvish has now walked 33 batters in 36.2 innings in 2019, which leads baseball. For perspective, Tyler Chatwood walked 32 batters in his first 37.2 innings of 2018 en route to leading the league in free passes.

Darvish carries an 8.1 BB/9 rate on the season, though he came into 2019 with only a career rate of 3.4 BB/9.

Joe Maddon said before the game he's seeing better stuff from Darvish this year than last year and the strikeouts tease that potential — 7 whiffs in 4 innings Thursday and 44 in 36.2 innings on the season. Right now, it's just that Maddon and the Cubs feel Darvish is thinking too much on the mound and trying to be too fine.

"Yeah, until last outing, I was thinking too much, like 'I have to throw a strike,'" Darvish said. "But today, I was focusing more on attacking hitters. Just command was off, that's it.

"I'm a thinker over my almost 15-year career, but absolutely it's too much. I want to be better, so it's my challenge, but I think it's good for me."

The Cubs have tried everything to make this successful, including pairing Darvish up with Taylor Davis after the two worked well together and got good results (6 innings, 1 run) in Arizona on the last road trip. Davis was behind the plate for both of Darvish's starts on this homestand, but the 32-year-old pitcher has managed just 8 innings — and walked 11 batters — combined in those outings.

"I don't know if it's as much thinking too much as it is caring too much, if that sounds crazy," Davis said. "He just really wants to make the perfect pitch when he doesn't have to. So that's kinda what I reiterate to him, like 'Look, man, your stuff is so good that you don't have to make the perfect pitch.' He's starting to get that."

For all the talk of a brand new and comfortable Darvish this year, the results have been worse than last year. To date, it hasn't affected the Cubs as a team much — they boast the best pitching staff and have the best record in baseball since April 8.

"I think the sensitivity's lessening. I think he's really being able to focus on just pitching a lot more this year than I've seen in the past," Maddon said before Thursday's game. "Again, conversationally, he's saying and doing all the right things. I think the stuff we've seen already, we did not see last year at all. Just purely stuff which I think is a great place to start with him. 

"I contend that if we could just turn [his brain] off a little bit and just go play, you're gonna see a great result. Honestly, I've said it almost every time — just to become a little bit more visceral and just stay out of the intellectual part of this thing and just permit his talents to take over. They are that good. His stuff is that good. 

"So if we could just arrive at that point, and I think we can. As I saw him walk in here [over a year ago] and where he's at right now, I've seen significant improvement. That would be the last step for me to really, truly gain the most out of his abilities."

We'll see if he can do that the next time out, as Maddon confirmed the Cubs are not entertaining the thought of skipping Darvish's turn in the rotation or anything like that.

"I honestly don't think so," Maddon said. "You just gotta keep putting him out there. He also struck out 7 guys. Physically, it's all good. It's frustrating for him, of course, but we gotta just keep working it.

"I don't have any solid answers. He's healthy, the ball coming out of the hand really well, we've just gotta be more consistent in the zone. it's not that complicated."

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After Kyle Ryan 'froze,' Cubs have his back

After Kyle Ryan 'froze,' Cubs have his back

Even before the ninth inning Monday, it was a strange night at Wrigley Field.

The temperature at first pitch was 33 degrees colder than it was the night before and early on, it looked like the Cubs were going to cruise to a victory as the hottest team in baseball jumped out to a 3-0 lead on the team with the worst record in baseball.

But it wound up being a night of missed opportunities — the Cubs couldn't build a bigger lead on the 10 walks they drew on the evening and then watched as the bullpen melted down in the top of the ninth.

Closer Pedro Strop allowed all four batters he faced to reach base, including walking in the tying run. Kyle Ryan — who has emerged as a go-to guy in the Cubs bullpen — was brought in to escape the jam and promptly gave up a hard grounder that drove in another run (though a David Bote diving stop prevented further damage).

The next play was the head-scratcher, as Ryan made a nice leaping snare of Martin Prado's ground ball, saw Neil Walker breaking for home from third base, stared at him, looked like he was going to make a throw to catcher Willson Contreras and then inexplicably went to first base, allowing the Marlins to plate an insurance run. 

The Cubs got out of the inning on that play after Anthony Rizzo fired over to third to get the other runner, but the damage was done. When Kris Bryant homered with one out in the bottom of the ninth, that only underscored the mental error.

"I froze," Ryan said bluntly as he stood at his locker and faced the music after the game. "I knew the whole situation and I just froze. Checked [the runner], saw him, ran through my mind and froze. 

"It was a double play, but still — run scored, KB hit a homer, could've been a tie game. So yeah, I was a little upset. Actually, I was very upset."

Give Ryan credit for how he owned the difficult moment, but the result was still the same: the Cubs' seven-game winning streak had come to an end and on a night where the Cardinals won, meaning St. Louis regains control of first place — a position the Cubs had for all of about 25 hours.

"As a competitor, of course you're gonna be pretty ticked off when you're not making the play you think you should make," Rizzo said. "We all have his back. He's been really good for us since he's been here and he's been a great teammate and a great guy in the clubhouse. I'm sure Joe [Maddon] will put him right back in there tomorrow and we have all the confidence in the world in him."

Look, you can't just sit there and say everything would've played out exactly like it did if Ryan had simply gone home. There's no guarantee the Cubs turn a double play, which means the run could've still scored somehow. There's also no guarantee Bryant comes up and hits a ball onto Waveland. 

But all of that obviously could've happened and anytime you give up a run on a mental mistake, it's understandably tough to swallow. 

That being said, this happened on May 6 and against the Miami Marlins. It's not like it cost the Cubs the season, even in a year where so much emphasis has been put on cashing in on every opportunity. 

"I think I've made my fair share of not getting outs where I think you can get the outs," said Cole Hamels, who started Monday night's game. "Sometimes the game can speed up on you a few times. We all do it. And I think this is great because this is a big lesson to sort of learn early in a season. 

"He's gonna be a big part of this team as we go forward and especially when it gets to September and obviously into October-type baseball, he's probably going to go back to that and revert and know that this was a good lesson for him. 

"I think he's going to be in a situation where he's going to be able to come through and that's what you do — you take the lessons that baseball gives you and you have to make the best of it."

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