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Saturday, June 18, 2011
Pena can't quite crash Yankees' victory

By Sahadev Sharma

With every run crucial in the Chicago Cubs' 4-3 loss to the New York Yankees on Saturday, Carlos Pena gave it his all as he dashed for home plate in the sixth inning.

Attempting to tag up on Geovany Soto's fly ball to left field, Pena crashed into Yankees catcher Russell Martin, who held onto the perfect throw from Brett Gardner to record the out.

Russell Martin and Carlos Pena
Yankees catcher Russell Martin tags out the Cubs' Carlos Pena at the plate on Saturday.
A home-plate collision in a Giants-Marlins game earlier this season knocked out San Francisco's star catcher Buster Posey for the season, causing some to question whether such aggressive contact should still be allowed, but Pena said he knew he had to try to score that run.

“It was the right thing to do. He was blocking the plate so there was only one way to get to home plate and that was through him,” Pena said. “He took the hit like a champ and held onto the ball. It was a great play by him, so hats off.”

Though Pena and Martin exchanged words after the encounter, Pena said there was no ill will between the two.

“He’s a hard-nosed player so he appreciated it,” Pena said. “He said, ‘that was a great job, you hit me good.’ I told him, ‘I don’t know how you held on,’ ” Pena said. “At the end of the day, we’re all friends, but we’re competing and in the heat of battle it’s the right thing to do.”

Pena said he watched the replay and saw that Martin did a great job of rolling with the hit and lessening the impact of the collision.

While the crash at the plate was the hot topic, the more dubious move may have been third base coach Ivan DeJesus’ decision to send the not-so-fleet-of-foot Pena in the first place. Cubs manager Mike Quade, a former third base coach himself, didn’t hesitate to shoot down any thought of questioning the play.

“I believe there’s very little room for second-guessing with two outs; no outs and one out, have at it. With two outs, you take a shot,” Quade said. “The only unfortunate thing for Carlos and [DeJesus] was that [Gardner] was in a position to make the best throw he could make, and he did. But I think you’ve got to make them execute, so I got no problem with that at all.”

For Pena’s part, he said the second the ball went in the air, he knew he’d be tagging and heading home.

“That’s a chance I’m going to take every single day, right there. I’m gonna go,” Pena said. “They made the play. I’m on the side of aggressiveness and that’s what I did today. I thought today we got beat, instead of beating ourselves. We played hard, I like that.”

The combination of hard play and enthusiasm is something the Cubs definitely haven’t been lacking in the past week. The Cubs won a game against the Brewers on Tuesday with the help of some aggressive base-running by Tony Campana, who stretched a single into a double and eventually went on to score the game-winning run. On Friday, Reed Johnson's all-out hustle ended in an amazing diving play to keep the leadoff man off the base paths in the ninth inning, helping preserve another victory for the North Siders.

Johnson homered in the ninth on Saturday to cut the Cubs’ deficit to one, but they failed to get that elusive tying run. However, what one can take away from the loss is that the players never doubted that they were going to get that big hit, even against the great Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.

“Everyone in the dugout was 100 percent sure that we were going to [tie it up or win it in the ninth],” Pena said. “I love the fact everyone was on their feet waiting for that big hit.”

There’s no doubt the Cubs are playing better baseball, but they still sit 12 games under .500. Unfortunately for the Cubs, moral victories don’t help you get back in the race.