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Embattled reliever Carlos Marmol braces for Wrigley boos

Updated: June 21, 2013 12:23AM



ST. LOUIS — It’s the shortest homestand of the year for the Cubs.

But it might not seem like it to Carlos Marmol, who returns home Friday for the first time since the worst blown save of his career less than a week ago in New York.

The lightning-rod reliever, already the target of hair-trigger discontent among the home crowd before last weekend, has been a topic of conversation all week — his struggles also stirring critics of manager Dale Sveum along the way.

Can the response from the Wrigley Field crowd be any worse during this weekend’s three-game stand against the Houston Astros than it’s been until now?

“I don’t know. I really don’t know,” said Marmol, who so far has seemed to do a good job of tuning out the boos and jeers — even the ones coming from the seats behind the bullpen when he has warmed up during recent home games.

“There’s just a couple people,” he said of fans that teammates sometimes respond to in his defense. “It’s not like it’s the whole stadium yelling at me when I’m warming up. … [But] It’s hard. You don’t want to hear that.

“I just try to get people out and I don’t worry about people yelling at me.”

Marmol, in the final few months of a three-year $20 million deal he signed as a record-setting closer and recent All-Star, admittedly has never had a blown save as bad as the quick-strike, two-homer inning in New York that blew a 3-0 lead and cost the Cubs a sweep of the hapless Mets.

“I wanted to save that so bad,” he said.

In his first outing since Sunday, Marmol pitched a scoreless eighth inning in the Cubs’ 6-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday.

One of the strangest twists of this year’s strange and twisting Cubs’ bullpen is that the 10-for-10 closer who ultimately claimed Marmol’s job — Kevin Gregg — is the same pitcher who struggled badly enough as the Cubs’ closer in 2009 to be replaced by Marmol.

“I’ve seen him when he was pretty much at his best, and to see him now,” Gregg said, “and it’s not far away.”

Gregg remembers being booed at Wrigley.

“I remember [teammate] Sean Marshall getting mad finally at some of the fans,” he said. “And I never reacted to it, because, ‘Sean, they expect better of me and I expect better of me. And they’re just voicing their opinion. They bought a ticket and they have a right to do it.’ ’’

It doesn’t stop him from feeling for Marmol the way Marshall felt of him in ’09.

“It’s definitely going to be tough,” Gregg said of the homecoming. “They expect you to perform. That’s part of the job. But there’s nobody who’s going to put any more pressure on him than himself. That’s a good thing and a bad thing in the same sentence.

“Because he doesn’t need that much pressure. He just needs to relax and go out there and pitch the way he’s capable. …”

Fans and even some of the Cubs hand-picked talking heads have called for Marmol’s ouster in recent days. That’s not going to happen anytime soon.

Could a fresh start be best even for him at this point?

“I can’t say yes, I can’t say no. The boss makes that decision,” Marmol said.

But what does he think?

“I can’t tell you what I’m thinking right now,” he said. “I’m trying to get better, that’s what I’m thinking. … I’m just trying to get people out.”



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