07/15/09 12:26 AM ET
Lilly shifts focus to big second half
Cubs lefty enjoys All-Star experience, but race lies ahead
By B.J. Rains / MLB.com
But now that the game has passed, Lilly can get back to the more important thing on his mind -- helping the Cubs prevail in the tight NL Central race.
"It's obviously really special for me to be here, but when you start to think about the second half, that's a lot more important," Lilly said. "We're going to be playing a lot of those division games that are going to be crucial for us.
"This was fun, but now when we get back and get it going in Washington, we have an opportunity to catch the guys in front of us."
Lilly, making his second All-Star appearance and the first since making the American League squad as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2004, didn't appear in Tuesday night's 4-3 AL victory. To top it off, the Cubs' lefty was booed by Cardinals fans during his introduction at Busch Stadium, home of the rivals.
"I guess you kind of expect that," Lilly said. "This is a great place to play. They pay attention to the games and they are into it and they remember some of the things that go on, so it's all in fun I guess.
"It was great. It would have been nice if we could have won and if I would have had an opportunity to pitch, but it was fun. It was a fun time playing with the guys, and the experience that I got to share with my friends and family was pretty special."
But as he heads back to Chicago and looks ahead to the second half of the season, even Lilly has had a tough time believing the Cubs' 43-43 record.
"Sure, you do a little bit at times, especially when you're going through a rough stretch," Lilly said. "But at the same time, you watch baseball over the years, and you pay attention to some of the other teams that have put together great rosters and then go through injuries and then have players that they expected to perform better. That's part of baseball. I've said it quite a few times, it's hard year in and year out to be consistent."
The Cubs trail the Cardinals by 3 1/2 games in the NL Central and are a game behind the Brewers for second place. As bad as they have played and with all of the injuries that have crippled them, they still find themselves within striking distance.
"Fortunately, the clubs that are ahead of us aren't running away with it," Lilly said. "We're going to have an opportunity to catch them in the second half. We're getting some of our key players back on the field, and we're going to have a chance to run them down."
The 17-game winner in 2008 is 9-6 with a 3.18 ERA in 18 starts this season. He's 6-1 with a 1.86 ERA at Wrigley Field.
After eight Cubs appeared in last year's All-Star Game, Lilly was the only one representing them in St. Louis. But while he was glad to be on the team, he knows that there's a much bigger goal awaiting him and his teammates.
"I would have loved to have some of the guys here, sure," Lilly said. "But more importantly, I'd like to be, at the end of the season, celebrating another division title.
"I know that we want to finish strong, and we've got a chance. Even though we haven't played well, we still have a chance to capture our division at this point. So I think that's the focus. Obviously we've underperformed, but we're still going to have an opportunity to win the division."
B.J. Rains is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.