Cubs’ poor 2011 hurts Marlon Byrd as much as fastball that hit his face
By Toni Ginnetti firstname.lastname@example.org September 20, 2011 12:30AM
Updated: November 30, 2011 12:18AM
Four months after a fastball from Red Sox righty Alfredo Aceves struck him in the face in one of the season’s most frightening moments, there’s hardly a mark on Marlon Byrd.
The mark that lingers, though, is the inner scar left by the Cubs’ losing season.
‘‘It’s hard to sum up,’’ he said. ‘‘Every year since I’ve come over here, you look at our team on paper, and we have a good team. And then you look at our record, and it shows we haven’t played up to our capability.’’
The team Byrd joined in 2010 was coming off a winning season (83-78) in ’09 and two playoff seasons before that. Byrd, 34, was coming off his best all-around year with the Rangers, hitting .283 with 20 homers and 89 RBI, before he signed a three-year pact.
He hit .293 for the Cubs last season, earning an All-Star berth.
This year, Byrd didn’t have a chance to repeat at the Midsummer Classic. He was recuperating from the facial fractures of that May 21 game and wondering if he would even play again.
‘‘I wasn’t sure I would come back, but I was able to come back, and I’m appreciative of that,’’ Byrd said. ‘‘It hasn’t affected my game. But I still expected my numbers to be better when I came back. That’s just me being competitive.’’
But it’s hard to find fault in those numbers, especially given the six weeks he missed while recuperating.
He led the team in hitting in July (.323) after returning July 2, then hit only .250 in August.
Byrd had an eight-game hitting streak snapped Monday, when he went 0-for-4. He’s hitting .283, but his power production has been affected with eight homers and 32 RBI. Byrd still has a chance to finish a fifth consecutive season hitting .283 or higher.
Defensively, he remains a reliable glove in center field.
He has played well, even though the memory of May 21 lingers.
‘‘I still think about it every day,’’ Byrd said. ‘‘I’m in the field sometimes, and I see a guy like [Reds left-hander Aroldis] Chapman come in. ‘What if he lets one go, and I don’t see it until the last second?’ But then you think, ‘What’s the worst thing that could happen? You get hit in the face again.’ It’s one of those things. It goes through your head, but I’m still ready to go and have good at-bats and not be jumpy in the batter’s box.’’
Byrd would say a worse scenario would be another failed Cubs season in 2012. He is just as committed to avoiding that.
‘‘There are a lot of things up in the air with Jim [Hendry] gone,’’ he said. ‘‘You don’t know what direction they’re going to go. Is it rebuilding? Is it just trying to build with what we have and adding pieces?
‘‘Look at the Brewers. Everyone thought Cincinnati [would repeat]. That’s a good thing for us.’’
There are other bright spots.
‘‘We have Starlin [Castro] going for 200 hits; Sean Marshall having a great year in the bullpen; Darwin Barney having a great rookie season,’’ Byrd said. ‘‘The young guys have to get better, and some of our veterans, including me, have to have better years. We have the pieces, and we also have young guys like outfielder Brett Jackson and catcher Welington Castillo coming who can contribute. It’s up in the air, but you never know.’’
Byrd does know one thing: He wants to stay.
‘‘The reason I can say that — and people can believe me — is because I want to win in Chicago,’’ he said. ‘‘If you win here, it will be like no other place because it hasn’t happened in so long. I have one more year on my contract, but hopefully it will be longer than that because I just started something here, and I want to finish it.’’