Kevin Gregg allowed only three home runs all last year. One of them was memorable to Cubs fans -- a three-run, pinch-hit blast by Daryle Ward on August 15, 2008 in Miami that gave the Cubs a 6-5 win over the Marlins. At the time Gregg hadn't allowed a HR since May.
In 2009, in half as many innings as he pitched last year, he's now allowed twice as many homers -- six. Last night's hurt more than any of the other five, as Ryan Raburn's pinch-hit, two-run homer erased a 4-3 lead and gave the Cubs a taste of the medicine they delivered three straight times last week to other teams, a 5-4 loss to the Tigers.
This ruined a night that looked like it was going as originally planned by Cubs brass before the season started: a fine seven-inning performance by Carlos Zambrano, whose only mistake was the two-run homer Brandon Inge slammed off him; a solid inning of relief from Carlos Marmol, and some timely hitting capped by a two-run homer from Micah Hoffpauir.
In fact, I was mentally composing this recap as Gregg recorded the first out in the ninth, even after he walked Don Kelly to put a runner on base. It was going to be titled "Designated Hoffpauir", since Micah was the Cubs' first DH of the 2009 season.
Instead, it's one of the toughest losses of the season. The Cardinals beat the Mets in the only NL game of the night, so the Cubs fall 3.5 games off the pace in the NL Central. However, no one still seems to want to step up and dominate the division. The Brewers lost to the Twins at home -- and their pitching staff is starting to live up to my prediction that they would be "Gallardo and four Suppans". The Cubs trail Milwaukee by only 1.5 games.
The offense did a decent job against one of the better pitchers in the AL this year, Edwin Jackson. Derrek Lee singled and doubled; Milton Bradley didn't have any hits but drew two walks. The biggest bone I can pick about last night's game (other than the walkoff) is the Cubs' failure to score more than one run in the first inning after loading the bases with nobody out. They had the chance to break the game open and maybe even get Jackson out of there, but couldn't.
One final note about shutouts with double-digit hits for the scoreless team, as we were discussing yesterday; on June 20, 1974, Rick Reuschel shut out the Pirates at Wrigley Field 1-0, giving up 12 hits (including three doubles!). He was helped out by a pair of double plays. (Thanks to George Castle for the reminder.) It almost seems as if Cubs pitchers have to throw shutouts and hit home runs themselves for the Cubs to win these days. They still need another bat, even when Aramis Ramirez comes back, and Lou says A-Ram will start taking BP this Friday at the Cell:
"Once we get to that stage, it's just a matter of when he goes out for a rehab assignment," Piniella said. "He is going to have to go out and play and get some at-bats. ... We can start seeing light at the end of the tunnel with this thing now."
Onward to tonight. A win would provide more light in that tunnel, too.