Before we begin today allow me to direct you to my annual rant about how Americans celebrate the wrong Declaration of Independence. And, no, it as nothing to do with the Magna Carta. Go, read, learn, come back.
Today is a day we celebrate the birth of our country on the wrong date by mixing alcohol, explosives and the occasional hot dog.
It is also a day where the American flag will be displayed in wildly inappropriate ways by people who claim to be patriots. According to Paragraph 8(c) of the U.S. Flag Code, “The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping in front of the platform, and for a decoration in general.”
The guy across the street from me has already violated two provisions and it isn’t even 7 AM yet.
Nevertheless, when baseball fans talk about fireworks they are talking not of dangerous, yet colorful, explosives. Nay, I say unto thee, they are talking about homers, dingers, round trippers, bleacher rockets, four baggers, knocks, long balls, moon shots and, well, home runs. Yesterday the Cubs and Sox took part in some serious fireworks displays.
We’ll start with the Cubs.
Chris Volstad admitted he’s trying to be too perfect. All the Cubs want him to do is be good.
Once again, one bad inning was Volstad’s downfall, and once again, he took the loss.
Michael Bourn hit a three-run triple, Jason Heyward hit a solo home run in a five-run fifth, and Chipper Jones had five hits and drove in four runs to lead the Braves to a 10-3 victory Tuesday night over the Cubs, who snapped a four-game win streak, and Volstad, who has not won in his last 20 starts.
This was Volstad’s first start after a mid-May demotion to Triple-A Iowa, and it came after rain delayed the start of the game for 52 minutes.
“It’s definitely a learning process, and getting back out there was good,” Volstad said. “I think it’s a matter of me trying to be perfect and too fine and trying to be better than I have to be.
“Nobody’s perfect, so how can I expect myself to be? I need to relax and throw pitches like I had in innings one, two, three, four.”
Volstad (0-7) gave up six runs on seven hits over 4 1/3 innings. He has not won since July 10, 2011, nearly a full calendar year, and is 0-12 with a 5.68 ERA in the 20 starts. If Volstad stays on schedule, he’ll have one more chance for a “W” before the All-Star break on Sunday against the Mets.
“Not much has changed, obviously,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “It was another big inning. There was still some hard contact going on before that [inning], and his stuff and location wasn’t all that good anyway. The ball wasn’t down. It didn’t seem as if anything was sinking very good.
“He didn’t pitch to the game plan either. That was a little bit discouraging, too. He shook [catcher Steve Clevenger] off a lot for some reason. Another combination of a lot of things he’s got to learn to work on.”
Was Volstad disagreeing with his catcher?
“Not really,” Volstad said. “I think I shook more in the other innings than in the fifth. For the most part, we were right there on the same page. A couple, one or two, here or there.”
Volstad looked fine in the first four innings.
“I think it’s just a matter of attacking, attacking the zone,” Volstad said. “You see what I can do when I do that—four innings of two hits and one run.”
After the game, Clevenger said he should’ve taken charge.
“There were a couple times when we weren’t on the same page, and it’s probably my fault that I didn’t go out to talk to him and let him know what I thought,” Clevenger said. “I take credit for him not being successful out there. That’s the game, and it happens sometimes. Next time, I won’t let it happen.”
It’s tough to not win for 20 consecutive games.
“You’ve got to run into a win once in a while,” Sveum said. “Sometimes you can’t explain certain things, but it’s very hard to do.”
When Volstad was sent to Iowa in mid-May, the Cubs wanted the right-hander to work on his mental approach, his body language, his confidence. On Monday, Volstad said he felt good after his stint in the Minor Leagues.
But he didn’t get off to a good start as he walked Bourn on four pitches to open the Braves’ first. Bourn scored two outs later on Jones’ single. It was the first of five hits for the 40-year-old third baseman, who found out prior to the game he was named to the National League All-Star team in place of injured Matt Kemp.
“I don’t think that swing is ready to retire,” Sveum said of Jones, who has announced he’ll retire after this season. “He could go to the American League and DH. There’s still a lot left in that swing.”
“Tonight was just one of those dream games,” Jones said. “I’d be hard pressed to find another game where I played better.”
The Cubs took advantage of Braves miscues in the third. With one out, David DeJesus was safe on a hit that deflected off first baseman Freddie Freeman into shallow right. DeJesus then scored on second baseman Dan Uggla’s throwing error as he fielded Starlin Castro’s grounder and threw it into left field. Castro reached second on the miscue and was nearly forced out on Anthony Rizzo’s grounder, but he somehow slid around the tag of shortstop Andrelton Simmons. Bryan LaHair and Clevenger then each hit RBI singles for a 3-1 lead.
The Braves then batted around in the fifth. They loaded the bases with none out and went ahead, 4-3, on Bourn’s triple that was just fair down the right-field line. Bourn then scored on Martin Prado’s sacrifice fly, and Heyward followed with his 13th home run to make it 6-3.
In the Braves’ sixth, the Cubs’ pitchers walked six.
“It was very difficult to watch,” Sveum said. “They were scuds. It didn’t seem like anything was close.”
Rafael Dolis walked the bases loaded, and Jairo Asencio walked Prado to force in a run. One out later, Jones cleared them with a double.
But the focus was on Volstad. Maybe going 20 games without a “W” is getting to him.
“I think it’s me wanting to be a competitor,” he said. “I get runners on base, I’m trying to keep the team in the game, win the game, we’re ahead and it’s just bad thinking on my part. I don’t think the streak has to do with anything. It’s just a matter of me wanting to be perfect. I can’t expect that of myself.”
It’s just one day at a time.
“I just focus on each individual pitch, and that’s all I can do,” Volstad said.
Volstad needs a time out. He’s come completely unglued. That fifth inning would have been fourteen tons of ugly if the Cubs had been facing a heavy hitting team. Also, just FYI, shaking off pitches when you’re in a funk is a really, really, bad idea.
Oh well, there’s not really anything to add to that so let’s mosey down to the Southside where the Sox faced the Roiders, ooops, sorry, I meant Rangers for a battle of two first place teams.
Kevin Youkilis has a new home uniform and from the way it looked on Tuesday night at U.S. Cellular Field, the former Red Sox star looks pretty good in pinstripes.
The pinstripes of the White Sox, that is.
Youkilis launched a two-run homer, his fifth of the season and first with the White Sox, in his first at-bat of his home debut with Chicago and helped spark three rallies that led to a 19-2 rout of the Rangers (50-31).
“It was a great night,” said Youkilis, who went 3-for-6 with four RBIs, including a two-run homer in a four-run first inning. “It was awesome just to get that huge lead and letting Chris do his job out there on the mound and sling it up there. It was fun. Couldn’t ask for a better start to the homestand.”
The White Sox (43-37), who got another strong performance out of starter Chris Sale (10-2), simply torched the Texas pitching staff.
That included starter Roy Oswalt to the tune of 11 runs (nine earned) on 13 hits over just 4 2/3 innings. Oswalt also allowed three home runs, all in the first, while A.J. Pierzynski clubbed his 15th of the season off Yoshinori Tateyama to cap a nine-run fifth for Chicago.
However, it was Youkilis’ sterling home debut that highlighted the night. Aside from his offensive contributions, he also made a couple of nifty defensive plays at third base—all things that his new teammates and Chicago’s front office knew he was capable of doing prior to acquiring the veteran on June 24 in a trade.
“I don’t think people really realize how big of an acquisition Kevin is,” said Adam Dunn, who blasted his 25th homer right after Youkilis’ shot in the first and finished 2-for-2 with two RBIs. “I really think he’s going to help us in the second half a lot, when he kind of gets comfortable. He’s just a really good player.”
If Youkilis isn’t comfortable on Chicago’s South Side after this performance—and the chants of “Yoooouuuukk!” that accompanied it—then he might never settle in. However, he already looks like a perfect fit manning the hot corner for a team that’s been sorely lacking an offensive presence from that spot all season.
Youkilis can also play first base and appears to be mixing into his new team pretty well. The deal might also be proving to be the new start that Youkilis needed after faltering in Boston through the first half of this season, battling injuries and offensive struggles. His woes in Beantown are what ultimately led to his trade to the Windy City, which prompted a pregame question about feeling like he needed to prove himself as a star player all over again.
“In this game you have to prove yourself until the day you retire,” Youkilis answered. “Every year there’s expectations to fulfill and sometimes you fall short of them and sometimes you exceed them, so it’s part of the game. You can’t focus on that. You’ve just got to play. For me, I just try to go out and play. I haven’t played up to my capabilities yet this year and hopefully in the second half I can.”
White Sox manager Robin Ventura also hopes that’s the case, but likes the whole package that Youkilis provides.
“He brings a lot of stuff, not just being a good player but just his approach and the way he plays,” Ventura said. “It’s contagious and it’s great for our lineup and great for our team to have him in here. He’s a pro and that’s one of the things in trading for a guy like him. You get a lot more than just numbers and history. You get a good player that people feed off. He makes your team better in a lot of ways.”
Youkilis went just 1-for-14 in a four-game series against the Yankees on the road this past weekend, but broke out in a big way against Oswalt and the Rangers on a hot, muggy night Tuesday that had the ball jumping off bats.
“That’s why he’s [hitting second],” Ventura said. “I just think he fits in right there. We’ve got Dunn behind him and [Paul] Konerko. He’s batted there before. He can handle the bat, move guys around, get a big hit. You also want him to bat as many times in a game. When that lineup turns over, you want him there.”
Youkilis said he doesn’t really care where his name is slotted, just as long as it’s in the lineup.
“It doesn’t matter where you hit in my mind,” he said. “Just going out there and being in the lineup every day is an enjoyable thing. A lot of guys would kill to crack the lineup every day here, so for me ... I just go and try to have good at-bats no matter where I’m hitting in the lineup and if I do that I’ll help this team win.”
On this night, he also happened to be just one of many White Sox having those good at-bats. The White Sox put on a hitting exhibition at the expense of the Rangers.
The back-to-back homers by Youkilis and Dunn were the seventh time the White Sox have gone deep in successive at-bats this season, while the 19 runs set a franchise high in a single game against the Rangers. It was such an impressive display that another sterling outing from Sale was a bit overshadowed—which he didn’t seem to mind.
“It was like an explosion went off,” said Sale, who allowed just one earned run through 7 1/3 innings before leaving to a standing ovation for his efforts. “It was fun to watch. I’d like to sit here and point out who did what, but through the lineup up and down, everyone swung the bat outstanding. To get that kind of run support, I’ve said it before, it kind of calms you down and you just go about your business and everything will take care of itself.”
Pierzynski’s three-run shot in the nine-run fifth, which made it 16-0, was also noteworthy because of the comments by both him and Texas manager Ron Washington this past weekend regarding the White Sox catcher being left off the American League All Star team.
A fielding error by Ian Kinsler with two outs in the inning was also a key part of the disastrous frame for the Rangers—who managed just five hits of their own against Sale, who improved to 10-2. In the last two games between these teams at U.S. Cellular Field, the White Sox outscored Texas by a whopping 29-2 count.
“Same thing you saw,” Washington said. “We got the ball over the plate, they didn’t miss. They came out swinging the bat. Every center-cut ball we put on that plate they certainly didn’t miss it. We were thoroughly beat tonight. Just couldn’t stop their offense.”
Elvis Andrus drove in two runs for the Rangers in the eighth inning as the lone Texas highlight.
White Sox reliever Brian Omogrosso, one of nine rookies on the roster, made his Major League debut and got his first strikeout by tossing 1 2/3 innings to close the game out for Sale.
My buddy Angelina took her daughter to her first game. Now she has to figure out a way to get her darling child to understand that not every game comes with a fireworks display every five minutes. Because, to a five year old, that was the best part.
Anyway, I know you’ve got things to do so I’ll just leave you to them while I sit back and enjoy the first place White Sox, a beer, a hot dog and an M-80.
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