In Which Our Juggernauts Roll On

Reaction to the Cubs game from Cubs.com. “Yes, Wrigley Field is a Perfect 10!  What can you say about Cominsky?”

Reaction to the Sox game from WhiteSox.com; “More things I think I think. ... Paul Konerko is some kind of machine. We hit in to an insane amount of double plays. We CAN beat Cleveland. I love beach balls.”

Just in case you were wondering if all the scintillating intellect was hidden in the message boards of pro teams.

Now that that particular mystery is solved, let’s move on to the fun stuff. I was on the train yesterday when a lady, clearly irate, asked no one in particular “Why is it these damn annual events happen every year” Yes, she was very blond. Since I had a moment to kill and needed a laugh, I mentioned that the word annual means something that happens every year. She turned and glared at me before tossing this gem out “Well, then, the government should fix that.”

Of course they should. I’m sure it’s on a list somewhere.

Of course the follow up from another passenger was the straw that broke the camel’s back and sent us all into fits of laughter; “Sure, you white folks (mess) up the language and then want the black man to fix it. Some things never change.”

Well, one thing that particular black man can’t fix would seem to be the Cubs. Carrie Muskat was down in Houston trying to come up with something positive to write.

Things are going so bad for the Cubs that even when they hustle and give great effort, they still lose.

J.D. Martinez hit a two-run triple that David DeJesus appeared to have caught, then dropped after a collision with Darwin Barney, as the Astros posted a 5-1 victory Wednesday night over the Cubs, who lost their ninth in a row.

With the win, the Astros completed the sweep, and the Cubs lost nine straight for the first time since May 8-18, 2002. Bench coach Jamie Quirk, subbing for manager Dale Sveum, who was in Arizona to attend his son Rustin’s high school graduation, couldn’t stop the skid.

“It’s very tough,” Quirk said of losing. “This game is so mental, day in and day out, and keeps coming at you. You wipe it away and show up the next day wanting to win.”

Jeff Samardzija (4-3) recorded his sixth quality start in nine outings this season, giving up two runs on six hits over six innings, but took the loss.

“This is really going to show our team character here in the long run,” Samardzija said. “The next team you play is not going to take it easy on you, and the team after that is not going to take it easy on you. You’ve got to fix it, and fix it quick.”

Reed Johnson gave Samardzija a quick 1-0 lead with his second homer of the season with one out in the first off Wandy Rodriguez (4-4). The blast gave the Cubs their first lead in 59 innings.

It lasted until the Houston fourth. The Astros had runners at first and third with two out, when Martinez lofted a ball to right. Barney and DeJesus crashed into each other near the foul line trying to get to the ball, and tumbled. Martinez kept running and was credited with a triple, and both runners scored. DeJesus had the ball briefly in his glove, but it was knocked loose.

“It was a great effort,” Quirk said of DeJesus and Barney. “If they make the play, it’s an outstanding play. It’s perfect placement on [the Astros’] part. He didn’t hit it good, he hit it in the right spot, they both gave everything they have.”

Said Martinez: “I saw the right fielder running and I was like, ‘It’s going to have a chance. He’s going to have to make a nice play on it.’ I just continued to run right out of the box and was just fortunate it fell.”

DeJesus simply didn’t have time to tell Barney he had it.

“It was one of those plays that was too much in the middle of us,” Barney said. “It was placed at a point where he didn’t have a chance to call it. It’s unfortunate. My job is to go until I hear somebody call me off and that ball was put into a spot where he didn’t know he’d have a chance until he got there.

“He probably didn’t know he’d be able to get there,” Barney said of DeJesus. “Unfortunately, that was a big turning point in the game for Jeff.”

Barney had a bloody elbow and hip after the fall because of the rocky surface on the warning track.

“I thought he caught it,” Barney said. “I went and when I was on the ground, I thought he had it in his glove and there it was. We both did our job and it just happened to turn out that way.”

Barney wasn’t just smarting from the collision. What also hurt was that the Cubs were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

“What’s going on is, we’re not hitting with men on base,” Barney said. “I can’t point out anybody but myself right now. That’s something that I need to pick up, and as a team we’re hoping to do better at it.”

The Cubs had two on and two out in the fifth, when Alfonso Soriano lofted a ball to right in almost the same spot as Martinez did in the fourth. Second baseman Jose Altuve and right fielder Travis Buck apparently learned from watching DeJesus and Barney, and avoided a collision with Buck catching the ball to end the inning.

Samardzija wanted to extend his outing, but Quirk decided that was enough after 90 pitches.

“I said, ‘Hey, you have a career. This is your first year starting and we have to watch it, and you have a long career ahead of you. Save some pitches right now,’” Quirk explained.

The Astros scored three more runs with two out in the eighth off rookie Rafael Dolis, who had appeared once since May 15.

It’s been a struggle.

“If we had an answer, and a solution, we’d definitely bring it out,” Quirk said. “Right now, it’s keep grinding and keep working. ... Winning is contagious and losing is contagious and right now, we’re seeing the bad end of it.”

The Cubs now have scored two runs off a starting pitcher in the last five games, a total of 32 1/3 innings.

“The best thing to do is we have each other’s back,” Cubs pitcher Paul Maholm said. “You pull for each other and you expect to win each night you come in here. There’s not one person in here blaming the offense or the starting pitcher for not getting it done. We have to do it as a group. That’s how you do it and there’s no way around it.”

Just FYI, the Sun Times today has a lengthy article about how this whole rebuilding thing may take a LOT longer than predicted. Part of the reason is that the way the Red Sox locked up prospects is no longer legal under the new CBA.

And, for whatever it’s worth, I’m a White Sox fan and not even I thought they were going to be this bad.

Speaking of the White Sox, they took the field last night determined to put some distance between them and the Tigers and close the gap between them and the Indians. Tough to do since those two teams are playing each other but, by God, a little thing like reality wasn’t going to slow them down. And, at the end of the day, Scott Merkin reports that the mission was half accomplished.

Tuesday’s series-opening, seven-run loss to the Minnesota Twins was a game to forget for the White Sox.

And judging by the 6-0 shellacking of the last-place Twins administered Wednesday night at U.S. Cellular Field, played before Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and representatives of the Chicago Police Department who were honored before the game and during the seventh-inning stretch, forget is exactly what the White Sox (22-22) did.

It’s a defining trait of Robin Ventura’s first team, in that the highs don’t seem to get too high, and the lows don’t seem to linger into the next day.

“These guys are resilient,” said Ventura of his second-place squad. “They find a way to come back, and as difficult as yesterday was all the way around, to be able to bounce back and put together a game like this all the way around, pitching and the offense, is nice to see. They’re just tough that way.”

To paraphrase an old baseball adage, a team’s bounce-back ability stands only as strong as its next-game starting pitcher, and Chris Sale (5-2) helped the White Sox have a very short memory. The southpaw needed 97 pitches to cover seven innings, allowing a Joe Mauer single in the first, Trevor Plouffe’s single in the fifth, and two walks.

Sale struck out six, but also recorded 11 outs via the ground ball. He pitched in complete sync with catcher A.J. Pierzynski, establishing his fastball, working in the changeup and going a little easier on the slider. It’s a slight alteration the hurler has made with his electric stuff since returning to the rotation on May 12 following an 11-day absence due to left elbow soreness.

“Part of pitching is finding a groove and rolling with it,” said Sale, who has not allowed more than three runs in any of his eight starts this season. “I felt early that I got into a groove, and A.J. was back there calling one of the best games I’ve seen him call in a while. It was fun to be out there.

“I felt like I was commanding my fastball well, and I threw the changeup for strikes more so than I have been. A.J. knew that. We used that to our advantage.”

Shutting down the Twins (15-28) has never been a problem for Sale, who has held Minnesota hitters to a career .130 average (7-for-54). But Sale faced the Twins for the first time in his career as a starter, and the visitors found out on Wednesday that the White Sox are a better team with Sale in charge of 100 or so pitches.

“Tonight was a night Sale was really tough on us,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He had the ball moving, a nice changeup, a nice breaking ball for the lefties and two different fastballs.

“From that angle, sidearm, that’s really tough on lefties, and he ate some righties up. Made some nice pitches. We had what, four hits tonight, so that pretty much tells you.”

Aside from Sale’s dominance, the next biggest asset for the White Sox was Minnesota’s defense, or lack thereof. The Twins committed three errors, leading to only two of the five runs scored off of Scott Diamond (3-1) being earned.

Second baseman Jamey Carroll booted Gordon Beckham’s sure-fire double play in the first inning, allowing Adam Dunn to drive in the game’s first run with a single to center. Darin Mastroianni’s error on Alex Rios’ fly ball to right in the sixth sparked a two-run uprising that began with Paul Konerko’s single. Pierzynski doubled one run home, and Orlando Hudson’s groundout scored the second.

Rios launched a two-run homer on a 0-2 Diamond pitch in the fourth, producing his first since the season’s second game in Texas. It was Rios’ second and third RBIs since May 12.

Konerko added home run No. 9 in the seventh, pushing his total to 398 homers as a member of the White Sox, and 405 overall. The White Sox captain, who missed most of three games after being hit in the left side of the face with a Jeff Samardzija pitch on Friday at Wrigley Field, is 5-for-8 since returning to the lineup, and is an astonishing 17-for-30 with three homers and seven RBIs during his nine-game hitting streak.

His .381 average gives Konerko a slight edge over Texas’ Josh Hamilton (.379) for the American League lead, while his .462 on-base percentage tops all AL hitters.

“It’s stupid, honestly,” said Sale with a laugh of Konerko’s excellence. “It’s like he’s playing video games.”

“You are getting some hits to fall, but you can’t let that sway you that you are getting them,” Konerko said. “You keep working and grinding.”

Cleveland’s win over Detroit kept the White Sox 3 1/2 games back in the AL Central, but the White Sox now have a 1 1/2-game lead over the third-place Tigers. They bounced back from a rough Tuesday, which included the funeral for close friend and colleague Kevin Hickey, but that resiliency has been there since Day 1.

“Our best thing all year we’ve done is we’ve had some bad losses and walk-off losses, and it’s where it could get bad, or let it go and we bounce back,” Konerko said. “A lot of that goes to Robin and the staff.

“They’re very positive and very, ‘What’s next?’ They don’t drag any baggage, good or bad, to the next day. Everybody walks in the next day and it’s like ... It’s not like we’ve played [44] games, it’s like we’ve played one game [44] times. It’s a good attitude to have.”

Yeah, I like beach balls too.

It has been kind of fun watching this team slowly come together and pull for each other. All things considered it was a very real possibility that this could have gone to Hell in a hand-basket just as quickly. My source on the Southside says the players really like Robin and they love the fact that he deals with any issues in private. Not that the team didn’t like Ozzie being Ozzie, but a little calm can go a long way right now.

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