NOW what do you do with Rich Harden?
One of the more exasperating talents in recent years to wear a Cub uniform, Harden has had great success this year in night games (6-3, 2.66 before last night's game). So you figured that he'd be ready for a good performance against the Brewers. Unfortunately, Harden suddenly remembered that he was pitching at Wrigley Field (3-6, 5.90 before last night's game), and gave up hit after bloop hit in three innings of work. It took him 71 pitches to get nine outs and at that point, Lou had seen enough and sent Aaron Miles up to bat for him. It seemed a good idea to get Miles out of the way early, but he actually got a hit and scored a run. The last time Miles did both of those in the same game was on August 8 in Colorado, where he hit his only triple of the year.
In any case, Harden's bad outing -- he was charged with only two earned runs of the five he allowed, because a tough grounder that glanced off Aramis Ramirez's glove was ruled an error after the fact -- helped lead the Cubs to 9-5 loss to the Brewers in a game they simply could not afford to lose in their desperate charge to get back into the wild card race. With the Rockies hanging on, barely, to win 4-3 over the Giants late last night, the Cubs trail by 6.5 games with 18 to go.
Deficits like this have been overcome in the past, and more than once. But it's getting more difficult each day.
Much as I hate to admit it, BLou was probably right about David Patton. Can we declare this experiment over? I'm not sure if the Cubs had anyone else who could have occupied the slot given over to the Rule 5 acquisition for three months, but Patton, who will be 26 next May, came in to relieve Harden and wasn't really any better. He walked two, gave up four hits and was charged with four earned runs when Justin Berg allowed a two-run single in relief of him in the fifth inning. Actually, that single by Corey Hart was the blow that put the game away, because without that the Cubs would have reduced the deficit to 7-5 instead of 9-5, and then you've got a much closer game.
The Cubs had plenty of baserunners -- sixteen of them, courtesy of 13 hits and three walks, but hit into a pair of rally-crushing double plays. The most deflating of those occurred in the eighth inning when the first two men reached base, only to see Ryan Theriot hit into a DP. Theriot actually had a good night, reaching base safely in his first four plate appearances with three hits and a walk, but when crunch time came he failed.
Lou actually appeared to be awake last night; I think the Cubs moving back into marginal contention energized him, at least for a while. He double-switched the pitcher's spot three different times, including yanking Milton Bradley out of the game after he grounded out with two runners on to end the third inning. Paul Sullivan says there might have been something beyond a double-switch involved:
Bradley looked so disinterested during his second-inning strikeout that Piniella yanked him after the third. Piniella downplayed it afterward, saying it was only a double-switch.
I agree with Lou, although the score was 5-2 at the time and Micah Hoffpauir, who replaced Bradley in right field, didn't do any better, flying to left and hitting a comebacker before he was removed in another double-switch.
So the Cubs face the task of mounting a long winning streak starting today and getting some help if they're going to overcome the 6.5 game deficit. Impossible? No. Unlikely? Yes. But I'd like to see them finish the season strong. And as for Harden... frustrating, maddening, aggravating, whatever other adjectives you'd like to add. He's got top-line ability, but many times looks like he has no idea what he's doing out there. Sullivan's article says:
Piniella said he may give Harden an extra day of rest before his next start, inserting Tom Gorzelanny into the mix.
Gorzelanny (and the nine-days-missing Sean Marshall, too) threw well last night in relief. That's a good idea. The Cubs can pick up a half-game with a win today. Keep the faith -- it's not over, not yet.