Friday, October 03, 2008
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Soriano coming up cold in October

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[October 03, 2008]  CHICAGO (AP) -- Alfonso Soriano was the prized free agent, the man the Chicago Cubs hoped would help them end their championship drought. Now, they need him to deliver.

He struggled in the postseason last year after signing an eight-year, $136 million deal and isn't doing much this time around, with the Cubs trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers 2-0 in their best-of-five NL division series.

"I signed here to win the World Series and go to the playoffs first," he said.

Well, he's 2-for-2 in making the playoffs.

He isn't having much luck at the plate, though.

He had a leadoff single Thursday night but went 1-for-4 as the Cubs lost 10-3.

That left the slugger 1-for-9 in the series and on a 12-for-75 playoff skid. Not what he was looking for after managing just two hits in 14 at-bats while the Cubs got swept out of the playoffs by Arizona a year ago.

Now, the team that posted the NL's best record and is eyeing the franchise's first championship since 1908 is on the verge of another first-round exit.

The streaky Soriano has done well at times in the postseason, too.

He went 6-for-15 for the New York Yankees in the 2001 AL championship series against Seattle and ended Game 4 with a two-run homer. Then he homered in a loss to Arizona in Game 7 of the World Series.

Two years later, he went 7-for-19 in the division series against Minnesota.

"I had very good moments and I remember because it's in October," Soriano said. "Every time I play in October, I remember those kinds of moments."

So does Dodgers manager Joe Torre, his skipper with the Yankees.

"To me he was a special talent," Torre said. "I thought he handled pressure extremely well. Not very disciplined at the plate, but again, he's one of those guys that has fun playing the game."

Torre said the Yankees "didn't do him any favors" by shifting him around in the field but "he always took it and never seemed to have it bother him."

At his best, Soriano carries the team with his bat and makes fans overlook his shortcomings on defense. At his worst? Well, he's still a sight to behold.

Soriano overcame a slow start to bat .280 with 29 homers and 75 RBIs even though he landed on the disabled list twice -- with a strained right calf and fractured bone in his left hand.

The boo birds were chirping when Soriano went 1-for-22 in his first five games, and he was batting just .175 when he limped off the field with a calf injury in mid-April after catching a fly using his signature hop.

In his first game back, he let what looked like a catchable ball go over his head for a ninth-inning double as Milwaukee rallied to beat the Cubs.

Manager Lou Piniella bristled after that game when asked if he considered lifting his star for a defensive replacement, saying he definitely thought about it.

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The criticism intensified when Soriano lost a ball in the sun against Pittsburgh in late May, allowing the Pirates to tie it with two outs in the ninth and win in extra innings. TV analyst Bob Brenly, who managed Arizona to a World Series title, said then that Soriano shouldn't be called a superstar since his defense is shaky.

Besides the questions about his fielding, there were calls to drop Soriano from the leadoff spot because of his impatience at the plate and questions about his other top asset -- his legs. The strained calf was the latest in a string of injuries that included a strained right quadriceps last season that put him on the disabled list for the first time in his career.

Piniella started using defensive replacements as the season wore on but kept Soriano at the top of the order. The fact that the Cubs were 69-36 when he led off and 28-28 in the other games seemed to back up that decision, even if he's no longer as active on the bases and rarely walks.

He had 19 steals for the second straight year after swiping 41 bases for Washington in 2006 and managed just 43 walks with 103 strikeouts.

"He's dangerous," Torre said. "He's really dangerous because he's so unpredictable on where to pitch him. ... He beat us (in) a ballgame here earlier this year. I think the ball was about three inches off the ground, and off the plate outside, and he pulled it down the left field line. So he's very difficult to try to pitch around."

[Associated Press; By ANDREW SELIGMAN]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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