Dave and I had just spent a couple of innings discussing how fundamentally unsound the Cubs have been this year -- seemingly a continuation of last year, after we were promised by Lou Piniella and staff that this wouldn't happen.
Damned if we didn't see one of the worst fundamental mistakes any ballplayer can make, one that shouldn't happen in a high school game.
You all know what it is, but I'll spell it out anyway -- if you take off for second and the pitcher throws ball four, you'd better make damn sure you're either anchored to second base after your slide, or you put your hand up and tell the umpire you want time out.
Ronny Cedeno didn't do that today and instead of being in scoring position with one out, he had to slink back to the bench, the second out of a frustrating ninth inning. One pitch later, pinch-hitter Matt Murton popped up and that was the ballgame, another one-run loss, 2-1 to the Cardinals on a gorgeous, sunny afternoon with the ballpark surprisingly highly populated with Cardinals fans (I wouldn't have expected that this early in the year, what with schools still in session and this being a Friday).
I'm sure Lou Piniella, unlike Dusty "Tough Day, Dude" Baker, will address this in private. I have not heard the post-game news conference, but I'm sure he had some choice remarks.
Make a statement, Lou and Jim Hendry. Send Ronny on the next plane to Des Moines. Show the team that this sort of thing cannot be accepted at the major league level. We've seen too much of this and it's got to stop, because no matter how good the starting pitching is (and it was very, very good again today), this team is not going to win with the slim margin for error they've given themselves.
Ted Lilly had a rough first inning but then settled down and threw quite well -- until another of those "innocent little walks" led to two runs (I wish Baker had never said that!) -- the home run by Preston Wilson flew about 15 feet directly over my head (if you saw someone in a dark-blue Cubs cap and a light blue-gray sweatshirt raise his arm up as the ball flew onto the street, that was me).
And that was the ballgame, unfortunately. More fundamentally poor baseball -- Henry Blanco couldn't lay down a bunt, and was ruled out for batter interference, which is why the Cardinals didn't get what at first appeared to be a bizarre triple play. Even at that, the Cubs could have accomplished something in that seventh inning, with a runner in scoring position and only one out, but Cesar Izturis (who ought to be benched, and Dave suggested to me, as many of you have, that Ryan Theriot might be tried at SS for a few days) got called out on strikes on a pitch that you simply cannot lay off of, and then Daryle Ward, who's looking more than useless, also struck out.
Frustrating. Except for those two plays (yeah, that's the old "Well, except for that, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?" line), the game was a pretty decent ballgame, and credit to Braden Looper, in his first year as a starting pitcher, keeping the Cubs off balance after giving them three hits and a run in the first inning. Dave mentioned, and I hadn't thought of this: the Cardinals acquired Ryan Franklin (who threw the 8th inning), a starting pitcher, and made him a setup man, and took Looper, a setup man, and made him a starter, and had success with both moves. Go figure.
Meanwhile, Alfonso Soriano says he's at 90 percent and could play this weekend, but Lou's probably going to wait till next week just to play it safe. Phil said to me that he thought Soriano might look better in one of the corner outfield spots rather than in CF, given the hamstring problem; if the team does wind up keeping Felix Pie on the roster, maybe it would be worth trying an outfield of Soriano/Pie/Jones from left to right, or maybe Floyd/Pie/Soriano, just to see what happens. I didn't mention Matt Murton there, but he could be part of a LF mix in that scenario as well. In any case Murton's not going to start hitting until he gets some consistent playing time, something that is eventually going to have to be worked out.
Jacque Jones is the obvious candidate to be moved, but here's the trouble: what team is going to admit they need a left-hand hitting outfielder on April 20, barring some freakish injury? No one, that's who. Jones will have more trade value on June 20 than he does today, and maybe that's when the Cubs can and will move him.
We had a mini-BCB convention in the bleachers today; in addition to Jessica, in from NYC (and who showed up late, and her friend Charles at first got all turned around and spent an inning in RF looking for us), we were joined by Drew from Rockford and his girlfriend, Neal (who goes by SuperContext here), and mrcubsfan and Ihatethecards, who brought a Cardinals fan with them, for some unfathomable reason (I'm kidding, you guys!). Also saw dfrancon today, who was sitting in the terrace boxes where it was quite a bit colder than the bleachers.
Finally, I worry a bit about Jason Marquis (who was exchanging hugs, of all things, with some of his former Cardinal teammates in the outfield during BP) pitching against his former team tomorrow -- I fear he might be too keyed up and wind up overthrowing everything. He needs to do something tonight to get his mind off of starting tomorrow. Anyone got any suggestions?