There was a play in last night's 4-2 Cub loss to the Braves, their third straight loss (though in CSN's coverage of the Dusty Baker postgame press conference, which I saw at home, they said it was "four in a row"), which perfectly defines not only this entire season, but also the very nature of Cubness.
You probably already know the one I'm talking about. Seventh inning; Derrek Lee has tied the game on a home run which was about the straightest line-drive shot I've ever seen; it didn't go more than 15 feet above the ground at any time.
And after two quick outs, Michael Barrett singled and went to second on a wild pitch.
It looked like the Cubs might have a chance to take the lead, with a runner in scoring position, and then Neifi Perez singled.
What do you do here? Now, if this had been 2003 or 2004, the decision would have been obvious. Wavin' Wendell Kim would have windmilled that diminuitive right arm of his, and Barrett would have come barrelling home.
But Chris Speier's a better third base coach than that -- in fact, I can't think of a single time that I've disagreed with a decision of his to either hold or send a runner all year -- and so he had a stark choice:
- send the runner and hope Braves rookie LF Kelly Johnson wouldn't make an absolutely perfect throw;
- hold the runner and let Corey Patterson try to drive him in.
We all agreed with the decision, except Mike, who said Speier ought to have held him.
That's really sad, isn't it? That you'd have to send a moderately slow runner to the plate, in the seventh inning of a crisply-played tie game, because you have absolutely no faith in the next hitter to drive him in?
This space has been accused of being Panglossian, and I won't deny that I like being optimistic and positive. But I am on the same page with the naysayers when it comes to Corey Patterson. He really, truly doesn't seem to have a clue as to what he's doing, either at the plate or in the field (that goofy, bobbling catch he made in the second inning is a perfect example of the latter), and unfortunately, at this point there seem to be only two death-is-not-an-option choices about his future:
- keep him, and keep hearing the same old "Corey's got a lot of potential" again next year;
- just release him, because he doesn't seem to have any trade value any more.
Carlos Zambrano threw seven perfect innings. Unfortunately, they weren't consecutive, or we'd have gone into the eighth very, very excited about the possibilities. After retiring the first nine batters, Z gave up a leadoff groundball double to Rafael Furcal that was just fair; Marcus Giles, bunting for a hit, wound up with a sacrifice when he was retired on a very close play, and then Chipper Jones hit a ball right at us.
It landed in the aisle next to us and bounced off the back fence; Jeff, sitting on the aisle, got up and nearly had it, and I was getting the throwback ball ready, but all Jeff got for his efforts was beer spilled all over him.
The Cubs cut the deficit to 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth in what has become depressingly familiar Cub style; the first three runners reached base (on a HBP, a double -- and this time there was no doubt, you hold the runner at third with nobody out -- and a walk), giving us hope for a potential big inning against Tim Hudson (who threw his first CG in just over a year), but Aramis Ramirez hit into a double play.
Sure, a run scored, but that sucked all the energy out of the inning, and even though Todd Walker was left at third base in scoring position, the inning ended meekly with a Jeromy Burnitz strikeout.
I wouldn't call the Ramirez or Burnitz at-bats "hacktastic", either -- each saw four pitches, not a Pattersonesque single pitch -- but with nobody out, I'd have liked to see Aramis look at a couple more throws rather than swing overanxiously and foul off the first two pitches; that sort of thing always puts a hitter in a deep hole.
There's not much more to say about this game, except that Kerry Wood, who looked so lights-out in his first half-dozen relief appearances, has now given up homers in each of his last two outings. The two-run shot by C. Jones in the ninth was the game-winner, and Hudson, who threw 119 pitches, seemed even stronger in the last of the ninth, retiring the Cubs on three straight ground balls after a leadoff single by Lee gave us a little hope.
That's the same hope that's faded along with the summer sun; yesterday was the first August day that had the hint of fall that's to come soon -- the sky darkens now before 8 pm, and the coolish (70 degrees at gametime) weather had me actually debating whether to wear shorts or not (decided to do so, and it wasn't that cool out). The ballpark filled up slowly and even after most were in their seats, you could see clusters of empty seats -- likely tickets the Cubs had held out for their ticket brokerage and couldn't sell. In fact, head on over to cubs.com just for grins and check ticket availability for tonight's game -- early this morning there were tickets available at nearly every price level, for a game that was listed as "sold out" months ago.
If you saw the game on ESPN, you may have noticed a clump of people wearing neon-green T-shirts in the LF bleachers. These read "KYLE" on the front; at first I thought this might have to do with Kyle Farnsworth (who the Braves did have warming up in the 9th, incidentally -- he is apparently their closer-of-the-week), but I learned later that they were being handed out by someone there in honor of the birthday of some kid named Kyle, and Jeff told me he'd seen a van on the Kennedy Expressway on Sunday with a sign saying "Call Kyle tomorrow on his birthday" and giving a 773 area code phone number, likely the same person.
Mark came along last night; he's been a good-luck charm most of the year, and we're going to try this good-luck thing a couple more times this homestand. We stopped at Jimmy John's on the way, because Howard had told me he wasn't coming -- later he changed his mind, so I had two sandwiches last night -- no luck there, either, even though we used Mark's scorecard for a Tomato Inning (the second, no dice).
The season dwindles, the games dwindle, last night yet another loss, and though I know this season is likely lost barring an enormous miracle, I am simply not going to let that suck the enjoyment of the greatest game in the world out of me, the fun I have with friends at the ballpark, and the enjoyment we all get watching a good game, win or lose, discussing what's happening in the game and elsewhere.
Notes: the Cubs announced the six players from the organization who will participate in the Arizona Fall League:
- Angel Guzman, in perhaps his last attempt to show he can stay healthy;
- The good Patterson brother, Eric;
- Matt Murton;
- Recent acquisition David Aardsma;
- Power hitting prospect Brandon Sing, and
- a guy with one of the best baseball names ever, Buck Coats (and "Buck" is his true given name, not a nickname).