(Copyright, Universal Press Syndicate)
In the eleventh inning, when we all pretty much had an entire section to ourselves, and the Reds players were flying around the bases, Mike casually mentioned "seventeenth base" to me, which is something that Calvin & Hobbes had in a later edition of "Calvinball", the game where the only rule is that you can't play it the same way twice.
That's just about how last night's 7-4 loss to the Reds felt.
Thirty-nine players had their names submitted by the two managers to the umpiring crew for participation in last night's monstrosity, including fourteen pitchers, some of whom actually were able to record outs.
That's not really fair -- Cub starter Jerome Williams threw an effective seven innings, though he gave up at least one hit in six of them. Only one run scored out of all that, and after Jeromy Burnitz hit a two-run homer far over our heads and across Sheffield (something I was absolutely astounded to see, considering the wind was blowing in at a pretty good clip), Williams left for pinch-hitter Ryan Theriot in the last of the seventh, leading 3-1. (Theriot got his first major league hit, an infield single, and promptly got his first major league pickoff.)
This is what I have arguments with Dave about all the time. Williams' record is 5-8, and I'd argue that he has, for the most part, pitched far better than that record. He put his team in a position to win -- and the next two pitchers in the game couldn't hold it for him, particularly Mike Wuertz, who has shown over and over this year that he's not effective in back-to-back games.
He proved that again last night, striking out the first batter he saw and then allowing the Reds to tie the game with a Jason LaRue RBI double down the LF line.
Will Ohman came in and got the side out in the 8th, but not before balking in the lead run.
Calvinball! Isn't it fun?
Todd Walker homered to almost exactly the same spot that Burnitz had to tie it again in the bottom of the 8th, and by then the tour buses had lined up on Sheffield (more buses than I've seen in weeks, incidentally -- what is it about a Wednesday in September that brought out so many buses?) -- and he threaded the needle; the buses often line up side to side and bumper to bumper, but Walker's ball missed all of them.
All that did was drag out the game for an extra hour, because the Cubs finished that inning with an agonizing failed rally which included having the lead run on third base with none out and one out and being unable to score. Michael Barrett also got hit on the head in that inning and had to leave the game; he's likely to have a mild concussion, even though he got up under his own power, and if so, he's probably done for the year.
No one scored in the 10th, even though Jermaine Van Buren decided to help out by walking the leadoff batter -- Van Buren throws really hard but doesn't seem to have a good idea where he's throwing the ball yet -- and got out of it when he induced Aaron Holbert to ground into a slick double play started by Nomar at third.
Van Buren started the 11th, whether by force of habit or not, by issuing another leadoff walk, at which time Dusty Baker decided to go against his grain by using the entire Iowa Cubs pitching staff -- and Rich Hill and Sergio Mitre weren't any better. Hill decided to try for an out at second on an attempted sacrifice; bad move, both runners were safe, and then Jerry Hairston, who actually has looked better in CF lately, made a Patterson-like throw to third on a fly ball, instead of throwing to second to keep the DP in order. This forced an intentional walk, and then Sean Casey cleared the bases with a double over Hairston's head.
This sort of fundamental mistake has been, unfortunately, the hallmark of 2005 Cubs baseball. You almost expected to see someone out there with masks and flags, playing Calvinball.
A few other notes: Dusty Baker must have been writhing in his seat in the first inning, when the Cubs drew three base-clogging walks. But when they scored only once in the inning, I'm sure Dusty smiled, because to him, that must have proven that walks don't generate runs. Actually, all it proved is that this Cub lineup couldn't take advantage of the walks.
It's becoming more and more clear that Corey Patterson isn't likely to play again. In the bottom of the ninth, the game tied, the pitcher's spot due to lead off -- there was the spot that called for Patterson, and instead, Jose Macias led off the inning. It wouldn't be surprising if we heard that Patterson has been sent home for the rest of the season. I'll check around tonight and see if I spot him during batting practice.
A lot of Cubs had bad days, but did anyone have a worse game than Neifi? He struck out swinging in the first inning, and then in each of his four subsequent at-bats he swung at the first pitch, popping up three times and grounding out in the 11th.
And thus, on the first evening of this waning season where the chill in the air was strongly felt (might have been a bit too cool for shorts), whatever silly thoughts we might have had that the Cubs could get back to the .500 mark and close to within a "manageable" five games of the wild card lead, went "poof". The announced crowd of 37,695 seemed about 10,000 lighter than that in the ballpark; I'd expect fuller houses this weekend with the Cardinals in town.
Damn, I'm glad we're done with the Reds. If that team had any pitching, they'd be right up there with St. Louis.
Finally -- and I make no editorial comment here, only passing on observations -- in the later innings there were several people in the bleachers (myself included) following the White Sox/Royals game on our web-enabled cellphones. The Sox blew 6-3 and 9-4 leads and lost 10-9 to a really awful Royals team -- a team that hadn't won a game while trailing entering the last of the 9th in over a year. It says here that, with their lead down to five games, they're in trouble.
The last two and a half weeks of this season may not be interesting on the north side of Chicago, but keep your eyes elsewhere in baseball.