Cubs change June tune

SportsBaseballChicago CubsNational LeagueMike FontenotPhiladelphia PhilliesBob Howry

What may go down as one of the wildest months in Cubs history is about to end with a bang as Milwaukee comes to town Friday for the most important series of the season.

Manager Lou Piniella's dirt-kicking tirade, Carlos Zambrano's fight with Michael Barrett, Derrek Lee's tussle with Chris Young, Bob Howry's encounter with a mound-charging fan and the emergence of Mike Fontenot and Carlos Marmol gradually will fade into the background as the calendar flips and memories are waiting to be made.

But if the Cubs continue to play as they have in the past week, this full-moon June may be remembered as the month when everything began falling into place.

On a muggy Wednesday on the North Side, the Cubs completed their second straight series sweep with a 6-4 victory over Colorado, keeping pace with Milwaukee and setting the stage for this weekend's Taste of Wrigley.

"As much of a hot streak as we've been on, they've been on the same thing and we haven't been able to pick up any ground," said third baseman Mark DeRosa, whose three-run homer staked Zambrano to a 4-0 lead.

"We have held serve and still find ourselves in a pretty big hole [at 7 1/2 behind]. At least going into the All-Star break we need to put a dent in it."

Not coincidentally, the Cubs' turnaround parallels that of Zambrano, who improved to 4-1 with a 1.43 earned-run average since his punch heard 'round Wrigleyville, allowing two runs on five hits over six innings. Zambrano (9-6) is only one victory behind the Dodgers' Brad Penny, who leads the National League.

"He's throwing as well as any pitcher in the big leagues," Piniella said.

Zambrano wants to be picked for the National League All-Star squad and hopes Piniella and pitching coach Larry Rothschild will rearrange the rotation to enhance his prospects.

"I want to go, and I'm available," Zambrano said.

He's on schedule to pitch the final game of the first half, which would leave Zambrano unable to participate in the July 10 All-Star Game in San Francisco. But Thursday's off day could allow the Cubs to move Zambrano up a day, and Piniella is likely to accede to his wishes.

Fontenot arrived too late to get an All-Star invite, though no second baseman in the league is playing as well as he is right now.

Fontenot hiked his average to .408 with a 3-for-4 afternoon and barely missed becoming the first player this season to reach Sheffield Avenue with his 415-foot, fourth-inning home run off Jason Hirsh.

"I didn't know short men could hit the ball like that," Zambrano said. "He hit the ball like a man, you know?"

Fontenot laughed at Zambrano's comment. Do people underestimate him because of his size?

"I don't know," Fontenot said. "Nobody ever comes up to me and says, 'You can't do this or that.' "

Whenever the 6-foot-5-inch Zambrano high-fives the generously listed 5-8 Fontenot, he puts his hand as high as possible to make Fontenot jump up, like a dog trying to catch a Frisbee.

"That's one of his things," Fontenot said. "I kind of like it. I just slap him on the forearm."

If Fontenot's forearm slap ever becomes as ubiquitous as the fist-bump, you will know it really is the Cubs' year.

"Hats off to Mike Fontenot," DeRosa said. "What he's doing, to come up here and hit .400, is unbelievable. It's not even fathomable, to be honest …

"Every third-base coach has asked me, 'Who is this guy? What the heck is going on?' He's in a zone right now, but when you look at his numbers, he has hit all his life."

If the 1950 Phillies were the Whiz Kids, the 2007 Cubs are the Biz Kids—all business, all the time. The front office committed more than $300 million on contracts for free agents last winter, but kids like Fontenot, Marmol, Ryan Theriot and Sean Marshall have made just as much of an impact.

"That's how it always is," DeRosa said. "The team you break camp with, you have all these ideas how it's supposed to play out, and it never seems to work out that way."

psullivan@tribune.com

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SportsBaseballChicago CubsNational LeagueMike FontenotPhiladelphia PhilliesBob Howry
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