Before I get into some of the really weird plays that we all saw during today's 6-1 Cubs win over the Pirates, let me say how disgusted not only I, but our entire section, was over the fact that the Wave, something that belongs in a college football stadium (if anywhere), managed to get all the way around Wrigley Field three times -- for the first time that any of us could remember.
Come on, people. This is a baseball game. If you're not interested in watching it -- stay home, go to a bar, go to the beach, go to a college football game. But don't do the Wave at Wrigley Field. It started, in fact, a couple sections over from us, we think from a guy who stood up an inning or so before, apparently drunk, just to point out that there was a "White Sox fan" in their midst. Who cares?
OK, I'm done. And I hope that sort of nonsense is done, too.
Mike & I have each attended over 2000 major league baseball games. Today, there were three plays that neither of us had ever seen before:
- a pop fly hit by Ronny Cedeno that was first ruled caught by Jason Bay right in front of us in LF, and then after an umpires' conference, the catch was overruled and Cedeno put on first base. We'd seen that play ruled a trap right after it happened, but NEVER after the batter had already returned to the dugout. In fact, Mike & I wondered, "Where are they going to put him?", and Cedeno himself had to go to one of the umpires to ask where to go (first base, as it turned out). It led to a run after Cedeno stole second and was singled in by Cesar Izturis.
- a double play in which an RBI was recorded, when Jacque Jones hit a ground ball to shortstop with runners on second and third and one out. Aramis Ramirez was caught in a rundown between second and third and tagged out by 3B Joe Randa; during this rundown, Izturis, who had been on third, scored -- giving Jones an RBI on a fielder's choice. But then dumb baserunning by Jones (how often have we seen THAT?) got HIM caught in a rundown, and ALSO tagged out by Randa, who chased Jones nearly all the way back to first base.
- And, the last out of the game, when Jack Wilson hit a ball that appeared to be foul, only to have plate umpire Bill Welke rule that it had hit him in fair territory; thus, he was out and the game was over. I've seen this sort of ruling before, but never to end a ballgame. The Cub players, who had begun to high-five each other near the mound, had to mill around waiting for the umpires to explain the play to Jim Tracy; the umps finally waved the Cubs off the field. Right at that moment, it started to rain.
It had rained for a while before the first pitch, too, but about half an hour before game time it stopped, and there was no delay in the actual starting time, and the sun actually made brief appearances, shining on yet another fine pitching performance by Rich Hill, who has dominated Triple-A this year.
I say this because the Pirates aren't that much better than your average Triple-A team; Hill had them off-balance most of the day and just as he did the other night, threw strikes (only one walk), and mixed up his pitches well (of the nine strikeouts, four were called), and most importantly, he allowed runners to get in scoring position in the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th innings, and got out of each inning swiftly -- something that he, and in fact other Cub pitchers, have not been able to do all year.
If Hill can continue to do this for the rest of the season, I will happily say that I've been wrong about him. One of the reasons I was so down on him was because he seemed either unwilling or unable to make the adjustments to his game that he had to do to succeed at the major league level. In his last two starts, I have seen evidence of these adjustments. If Hill could develop a good third pitch -- a good straight change, or a splitter, or something other than a fastball or curve -- he could mix them up to devastating effect. His next start should be Friday in Colorado -- which is no longer the hitters' paradise it once was, partly because baseballs are stored in humidors there to deaden them a bit against the effects of the altitude. Example of what this has done: in the first 850 games at Coors Field, there were ZERO 1-0 games. There have been three of them in the last year.
The other "young player" thing that I liked today was Cedeno's 3-run homer; not just because it was a 3-run HR, but because on the pitch immediately preceding the HR, he swung and missed and looked really bad. That was a quality major league at-bat. If he can have more of these, there could be hope for him yet.
Anyway, the 8-3 homestand and the better play we've seen since the All-Star break (now 13-10) got Dave and Phil ruminating about the wild card, which made me shake my head and tell Phil "SHHHH!" They were even talking about this on WGN's postgame show. Look, I'm the eternal optimist, but even in this most mediocre of NL seasons (there are likely to be not one, but TWO .500 ballclubs -- the West champion and the wild card -- in the NL postseason), it just doesn't seem possible, ten games out and ELEVEN teams in front of the Cubs.
The only example I can think of in recent history of a team coming back from anywhere CLOSE to this far under .500 was the 1973 Mets, who on August 27, 1973 were 59-70, 11 games under (the Cubs are 17 under), in last place (sixth) in the old NL East, 6.5 games out of first place with 33 games left. The Mets went 23-9 from there; the last game of the year was cancelled because it was the 2nd game of a makeup DH at Wrigley Field and would have had no effect on the race -- the Mets had clinched by winning the first game and finished first in a division where they had the only winning record (82-79, until last year's Padres the worst division-winning record ever).
So, it's not going to happen. But you can't deny that it's way more fun to watch the Cubs win than to watch what we saw in May and June.