CHICAGO – Just because the Cubs made two costly outs on the bases Thursday doesn’t mean their days of aggressive base running are done.
Dale Sveum has been preaching to his guys to push it on the bases since he walked into the front door, although on Opening Day they were marched to the exit because of it.
Alfonso Soriano tried to steal third base with one out in the fourth inning and was thrown out easily. It proved especially costly when the Cubs then rallied for a run, their only one of the game.
On top of that, they weren’t fully aggressive on Soriano’s steal as Ian Stewart remained tethered to the bag at first base the entire time. He did score eventually though on Marlon Byrd’s single to left field.
The most high profile out on the bases came in the ninth inning, though, with the Cubs down by a run. After a one-out triple from Stewart, Joe Mather was brought in as a pinch-runner. The Cubs immediately put on the contact play.
It’s not as if the contact play will always be on, but with Nationals closer Brad Lidge throwing one breaking ball after another, manager Dale Sveum decided to take his chances. The contact play requires the base runner to break for home once contact is made and the ball is on the ground, regardless of where it is headed.
“It’s just unfortunate the fielder didn’t have to move a little left or right,” Sveum said. “But that’s the gamble you’re taking. The odds of getting a hit with two outs and a guy like Lidge throwing sliders every pitch, I’ll take my chances on a ground ball being hit one step to the left or right of a fielder and we score and tie the game up.”
Mather is more than familiar with the contact play from his days with the St. Louis Cardinals. With Dave McKay now on the Cubs’ coaching staff after 16 years with the Cardinals, Mather said there was plenty of work on the play this spring.
“Off the bat it felt like it was going to be right at him,” Mather said of the ground ball to Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “I knew I basically had to bust it and maybe put pressure on him to make a wide throw but he hung in there and made a good play.”
Against pitchers like Stephen Strasburg and Lidge, the Cubs figured they had better take their chances. They either took too many or didn’t get enough of them.