Rookies see rivalry testiness as Lackey jaws at Castro in Cubs loss
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter August 31, 2014 9:50PM
Updated: August 31, 2014 11:09PM
ST. LOUIS — That new world order the Cubs are trying to create in the National League Central might not be coming quite as fast as many seemed to believe as recently as Friday.
But unless guys such as Javy Baez and Jorge Soler were asleep Sunday, they should have a pretty good idea of the havoc this Cubs-Cardinals rivalry can wreak and how brutish life in this division can be.
A four-game weekend full of Cubs rookie energy, sold-out crowds in St. Louis and high-stakes baseball (for the home team) caved in on the young Cubs on Sunday when they blew a five-run lead in a 9-6 loss — a game that also included the usual Cubs-Cards emotional flareup.
After winning the first two games and taking a 1-1 battle into the fifth inning of the third, the Cubs were outscored 21-7 the rest of the way to settle for a series split as the Cardinals caught the first-place Milwaukee Brewers in the standings on the final day of August.
Talk about a buzz kill for the future-is-now believers on the eve of Soler’s Wrigley Field debut against the Brewers on Monday.
‘‘That’s the beauty of the Central Division,’’ relentlessly upbeat manager Rick Renteria said. ‘‘We’ve got some clubs that are battling. I’ll still take my club against their club any day.’’
Fine. Whatever. Just don’t tell the guys in the clubhouse they got anything out of Sunday’s debacle, which included misplays by rookies Arismendy Alcantara on a fly to center and by Baez on a bouncer up the middle he couldn’t stop. That’s not mentioning four RBI by Cub-killer Matt Holliday (for nine in the final 14 innings of the series).
‘‘We take nothing from it,’’ said reliever Carlos Villanueva, who walked Matt Carpenter intentionally to load the bases in the eighth in a tie game, leading to Holliday’s tie-breaking two-out single.
‘‘We take a loss,’’ Villanueva added. ‘‘We’re not happy about it. It’s up to us to do something about it. Our goal down the stretch is to break as many hearts as possible.’’
That’s been the message to the nine rookies who suddenly make up nearly half the roster. Contenders make up the entire schedule the rest of the way, mostly in the division.
‘‘Everybody knows what we have,’’ Anthony Rizzo said of the young talent. ‘‘Everyone gets on first base and says, ‘Man, you’re going to be really good soon.’ That ‘soon’ is up now. It starts now. September is in our division. We want to put our stamp on our division.’’
Said shortstop Starlin Castro: ‘‘We’re trying to show those guys they have to be careful next year because we’re coming.’’
They’re getting an idea of what it’ll take, including the emotions that come with it. Cardinals pitcher John Lackey showed it, barking at Castro in the fourth over Castro cussing at himself when he popped up a pitch. Lackey then took it to first-base coach Eric Hinske when Hinske intervened. An inning later, Lackey was in Hinske’s face again to ‘‘explain’’ his problem.
Hinske: ‘‘I told him, ‘OK,’ and, ‘Chill out and let’s relax.’ ’’
Lackey’s version: ‘‘No comment.’’
Castro said he was surprised: ‘‘When I missed the pitch, I said something to myself in Spanish. I didn’t say nothing to him.’’
Castro chalked it up to a team ‘‘fighting to make the playoffs.’’
‘‘They get mad when we win,’’ he said.
Hinske, who played on three World Series teams, called it ‘‘playoff atmosphere.’’
‘‘It’s good for them to play a game like that,’’ he said. ‘‘Knowing what it’s like to feel all that intensity, when you’re up with two outs in the top of the ninth, and there’s guys on second and third, in front of 50,000 people, you can’t duplicate that.
‘‘It was fun. The only bad part was losing.’’