The stars were out Tuesday at Wrigley Field on a balmy summer night in Chicago.
Albert Pujols was back for the first time since 2011, when his infamous hug with Jim Hendry sparked rumors of a blue-pinstriped future. Josh Hamilton, who spent a few minutes as Cubs property after being selected in the 2006 Rule 5 draft, was manning left field for the Angels.
And all-world center fielder Mike Trout was making his first appearance at Wrigley.
The Angels are the kind of star-driven team the Cubs were under Hendry only five years ago, with an owner who stops at nothing to buy a championship.
But the funny part is the Angels are no closer to a World Series than President Theo Epstein’s rebuilding Cubs, who are hoping Anthony Rizzo, Travis Wood and Starlin Castro become cornerstones to a brighter future.
All three helped the Cubs to a 7-2 victory over the Angels, giving them nine triumphs in their last 13 games.
Meanwhile, in the box seats was Kane County outfielder Albert Almora, the team’s top pick in the 2012 draft who was watching the game with his parents. Almora had some advice for Kris Bryant, the unsigned draft pick from this summer.
“Just have fun,” Almora said. “This game can be taken away from you any day, so play every day like it’s your last and have fun doing it.”
The Cubs are having as much fun as they have had in two years. They pounded a season-high five home runs off Joe Blanton and the Angels bullpen — two from Alfonso Soriano and one apiece from Rizzo, Castro and Darwin Barney.
Wood, the team’s only All-Star representative, allowed two runs over 62/3 innings for his 17th quality start in 18 outings. That’s the most of any Cubs pitcher before the All-Star break since Greg Maddux had 17 in 1988. Wood also got a reprieve from manager Dale Sveum, who reversed course and said the left-hander could be available to pitch in the All-Star Game despite his Sunday start against the Cardinals.
“It will all depend on how his Sunday goes,” Sveum said. “(NL manager Bruce) Bochy can use him for a left-handed hitter. It’s going to be a side day anyway. I have no problem with him pitching one inning or 20 pitches, the same as you would pitch on the side.”
Rizzo and Soriano hit back-to-back homers in the first to give Wood a quick lead. Castro’s shot in the third and Barney’s three-run blast in the sixth turned it into a rout.
Wood (6-6) tired in the seventh, serving up a two-run homer to Pujols, and left soon after to a standing ovation. Soriano added another homer in the seventh, giving him eight and 17 RBIs in the last 11 games.
The Cubs are hoping Rizzo’s homer helps him break out of an extended slump, his first with the team. Rizzo entered the night hitting .161 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 142 at-bats since June 1, while his overall average with runners in scoring position was .174.
“He’s just having some trouble getting back to where we saw him last year in Triple A,” Sveum said. “There’s a lot of body involved in his swing right now that we’re trying to get squared away — really using his hands and not too much his body.”