Fontenot proves Cubs aren't giving up
Second baseman's amazing catch highlights stellar defense
CHICAGO -- Mike Fontenot's season hasn't gone as well as he would like at the plate, but he's made up for it with his glove.
The second baseman made a dazzling sliding catch of Kaz Matsui's popup in the visiting team's bullpen in the Houston sixth inning Wednesday to help preserve the Cubs' 2-0 victory over the Astros.
"Fontenot should be the No. 1 web gem," said Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee, who had a front-row view of the catch. "That's one of the best plays of the year -- catching it, sliding into the bullpen. It was a tough sun on that side of the diamond. It was a great play."
Ask anyone who has played the right side of the field at Wrigley Field and they'll tell you the sun is almost always in their eyes. Add the wind off Lake Michigan, and it can be an adventure. Fontenot didn't see Matsui's popup right away.
"It went up in the sun, and I was just running over there as fast as I can," Fontenot said. "Eventually, I was going to try to make a slide because I know the wall is right there. The first thing I noticed when I got up was [right fielder Milton Bradley] was right in my face rooting me on. I jumped up and threw the ball back in. It was pretty exciting."
It's one of Fontenot's favorite plays to make.
"I've always liked the balls that go up in the air because you can run after them and make a good play," he said.
But it's just not something he practices.
"Not really," Fontenot said. "Last year, [coach Ivan] DeJesus was just messing around, hitting some fly balls. You just run after it, especially at Wrigley and all the wind and things like that. As an infielder, you're taught to keep going out there because you never know.
"I was just trying to beat D-Lee to the ball because he'll go over there and catch them," the 5-foot-8 Fontenot said of the 6-foot-5 first baseman. "He can just stand right there and I can't jump high enough to get it from him. I try to get over there as fast as I can to get it from him."
OK, all kidding aside, Cubs pitcher Ted Lilly appreciated the effort.
"Games like that, more and more, you realize how important defense is," said Lilly, who picked up the win. "We don't know what would've happened had they not been made, but I believe they changed the game from a momentum standpoint.
"The other dugout, they hit a potential double in the gap, or single -- the ball that [Jeff] Keppinger hit [in the third] -- and [Andres Blanco] comes out and makes an incredible play, and it's tough for any club to handle with the game on the line. It's fun to watch some of those guys play the kind of defense they've been playing."
Lou Piniella appreciated it.
"I've said many times how Fontenot has struggled with the bat, but I admire that he continues to play with the glove," Piniella said of the second baseman, who is batting a less than spectacular .225. "Sometimes that becomes a little more difficult to do. In his case, he's been very professional about it."
That extra hustle and effort shows Piniella the players haven't given up, even though the Cubs have a steep climb to secure a playoff spot.
"I don't see anybody laying down here," Piniella said. "Look at the play that Fontenot made down the right-field line. Bradley has picked up his play in right field. There's nobody laying down here. Our problem is that there are times this year we've been challenged offensively. I commend the guys for playing hard."
Runs have been hard to come by.
"You've got pitchers out there pitching really well, battling, and you want to do anything you can to make plays for them," Fontenot said. "I felt that was one of those opportunities for me."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.