MESA, Arizona -- The thing I was most reminded of as Mark DeRosa kept hitting 450-foot drives off Ted Lilly was a story that's been told about Greg Maddux and Jeff Bagwell, related in Jessica's BCB top 100 profile of Maddux:
Maddux was pitching a shutout with a large lead late in a game early in the season when Bagwell came to bat. He repeatedly shook off catcher Eddie Perez's signs and threw Bagwell an inside fastball which they both knew was his favorite pitch. Bagwell clocked it for a home run and angry Perez confronted Maddux in the clubhouse asking him why he would throw that pitch. Maddux explained that sometime later that season he would face Bagwell in a more important situation and he would be expecting that pitch. Perez was still annoyed that he had "blown" a shutout. Towards the end of that season, the Braves did indeed play an important game against the Astros and Maddux struck Bagwell out late in the game with the bases loaded. Maddux asked Perez if he remembered the game months ago when he deliberately gave Bagwell the pitch he wanted. Perez had forgotten, but Maddux hadn't.
Incidentally, this apparently really did happen, even though there's no such homer in the Bagwell vs. Maddux game logs. I think the homer they're talking about was in a spring training game, and the strikeout was in this 1997 NLDS game between the Astros and Braves; the bases weren't loaded but the tying run was in scoring position. In any case, the point stands. (Jessica said that today's score was really "Cubs 5, DeRosa 4, Indians 3".)
Could Lilly have been setting DeRosa up for when the Tribe comes to Wrigley Field in June? Or was he doing an old buddy a favor? DeRo would have hit three homers today off Lilly if not for the 30+ foot high hitters' background; his fifth-inning double hit about 3/4 of the way up the background, a blast of at least 450 feet, and the two homers both cleared the scoreboard. Apart from those three hits, Lilly gave up only four singles to other Indians, walked two and struck out eight. It wasn't a bad performance, but Chad Gaudin got pounded, allowing ex-Braves farmhand George Lombard to hit a two-run homer in the seventh, and that was the difference in the Indians' 7-5 win over the Cubs. (And for whatever it's worth, in regular season action DeRosa is 2-for-10 vs. Lilly, with one of the hits being a homer.)
DeRo and Kerry Wood both received warm welcomes from Cubs fans; I hope those of you who subscribe to the BCB Twitter feed saw the photo of them being greeted by former teammates on the field just before the game, that I sent via TwitPic (granted, all I had was my cellphone camera, so it was a little far away). Wood threw a scoreless inning and got Milton Bradley on a called third strike to end it.
Gaudin, as I noted, was awful today (the Cubs even had Mike Stanton, who isn't going to make the final roster, warming up in his bad seventh inning) and I hope some scout saw something that the rest of us didn't, because he'll hurt the team if he's in the bullpen to start the year. Maybe there's some undiagnosed injury and they can put him on the DL and keep David Patton, who was very impressive today (granted, retiring Tony Graffanino, Andy Marte and John Drennen isn't exactly getting the heart of Cleveland's lineup). I know Lou likes Patton and would like to give him a shot if there's any space available.
Reed Johnson smashed a pinch-hit, two-run homer in the 8th that landed just next to us off the scoreboard and rolled down the berm into a scrum, making the score 7-5. It wasn't so much that, that surprised me about that particular at-bat; what was surprising was that Johnson was sent up to pinch-hit against a right-handed relief pitcher. That would, one might have thought, been a perfect situation for Kosuke Fukudome to bat... but Dome was nowhere to be seen on the major league field this afternoon. Does this portend changes? Will Johnson get more playing time vs. RHP than we think this year?
The Cubs had their seventh sellout (of 17 games so far), with an announced crowd of 13.097, though for some reason it didn't seem nearly as crowded as Friday either on the berm or in the stands; there were empty seats even as the game was beginning in the corners of the grandstand sections down the foul lines. The total attendance thus rose to 186,007 and the single-season spring training record, set by the 2005 Cubs, will fall on Tuesday when the Angels visit. Obviously, that's due to the larger number of dates (19 this year); the average attendance record of 12,125 is safe. (Average so far this year: 10,942.)
Lou Piniella named Kevin Gregg his closer today (I'm with Lou on this one; Gregg hasn't thrown in a major league game since last Tuesday), and the spring roster was cut to 30, with pitchers Kevin Hart and Randy Wells optioned to Iowa and catcher Mark Johnson, infielders Andres Blanco and Esteban German and outfielders Brad Snyder and So Taguchi assigned to minor league camp. (Blanco, German and Taguchi played in today's game anyway, probably a farewell present from Lou.)
Tomorrow, Rich Harden returns to major league mound action when the Cubs travel to Surprise to face the Royals. KC will counter with their #3 starter, Kyle Davies, and we should also see the Royals' closer, Joakim Soria, make an appearance. Perhaps we'll get a chance to see the Cubs' newly anointed closer tomorrow as well. The game will be on CSN Chicago; this will be the last Cub TV or radio broadcast from Arizona (the next Cub broadcast will be the NYC games).