Bleepin' Dempster

That's what someone near us muttered on his way out of the ballpark as we were all leaving after last night's long, dragged-out 4-3, 15-inning loss to the Pirates.

OK, so "bleepin'" wasn't the exact word he used. Fill in the blank, we were all feeling the same way.

About the thirteenth inning, Mike said to me, "We'll be here till 2 am at this rate!"

To which my late-night retort was, "Shut up!"

Fifteen innings and four hours, thirty-nine minutes were both season highs for the Cubs, surpassing this ugly April 17 loss to the Padres, also 4-3. This one was even uglier -- although the Cubs left "only" ten men on base in the 15 innings, compared to the Pirates' 17 LOB. It contained "highlights" such as:

  • Michael Barrett being thrown out trying to steal second in the 12th inning. Now, I don't think Michael was really trying to steal; it appeared to be a missed hit-and-run, with Jacque Jones not shortening up his swing and at least fouling the pitch off.
  • Ryan Theriot getting doubled off second base on a screaming Matt Murton line drive to left in the 10th; I can't blame Theriot for this, either, as the ball appeared as if it were going to drop in at first. Further, Theriot otherwise had a good night, with three hits and two RBI, raising his average to .322.
  • And, some misplays by Derrek Lee (whose throw toward 2B on an attempted sacrifice was off-line) and Barrett (who got charged with a tough error when his throw to 3B bounced off Aramis Ramirez) in the 15th inning, helping load the bases (Neal Cotts didn't help either, hitting Ryan Doumit) before the game-winning sac fly.
  • And, Dempster's walk of pinch-hitter Nate McLouth in the 9th; McLouth took third on a single and scored on another sac fly.
Meanwhile, Lou Piniella once again emptied his bench, even using Jason Marquis as a pinch-hitter in the 11th, before his last position player (Henry Blanco) had left the bench. This time, at least, he had a pitcher (Cotts) who could have gone a couple more innings before the Cubs would have had to go to one of the starters, and this time, it might have had to be Angel Guzman, who threw five innings on Saturday, since today's starter, Marquis, had pinch-hit. I was a bit puzzled why he double-switched Felix Pie in and out of the game before he even had a chance to bat.

All of this was after Mark, who I decided could take in one game on a school night, made a spectacular catch off a BP HR hit by Mark DeRosa. Several of the veteran ballhawks and LF regulars came by to compliment him on his grab. And lest you think that he was just enjoying the game, he actually brought his homework to the ballpark and finished it between BP and the start of the game. The length of the game may be his fault, incidentally -- he said he wanted to see "37 innings". The kid nearly got his wish.

Apart from Dempster, the bullpen did a pretty good job -- allowing nothing after Dempster's disastrous ninth inning until the error-filled fifteenth. Scott Eyre, in particular, did a nice job throwing three scoreless innings -- however, he got himself into a couple of jams and the game probably should have ended in the 12th inning, when it looked as if 1B umpire Tom Hallion gave the Cubs a gift in calling pinch-hitter Jose Castillo out at first for an inning-ending double play. Replays -- which we could clearly see in the bar in the rooftop building behind us -- appeared to show Castillo safe by a pretty good margin, which would have scored a run and ended the game nearly an hour before it did finally finish, at 11:45 pm.

That also wasted yet another good outing by Ted Lilly; he didn't have his best stuff, but managed to keep the Cubs in the game as they came from behind twice. Lilly didn't walk anyone and now has a Madduxesque six walks in 45.1 IP.

While the loss is frustrating, and even more so with the Brewers' comeback win over the really bad Nats, 6-4, increasing Milwaukee's lead to 6.5 games, if the Cubs can win tonight and tomorrow, that would complete a satisfying 5-1 homestand.

Notes: Alfonso Soriano had three hits, extending his hitting streak to 16 games; Lee also had a hit and his batting streak is at 15, with his on-base streak continuing at 30 games. Soriano also threw out the potential lead run at the plate in the 11th inning, which, in the end, was another meaningless extension of a long evening, made tolerable only because of the nice early-May weather (69 degrees at game time, and it actually felt warmer later in the evening as the lake breeze shut off).

Good news: Michael Barrett's fundraising auction, which ended with his appearance at Gino's East on Sunday, raised $12,000 to help fight Leber's Congenital Amaurosis (LCA), the disease Derrek Lee's daughter is battling.

Finally, the Cubs have joined several other teams in banning alcohol from the clubhouse and team charter flights. But as Greg Couch writes, it's not only the team's responsibility:

Josh Hancock killed himself. He chose to drink, chose to drive. And he died.

I've railed against the locker-room culture plenty of times. It's hurtful and hateful. But culture holds hands with personal responsibility.

And personal responsibility comes first. It's true that Hancock's decision was comfortable because of the culture he works in. So it's important to analyze that culture.

But in this case, people are so uncomfortable criticizing a dead man that they've decided to focus on the culture as if Hancock were the victim.

He was, I guess, but it was a self-induced crime.

Baseball is squirming over this, and that's a good thing.

If Josh Hancock's death can lead to more discussion of this important issue, and if his death can save one life, then it will not have been a meaningless tragedy.
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