Rookie Felix the cat-alyst
Confident center fielder has sparked Cubs' revival since return from minors
June 10, 2007
BY GORDON WITTENMYER mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
ATLANTA -- If you stared too long at all the offensive fireworks provided by Alfonso Soriano last week or got mesmerized by all the zeros put up by the bullpen, it was easy to overlook the biggest impact player in the Cubs' weeklong return from the abyss.
And rookie Felix Pie -- already hitting .393 since his latest promotion from the minors a week ago -- did it again in the Cubs' four-run first inning Saturday, changing the complexion of the inning with a long at-bat that turned into a walk and by the way he ran the bases.
''What a job he's done for us,'' manager Lou Piniella said.
Pie has been a noticeably more confident, more mature hitter this month than he was in April and early May, when he made his three-week major-league debut. And having the new Pie in the No.2 spot in the Cubs' order every day might be the biggest difference for a lineup that has averaged two more runs per game since the change.
Pie said knowing where he'll play and bat every day makes him feel comfortable, as well as already having had a taste of the big leagues earlier in the season. He also said all the fastballs he sees hitting between Soriano and Derrek Lee make a big difference.
''I think he feels like he belongs,'' Piniella said. ''That first cup of coffee is important to a kid. They get a sense of where they stand, and if they go back down, what they need to work on. And when they come back, they know what to expect.''
Pie struggled to hit only .224 with six runs scored and four RBI in 18 games earlier this year but has been on base every game since coming back up, including four multihit games in his first six back.
Friday night in Atlanta, for instance, he drove in two runs with two two-out singles and added a third RBI on a sacrifice fly.
Then Saturday, after Soriano was hit with a purpose pitch by Tim Hudson leading off the game, Pie stayed poised and worked the count while Hudson split his focus between Soriano -- repeatedly throwing to first -- and the batter.
Pie walked on a 3-2 count to bring Lee to the plate with two on and nobody out, and when Lee singled to right, Pie went first to third and drew a throw that allowed Lee to take second.
That prompted the Braves to walk Jacque Jones intentionally after Michael Barrett's strikeout, and six pitches later, Mark DeRosa lined a 3-2 pitch into right for a two-run single.
''He's given us a huge lift,'' Piniella said.