Today, managers Ozzie Guillen and Dusty Baker, worn down by constant media pressure on them for various reasons this year, decided to take the afternoon off. Let me introduce you to the two adorable canines who took their place today.
This is "Ace", who managed the Cubs:
And this is "Buster", who guided the White Sox:
There is no other possible explanation for today's wacky, exciting, loud, but ultimately depressing 8-6 Cubs loss to the White Sox, which involved no fewer than four lead changes, "Buster" double-switching BOTH of his power-hitting first basemen OUT of the lineup by the 8th inning, a lefthanded pitcher for the White Sox warming up three different times but not coming in until a righthander had allowed a two-run homer, and "Ace" not using his OWN pet in the very situation where it was most called for.
And that, my friends, cost the Cubs the game.
Blame Ryan Dempster all you want, but there is one purpose for Neifi Perez on this year's Cub team. He plays good defense at shortstop. Ronny Cedeno doesn't. In the situation at hand in the ninth inning, Perez should have been in the game at SS, instead of Cedeno. Dempster threw his game and made his pitches to the first three batters of the ninth inning -- a flyout to left, a ground ball to third (on which Aramis Ramirez made a nifty play), and an admittedly not-so-easy grounder to short, which Cedeno booted.
A kid barely out of Double-A doesn't make that play, and should have been charged with an error, which would have made all three runs off Dempster unearned. Neifi Perez makes that play, and the Cubs would have won what we all agreed was the best ballgame we'd all seen played at Wrigley Field this year, no matter the result.
Even after that play, Dempster had Jermaine Dye down 1-and-2 and didn't go challenge him, instead walking him and then Dave said to me, "Pierzynski lives for these types of situations", and sure enough, he hit the 3-run homer. We couldn't see how close it came to the RF foul pole from all the way across the field, but obviously, it was enough to be the game-winner.
This is why I keep telling you that Ronny Cedeno needs to be moved to second base. And "Ace" should have had Neifi in the game -- he had, in fact, put Angel Pagan in for defensive purposes an inning earlier. The flyout that was the first out of the ninth inning might not have been caught by Phil Nevin; the wind was tough today, and in fact it helped the Cubs in the seventh, when with runners on first and third and two out and a run already in, a popup that ordinarily would have landed twenty rows in the seats was blown back into playable foul territory for Ramirez to handle.
After Pierzynski's HR, a ton of garbage was thrown onto the field from the bleachers. While "garbage" does epitomize what this season has become, there is absolutely no call for such behavior. It doesn't reflect well on the vast majority of Cub fans who just... want... a... win... every... once... in... a... while.
Once again, the sellout of 41,027 was at least half Sox fans, and give them credit; they were there rooting on their team in generally well-behaved fashion (apart from one early-inning tiff behind first base, which for all I know could have been two drunk Cub fans going at each other), and there wasn't much Cub-baiting going on, although I did see security people walking out with some brooms that had been smuggled in by Sox fans.
In front of us sat a father with three young boys, two wearing Cub clothes, one a Sox jersey, all keeping score and very much into the game. Mike said, "Don't tell them that this" -- and he sort of gestured at all of us -- "is what they have to look forward to in thirty years."
It'd be nice to think that those kids, and the rest of us, would have experienced by then, what Sox fans had a year ago. In the meantime, the Cubs are headed for their worst home record since they moved into Wrigley Field in 1916. The fewest home games won by the Cubs in a single year since then is 20 -- but that was in the strike year, 1994, when only 59 home games were played. In a full 162-game season, the worst home record is 32-49, set in the team-record-tying 103-loss season of 1962, tied in 1966 and again in 1974. For a 154-game season, the worst was 31-46, set in 1957.
The current home record is 13-25, which puts the club on pace to go 28-53 at home this year.
And so, I was reduced today to being Jeff's secretary, since he wanted to follow the World Cup and forgot his phone; I got calls from Mark in California AND Krista, telling me of England's 3-1 loss to Portugal, which was yet another loss for a team Jeff was rooting for.
So let's talk about all the dumb managerial moves today.
Bonehead Move #1: "Ace" left Greg Maddux in to bat for himself in the sixth. This wasn't a terrible idea, as the situation called for a bunt. Not only did Maddux fail to bunt, after he struck out, Ronny Cedeno was caught stealing for a double play. Then, having left Maddux in, we all wondered why he wasn't left in to pitch to Paul Konerko, since Scott Eyre was the only one warming up, and obviously, "Buster" was going to send Konerko up to pinch-hit for Javier Vazquez. Result: Home run.
Bonehead Move #2: "Buster" failing to bring in Neal Cotts to pitch to left-hand hitting Jacque Jones, despite having him warm up twice before Jones' seventh-inning at-bat. Granted, Jones homered off Cotts at the Cell in May, but it's still the obvious move. Instead, he left righty David Riske in. Result: Home run.
Bonehead Move #3: After taking out Jim Thome, who had homered, replacing him with Paul Konerko, who ALSO homered, "Buster" double-switched Konerko out of the game, leaving the Sox' two best power hitters on the bench, if the game had gone to extra innings. Result: didn't matter, and their replacement, Ross Gload (who, as I said to Dave, I would NEVER have figured to be a good major league prospect when he was briefly with the Cubs in 2000), started the winning rally.
Bonehead Move #4: The ONE time it would have made sense to have Neifi Perez in the game, doing the ONE thing he does well -- play shortstop -- he's anchored to the bench in the ninth inning. Result: Ronny Cedeno's misplay, which led to the Sox' game winning rally. It should have been called an error.
Brian showed up with a buddy of his today and said he HOPES the Cubs lose 100 games. They sure look like they're going to, the way these things are going; today, yet another game they could have won (fifth blown save for Dempster), toted into the loss column.
Good things that happened today, and I know this is reaching, because this loss pretty much encapsulated the whole year in one afternoon: Greg Maddux threw a pretty good game, keeping his team close. Aramis Ramirez at last broke out offensively, coming a single short of the cycle and having 5 RBI; Bob Howry keeping the White Sox in check after Eyre allowed them to tie it, thus increasing his possible trade value; the Cubs jumping all over Vazquez in the first inning -- even though this is partly a negative, too, because they left two runners on base with only one out, including one on third, and could have scored far more than two runs, and knocked Vazquez out of the game early.
That's about it. And then, to add injury to insult, when I was coming back into my house I accidentally bumped my elbow on the doorjamb, drawing blood. Which, of course, dropped one large red splotch right on my scorecard.
Figures, right? The way this year's gone?