Spring break…

Tribune staff reporter

The Tribune's story from the day Ryne Sandberg broke his hand in Spring Training.

Not a terrific way to start.

The Cubs lost Ryne Sandberg for four to six weeks Friday afternoon when a bone in his left hand was cracked by a fastball thrown by San Francisco's Mike Jackson.

The Cubs beat the Giants 10-0 in the Cactus League opener. The scores of these things never matter, but rarely has a score mattered less.

"Unfortunately," said Mark Grace, "it's Ryno. The rest of us have got to make sure we don't let this affect us too much."

The Cubs, leading 5-0, had people on first and second in the fourth inning when Jackson, in his first inning of work, got ahead of the All-Star second baseman with two quick strikes.

The next pitch, a fastball, sailed up and in. The 1-2 pitch, even more up and in, got him on the bottom of the left hand as he backed away.

The smack was audible everywhere.

There was more. As Sandberg was being examined near home plate by the trainers, Jackson took a few conciliatory steps toward him. Sandberg, in pain, yelled something-also widely audible and not at all printable-at the pitcher, and both dugouts emptied. No punches were thrown, though Willie Wilson did get spiked.

Afterward, Sandberg, the X-rays having confirmed an oblique fracture in the base of the fifth metacarpal, was not conciliatory.

"Two up-and-in fastballs this time in spring training," he steamed, his left hand and forearm already in a fiberglass cast. "The guy's got me 0-2, he comes up and in, head high, and then the next one's right at my head again.

"Too early in the spring to react to pitches like that, not the first game. We've only been in camp seven days, we're hitting against coaches, and then I get two neck balls the first game. I'm out there working on things. I had no chance."

The Giants were quick to defend their pitcher.

"It wasn't like Jackson was up high just on Sandberg," Will Clark said. "That was his problem the two innings he pitched. He just couldn't get anything down. It was clearly unintentional."

That didn't soothe Jim Lefebvre.

"Michael has always been wild inside with his fastball," said the Cubs manager, who had him when both were in Seattle. "But a man got hit. We're going to lose a big player for the balance of spring training. I'm upset. Everybody is. That's all."

With the cast staying on a minimum of four weeks, it's probable Sandberg, who in his first 11 seasons had only been on the disabled list once, will miss the first week or two of the regular season. Lefebvre said Jose Vizcaino probably would be his second baseman until Sandberg could play. Vizcaino says he's ready.

"Everybody knows he's a better second baseman," said Vizcaino. "But I don't want to go in with the attitude that I have to play like him. I've got to go out there and be myself and do the best I can."

The wild card in all this is Shawon Dunston, who still appears to be weeks away from playing shortstop.

"Shawon becomes a key guy now," Lefebvre said. "We get Shawon back, and Rey Sanchez goes to second base."

Sanchez isn't Sandberg, either. But all Sandberg can do over the next few weeks is throw, stay in shape and let the bone heal.

There's an outside chance he could be back for Opening Day, said trainer John Fierro.

"We've seen this gentleman come up with some pretty incredible healing powers before, so we don't rule that out," Fierro said. "The standard procedure is four to six weeks."

"He'll be in fine shape when the cast comes off," said General Manager Larry Himes, who said he won't try to find a replacement. "And knowing him, it'll be a short recuperating period. If there is a good thing, it's that it happened today and not March 30."

If there's another good thing, it's that Sandberg is a career .230 hitter in April.

But every "good thing" Friday was a stretch. This wasn't good at all.

"It's sad when you see the main guy go down like that," said Candy Maldonado.

"He is the man," said Grace.

Steve Buechele tried to put it in perspective.

"It's reality," he said. "You read the paper today and you go through the teams and you go through the guys you can't lose, and Ryne's a guy we can't lose-but it's happened to teams before. He's not out for the season. He's going to be back. I mean, it's not gut-check or anything like that for us."

It's just a little tough.

Said Lefebvre: "We're going to miss him."

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