They spent too much money for him, he’s batting in the wrong spot in the order and would probably rather play somewhere else in the field. So of course Alfonso Soriano had his fingerprints all over the Cubs’ win Friday night that clinched the 2007 National League Central Division title.
They spent too much money for him, he’s batting in the wrong spot in the order and would probably rather play somewhere else in the field.
So of course Alfonso Soriano had his fingerprints all over the Cubs’ win Friday night that clinched the 2007 National League Central Division title.
He had a tougher time getting his paws on a bottle of champagne.
Every time the $136 million left fielder got close to the laundry basket of Korbel Brut in the center of the visitors’ clubhouse at Great American Ballpark, he was deluged with a wash of spray from another direction. Every time he hopped, the way he does when he catches a routine fly, except quicker, and repeatedly, and while giggling out phrases such as, “OK, papi, now we do it,” and “This is great, this is great.”
Great? At 84-76 that is perhaps an overstatement, but Soriano, who began his season as a center fielder and his career as an infielder, certainly had a great night.
He had a leadoff home run, doubled and scored another run, and threw a runner out at home in a 6-0 win over the Reds. The evening continued a torrid September for Soriano, who is in some ways a poster boy for a team that began the year as a mismatched collection of expensive pieces and somehow coalesced under Lou Piniella into something if not greater than the sum of its parts, greater than parts of its summer.
“This was a tougher job than I thought it would be, I’m going to be honest with you,” Piniella said of guiding his sixth team in 20 years as a manager into the postseason.
When the solstice rolled around June 21, the Cubs were a season-worst 8 1/2 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers. They were also six games under .500; not quite their low point, but low enough that a subsequent 19 of 23 winning binge straddling the All-Star break only got them within thumb-wrestling range of the Brewers, where they remained until San Diego finished them off Friday in Milwaukee.
“I didn’t take over a club that won 90 games last year. There were some things that we needed to do and some things that we needed to change. We slowly went about doing it,” Piniella said.
Perhaps a little too slowly for some.
“When I took over here, the conversation initially was winning right away. No rebuilding, no grace period. It’s ‘win now,’” Piniella said. “I like those sorts of situations. But I’ll tell you this: It’s been a tough journey.”
One of detours was Soriano’s stint in center, of which Piniella said, “We should’ve started in left.”
He was there, impossible to ignore, on Friday -- just as he has been throughout the month.
His homer Friday was his 13th of September, tying Ernie Banks’ club record and establishing a major league mark for leadoff homers in any month. His outfield assist was his 19th of the season, the most by a Cub since Hank Sauer in 1951 and his eighth of the month -- which was also probably some kind of record, not that anyone was sure.
“I’ve been blessed to have some really good leadoff hitters in my career,” Piniella said. “I had Rickey Henderson, I had Ichiro. I’ve got this kid here. That’s a wealth of productivity from the leadoff spot.”
Not that Soriano alone was responsible for this team reaching the postseason.
Ted Lilly, considered an outrageous indulgence when signed, turned into a 15-game winning bargain. Carlos Zambrano won his 18th Friday, and will be ready to start the playoffs again whomever the rest of the National League spits out.
Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, Jacque Jones, Mark DeRosa, Cliff Floyd, Bob Howry -- veterans all, impressing with their poise and professionalism as much as their production. Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, Carlos Marmol, youngsters providing results as much as vigor.
Each owns a piece of this crown. Each deserved the celebration that waited first for the Brewers to finish losing to San Diego and rolled on long after the assembled media waded into the fray to attempt to record the proceedings.
Soriano was somewhere in the middle of the tangled, sodden limbs. All those unmatched parts, meshing perfectly into one happy beast.
Phil Arvia can be reached at email@example.com or (708) 633-5949. Read his blog at http://blogs.dailysouthtown.com/arvia