PHOENIX, Arizona -- The last time I was at a baseball game where the Cubs were playing, the result meant a lot more than today, and it was a lot unhappier than today too, game 7 of the 2003 NLCS at Wrigley Field.
We don't have to recap that, and I have been to one game since then, a game in the Arizona Fall League last October, so this is the first time since Oct. 15, 2003, that I have seen the Cubs in action.
Today, with the squad split for the final time this spring, I chose the game at Maryvale (a western part of the city of Phoenix) against the Brewers, for a couple of reasons. One, I really like the ballpark, which was built in 1998, and second, I figured it would be easier to get a good seat, thinking this would be the "B" squad.
Right on the first call -- I had a seat ten rows behind the third-base on-deck circle, wrong, and fortuitously so on the second, as it was the "A" team, featuring Corey Patterson, Sammy Sosa, Alex Gonzalez and Kerry Wood, who destroyed the Brewers 10-0
in front of 7,639, not a sellout but about double what the Brewers normally draw, a crowd that had to be 2/3 Cub fans, on a 94-degree day.
It didn't start well for me, having to sit through a humongous traffic jam on Indian School Road, the main road leading to Maryvale, and after about 20 minutes sitting through this I learned it was construction, and what can you do? On the way back I took I-17 and I-10, which although it's about 5 miles out of the way, got me back in 40 minutes instead of the hour it took to get out there. Didn't help that I went out there at noon on a Saturday, when everyone's out running errands.
Wood has been quoted as saying he needs the whole spring to get ready, but you wouldn't know it today. He breezed through the Brewer lineup for six shutout innings, allowing only three hits and striking out five,the first Cub starter to throw six innings this year, plus he hit a sweet-looking line drive homer. Sammy Sosa also homered, a moon shot over the hitter's background in CF. I thought Corey Patterson, who doubled twice and made a couple of nice running catches in the field, looks 100% back from last year's horrifying injury. This is exceptionally good news.
Seriously, the Brewers, if it's possible, are even worse than last year. Of course, Richie Sexson, the one true bopper in the lineup, is gone, traded away for several Diamondbacks, all of whom -- Junior Spivey, Craig Counsell and Lyle Overbay -- were in the starting lineup today.
Overbay is wearing Sexson's #11. Why would you put that kind of pressure on yourself?
Most of the starters played six innings, then got pulled for a bunch of people who won't see Wrigley Field for years, if ever, but I did get to see Luis Montanez play a couple innings at 2B (inconclusive) and Felix Pie get an at-bat (grounded out). Felix Martinez, the ex-Royal trying to hang on, booted a ball while trying to make a flashy double play, but still got a slow Wes Helms at first.
Gary Glover, the ex-White Sox trying to make the bullpen, made a good case for himself by throwing two good innings, striking out the side in the 8th, though it should be said that striking out Chad Moeller, Jeff Liefer and Jon Nunnally isn't exactly doing it to major league hitters.
The Maryvale game was also a better choice than the ugly 9-8 loss to the A's at Phoenix Muni
in front of 8,393.
Matt Clement looked pretty bad and so did Jimmy Anderson, who is in competition with Glover for that bullpen slot. Anderson gave up homers to Bobby Crosby and former Cub Eric Karros. Scott McClain, who is 31 years old and as I have written, will probably be the starting 1B at Iowa, homered again, his fourth of the spring. It's doubtful this performance will carry over into the season, but at least there's going to be someone in Triple-A who could come up in case of injury and play 1B, and McClain also plays a bit of 3B.
Final note from Maryvale: a couple of drunk girls with really large artificial breasts were sitting in the first row behind the dugout and spent most of the game making sure that all the players noticed, and getting autographs. Later I saw them in the parking lot with two guys who appeared to be their boyfriends, but who knows. Maybe they picked them up on the spot.