MESA, Arizona -- Had Kosuke Fukudome not lost Josh Fields' fourth-inning fly ball in the sun, Carlos Zambrano would have gone six scoreless innings this afternoon.
As it was, the Cubs' seven-run first inning was all they needed to quickly dispatch the White Sox 9-4 in the shortest (full) game I've seen so far this spring, two hours and thirty-two minutes, in front of the sixth record-breaking crowd in the Cactus League this year, 13,327, breaking the record of 13,311, set last week when the Cubs visited the White Sox' new palace at Camelback Ranch. It was the Cubs' seventh win in their last eight games.
About that attendance record: seems to me the teams are doing funky things with crowd counts to try to one-up each other. This one will probably stand, as the Cubs don't visit the Ranch any more this spring to play either the White Sox or Dodgers and none of the teams that do visit there have the drawing power the Cubs do -- one more reason the people in Mesa, Maricopa County and the state of Arizona will likely pull out all the stops to keep the Cubs' training facilities in the Valley of the Sun. The record crowd brought the season total to 172,910 and the season average to 10,807 -- the season record will be broken on Tuesday (that's largely because there are more dates; the record average, 12,125, set in 2005, is in no danger). There doesn't seem to be any sign of recession at HoHoKam Park, where beer and food is still being consumed in large quantities despite the high prices, and the souvenirs (according to the employees at the gift shop) are selling well.
Fukudome had both a good and bad day. He singled off a left-hander, the Sox' Clayton Richard, in the first inning. Sounds good, right? Well, Richard faced eight batters and retired only one of them (Aramis Ramirez, on a force play), so maybe it was Richard being bad, not Dome being good. In his next at-bat, later in the first off right-hander D. J. Carrasco, he struck out. Not so good. He popped up and flied out in his other at-bats and lost the fly ball in the sun. Small sample size, I know, one game -- but it's going to have to get better than this, and quickly, or Reed Johnson is going to wind up the starting center fielder.
Aaron Miles had three hits today -- he's going to have to hit like he did last year to be useful; Milton Bradley had three excellent at-bats and drew two walks, and Alfonso Soriano made a nice running catch on an Alexei Ramirez drive into the gap; otherwise the Sox; two-run fourth could have been much worse. And although Z would have gotten out of the inning unscathed if Fukudome makes that catch, Z make his own trouble by walking Jermaine Dye and ex-Cub minor leaguer Josh Kroeger, who started at first base today. The Sox starting lineup was, save the omission of 1B Paul Konerko and DH Jim Thome, probably what you'll see on the field Opening Day for them, although they are still apparently unconvinced that Jerry Owens can really be the leadoff man they're looking for. He looked good today, though, with three hits including a RBI double off Chad Fox in the 9th. Fox and Mike Stanton made what were probably their swan songs in major league uniforms this afternoon; neither figures to make the major league bullpen nor stick around at Iowa.
Angel Guzman, out of options and maybe headed somewhere else before camp is over, allowed a solo homer to Brian Anderson. Luis Vizcaino, with a big contract that we wish were headed somewhere else before camp is over, threw a scoreless inning that we can only hope impressed the scouts.
The victory "won" the spring "series" with the White Sox, three games to two, and the next time the clubs will meet will be June 16 at Wrigley Field. Since the beginning of interleague play the Sox and Cubs have played 66 times, with each team winning 33 and the Sox outscoring the Cubs by exactly one run, 323-322. Of such things great rivalries are made and I look forward to its resumption.
Tomorrow, Ryan Dempster will start in Tucson vs. the Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez. Since the main starting lineup played both last night and this afternoon, I wouldn't expect too many of them to make the trip.
Finally, ran into my friend Jim McArdle, who used to be the Vine Line editor and who spent last year researching and writing "Living The Dream", a book that was supposed to be about how we Cubs fans lived through a championship season. That part didn't work out, but the book should still be fun. Check it out; I intend to get one and review it here soon.