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Darwin Barney almost second to none at second base

DarwBarney tied David Eckstein’s National League record for consecutive errorless games by second baseman 112. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Darwin Barney tied David Eckstein’s National League record for consecutive errorless games by a second baseman at 112. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 30, 2012 6:30AM

Darwin Barney came to bat in the second inning, two men on, two out, Brewers up 3-0.

Crack, he hit a fly ball to right fielder Norichika Aoki. Three outs.

But hitting is not why people are watching Barney. That is, if they’re watching anything that has to do the 49-79 Cubs at all. No, insightful folks have an eye on the Cubs infielder because, even in this maelstrom of a sad season, he is a beautiful thing to follow with his glove, his arm, his hustle, his grace, his precision in the field

A career shortstop, the 26-year-old Barney moved to second base last year, his first full season in the majors, because, well, the shortstop position was taken.

Maybe you’ve heard of Starlin Castro? The 22-year-old phenom signed a contract before the game for seven years and $60 million. Castro is a two-time All-Star and potential Hall of Famer, and Barney is a guy trying to last in the big leagues, a sharp fellow from Oregon State making about $500,000.

So second base looked pretty good to him. And now, after struggling with the nuances of the position last year, Barney is set to become something of a legendary figure at that spot.

Coming into the game, which the Cubs would lose 4-1, Barney had gone 112 games at second base without committing an error. He already had passed Ryne Sandberg’s club record of 90 consecutive games without an error, and if he could make it through this game without an error, he would tie former Padre David Eckstein’s National League record of 113 games without a miscue, set in 2010.

Barney did it.

In the first inning, he got an assist for turning a double pay with Castro. He also caught a pop fly off Ryan Braun’s bat in the sixth inning. He wasn’t challenged particularly hard, but he was there. He was solid. Make it through Wednesday’s game without a dropped ball or a wild throw, and Barney is the new master of the position.

‘‘He plays like every day is Opening Day,’’ said Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio after hitting Barney grounder after grounder in pregame fungo work. ‘‘His instincts are off the charts, those intangibles, the things we can’t coach. I can say he probably takes away a run a game.’’

Barney’s last error at second came April 17 in Miami against the Marlins with Jose Reyes at bat. Barney remembers it well.

‘‘It was a chopper to me to the off hand, and for some reason I felt I had to charge it,’’ he said. ‘‘I ran into a bad hop, and it just gobbled me up. I was a little upset about it. If I had just sat and waited, I would have caught it easily at my waist. I just overthought Jose Reyes’ speed. You learn from it and try not to make the same mistake again.’’

Barney is not a bad hitter. That is not the case at all. Indeed, he is batting .256 and has gotten hits in 23 of the Cubs’ last 26 games. Six home runs and 37 RBI are not terrible numbers when you’re a magician afield. The thought of Castro and Barney working together for years to come is a pleasant one for Cubs fans.

And lets’s remember, there aren’t a lot of pleasant things for Cubs fans to think about with this revolving cast of whomevers playing for the team.

When asked about the errorless streak before the game, Barney replied, deadpan, ‘‘What streak?’’

He truly doesn’t seem to be focusing on it, or the next goal — Sandberg’s errorless streak over two seasons, spanning 123 games. Barney could do it this year.

Sandberg-Barney, quite a duo, huh?

As his streak goes on, Barney says what is truly on his mind, what he claims is on every player’s mind during these dog days.

‘‘You’re just trying to get better for the future, so that when it is time, you’re ready,’’ he said. ‘‘The last thing you want to do is be home on the couch or on another team watching the Chicago Cubs win.’’

Or in your grave.

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