Yesterday, when the temperature dropped to a mere 85 degrees I was afraid I would need to break out my winter coat. My body had become used to having cascading rivulets of sweat dripping off it. If I stood too long in one place saline based life forms would begin to evolve. Yes, I was a salty, sweaty, mess.
What? Oh, yeah, that’s really Kate Upton and no, I have no clue what she’s doing. I like it , I just don’t know what it is.
Anyway, salty sweaty etcetera.
But as bad as it was for us mere mortals, imagine what it must have been like for our local athletes. Clearly the heat got to Matt Forte when he announced he was excited to play this season and wouldn’t be holding out. Whatever little bit of leverage his agent had just went swirling down the sewer. On the other hand, if the worst you can do is collect $7,000,000 you could have worse days.
Also out in the heat were our two favorite baseball teams. Since I said that the Cubs needed , and could, go 50-31 to get to .500 they’ve gone 1-2. That was pointed out to me several times yesterday by well meaning and caring individuals who read this blog. While that is true they have looked better overall than they have all season. I’ll stick to my rusty gun on this one and see how the season plays out.
Carrie Muskat was in the Big Apple and says the Cubs look better than advertised.
The first half of Jeff Samardzija’s first full season as a big league starter ended on a positive note, even if it was a loss.
Ike Davis hit a two-run home run and Jordany Valdespin added a solo shot off Samardzija to help the Mets even the three-game series with a 3-1 victory Saturday over the Cubs.
“He did great,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “His last two outings before the break, he pitched really, really good. The confidence level is definitely [good], and he’s going into the second half in a good frame of mind.”
Samardzija (6-8) scattered seven hits over seven innings, striking out four. He had a tough June, going 0-4 with a 10.41 ERA, then posted his best outing of the season Monday against the Braves, striking out 11 over seven innings. Add in Saturday’s outing, and it should give him peace of mind over the All-Star break.
“To bounce back from that [June] is really key for me,” Samardzija said. “First season starting, you’re going to go through the ups and downs, and it’s all about how you respond. I’ve felt great these last couple starts, which mentally is huge after you struggle a little bit, and that’s how it goes. You get 32 starts each season and you have to learn from each one.”
Sveum had cautioned before the game that Samardzija had to keep the ball down against the Mets, whose lineup was stacked with left-handed hitters. Valdespin connected on a 1-1 pitch with one out in the second to give the Mets the lead. Ruben Tejada singled to lead off the third, and two outs later, Davis hit his 12th home run and second off Samardzija this year on a splitter. Davis also hit a three-run blast on June 27 at Wrigley Field in the Mets’ 17-1 win, which came against Samardzija. He lasted 4 1/3 innings in that game, giving up nine runs.
“That first game in Chicago was just one of those games when I didn’t have my good stuff and wasn’t pitching very confident, but you learn from those things,” Samardzija said. “You learn what didn’t go well and try to make the adjustment today, and I thought I did. I really don’t think I pitched bad early—just those two homers.”
It’s the second straight start in which Samardzija went seven innings, and he’s now at 101 1/3 innings, his highest total in the big leagues. He has thrown more in 2010 and ‘07 in the Minors, but these are the Major Leagues.
“I think I’m just starting to hit my stride,” Samardzija said. “My arm feels great, my body feels great. I’m looking forward to hitting the second half strong. ... It’s going to be a big thing for me to prove to these guys that in the second half I stay strong.”
Dillon Gee (6-7) struck out four over eight innings and held the Cubs to seven hits, including an RBI single by David DeJesus in the sixth.
“A lot of times for me, it’s trying to find that rhythm,” Gee said. “The first three innings for me are huge. If I can put up zeros in those innings, then I can find it.”
Bobby Parnell picked up the save, although the game ended on a questionable called-third strike against catcher Steve Clevenger.
“You take two pitches that are closer, and then get rung up on that—it’s kind of disappointing,” Clevenger said.
Sveum cut himself off rather than comment on the call.
“It was a great at-bat by Clevenger—I’ll stop myself,” Sveum said. “It’s a shame, a guy has an at-bat like that and it ends like that.”
Back to Samardzija. The Cubs knew there would be growing pains as he makes the conversion, but he’s shown he can make adjustments in-game and keep his composure when things don’t go the way he’d like. The Cubs have seen a change in Samardzija after 80 pitches, but lately, he’s shown he can handle the extra workload.
“I have the confidence in him—we were talking about the 80-pitch mark, and he’s been able to overcome that in the last couple outings,” Sveum said. “He’s kept the fastball down and did a nice job after the 80-pitch mark, too.”
The Cubs lost for the fourth time in the last 12 games. When the Cubs woke up Saturday, they were no longer in last place in the National League Central, having been replaced by the Astros. Houston beat the Brewers on Saturday to move ahead of the Cubs, who have one more game Sunday to finish on a positive note.
“It sounds kind of minimal,” Sveum said, “but it’s a nice thing [to not be last] after having obviously a tough two months. To finish the last month on a pretty good note and not be in the cellar, it’d be a nice way to finish the first half off.”
If there ever was a poster child for how to screw up a pitcher’s career, Jeff Samardzija is it. The Cubs bounced him around so much he probably had no idea if he was coming or going or getting prepped to be the bat boy. Last year someone threw a dart at a dart board and Samardzija became a reliever. And a very good one at that. Now, finally, he is starting and, like all first time starters, has gone through a rough patch. But, he does have the right kind of stuff to be a force for years to come. So, relax Cubs fans, all this kid is going to do is get better.
On the Southside, Gavin “Gas Can” Floyd took the mound to try and quell the hopes of the Blue Jays. That would be the same Blue Jays he was 0-5 against previously. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Jays’ Joy of Six. The Floyd they saw last night was not the Floyd of old. His pitching repertoire has been shortened, the cutter seems to be completely gone from it, and his delivery has been quickened. The result is a fast paced game that keeps hitters on their heels. And it is working. Scott Merkin tells us all about it.
Oh, and there’s some stuff about the new guy named Youk.
Kevin Youkilis wants to make one fact perfectly clear, if he hasn’t already countless times since moving to Chicago.
This rejuvenated success he has found as part of the White Sox, with the Youk legend taking on another chapter in Saturday’s 2-0 victory over the Blue Jays before 25,399 at U.S. Cellular Field, has nothing to do with showing something to his previous employer.
“I play for the White Sox,” said Youkilis, who understandably has had his fill of Red Sox questions. “I’m here to play for the White Sox.”
And the White Sox (47-37) are more than happy to have him.
Locked in a scoreless pitchers’ battle between Gavin Floyd and Ricky Romero in the fifth inning, Youkilis blasted a 1-1 pitch from Romero 423 feet to center for his third home run since the June 24 trade and his seventh overall. Youkilis has driven in at least one run during all six July games played by the White Sox, and has 10 overall during that time span.
If Rahm Emanuel was up for re-election sometime in the next few days, Youkilis would present a serious challenge. For now, Youkilis will have to settle for instant cult-hero status and the chanting of the shortened version of his last name—even when making a basic play at third.
“You can be popular one week and you can ... bomb the next,” Youkilis said. “This game is crazy, and you’ve just got to keep grinding it out. You can’t get too high and you can’t get too low. You just try to stay in the middle.”
“He plays the game the right way. He plays the game hard every single day,” said White Sox reliever Matt Thornton of Youkilis. “He brings a great attitude every single day.”
Alexei Ramirez opened the White Sox fifth with a single and was sacrificed to second by Orlando Hudson. Alejandro De Aza flied out to center for the second out, leaving Toronto manager John Farrell with a bit of a decision: face the red-hot Youkilis with first base open or pitch around him and take on the equally dangerous Adam Dunn, but also a left-handed hitter who is batting just .158 this season against southpaws.
With Dunn having singled and walked earlier in the game off of Romero (8-4), the Blue Jays starter went after Youkilis. It was an understandable idea, but the wrong approach when Youkilis connected on a 91-mph fastball.
“The 1-1 pitch that he’s trying to go in to Youkilis, he misfires across the plate,” said Farrell of the mistake-pitch by Romero. “It costs him two runs and [is] ultimately the difference in the ballgame.”
“I’m just having fun,” said Youkilis, who has four homers and seven RBIs lifetime vs. Romero. “Just going out there and playing baseball and trying to do little things here and there.”
Floyd (7-8) held the Blue Jays (42-43) scoreless over 7 2/3 innings, allowing four hits and throwing 100 pitches. Toronto’s only viable scoring opportunity came in the seventh, following singles by Edwin Encarnacion and one out later by Yunel Escobar. But with runners on first and second, Rajai Davis hit Floyd’s next pitch for an inning-ending double play.
It was Floyd’s third scoreless start in his last four trips to the mound.
“Honestly, coming out of the bullpen getting started, I didn’t feel like I had the greatest stuff,” said Floyd, who fanned three and walked two. “Sometimes, there’s days you focus better and make the better pitches. As the game went on, I felt better and better and kept going.”
“Gavin threw the ball great. He worked fast,” said catcher A.J. Pierzynski of Floyd, who is 3-1 with a 1.37 ERA over his last four starts after going 1-4 with 10.38 ERA in his previous six outings. “He commanded all his pitches. It wasn’t a lot of dead time in between pitches and he was super aggressive—which is something we have been harping on him for a while about. It was nice to see and to see him get the results he got.”
Closer Addison Reed had pitched the last three games, so manager Robin Ventura called upon Matt Thornton (second save) for the four-out save. He got some ninth-inning help from a Jose Bautista baserunning blunder, when Bautista was thrown out at third trying to inexplicably stretch a double into a triple, down two runs and with one out after left fielder Dayan Viciedo lost his line shot in the sun.
Home cooking continued to taste sweet for the White Sox. They extended their winning streak to seven straight at U.S. Cellular Field and raised their record to 5-0 in this final six-game homestand before the All-Star break. Having Youkilis in the lineup simply adds to the home flavor, as the White Sox try to finish the first half on a high note on Sunday.
“Right now, the clubhouse is thinking ‘Let’s get tomorrow and enjoy the four days off,’” said a smiling Thornton. “Let’s battle out the last day, and come right out of the gates and get after it again.”
“It’s a good feeling when you know you can win in your home ballpark,” Pierzynski said. “Those are the games you’re supposed to win more than you lose—and if you can break even on the road, you should end up pretty well.”
You really can’t help yourself.
A buddy of mine, a hard core Sox fan, accidentally let fly with that particular battle cry in a moment of private passion with his wife.
Who is not a baseball fan.
He had some splaining to do.
But it was all worth it as far as he was concerned. And, when looked at logically, who could blame him?
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