In Which We See the Plans

As we pushed away the rubble of last season both of our baseball teams held out hopeful hands. Thanks to the money the Sox saved on the Chris Sale deal they were able to swing trades for Avisial Garcia and Adam Eaton and then sign Cuban star Jose Abreu. The team instantly got better. Not that it really could have gotten any worse. The Cubs swung for the fences in trying to land Joe Girardi to be their manager and, later Japanese pitching star Masahiro Tanaka. Along the way they asked Jeff Samardzija for a hometown discount. Not to belabor the obvious but they went 0-3.

That being said there’s no denying that there are some very intriguing players in the Cubs’ farm system. But they are years away. Javy Baez, predicted by many to be a starter now, is hitting .154 in 3A. He’s also slightly injured so it’s going to be a bit before he’s ready to take on the big leagues. And unless his defense steps up a lot he looks like a DH. Which is not good news for the Cubs. Still, there are a lot of young guys who show promise. The one thing that is starting to concern fans is the fact that payroll is diving every year and there is no sign that that trend will change. They claimed to have $120 MIL for Tanaka but have no money for anyone else. There’s a certain cognitive disconnect there that confuses fans.

The Sox currently have a payroll similar to the Cubs but Rick Hahn has stated on several occasions that he has room to move if he needs to. A couple of informed folks tell me that he could spend as much as $120 MIL this year. He may not. He could accomplish a lot via trades with the pieces he has. And he would not necessarily need to swap big league talent for prospects. A lot will depend on where this team is come July. If they’re above .500 and the Central is as tight as it looks to be then look for additions, not subtractions.

Thanks to a lot of different factors it is not as easy as buying a World Championship. Although, God knows, the Yankees are certainly trying.

Speaking of the Yankees, Paul Sullivan took a moment to see how they’re handling the ex-Cub factor.

The “Cubs Way” isn’t just a manual, it’s a way of life.

In the midst of a long-term rebuild in July, the Cubs paid the Yankees nearly $18 million to take Alfonso Soriano off their hands.

Three months later, their stealth interest in Joe Girardi helped the Yankees manager get a four-year, $16 million extension.

Now Soriano gets a chance to punish his old team, while Girardi matches wits against Rick Renteria, the eternal optimist who eventually got the Cubs’ job.

The Cubs and Yankees square off Tuesday at Yankee Stadium, starting a two-game miniseries that’s not lacking for storylines.

Both Soriano and Girardi were relaxed and smiling last weekend in New York, where the Yankees won three of four against the Red Sox.

Leaning back in a comfy chair in the huge Yankees clubhouse, Soriano said he’s happier than he’s been in years. He’s just one of a dozen multimillionaires here and enjoys blending into the background on a probable contender.

“I just want to play baseball and win, and that was not happening with the Cubs,” he said. “I was happy mostly when I played for them. But when I saw they weren’t putting out a team to win, I was like, ‘Man, this is kind of like a job now.’ I’d go to the ballpark, work, do my job and go back home.

“I didn’t enjoy it. Here it’s different. Now I’m having fun.”

Trading Soriano to the Yankees in July saved the Cubs only $6.8 million of the remaining $24.5 million on his contract, but it accomplished two objectives. It got them a talented low-level prospect in pitcher Corey Black — now in Double A after a sizzling debut at Class A Daytona — and ensured their record would be bad enough to merit a top-five draft pick in 2014.

The Cubs were only 10 games under .500 when Soriano was traded. They went 21-41 afterward, earning that coveted No. 4 pick. While the Cubs’ lineup was lost without Soriano, hitting .228 with a .295 on-base percentage and .364 slugging percentage after the trade, he took off in New York, slugging 17 homers and driving in 50 runs in 58 games.

After another poor start this season, the Cubs are 25-49 since trading Soriano, a miserable .338 winning percentage.

“They haven’t played bad,” Soriano insisted. “It looks like the bullpen has been the same (as in 2013).

“I hope they’re going in the right direction,” he said. “The city needs the Cubs to win one year.”

Girardi was the manager the Cubs hoped could take them to the finish line, and as soon as Dale Sveum was put on the hot seat last September, Girardi became the obvious choice as his successor. His contract was up, and the Cubs sought a manager they could market for the rebuild.

Girardi not only was a popular former Cub. He also won a ring as a manager in 2009 and had that “Yankees cache.”

But the talks never happened. The Yankees declined to let Girardi negotiate elsewhere, knowing of the Cubs’ interest. They quickly locked him up with a four-year extension, making Girardi the game’s second highest-paid manager.

So a Cubs-Girardi reunion never got off the ground.

“No, it never did,” he said. “I negotiated with the Yankees and I signed by (Oct. 9), and had really never gotten anywhere. It was important that we tried to get it done early, because family is extremely important to me. I know there are a lot of ties still in Chicago, but my family is ingrained here.

“This has been home for us for the last 10 to 15 years in a sense, New York, and obviously we have a lot of relationships here. I enjoy managing here, and with the opportunity they’ve given me, that’s why we stayed.”

The Cubs wound up hiring the little-known Renteria, giving up on finding a big-name manager. Though Girardi said he wouldn’t “ever shut the door” on managing the Cubs some day, that appears unlikely.

“There are other things I want to do in my life besides manage,” he said. “I enjoyed broadcasting and someday I think I’ll go back to that. I take it one year at a time. I don’t ever think, ‘I want to manage until I’m 55 or 60.’ I’ll do it as long as I still enjoy it.”

So, in essence, Girardi would go work for Fox before he set foot in Wrigley in a cute Cubbie uniform. And now that he’s surrounded by other real hitters Soriano is flourishing. I was never a big fan of dear old Alphonse but I must admit that I never realized just how much the Cubs were dependent on him. And if the loss of one player can impact them as severely as his loss did then they are more fragile than, even I, imagined.

As to the Sox Rick Hahn makes poker player envious. There’s close to the vest and then there’s surgically hidden. While word did get out that the team had wandered into the Tanaka and Abreu negotiations, it wasn’t until they’d made their initial offers that any facts came out. Also, I have been told but have not confirmed, that they had native language speakers with them in both instances. Just to ensure that nothing got lost in any translation.

They whiffed on Tanaka but nailed Abreu. Given that they felt confident in their pitching at the time they were comfortable with the results.  And while they’ll never stop hunting for pitching, it’s some genetic thing as far as I can tell, they are on the lookout for players all around. Scott Merkin says that, all that aside, they are focused on the draft right now.

You are the Chicago White Sox and have the third overall pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft.

It’s an exciting and important part of the reshaping process brought about by a 99-loss 2013 campaign that produced this high first-round selection. That reshaping engineered by general manager Rick Hahn certainly looks good through 13 games, with Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu making instant impacts, and the youthful athleticism seemingly energizing the veterans.

Getting an impact player at No. 3 becomes essential in the strengthening of the White Sox core, with a signing bonus slot of $5,721,500 and an overall Draft bonus pool of $9,509,700. So this excitement also carries with it a bit of inherent pressure, not to mention a great deal of preparation as Draft Day on June 5 sits approximately seven weeks away.

“What we thought was going to be a fun and exciting time, I think has become … the reality has set in just wanting to be sure we are as absolutely prepared as we possibly can be,” White Sox director of amateur scouting Doug Laumann said. “We are not leaving any stone unturned.

“Ultimately, by the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, it probably will boil back down to where we started. We still want to make sure we uncover every option.”

Even with only the Astros and Marlins picking in front of them, there still aren’t a great deal of certainties for the White Sox.

Chicago is likely to select a pitcher, barring something completely unforeseen. That pitcher will probably come from a group of five in left-hander Carlos Rodon from North Carolina State, right-hander Jeff Hoffman from East Carolina, right-hander Tyler Kolek from Shepherd High School in Texas, right-hander Tyler Beede from Vanderbilt and left-hander Brady Aiken from Cathedral Catholic High School in California.

Laumann and White Sox assistant scouting director Nick Hostetler have seen these pitchers at least two or three times each, and they will see them again leading up to the Draft. Hahn, executive vice president Ken Williams, assistant general manager Buddy Bell and assistant to the general manager Jeremy Haber also have watched these potential selections in action and they will all do so again.

“Between the six of us, one of us will be at almost every start that each pitcher has left,” Hostetler said. “It has been huge for us to have eyes on every start.

“I made a comment to Doug that Rick is one of the smartest men I know, Kenny played in the big leagues and went to Stanford, and Buddy has won more Gold Gloves than I’ve owned fielding gloves. Their input has been tremendous for us.”

The making of this pick will be a collaborative process, much the same as many other key moves executed throughout the organization. Laumann is the man in charge, and he is coming off of an excellent 2013 Draft class that included shortstop Tim Anderson (first-round pick), right-hander Tyler Danish (second), right-hander Brad Goldberg (10th), outfielder Jacob May (third) and third baseman Trey Michalczewski (seventh), to name a few.

Finding the best player available, or possibly best pitcher in this instance, continues to be the White Sox challenge, and having many voices asking the right questions can only sharpen that focus.

“Honestly, it’s very similar to how a lot of these decisions are made,” Hahn said. “We get in a room, we get a lot of opinions. We express our opinions honestly and openly in that room, and then as a group, we try to come to the best conclusion.

“Doug and his staff are the ones on a weekly basis seeing all these guys, and it’s incumbent on them to put them in the best order. Kenny, Buddy, myself, we want to see them. It’s an important decision, and there’s a fair amount of video work as well as in-person work that gets done.

“We do that in large part so that we are educated, so that we get in the room and have a healthy debate,” Hahn said. “None of these—free-agent signing or a big league trade or a Minor League callup or the Draft—is about any individual going out front and saying, ‘This is me, I did this.’ It’s about, ideally, having a variety of opinions, well-informed opinions, and then coming to the best conclusion as a group.”

Picks made by the Astros and Marlins will influence the White Sox selection more than any voice in their Draft room. Rodon has long been thought of as the No. 1 selection, but what if Houston goes in another direction? What if No. 3 comes around and Kolek and Rodon, who could potentially help Chicago’s rotation in 2015, are both available?

Those questions more than likely will be explored, as well as paying a great deal of attention to the rest of the selections.

You are the Chicago White Sox and know the importance of this year’s Draft, even beyond that high-profile third selection.

“One thing everybody wants to focus on is the first pick and rightfully so, when that amount is allotted,” Hostetler said. “But I’ve got to be honest. As a department and staff, we are just as focused on two, three, four, five and six.

“Put all your eggs in one pick and worry about just the first, and then you leave yourself short in other places. We’ve done a good job as a staff, from Doug to our amateur scouts, understanding our focus is getting the best possible player in each round regardless of position and high school or college. That first pick is where the shine is, but where you make your Draft is after that pick.”

What amazes me is the draft boards for baseball teams. There will be numerous options for the first 5 rounds. Then, and only then, do they see what’s left. Obviously, as Scott noted, if something falls to you that you didn’t expect you pounce on it.

And so it goes.

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In Which We Discuss Unsere Kämpfe

Saturday our two baseball teams got murderized. Carlos Villanueva (Cubs) and Felipe Paulino (Sox) combined to give up a total of 15 runs to the other guys. That is not a good day at the office when you’re on their team. Instead of writing about that yesterday I decided to see how each team would come back. After all, the Cubs stood poised to win their first Series since 9/11 last year. And the Sox stood poised to win more games in one week against the Indians than they’d won all last year.

In other words it seemed like a good test to gauge the pulse of each team.

And, all in all, I would say that was a good call.

Starting on the North Side, the Cubs trotted out Edwin Jackson to secure the win. Well, that was the idea anyway. The reality was rain delays, blown leads and another lost series.

Carrie Muskat has the whole story.

Rain interrupted Edwin Jackson’s outing on Sunday, but it didn’t seem to bother him, and the right-hander’s effort earned kudos from Cubs manager Rick Renteria.

Matt Carpenter drove in three runs, including a tie-breaking sacrifice fly in the fourth, to lift the Cardinals to a 6-4 victory over the Cubs and take the series.

The Cubs lost leads twice in the game, but Renteria praised Jackson’s resiliency.

“It doesn’t matter,” Renteria said of the blown leads. “He went out there and ground it out. We’re still in a limited ‘pen situation and he ate up innings for us.”

The Cubs added right-handed reliever Blake Parker on Sunday, and the bullpen was still feeling the effects of extra-inning games over first two weeks. An off-day Monday will help.

“After your team scores, you definitely want to come out and have a clean inning, but you just have to be aggressive—that’s a good hitting team,” Jackson said. “When you have opportunities to put guys away, you have to put guys away. That’s pretty much what it boils down to.”

Michael Wacha struck out eight over 6 1/3 innings and picked up the win despite serving up Anthony Rizzo’s two-run homer in the first. Rizzo gave the Cubs the lead with one out when he hit his second home run of the season, launching the first pitch from Wacha into the Cardinals’ bullpen in right to drive in Justin Ruggiano, who had singled.

Jackson, making his third start, needed 26 pitches to get through the first, and threw another 30 in the second. He walked Allen Craig to open the second and Jhonny Peralta singled. Two outs later, both scored on Matt Carpenter’s single to tie the game and Kolten Wong followed with a RBI single.

The problem in the second inning, Jackson said, was not just walking Craig, but that he fell behind too many hitters.

“It’s just a matter of making pitches and attacking the strike zone,” Jackson said. “If I make those pitches [when the count’s 1-2], that definitely changes the outcome of the game.”

Yadier Molina singled to open the Cardinals third, and then rain stopped play for 46 minutes. Jackson returned after the delay, and finished the third efficiently, and kept going. After throwing 59 pitches prior to the rain, Jackson needed 55 to get through his last four innings.

Jackson kept his right arm wrapped during the delay, and said the time passed quickly. He didn’t throw, didn’t change jerseys.

“I just tried to keep the same mind frame and stay ready for whenever the rain delay was over,” Jackson said.

He’s had to wait an hour during a game in the past.

“He went out there and ground it out,” Renteria said. “We did everything we could to keep his arm warm. We knew the window that was available for us. He’s a veteran and he’s been out there before and I think he’s got a will and a strong body and he was able to go out and do it.”

Jackson led the National League in losses last season and says he feels better this season.

“I feel good, I feel like I’m in a rhythm,” he said. “You come out, make a pitch and get out of the inning clean, and it changes the whole game. From the third inning on, they scored one run [off me]. ... I feel good. I feel I can go out and make them put the ball in play. It’s a grind. You continue to battle and keep a positive mind frame. I don’t feel anything similar to last year now.”

Wacha also stayed in the game after the delay, and with two outs in the Chicago fourth, Junior Lake singled off the right-hander, Mike Olt was hit on the left hand by a pitch, and Welington Castillo delivered an RBI single to tie the game.

Peter Bourjos tripled to lead off the Cardinals fourth and scored one out later on Carpenter’s sacrifice fly. Peralta added an RBI double in the eighth, and another run scored from third on Bourjos’ fielder’s choice. Bourjos hit the ball to third baseman Olt, who bobbled the ball, then threw home, but pulled Castillo off the plate. Olt was charged with an error.

Lake tripled with one out in the ninth and scored on Olt’s single off Trevor Rosenthal.

The Cubs may have lost the series but leave St. Louis feeling good about themselves.

“We definitely have a lot of fight in us,” Jackson said. “Win, lose or draw, we don’t have a group of guys who are going to give up. We’re going to go out and battle. We may come up short sometimes, but we’re going to go out and give 110 percent on the field. As a team, thats all you want. If we keep fighting like we did today, we’re going to win a lot of ballgames.”

The Cubs got off to a rough start last April, but have a new manager and some new faces on the roster. Still, does it feel anything like last year?

“I don’t think so,” Jackson said. “I feel there’s a different attitude in here.”

Renteria has talked about his team’s fighting spirit early in the season, and repeated that Sunday.

“If we keep fighting like that and we don’t quit—[Saturday] was the only game where I could tell you that I thought [they stopped battling] and maybe one game at home against Pittsburgh,” Renteria said. “Every day, we’re in it to the end.”

The Cubs still have yet to win a series this season.

“I think if we keep pushing, at some point, it’s got to turn,” Renteria said. “If we were playing really bad baseball, I’d go, ‘Gosh, I’d be really concerned.’ The reality is they’re showing a lot of fight, guys are picking each other up, they’re going out every single day to try to win a ballgame and today was no different.

“I guarantee you they weren’t very comfortable in that [Cardinals] dugout,” he said.

Umm, blown leads don’t matter? Has the bar been set so low that they no longer even pretend to try? Yes, the pen has been ridden hard lately. But it isn’t like they’ve been coming in in the 4th every game. With a day off today there was no reason to keep them as bench warmers.

Anyway, Jackson’s correct. If he threw more strikes he would have a better count on hitters.

This just in, people who breathe tend to live longer than those who don’t.

Well, as long as we’re stating the obvious ......

On the South Side the Sox trotted out Jose Quintana. And despite the delays, and the fact that he ran his pitch count into the ether, he came away with a no decision. Or, as he told Scott Merkin, with a team victory.

A long red scratch on the left side of Alexei Ramirez’s forehead was visible during his media session following the White Sox 4-3 victory over the Indians on Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field.

Ramirez certainly wasn’t complaining or feeling any pain, for that matter. Call it a welcomed battle scar.

Ramirez’s walk-off home run against Cleveland closer John Axford (0-1), coming with one out and Jordan Danks on second, turned a potential heartbreaking loss into an uplifting victory and sent the shortstop into a helmet-slapping, frenzied celebration as he crossed home plate. The White Sox (7-6) claimed a series victory from the Indians by taking three of four contests.

This Cleveland team beat the White Sox in 17 of 19 games last year while enjoying walk-off long ball moments of its own from Jason Giambi and Carlos Santana. So in the mind of White Sox manager Robin Ventura, his crew had definitely earned this moment.

“Last year, they probably won it just like that, you know, that team. It’s nice for us to be able to do this,” Ventura said. “The feeling is even though you’re down, you feel like you can come back. That’s a very good feeling to have, offensively.”

“You could tell there’s a good environment there. Everybody is pulling for each other,” said Ramirez through translator and White Sox manager of cultural development Lino Diaz. “Hitters are doing the job. We felt like we could come back.”

Trailing by one run after Cleveland rallied for two in the top of the ninth against closer Matt Lindstrom (1-1), Danks fought back from a 1-2 hole and drew a six-pitch walk to lead off against Axford. He swiped second but didn’t have to run nearly as hard when Ramirez cleared the left-field fence on Axford’s first pitch.

“It was the call,” said Axford of the 93-mph fastball turned around by Ramirez. “Throw a fastball in, and I just left it up there and he cleared out and got a good piece of it.”

“Everybody knows me as an aggressive hitter,” said Ramirez, who extended his season-opening hitting streak to 13 games with a third-inning single. “I’m going to go looking for a good pitch to hit, and when I get it, I’m going to swing at it. That’s what happened. I got a good pitch. He’s a really good pitcher and he just left me a pitch up there, and I was able to put a good swing on it.”

While Ramirez was the hero with the bat, Jose Quintana definitely gets the nod on the mound for the White Sox. The southpaw threw a career-high 121 pitches while working around a pair of rain delays, the second of which lasted 45 minutes. But even after all of that quality work, Quintana finished with yet another no-decision.

Quintana allowed one run on five hits over six innings, striking out six and walking two. Michael Brantley’s home run in the fourth, coming before the second wave of rain, stood as the only run allowed by Quintana.

Jason Kipnis doubled to open the sixth and stayed at second when Conor Gillaspie made a diving stop down the third-base line on Santana’s hard-hit grounder to hold Santana to a single. Ryan Raburn’s long flyout to center moved Kipnis to third, but he had to hold there when Quintana not only knocked down Brantley’s hot shot but had the presence of mind to get the force at second on Santana.

Yan Gomes struck out for the third time to end the frame, with the usually sedate Quintana letting out a scream of emotion over the escape.

“That inning started with a double,” Quintana said. “I want to throw a good pitch in a good spot, and when I yelled [after] the strikeout, I was really happy with that.”

“He battled, even with the rain delay and having to go back out there,” said Ventura of Quintana. “He had a lot of pitches today. It didn’t necessarily seem that way, just because it seemed like he was in control the whole time.”

A fourth-inning infield single from Dayan Viciedo scored Gillaspie with the White Sox first run off of Cleveland starter Corey Kluber. Gillaspie extended his hitting streak to a career-high 11 games.

Marcus Semien homered with one out in the eighth to give the White Sox a 2-1 lead that looked like it would provide the margin of victory. Semien’s blast also came off of Kluber, who matched Quintana by yielding just two runs over 7 1/3 innings and 97 pitches, while striking out six.

Kluber was still in line to take the loss until Lindstrom blew his second save in three tries, with two unearned Cleveland runs coming home in the ninth, sparked by Jose Abreu’s inning-opening error on Brantley’s grounder and capped by Lindstrom’s wild pitch that plated a go-ahead run.

The game was delayed for one hour and 15 minutes due to the threat of rain before the first pitch, but the conditions were relatively dry until the fourth. Dry, but cold, as the temperature dipped from a comfortable 68 degrees in the morning to 48 at first pitch. By the time Ramirez connected off Axford, he wasn’t worried about the forecast.

And he didn’t worry about a few celebratory knocks on his noggin after coming through with his second career walk-off homer.

“At that time, I didn’t feel any cold at all,” Ramirez said. “That was a great moment. The most important thing is we won the game.”

“With the way things have been going lately, no game’s over just because we’re down a run,” Danks said. “Especially going into the ninth.”

When Ramirez hit his home run he spread his arms wide, like an airplane, and ran around the bases. He looked like every kid who’s ever made propeller noises. Actually, he just looked like every kid who’s ever played the game. It was a look of pure joy.

And it was fun to watch.

All the more so now that this team keeps putting last year’s demons deeper underground and further to the rear.

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In Which We Saw Progress

As the Jay the Joke world tour continues to search for the best car washes things have been happening around here too. My buddy has been traveling a lot for business so yesterday he snagged his son out of school and took him golfing. Like any good 11 year old his son beat him by 4 strokes. And, no, dad is not one who lets his kids win.

That concludes our local sports round up.

Oh, wait, there’s a lot of blank space here. I guess I’ll keep writing.

See any cute squirrels lately? Me neither. Otherwise how’ve you been? Oh, that’s good. I worry about you from time to time. It must be hard being you in public. All the shunning and stuff. Well, good for you sticking to your guns. You certainly am who you am as they say. And, no, I’m not going to make fun of you for paying $10 to see Big Foot’s corpse. How could you have known it was a fake? It’s not like you believe in rational thought or any silly shit like that. Well, look at the time, I’d better be going.

Hmm, more blank space.

What else can I write about?

Here’s a quick high five to my pal Evan Altman over at Chicago Insider. His pal, Tom Loxas, wrote a great article about how the Cubs could end up dumping Samardzija for below trade value. Don’t worry Cubs fans, Tom’s one of you so he’s drinking the Kool-Aid of power hitting youth. After all, who needs pitching when you have a power hitting second baseman in 3A?

Oh well, let’s just do this. I’ve been writing about how the Cubs are managed by the front office. Based on some decisions I’ve seen my guess is that Crane Kenny is deeply involved. Carrie Muskat reports that they stuck to that plan yesterday as well. However the results were shockingly unfamiliar.

They won.

The Cubs finally scored a few runs for Jeff Samardzija, won an extra-inning game, and delivered in the clutch on Friday night. The only question is who’s the closer, although manager Rick Renteria said it isn’t a matter worth debating.

Welington Castillo smacked a three-run homer with two outs in the 11th inning to lift the Cubs to a 6-3 victory over the Cardinals, who had rallied with two runs in the ninth off Jose Veras in front of 43,903 at Busch Stadium.

Veras, who was booed at Wrigley Field in his first appearance April 6 when he gave up two runs, is now 0-2 in save situations. Last year, the Cubs began the season with Carlos Marmol as the closer, then switched after one week to Kyuji Fujikawa. An elbow injury sidelined the Japanese pitcher, who needed Tommy John surgery. The Cubs eventually signed Kevin Gregg.

“It was a shaky outing but he’s still our guy,” Renteria said of Veras. “His stuff is there. I think he gets a little excited and he starts pulling some pitches and he overthrows pitches and he just has to find his rhythm.

“I don’t know how many times he’s actually closed for us now—maybe a couple times this season in 10 games,” Renteria said. “It’s too early to decide anything like that.”

The Cubs had a 3-1 lead going into the bottom of the ninth when Yadier Molina singled to lead off against Veras, who then hit Allen Craig with a pitch, which Renteria challenged, only to have the call upheld. Molina and Craig moved up on a sacrifice, and Molina scored on a passed ball charged to Castillo.

Veras then hit Peter Bourjos and walked Daniel Descalso to load the bases for Matt Carpenter, who hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game.

“What happened to him has happened to anybody,” Castillo said of Veras. “I just talked to him and said, ‘Keep your head up and just go hard the next day you have the opportunity.’ He’s working really hard, but sometimes stuff like that, he just doesn’t know what to do with that kind of stuff. I talked to him, and said, ‘Get your head up, get the ball tomorrow and get a save.’”

Nate Schierholtz doubled to lead off the Chicago 11th against Trevor Rosenthal and moved up on Ryan Sweeney’s sacrifice. Starlin Castro was intentionally walked, and the Cubs had a play on when Ryan Kalish popped up to Molina on a bunt attempt.

“We just didn’t execute,” Renteria said of Kalish’s at-bat.

Castillo came through, launching a 1-1 pitch into the left-center seats for his second home run of the season.

“Welington got a good fastball, got a pitch up to hit and did a nice job with it,” Renteria said. “I don’t think he was thinking too much in terms of innings. I think he just wanted to get in there and do his job and he got a good pitch to handle, and he drove it out of the ballpark.”

“I was looking fastball,” Castillo said. “I know he throws really hard, so I just waited for something over the plate that I could drive and I put my best swing on it.”

It may have been the 11th inning, but Castillo wasn’t tired, and he told himself not to give up.

“I was talking to myself, ‘Just don’t give up, don’t give up, just go hard, go 100 percent, even if you’re body feels tired,’” he said.

The Cubs finally scored some runs for Samardzija, but couldn’t give him the win. In 14 innings in Samardzija’s first two starts this season, the Cubs had failed to score, and they were held scoreless through six on Friday. The streak could be extended even further as the right-hander lost, 4-0, in his last start of the season, Sept. 29, against the Cardinals. He went six innings in that game.

“When we took him out, he said, ‘Hey, pinch-hit for me and get me the runs,’ and we did,” Renteria said of Samardzija.

“You keep pitching and keep giving your team a chance to come out and give you runs—I learned my lesson when I was in the bullpen,” Samardzija said. “You go out and have quick innings and come back in, and a lot of times, you get some runs.”

After striking out Bourjos to end the seventh, Samardzija seemed to moonwalk off the mound. He was just caught up in the moment.

“That’s a great team we’re playing against,” Samardzija said of the Cardinals. “When you do have success against a team like that, which is coming off World Series wins and getting to the World Series and the history they have and the lineup they have, it feels good, and there’s really no other way to put it.

“I like to compete, and if I’m going to compete, I like to compete against the best, and that’s the Cardinals,” he said. “Over the past five years, you can’t say there’s a better team in the league. I was happy to do my job.”

The Cardinals took a 1-0 lead in the second on Molina’s RBI single, and the Cubs tied the game in the seventh on Sweeney’s RBI single off starter Joe Kelly.

Pinch-hitter Justin Ruggiano singled to open the Chicago eighth, moved up on Emilio Bonifacio’s sacrifice, and reached third on pinch-hitter Mike Olt’s single. Lefty Kevin Siegrist threw six straight fastballs to Anthony Rizzo, who then choked up on the bat and flared a curve to right to score Ruggiano. Olt scored on Schierholtz’s single to left.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny had Rosenthal bat for himself in the 10th with two on and two outs even though he had Pete Kozma on the bench.

“Trevor had a very efficient inning, throwing six pitches the previous inning,” Matheny said. “He’s arguably our best guy in the ‘pen. We had an opportunity to get him back out there and start off the next inning with Bourjos, Descalso and then the top of the order, we like throwing our best guy out there and thinking it’s going to get us a zero to get us a chance to get back in.”

The Cubs know all about missed opportunities. They played two extra-inning games against the Pirates in their opening series and lost both. They could’ve folded against the Cardinals.

“We needed this one real bad,” Castillo said.

“We know we’re going to play a lot of close games and we’re ready for that,” Samardzija said. “The more close games you win, the more confidence you build, and then you see yourself winning by four, five, six runs. You have to start somewhere. If we have to start this off by scraping off some one-run victories, then so be it.

“Anything you can do to get confidence going and just the team going in the right direction, that’s what it takes, and sometimes it takes a game like this ... to prove we belong here and we’ll be here for awhile.”

Jose Vera is NOT trade bait. He’s just bait. He has no more business closing a major league game than I have working as a stripper. As to the rest, read the quotes again. “We needed this ...” “You have to start somewhere ....” and so on. The polite word, “beleaguered” comes to mind. That’s my nice way of saying they don’t believe they can win these games, they just thank God for those rare moments when they do. That’s not a good sign for a team that just played its 10th game. There’s 152 more to go.

I predict open weeping by April. And that’s from the team.

THE PLAN does seem to be taking shape. When they trade Samardzija Castillo will follow shortly thereafter. Why keep a good catcher if you don’t have any good pitchers? Wood will be on the next bus and then God knows what will happen. According to my sources the team is actively shopping 7 players. See you in 2020 Cubs fans.

On the South Side they sent their version of Cy Young to the mound. Unfortunately he channeled the October 1911 version of the legendary pitcher.  Oh well, not every day is perfect. Even so, he got the win. Scott Merkin says it may have been ugly, but it was a good way for this team to put last year further into the rear view mirror.

Chris Sale had a perfect but unwanted view of the White Sox balanced and suddenly high-powered offense during a 9-6 victory over the Indians Friday night at U.S. Cellular Field.

It was unwanted because the White Sox ace made a rare early exit after just five innings and 105 pitches. So, he watched Adam Eaton get on base in four straight plate appearances and Conor Gillaspie set a career-high with four RBIs, among the many highlights.

For a man who ranked second in the American League in lowest run support during the 2013 season (3.19 RSA), Sale certainly liked what he witnessed. Sale shares a similar opinion with pretty much every White Sox fan through the first 11 games of the ‘14 campaign.

“Yeah, the feel from this year is completely different,” said Sale, who has won each of his first three starts. “We’re battling, we’re fighting.”

“These guys, they just kind of have some jump when they come out,” said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of his offense. “They just feel like they’re going to score.”

Sale not only welcomed the run support, but also any sort of victory against the Indians (5-6). The Cy Young candidate posted a dismal 0-4 record with an 8.61 ERA over four starts against the Indians in 2013, so he has already surpassed that win total with one trip to the mound.

Friday’s win gives the White Sox (6-5) two straight victories over Cleveland in this four-game series, matching last year’s entire win total over 19 head-to-head contests between the two clubs. Sale put at least two runners on base in the first, second and fifth, but by recent Cleveland standards, this was a masterpiece.

“That could be one of the worst outings for Sale, not statistically or anything like that, but as far as his feel and his comfort out there,” said White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers of his batterymate, who struck out five, walked two and gave up just three runs. “He really didn’t seem to have that all day.”

“Fastball command was not nearly where I wanted it to be, breaking ball was not really sharp, couldn’t really command that,” Sale said. “It was a combination of a lot of things, not finding a rhythm, not getting into a groove and really doing what I’m supposed to do.”

The White Sox grabbed a 3-0 lead after four innings courtesy of Eaton’s run-scoring double off of Carlos Carrasco (0-2), Gillaspie’s sacrifice fly and Alejandro De Aza’s single bringing home Adam Dunn. Alexei Ramirez singled to start a two-run rally in the third, giving the White Sox shortstop hits in all 11 games this year.

Cleveland didn’t take long to tie the game, with three runs in the fifth coming on four hits from the first four hitters, including Asdrubal Cabrera’s two-run double and Nick Swisher’s run-scoring single. For every punch the Indians threw, though, the White Sox had a counter punch.

“Just a great look at the team,” Eaton said. “They fought back. We fought back and we continued to fight. It’s good to see this team continue to fight. It’s a good team win.”

Four of the nine walks issued by five Cleveland pitchers produced two runs in the fifth on just one hit to break the 3-3 tie. Gillaspie’s two-run, two-out double scored two more in the sixth.

Marcus Semien reached base in three straight plate appearances with two walks and a hit, while Dunn reached base in four straight with a single, double and two free passes. Eaton stood at the heart of this attack, as he has all season, with two hits, two walks and three runs scored.

This latest effort from the feisty leadoff man caused Sale to pull out the superlatives before the season’s second week has even been completed.

“I know I have a very biased opinion,” Sale said. “But I think Adam Eaton is the most exciting player in baseball, in terms of every time he gets up to the plate, something is going to happen, whether it’s a close play, a bunt single, a double in the gap or a stolen base.”

When apprised of Sale’s compliment, Eaton smiled and followed an “oh, geez” with a “save it” for Sale, whom he in turn called the most exciting player. The White Sox are having the sort of fun that was missing from almost all of last season.

Jake Petricka, Maikel Cleto and Donnie Veal closed out the last four innings, giving Sale and the White Sox a victory on a night where they were far from perfect, but never gave up or gave in. Resiliency has become the watchword for Ventura’s crew.

“If you compete every pitch, it doesn’t matter what the score is,” Eaton said. “You go out with your best effort and you compete, good things are going to happen. When you throw away at-bats, that’s when games get away from you.”

“Sale’s a really good pitcher,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “And we did a pretty good job to fight back in that game, but it’s just hard to keep coming back. We’ve got to put up a zero at some point.”

Semien is making things interesting. Initially his defense consisted of waving at the balls as they rolled by. But now he’s buckled down and, if he’s not a highlight reel, he’s not a gaping hole in the infield either. He’s giving Ventura a comfort zone at second and the team some options as the season rolls on. The pen seems to have reduced the types of pitches each pitcher throws (as predicted here a week ago) and things seem to be settling down.

Hahn is not actively shopping anyone but he, like any good GM, has a working cell phone and some wiggle room. If they do addition by subtraction it will be a real addition, like the Garcia trade last year.

Speaking of Avisial Garcia, my sports doc friends tell me the surgery he’s going to have is common and he should resume basic baseball activities in the fall and be 100% by spring training.

They also bought me a drink.

If you’ve never paid to see Big Foot’s corpse, you can buy me a drink too.

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In Which We Discuss The Elephants in the Room

Of course it’s pink. What other color are elephants?

Today I’m going to split this blog into two distinct parts. Heading into the fourth series of the season both of our baseball teams are raising red flags, sounding sirens and scaring children. So I’m going to take a look at the issues currently facing both.

First; the Cubs.

Every time I talk to Cubs fans they repeat a similar mantra, (PLAYER X) is good or destined to be great. Even when I agree with them it doesn’t matter. This is a team managed by the front office, that much is apparent now. The reason hitters fell apart last season was because Theogime demanded a specific, one size fits all, approach to at bats. While they have backed off on that they are still calling the shots as to who they want to see on the field. Thus you get the defensively versatile, but not very good at it, Emilio Bonifacio starting at second instead of the Gold Glove winning Darwin Barney. They are actually punishing Barney for the same reason they fired Dale Sveum, he did exactly what he was told and it didn’t work. It didn’t work for anyone else either, but there you go.

We have already beaten the money issues to death and I’m not going to repeat myself. Simply put this team is raking in cash and not spending it. They want different money for the team. This money is theirs. It’s like dealing with a four year old on allowance day when it wants candy.

In essence the Cubs do have good players. They also have a lousy team. And, as our regular blogger Niteowl noted inside, due to the fact that they are managed from an office and not a clubhouse fans get to enjoy the 6.35 ERA of Brian Schlitter (you know what that rhymes with) instead of the 15 scoreless innings of Hector Rondon.

Now that they’ve faced Pennsylvania’s finest and came away with a losing record they get to play real teams for a week or so. Carrie Muskat has a nice look at how THE PLAN is working out.

Travis Wood matched a career high with nine strikeouts but couldn’t last long enough.

Pedro Alvarez smashed a three-run homer with two outs in the seventh to highlight a five-run rally and power the Pirates to a 5-4 win Thursday over the Cubs to take the series.

Wood had thrown 104 pitches through six, and went out for the seventh with a 4-0 lead. The plan was to let the lefty go until someone got on base, and leadoff man Neil Walker hit a changeup to left for a double. Wood was lifted.

“I was ready to go,” Wood said of the seventh. “The changeup has been working well, so I just threw it, not really concentrating on getting it down, since it’s been working well, and [Walker] did what he’s supposed to do.”

Pinch-hitter Travis Snider greeted rookie Brian Schlitter with a two-run homer. One out later, Starling Marte singled, and one out later, Andrew McCutchen walked. Schlitter was lifted for James Russell, and Alvarez drove the first pitch from the lefty to center, dropping it on the roof of a batter’s eye suite at Wrigley Field.

“It was a slider that I hung and left down the middle of the plate,” Russell said, “and that’s what he’s supposed to do with it. More power to Alvarez for doing his job and taking a bad pitch deep.”

“He’s come into his own,” Snider said of Alvarez. “He’s at a total level of comfort. For us, it’s fun to sit back and watch him scare pitchers.”

Wood had previously struck out nine on Sept. 17, 2012, also against the Pirates. On Thursday, the Cubs lefty gave up four hits and walked three over six-plus innings.

“He did a great job,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of his lefty. “We sent him back out there [for the seventh], and it was going to be if a guy gets on, he’s done.”

Wood escaped a jam in the third when the Pirates loaded the bases with one out. The lefty struck out McCutchen on three pitches, then fanned Alvarez to end the threat. Wood was the first left-handed starter the Pirates have faced this year.

“[I had to] bear down,” Wood said of the third. “Two good hitters coming up, MVP and Silver Slugger. You’ve got to give them everything you can, and I was fortunate to throw some good pitches and get them out.”

The Cubs lost 43 games last season when they had the lead and finished with 96 losses, and this year, they are 1-4 in one-run games, with all five against the Pirates. Starlin Castro said he feels better about the current team.

“This year, it’s closer in every game, more intensity in every game,” Castro said. “We’ve got energy in the dugout that we can tie the game or win the game. It’s tough sometimes to lose a game like that. It’s tough, but that’s the game.”

Said Wood: “Last year’s behind us, in my opinion. It’s just the way it’s falling right now. It’s baseball and anything can happen in this game.”

Emilio Bonifacio reached on a fielding error by Gerrit Cole with two outs in the Chicago third, stole second, and scored as catcher Tony Sanchez’s throw sailed past an outstretched Walker and into center field for another error.

Anthony Rizzo and Nate Schierholtz both singled to open the fourth, and one out later, Rizzo scored on Castro’s single. An 0-2 pitch to Mike Olt skipped past Tony Sanchez, and Schierholtz scored on the wild pitch for a 3-0 lead. One out later, Welington Castillo singled to left and Castro slid home safely despite a perfect throw home from Marte.

“I don’t know if [the umpire] called me safe because the catcher blocked home plate before he got the ball or he called [me] safe because I was safe,” Castro said of home-plate umpire Mark Carlson. “I don’t know, but I went inside to watch the replay and I looked out.”

Castro said the Pirates catcher may have bobbled the ball, and that could be why Carlson called him safe.

“As soon as he called him safe, that was good for us and [we] moved on,” Renteria said.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle did not challenge the call, and said the new obstruction rule was not discussed.

The Cubs threatened in the ninth, loading the bases against Jason Grilli, but the closer induced a groundout from Bonifacio to end the game.

Now, they have to play the Cardinals and Yankees on the road.

“It’s good when you play really good teams,” Castro said. “We’ll see where our team is at. We’ll see what we can do and how we can be better. When you play a good team like the Yankees and St. Louis, you have to play 200 percent to win the game.”

Yeah, it’s Wood’s fault he didn’t pitch a complete game shut out. And, sorry Castro, good teams win at 100%. In fact all you really get in the real world, the one anyone not wearing a Cubs jersey lives in, is 100%. It’s up to you to use it wisely. And congratulating a hitter because you threw a crappy pitch is great in Little League when you’re still learning social skills. It’s not so cool when you’re an alleged adult who’s allegedly trying to succeed.

And, yes, Renteria’s happy act still grates on my nerves.

On the South Side I have bemoaned the White Sox lack of depth. When I did so I meant the infield and the pen. Still they have a well rounded club this year.

That being said when news of how severe Avisail Garcia’s injury really is hit the streets you would have thought that our robot overlords had outlawed human sex. People were a tad hyperbolic.

Here’s the thing, Jordan Danks is not, and never will be, Avisail Garcia. Neither will Dayan Viciedo. But, and this is a big but, neither of them are chum either. Let’s face facts, Garcia was on the field at the age of 20 in a World Series because he’s a special player. He’s all of 22 now. Assuming his rehab goes as planned Sox fans will get to enjoy this kid for many years to come. Now, that being said, Danks and Viciedo would be first line starters on many teams. Danks has the better defense but Viciedo does seem to have been working on his. Viciedo has the more promising bat, and he’s only 25, but Danks was impressive as hell in Spring Training. In other words you’ll have two very talented players competing for that starting role.

There will be some drop off but it shouldn’t be stomach churning. And, bonus, both players should improve due to the situation.

Plus, as Scott Merkin notes, we can’t forget abut Abreu.

There wasn’t much for the White Sox to joke about during the 2013 season.

Not with 99 losses. Not with the way some of those 99 losses came about.

But where a dismal 2-17 record against the Indians was concerned, the White Sox found some way to laugh at themselves.

“We joked we deserved a playoff share from them for basically helping them into the playoffs,” said White Sox starter John Danks with a bit of a resigned smile.

The White Sox (5-5) didn’t have to wait long to exorcise this piece of ‘13 pain.

Behind Danks, two homers and three RBIs from Jose Abreu and two hits and three RBIs from Alexei Ramirez, the White Sox claimed a 7-3 victory over the Indians (5-5) at U.S. Cellular Field on Thursday. The victory snapped a 14-game losing streak against the Indians, marking the South Siders’ first head-to-head victory since April 24, to be exact, at the start of this seven-game homestand.

This victory came just hours after learning right fielder Avisail Garcia was lost for the season due to a torn labrum in his left shoulder. So it was a morale boost on a couple of different fronts.

“It is sad and it’s difficult, and especially because we had a really good relationship,” said Abreu of losing Garcia, through translator and White Sox manager of cultural development Lino Diaz. “These are some of those things that life throws a lot and we are not expecting.”

“You feel bad for Avi. He’s a great kid, great teammate, great player. Hopefully this isn’t too much of a setback for him,” Danks said. “It’s tough, having been through shoulder stuff, I don’t wish that on anybody. He’s young enough, and hopefully it’s something he can get through fairly quickly and be ready for next year. Certainly breaks our hearts to hear the news, but we wish him nothing but the best, obviously.”

Ending this 14-game losing streak didn’t look entirely possible early on, as the Indians pushed across two runs in the first inning against Danks and had Danny Salazar on the mound. Salazar struck out 10 White Sox on Thursday, giving him 27 punchouts lifetime against the club in just 12 2/3 innings.

But even with those 10 strikeouts, Salazar didn’t make it through the fourth. When the White Sox made contact, they made it count over Salazar’s 3 2/3 innings, as he became the first pitcher to strike out 10 in an outing fewer than four innings in the modern era, per The Elias Sports Bureau.

Meanwhile, Danks (1-0) settled down and limited the Indians to Asdrubal Cabrera’s homer over his final five innings of work to go with four strikeouts and two walks.

“I feel like third inning on, I was able to throw the ball where I wanted to,” said Danks, who threw 62 of his 99 pitches for strikes. “I kept it down a little better, was getting some ground balls. It was kind of a tale of two games, but like I said, I’ve never had a bad win.”

“They got the lead and he settled in and started kind of adding and subtracting, expanded the plate a little bit and started throwing that changeup, then he’d throw that cutter in on our righties, does what he does,” said Cleveland manager Terry Francona of Danks. “Early in the game he made a couple of mistakes and we made him pay for it, then he settled in by just adding and subtracting.”

Abreu launched a solo homer in the second and again in the fifth, giving him four for the season and two multihomer efforts in his last three games. The White Sox didn’t have Abreu last year in their battles with the Indians, and they didn’t have this current offense with the potential to come back from any deficit.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura quipped that he has been working in the batting cage with Abreu lately to explain his recent power surge. But there’s actually a much simpler reason for Abreu’s success.

“He’s just really good,” Ventura said. “That’s the simple fact, is he’s a good hitter.”

“Me and [Chris Sale] were talking. We want to go thank [general manager] Rick [Hahn] right now for signing him,” said Danks of Abreu. “He’s fun to watch, and it’s scary but he’s only going to get better.”

Ramirez homered in the third and doubled home two runs in the fourth, giving him hits in all 10 games this season. Daniel Webb picked up Danks with two scoreless innings of relief, and Matt Lindstrom added a scoreless ninth to close out the victory.

One small step for a resilient White Sox team that has scored five or more runs in seven of its first 10 games this season. Next on the agenda is putting together a winning streak against the Indians.

“Even when we get down there’s a feeling that you’re going to scratch away and get some opportunities and come through, and they execute,” Ventura said. “They just have that feeling like they’re going to fight back and scratch something out.

“Tonight was the same way. I think Johnny didn’t start off that great for him, but he clawed his way through it and fought and battled for us to be able to come back.”

You will note that both teams talk about scrapping back. But it’s the Sox who’ve shown that they can do it and will not stop trying to d it.  They’re still shy on depth in the pen and the infield but it’s clear now that Rick Hahn isn’t done adding pieces either. This is going to be a fun team to watch this year.

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In Which It’s All Rainbows and Unicorns Today

For the first time in a long time every team that represented Chicago yesterday won. If you go to the Sun Times sports page online you’ll get a good idea why hockey fans are irritable. The Hawks are reigning champs, won a ball buster game against a hated opponent and are picking up steam right as they enter the playoffs. So where is this story in relation to the rest? In order of appearance the page lays out Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Bulls and then Blackhawks. Last I checked the Bears are still in the off-season but I’m not an editor of a major metropolitan newspaper, so what do I know?

The Hawks have an interesting problem. They have a kid named Jeremy Morin who’s supposed to be a warm body until Oduya, Toews and Kane return. The problem they have is that this kid has been lighting the lamp and playing serious defense. Exactly the kind of player you want in a playoff hunt. Don’t quote me but I wouldn’t be surprised of Saad got left off the playoff roster to make room for this kid. That would make for some fun articles.

And it would make some fans very Saad.

Yeah, I couldn’t resist.

The Bulls were off yesterday but they have been on a tear recently. Watching what they did to the Wizards Saturday should have some with a Parental Advisory Warning. That was a classic dismantling.

And it was fun to watch.

Also fun to watch yesterday was the Cubs finally putting together a complete game. I’m glad too. It gives me no pleasure to see my friends, who are loyal Cubs fans, wallow in misery. As Carrie Muskat writes, for one shining day all was well in Wrigley-World.

Carlos Villanueva knew it would be a good day Sunday because the cable guy showed up at his apartment that morning and got his connection to work.

Villanueva’s good fortune continued as the Cubs’ scored as many runs in two innings as they had in their five previous games, beating the Phillies, 8-3, to avoid being swept in the opening series.

“Offense is always contagious,” said Ryan Kalish, who drove in three runs. “I know we haven’t gotten off to the best start, but everyone is real close.”

Kalish hit an RBI triple in a four-run first and added a two-run double in the sixth to back Villanueva, who picked up the win in his first start of the season and continued a nice trend for the Chicago starters, who now have a 1.93 ERA (eight runs over 37 1/3 innings) in the first six games.

This was Villanueva’s third appearance after pitching in relief twice last week against the Pirates in extra-inning games. He took the loss in both, and manager Rick Renteria felt he had to give the right-hander a little pep talk.

“He really helped us out in a pinch in Pittsburgh,” Renteria said. “I know that after the second game in Pittsburgh, I said, ‘Don’t worry about the outcome there, we really needed your help and you gave it to us.’”

“It shouldn’t take him telling me that,” Villanueva said. “It’s definitely not easy and I wasn’t happy [losing the games]. ... If that would’ve happened to me five, six years ago, I don’t know how I would’ve handled it, and definitely different than I did.

“You have to forget about it. You want to do whatever you can to help the boys out and keep everybody happy. Today we took a good step toward that, and we have to keep going.”

Villanueva had lots of “traffic” to deal with in the fourth and fifth. The Phillies loaded the bases with one out in the fourth, getting an assist when Starlin Castro made an error on a potential double-play ball. But Cody Asche hit a comebacker to Villanueva, who threw home for the force.

The Phillies had runners at second and third in the fifth, and scored a run on Chase Utley’s groundout. Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg thought Utley was safe at first and challenged the call, but after review, the first at Wrigley Field, umpire CB Bucknor’s call was confirmed. Ryan Howard then hit a liner to Emilio Bonifacio, who had shifted to shallow right, and he grabbed it with a perfectly timed leap and got the force at second.

“That went from a moment of head down to a very excited, ‘I can’t believe we had somebody play there,’” Villanueva said of Bonifacio’s play in the fifth. “The inning before, we make an error, and the next inning, we have somebody there. It’s a crazy game. Today it worked for us. Sometimes you’re upset at the shift, sometimes nobody complains.”

Villanueva took steps to assure Castro not to worry about his error.

“You have a choice there,” Villanueva said. “You can decide to get upset and let it rattle you, or you pick him up. I know he’s not trying to make an error. I’ve talked a lot to Starlin, and he’s worked hard to improve his defense. The best thing I can do there is pick him up and make sure he understands I’m not upset. Hopefully, he gets another one to make him feel better.”

Castro’s message to Villanueva?

“‘Give me another ground ball that I can make a double play on,’” Castro said. “I tried to make that play. If I don’t make it, I have eight more guys to pick me up. That’s why when other guys make errors, I’m there to pick them up, too.”

Renteria gave Villanueva a bear hug in the dugout after the fifth.

“He’s a big hugger,” Villanueva said of the rookie manager. “He worked his magic on me.”

The right-hander tried to talk Renteria into letting him go out for another inning, but that was it.

The Cubs began the day as the only Major League team to not score more than one run in an inning. They corrected that in the first. Castro was in the No. 6 spot in hopes of having him in position to drive in runs, and it worked. Bonifacio walked to lead off the first and scored on Kalish’s triple to right-center. Phillies starter A.J. Burnett walked Anthony Rizzo, and Nate Schierholtz followed with a sacrifice fly. Luis Valbuena walked to set up Castro’s RBI double and open a 3-0 lead. Ryan Sweeney added a sacrifice fly.

“[Renteria] told me, ‘I put you there because you have great numbers against Burnett,’” Castro said. “I’m good. Whatever spot he tries to put me in where he thinks I can do a good job, I’m on it.”

Center fielder Ben Revere couldn’t get his glove on Sweeney’s ball in the sixth, and the error led to four unearned runs. Bonifacio hit an RBI single, Kalish followed with his two-run double, and Rizzo added an RBI single for an 8-1 lead.

The Phillies made it interesting in the ninth against Jose Veras, adding two runs. Renteria said they wanted the closer to get some work before Monday’s off-day and wasn’t concerned about the outing. Pedro Strop got Howard to fly out to Kalish in left to end the game and let Renteria celebrate his first win at Wrigley Field.

“It’s awesome,” Castro said of the Cubs’ offense waking up. “We’ve been waiting for that for a long time. Today was a really good day.”

Just ask Villanueva.

“I knew it would be a good day when the cable guy shows up on Sunday morning,” he said.

Big hugger? Oh, sure, why not? If hugs are what’s needed to keep this team from imploding then hugs it is.

On the South Side there’s not a lot of hugging going on but there has been quite a bit of grinding. And Daryl van Schouwen says that’s keeping things interesting.

Maybe it’s because the White Sox have better hitters with Adam Eaton at the top and Jose Abreu in the middle. Or maybe it’s just a new attitude.

Whatever the case, third-base coach Joe McEwing loves what he’s seeing from an improved offense and the belief that the Sox are always in the game regardless of the score.

“It’s the personality of our ballclub right now,’’ McEwing said before the Sox’ 5-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Sunday. “Guys continue to grind from the first pitch to the last pitch, playing 27 outs and battling through every at-bat and every play defensively.’’

With ace left-hander Chris Sale putting up eight scoreless innings, the challenge was to scratch out a run against All-Star James Shields. It finally came in the seventh inning on Alexei Ramirez’s two-out infield single that glanced off shortstop Alcides Escobar’s glove, allowing Conor Gillaspie (two doubles) to score and break a scoreless tie.

The Sox broke it open with four runs in the ninth, including Ramirez’s RBI double and Tyler Flowers’ two-run single.

Players often talk about guarding against “giving away at-bats.’’ The Sox are trying to keep those giveaways to a minimum.

“I don’t think we’ve given away many at all,’’ McEwing said. “The good thing is, it’s not just offensively. It’s defensively also. Guys have been in every play and every pitch, and it’s been nice to watch.

“That’s the way the game is supposed to be played day in and day out. Don’t give away a pitch, don’t give away an at-bat, don’t give away an out and don’t take a pitch off. Guys have responded very well.

“You can see it, and it’s contagious. It does rub off. I think Eaton has done an unbelievable job of setting the tone from the beginning of the game.’’

Through the first six games, ­Eaton has reached base four times in the first inning.

General manager Rick Hahn isn’t about to characterize a team he had to make over after it ranked last in the American League in runs in 2013. But he sees the same intensity McEwing sees.

“Being [six] games in, we’re essentially the equivalent of halftime of the first game of a 16-game NFL season, so I’m pretty hesitant to draw any grand conclusions, certainly about individual players, much less the direction of the club,’’ Hahn said before the game. “I will say the first five games we’ve shown from an offensive standpoint that we’re going to grind out every game till the end, that we have the heart and grind to get back in games, that things aren’t over if we’re down 3-1 in the sixth inning. Certainly it’s the same, higher level of life, energy and competitiveness we saw in Glendale [during spring training] that has carried into the regular season, which is good.’’

The Sox have scored five, seven, nine, five, three and five runs. They even scored runs for Sale, who had a total of one run of support in his previous five starts against the Royals. He had to wait till the eighth inning for breathing room, but it was worth the wait.

“Even if the outcome isn’t what we want, you still know they’re scrapping and fighting and giving everything they got,’’ Sale said. “We’re there late in the game … you get a rally going with Alexei and that big double right there. Leury [Garcia] with a big heads-up play stealing third. That’s just an energy booster. You’ve got guys running around with energy like that, it’s always nice.’’

The Sox pen is still a work in progress and it doesn’t help that Nate Jones is on the DL instead of the mound. But, still, this is rapidly becoming a fun team to watch. It’s like they’re competing with each other to see who’s going to steal the most bases or something. Well, not Konerko or Dunn of course, but you get the idea.

And, as noted above, they are scoring runs. If pitching settles in they could make some teams sweat.

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