MESA, Arizona -- NOW will the naysayers stop dumping on Felix Pie?
Pie singled, doubled, laid down a nice sac bunt and tripled with two out in the ninth inning, and two pitches later scored when Eric Patterson bounced a ball up the middle, giving the Cubs a 7-6 win over the Rangers before another sellout, 12,757 at Ho Ho Kam Park this afternoon.
Total attendance for the 13 dates so far is 155,926, an average of 11,994. The Cubs won't break their season attendance record (which is also the all-time spring training record for any ballpark, Arizona or Florida) set in 2004, 193,993 (an average of 12,125 per date), but with another sellout expected Thursday, the average will go over 12,000.
Today's lawn crowd included several other friends from the bleachers who had just arrived, including Ken and his two sons, who like to shag baseballs during BP at Wrigley. The kids had just walked away when Mark DeRosa's three-run HR in the first inning flew over our heads and landed against the back fence, one-bouncing into the parking lot, a blast of about 410 feet. DeRo also played half the game at third base today. I'm sure that must have started the speculators going ("Geez! If he's playing 3B, that must mean he's going to be a supersub! I bet TTTSNBN is gonna happen!") No, that wasn't it at all -- it was just a half game just to give DeRo a few innings at 3B (something he did last spring, too), and to give Aramis Ramirez the rest of the day off.
Most of the regulars were out of the game after the sixth inning, except for DeRo and Pie. Alfonso Soriano had a nice day at the plate, drawing a walk ahead of D-Lee's single and DeRosa's HR, and in the sixth inning had an excellent at-bat, fouling off several pitches before poking a fly ball deep enough into center field to score Ronny Cedeno (who had singled, stolen second and gone to third on a throwing error), which at the time gave the Cubs a two-run lead, and with Jon Lieber throwing strikes in relief, that looked like it was enough.
Lieber, who almost never walks anyone, walked pinch-hitter Nelson Cruz ileading off the eighth, and one out later, one-time Cub farmhand Adam Melhuse smacked a two-run HR off Lieber, tying the game, and setting up the heroics in the 9th. The Cubs had a shot in the 8th, after pinch-hitter deluxe Daryle Ward doubled with one out, but Sam Fuld, sent in to run for Ward, died there when Mike Fontenot and Matt Murton struck out.
About Lieber, frankly, I was not happy to hear that Jason Marquis was named to the last rotation slot and Lieber shunted to the bullpen. This is being further discussed in this FanPost posted earlier today. It was the consensus on the lawn today that Marquis might be being showcased for a trade -- not necessarily a deal to be made before next Monday, but maybe a deal that could happen sometime before Marquis blows up in the second half of the season. (Not now, no, and especially not TTTSNBN, which, as I have been saying all along, is probably dead.
Lieber, of course, is a trooper and won't complain about a bullpen assignment, either. It has been a long time since the Cubs have had a pitcher like that in the pen, too -- a guy with many years of experience as a starter. The last one was probably Terry Mulholland, who started six games and relieved in 64 others in 1998, posting a 2.89 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and a 151 ERA+; Mulholland was a key part of that pitching staff and perhaps Lieber can serve the same role this year.
Further, Ryan Dempster wasn't all that sharp today, and it's the usual reason -- too many walks. I don't have a pitch count, but Lou had to yank him with two out in the fifth, after he had walked three and given up eight hits, several of them rockets into the gap. So to me, even though Lou has "set" his rotation, it may very well still be in flux once the season actually begins.
Incidentally, if you were one of those hoping the Cubs would get Joe Nathan by trade later, forget it. Today, Nathan signed a four-year, $47 million extension with the Twins. (Nice work if you can get it.) Anyway, the official anointing of Kerry Wood as closer does, in my opinion, solve that problem. Wood is healthy, threw back-to-back days with no trouble (I'm presuming he'll go tomorrow, to pitch 3 of 4 days, as a closer might during the year), and is throwing 98 MPH with nasty breaking stuff. He seems eminently suited by temperament to close, and that gives the Cubs two excellent setup men in Bob Howry and Carlos Marmol (who looked much better today in getting the Cubs out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth).
Les Walrond... is still around. Threw an uneventful 9th and qualified for the win today. Lou has said Walrond still has a shot at making the team, but I just don't see it. What can he do that Carmen Pignatiello can't? And, Walrond is a nonroster guy, which means someone would have to be dumped from the 40-man roster to make room. I... just... don't... see... the... point.
Finally, we had another table selling Wrigley Season Ticket before the game; about 30 copies were sold, and autographed by Fergie Jenkins, who I assume many of you saw during the game telecast, promoting the book, among other things. I have a favor to ask: if any of you who are more adept at this than I am, could take a video clip out of the MLB.TV archive (or elsewhere, if you have it) and email it to me, of Fergie's appearance, I would be grateful.