And yes, I know it's only April. The most amazing thing about Reed Johnson's amazing catch (I realize I wrote "amazing" twice right there, but this one, if you haven't seen it before, really is worth that sort of hype) is that when he gets up, the look on his face said, "Hey, no big deal, I do this all the time." Meanwhile, the Cubs' bullpen, right behind the wall where Johnson's head hit the (fortunately) thick padding, applauded, and left fielder Mark DeRosa just stood there as if to say, "Did I really see that?" (Also take a look at Reed's cap, the bill folded back.)
The title says it all about that catch -- and even though it IS only April, when it comes to recaps of 2008 this fall, this catch will be shown on every highlight show, every "year in review" show.
Unfortunately, that was the highlight of this game, which the Cubs lost to the Nationals 5-3 when Wil Nieves hit a two-run walkoff HR off Bob Howry.
Ugh. Guys like this shouldn't hit these sorts of home runs. In fact, Nieves, who had had 162 career AB for three teams (the Padres, Yankees and Nats) over the last six years, had never hit one in the major leagues before (and in over 3400 minor league AB had only 20).
However, that's not the reason the Cubs lost this game. Here's the boxscore line that explains why the Cubs lost this game:
Team LOB - 10.
I made that big and bold because the Cubs squandered numerous opportunities, including having the bases loaded with only one out in the 8th trailing 3-2. They did tie the game when Matt Murton drew a bases-loaded walk, but then still had the bases loaded with one out... and Mike Fontenot struck out (on what looked to be a really bad pitch) and Johnson grounded out. The Cubs caught a bad break in the 5th when Kosuke Fukudome's double to LF just barely bounced into the stands, forcing Aramis Ramirez, who would have scored easily from first, to stop at third. With two runners in scoring position and two out, Mark DeRosa struck out.
One more thing bothered me about that 8th inning -- Lou's overuse of pinch hitters, trying to get the platoon advantage. Four players were used up in two AB -- wasting Daryle Ward -- and although it did result in a run when Murton walked, had the game gone into extra innings, only Felix Pie would have remained on the bench, and since Henry Blanco was used up without even getting to hit (replaced by Fontenot), there would have been no backup catcher. If Lou is going to continue to do this, the Cubs have to trim the pitching staff to 11 and get another bench player.
I thought Ryan Dempster threw another nice game -- the only mistake he made was the Nick Johnson HR in the first inning. Naturally, that followed a two-out, no one on, four-pitch walk to Ryan Zimmerman. I hate those! Not just the four-pitch walk, but the fact that Dempster didn't "close the deal" after retiring the first two hitters easily. It's as if he had too much focus and started overthrowing the ball.
Notes: Alfonso Soriano says he'll be ready to return when he's eligible to come off the DL on May 1. Hey, Alfonso: no rush. The team is 7-3 without you in the lineup (8-3 if you include the game he got hurt in, in which he barely played). And Lou Piniella likes Nationals Park, especially the home clubhouse:
"You can actually play a night game there, and just stay overnight," Piniella said. "You can get up in the morning and have the chef cook you eggs and hash browns and bacon, and you're ready to go to work the next day without having to leave."
For some in-person details and photos, check out BCB reader 08cubs' excellent FanPost, posted late last night. And hang in there -- the Cardinals and Brewers also both lost last night, which keeps the Cubs' early-season division lead at 1.5 games, and with Carlos Zambrano on the mound tonight, the chances of evening up this series are pretty good.
But please stop leaving so many runners on base.