Cubs celebrate 1st half as San Diego reminds of painful past
SAN DIEGO >> Goose Gossage keeps a bottle of Weibel Vineyards champagne with "Cubs" on the label perched on a shelf in his pantry, a reminder of when Chicago arrived in San Diego needing one win to reach the 1984 World Series and wound up crushed yet again.
This year's All-Star Game is a mini-Cubs celebration, with seven players on the NL roster, including the entire starting infield, after a remarkable half-season. But a summer slump serves as a reminder: A good start is a long way from Chicago winning its first championship since 1908 or even bringing the World Series to Sheffield and Waveland Avenues for the first time since 1945.
"Everyone crowned us the World Series champion in December, which is unfair to the whole organization," first baseman Anthony Rizzo said Monday. "Everyone put this high expectation on us, and we lived up to it."
When Chris Sale of the South Side's White Sox throws the first pitch to the Cubs' Ben Zobrist on Tuesday night, the All-Star Game will be back in San Diego for the first time since 1992 at Jack Murphy Stadium, where Ken Griffey Jr. batted seventh for the AL between another pair of juniors — Cal Ripken and Sandy Alomar. Griffey was the MVP, going 3 for 3 and falling a triple short of the cycle. Tony Gwynn — the Padres' Hall of Famer who would die of salivary gland cancer in 2014 — had a pair of assists in right field.
A new generation has taken over, led by Washington's Bryce Harper, the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout and Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant — who is happy to see his old friends from University of San Diego days. The Nationals' Stephen Strasburg also is having reunion; he played for San Diego State.
"He probably did more at San Diego State than I did for USD," Bryant said.
Chicago has become a favorite second team, longtime losers trying to win the North Side's first championship in 108 years.
"The Cubs are like the Cowboys. Wherever you go in the country, there's fans there," reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta said about his team. "You go as far as you can west and as far as you can east, there's Cubs fans, and anywhere in-between."
Boston also has its supporters around the world.
The Red Sox, who ended an 86-year title drought in 2004 and have added two more, put six players on the AL team and four of them are starters. Designated hitter David Ortiz is retiring at the end of the season and will be making his 10th and final All-Star appearance, Steven Wright, a 31-year-old knuckleballer, could follow the flame-throwers to the mound in the middle-to-late innings.
"I feel like 95 is the new 90," Wright said of their mph velocity. "Everybody is coming in throwing 98, 100, and then you got somebody coming in throwing 75, and I'll drop it down to 60."
San Francisco's Johnny Cueto starts for the NL, which has lost three in a row and 10 of 13 since the All-Star winner determined home-field advantage for the World Series. That served Cueto well last fall, when he pitched a two-hitter for host Kansas City in Game 2 for a 2-0 lead of New York Mets, who never recovered.
San Diego may not have won the World Series during its 48-year existence, but the Padres are a team of distinction: The only one not to have thrown a no-hitter, and famous for their golden yellow and brown color scheme in the 1970s under owner Ray Kroc, who also headed McDonald's. Players wore jerseys in the vintage Padres mustard-and-mud style for Monday's Home Run Derby.
Of course, San Diego has been cruel to the Cubs. Back in 1984, they left Wrigley Field to the sound of Van Halen's "Jump" and headed west convinced they would play Detroit or Kansas City for the title. Cubs fans were giddy with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five NL Championship Series.
"There was at least 100 brooms around our bus," recalled Gossage, the future Hall of Famer who got a six-out save in the Game 5 finale.
But current players try to think only about the game in front of them. History is for the fans.
"That's something we don't really discuss very often," Arrieta said.
Chicago got off to a 25-6 start and was 39-15 in early June. But the Cubs skidded into the break by losing 15 of their last 21 games.
"We've got to play better than we have recently," Zobrist said.
With Rizzo, Zobrist, shortstop Addison Russell and Bryant, the Cubs joined the 1963 St. Louis Cardinals as the only teams to start all four infielders in an All-Star Game — a fifth Chicago player, Dexter Fowler, was voted to the starting lineup but will miss out due to a hamstring injury.
Rizzo led NL players with 3.2 million votes.
"It's crazy to me, just because of all the superstars in this game, and I do not classify myself as one of them," he said. "When that first voting came out, I was like, 'Is this a fluke? Was there a glitch?"'
The NL is hosting the All-Stars in at least four straight years, which is unprecedented, starting with Cincinnati last season and continuing with Miami next year and Washington in 2018. Because the game is used to determine Series home-field advantage, the All-Star home team is alternating — meaning the AL wears white uniforms and bats last this time.
Because of that, Wil Myers and Drew Pomeranz of the Padres had to vacate their own clubhouse and move to the visitors' locker room on the third-base side of Petco Park.
"The clubhouse doesn't really play a factor, but just being able to come out there and being in front of the home crowd is going to be awesome," said Myers, the NL's starting DH. "It's something I've always looked forward to."
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