05/22/10 12:06 AM ET
Lack of clutch hitting plagues Cubs in loss
Club strands nine runners; errors in fourth prove costly
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
"It's time somebody just gets a big hit around here; it really is," Piniella said after the Cubs lost, 2-1, to the Texas Rangers on Friday night, their 24th game out of 43 that was decided by two or fewer runs.
"It's time," Piniella said. "We're almost in June now. I could see [in] April. Once you get past six weeks of the season, you don't need any more at-bats to get sharp. [Ted] Lilly did a nice job, [Carlos] Zambrano did a nice job. We just didn't get the big hit."
That's been a recurring theme this season. On Friday, the Cubs were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and stranded nine baserunners.
"Everybody's trying to get the big hit. Everyone's trying to do a good job," Cubs center fielder Marlon Byrd said. "Everyone's trying to go out there and battle their butts off, and that's what they're doing. We're just not coming up with wins. We're not coming up with a key hit.
"We're not coming up with us on top," he added. "That's the bottom line. We're still trying to figure out a way to do that. We haven't done it consistently all year but we'll get there."
Byrd is optimistic. Piniella's patience is being tested.
"Look, you've got to hit with men on base, that's all there is to it," Piniella said. "It's really not that hard. I played [18 Major League seasons]. It's not like I haven't played up here. It's not that hard. It really isn't. I know everybody's trying but it's not that hard."
Piniella, by the way, had a career .303 batting average with runners in scoring position. He hit .297 with men on.
"There's a reason they're in first place," Byrd said of the Rangers, who lead the AL West. "Top to bottom, that lineup is very deadly. It's one of those things where you're playing a tough team and you have to keep scrapping. We're almost there."
"We have to score runs early in the game," Byrd said.
The Cubs did that on Friday. Chicago took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Mike Fontenot led off with a bloop double down the left-field line, moved to third on Xavier Nady's single and scored when Geovany Soto grounded into a double play.
The Cubs committed one error in their previous seven games, but Fontenot and Ryan Theriot made back-to-back bad throws, leading to a tying run in the fourth. Ian Kinsler bounced the ball to Fontenot, starting at third for the second time this year in place of injured Aramis Ramirez. His throw sailed past first baseman Derrek Lee for an error. Theriot retrieved the ball but threw wildly into left field for another miscue. Kinsler ended up at third, then scored on Vladimir Guerrero's double.
Guerrero took third on Josh Hamilton's first sacrifice as a Major Leaguer and scored on Nelson Cruz's double to put the Rangers ahead for good.
"I was playing way back, trying to make the play," Fontenot said. "Looking at it on film, if I had made a better throw, maybe I would've had a better chance at first base. I threw it away.
"I was trying to come up and make a play," he added. "I felt I was coming up pretty good on it."
"Running from first to second," Kinsler said, "I thought I might be pushing it. The ball hit off the wall, and [Theriot] did a good job of backing it up. Fortunately, he threw it into left field, and I was able to make it to third."
Things got worse for Fontenot in the eighth. With two outs, the Cubs had runners at second and third after Alfonso Soriano and Byrd both singled and moved up on a wild pitch. But Fontenot was called out on strikes to end the inning.
"I just didn't do it right there," Fontenot said. "[In] different spots, we could've done different things. We just didn't get it done."
Ted Lilly (1-4) took the loss and took no satisfaction from picking up another quality start, a wasted quality start. He gave up two runs on six hits and three walks over 6 2/3 innings. Optimistic Lilly fans should remember the 2008 season, which he also opened 1-4 and finished 17-9.
"The only thing I'm out there trying to do is win, whatever fashion it takes. I don't care what it looks like," Lilly said. "I don't care how many runs I give up. It doesn't matter. I'm just trying to win. As long as I win -- we win -- somehow. I don't care how many runs we score, how many runs they score, how many hits they get. Wins and losses, that's all that matters. What it comes down to, for me, is giving up fewer runs."
It would be easier if the Cubs could come up with a clutch hit now and then.
"Everyone's trying to find a way," Lilly said. "I don't think you can look at any one thing in particular. We're in this together for the rest of the year as a team."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.