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Padres' bats deliver blows
Greg Maddux was minding his own business in the Padres' dugout a couple of hours before Sunday's game when he saw Cubs manager Lou Piniella motioning to him from behind the batting cage.
"Why don't you go inside and get a rubdown instead of watching our hitters?" Piniella shouted to Maddux while wearing a huge grin.
A perplexed Maddux picked up a photocopy of the New York Times crossword puzzle and flashed it at Piniella without saying a word.
Maddux then went out and collected his 339th career victory in San Diego's 11-3 drubbing of the Cubs, beating his former team and calming the stormy seas of the last few days.
Maddux allowed three runs over six innings, improving to 6-3.
"We're facing a Hall of Famer," Ryan Theriot said.
"He threw the ball well, and they jumped on us early, so it was kind of hard to get things going."
But, pointing to a stretch of 17 straight games without a day off, Piniella theorized that "these kids are a little worn out."
Cubs left-hander Rich Hill, who served up three of the Padres' five home runs in a three-inning stint, put the Cubs in a 5-1 hole but wouldn't buy that excuse.
"I don't think that has anything to do with it," he said.
One day after the Derrek Lee-Chris Young tussle that put the Cubs back in the national headlines, all was calm at Wrigley Field, except for Hill's struggles. Mike Cameron had two of the Padres' five homers, while Adrian Gonzalez, Khalil Greene and Rob Bowen also chipped in.
Piniella said he thought Hill might have been tipping his pitches. Everything he threw was hit hard, and some theorized Saturday's bench-clearing incident caused him to avoid the inside part of the plate, consciously or not.
"No, nothing like that," Hill said. "I made terrible pitches. That's why we lost."
As the offense struggles, Alfonso Soriano's woes have been magnified. He finished the homestand 4-for-31 and is hitting .125 (5-for-40) since homering in his first three at-bats June 8 in Atlanta. The next day Soriano was hit by Tim Hudson, precipitating his slump.
Soriano conceded he's struggling.
"Yeah, but Monday is a day off, and we go to Texas and then play the White Sox," Soriano said. "I think the team will play better, because the last time on the road we played very good. We play better on the road."
With Piniella's dirt-kicking tantrum and four-game suspension, the Michael Barrett-Carlos Zambrano brawl, the Ted Lilly ejection, the Hill-Barrett incident and Saturday's Lee-Young fight, the Cubs have been in the spotlight the last three weeks.
Abnormal seems to be the norm for the Cubs, who are now being branded as a team that puts its dukes up first and asks questions later, especially on the national scene.
"I was watching 'SportsCenter' [Saturday] night, and you just laugh," Mark DeRosa said. "That's all you can do.
"I saw the same thing everyone else saw, and I'm like, wow, all this stuff that's gone on, it's been a circus. It feels like the dog days of August, and it's not even July yet. Part of me loves it. I love the passion, love the fans getting into it."
Still, the Cubs are getting noticed for all the wrong reasons. The only time they're big news is when a fight, an argument or a clubhouse meeting breaks out.
"Overall I think we're handling it pretty well," Barrett said. "Obviously, what happened [Saturday] is a little out of character for D-Lee, but he stuck up for himself. I've certainly been there. I feel horrible for him, but at the same time, you have to do certain things to stick up for yourself."
June already has been one of the craziest months in Cubs history … and there are still 11 games left.
"It really has been [crazy]," Lee said. "I'm sure it's exciting for the fans, but hopefully it gets back to normal and we just play the game."