Yes, the Cubs lost again, to the Padres 4-3 in 14 innings today, and yet another pitching meltdown from Will Ohman was the cause (and I won't blame Jacque Jones for letting the ball get by him, because the run was going to score anyway on the hit).
But years from now -- maybe when Felix Pie is finishing up a stellar career, hopefully all in a Cubs uniform, what I'll remember, and what I hope you will remember, from this sunny, windy and chilly afternoon at Wrigley Field, is the throw he made to gun down Russell Branyan at the plate in the 10th inning, preserving the tie so the game could continue for another four eventually unsatisfying innings.
Pie's throw was accurate, strong, and just about perfect. I don't think this is being too hyperbolic to say that I haven't seen a throw like that, at least not at Wrigley Field, in many, many years. Maybe, among current players, Ichiro Suzuki or Vladimir Guerrero could make a throw like that and make it count.
But a Cub? And a rookie playing his first major league game? That's truly special. Yes, the Cubs lost, and yes, at times they looked pretty bad today (they had only two hits after the fifth inning, and after not striking out for the first 10 innings, they K'd 8 times in the last four), but I know I can tell people I was there when Pie made the first of what may be many great defensive plays.
And further, no matter what he does in his career, he can always say that he got his first major league hit -- a ringing double off the left-center field wall in the fifth inning -- off a Hall of Famer, Greg Maddux, the future of the Cubs facing one of the all-time greats who once graced our team.
Neither Maddux nor Cub starter Wade Miller was very good today, though Maddux managed to get through four decent innings before Pie and the Cubs roughed him up in the 5th to tie the game. Miller had nothing from the get-go and was lucky to leave the game with a no-decision. In the third inning, after he'd walked the bases loaded, Lou Piniella came out to talk to him -- with no one warming up in the bullpen. I can only imagine the expletives that were spoken -- but they worked, because after that Miller settled down, and the only reason he had to be lifted was that he had thrown an ugly total of 98 pitches (only a little more than half, 54, for strikes) in his five innings, and the highest reading I saw on the scoreboard for him was 89 MPH.
This is the reason I think it's a good thing that the Cubs sent Angel Guzman to Iowa -- Guzman can now start every fifth day and ought to be on the fast track to return to the Cubs as the replacement for Miller, who just doesn't seem to have much.
To be fair to Miller, he had thrown exactly once in the last 19 days, on April 8 in Milwaukee. His last outing before then was March 29, the last spring training game in Mesa. There's no way any starting pitcher can get any sort of rhythm going pitching that infrequently. I assume Miller will get at least two more chances, on regular rest, before any decision will be made.
A decision will have to be made about Pie sooner than that -- as of now, Alfonso Soriano's injury will have him out for about a week. After that, will Pie be sent back to Iowa? Or will there be movement elsewhere in the outfield, a trade, perhaps, leaving room for Pie in CF and Soriano in one of the corner spots? This all remains to be seen.
Kudos today to the Cub bullpen -- well, except Ohman, of course -- who kept the Padres scoreless for eleven innings, allowing in that time, eight hits and four walks. The Padres stranded seventeen baserunners in the 14 innings, and Pie's great throw wasn't the only good defensive play by the Cubs; in the sixth, Neal Cotts pounced on a bunt and threw out the lead runner at third; there was a nifty double play that followed. And in the 12th, Mark DeRosa, who had come into the game in one of Lou's double-switches, speared a line drive off the bat of Marcus Giles, saving the tie for yet again another Cub opportunity.
It would have been interesting had the club been able to tie the game in the last of the 14th, because Lou had pinch-run for Daryle Ward (who had popped a ball into CF that the wind blew in too far for Mike Cameron to catch) at second base with Jason Marquis. Marquis was the 22nd Cub to appear in today's game -- only starters Carlos Zambrano, Rich Hill and Ted Lilly didn't appear -- and had the Cubs tied the game, Marquis would likely have gone to the outfield, with either DeRosa or Ryan Theriot moving to first base.
It sprinkled for a short time at the beginning of the game, but then the sun reappeared, making it tolerably warm in the left field corner -- that is, until the sun dipped behind the corner of the upper deck. Jeff, Howard and I started migrating toward center field and the sun at that time, finally winding up near the concession stand with some of the other season ticket holders and regulars. Of the 36,021 who paid today, maybe 20,000-22,000 of them actually entered the ballpark and there couldn't have been more than 3,000 or so left when the game ended at 5:40 pm. Those in the shade looked horribly cold; the usual lower-deck migration toward the RF corner, where the sun shines late in the day, collected most of the remains of the crowd, as well as the very first row of the upper deck in right field, creating a funny scene -- one row filled in the sun, the rest of that side of the upper deck completely empty.
I met BCB reader TheBeerBaron and two of his friends today. I gave him the tickets outside the park and told him where to find me and to pay me inside. He didn't show up, so I figured he decided to sit elsewhere. About the sixth inning I spotted him sitting about six rows in front of us, so I called him. When he asked where I was, I said, "Turn around." We had a nice talk -- nice to meet you!
While this loss is horrendously frustrating, I wouldn't say by any means that it indicates anything except one more number added to the "L" column (speaking of which, I taught my daughter Rachel something today -- I had to pick her up at her tutor's after the game, and driving past the park, she asked who won. So I explained what the "L" flag on the scoreboard meant -- and even a 14-year-old teenage girl thought that was cool). The bullpen did an excellent job, except for Ohman, and I think the Cubs have to seriously think about doing something with him, because he's been absolutely awful all year. Jacque Jones seems fine in LF -- again, I do NOT blame him for the 14th-inning run, because that run would have scored anyway on Geoff Blum's hit (seems like that guy does nothing except get game-winning hits in the 14th inning), and Aramis Ramirez is clearly fine, hitting a triple in the first inning and playing good defense. So I'll settle for a split with a very good San Diego team; on to this little orphan two-game road trip, and then what may be a defining homestand with the Cardinals and Brewers.
And always remember, even if you just saw it on TV, or even followed it on Gameday, that you bore witness to the birth of what may be, what we hope will be, an excellent major league career. Chants of "Felix! Felix! Felix!" were heard today in the bleachers. It won't be the last time.