ROLLA, Missouri -- Even though the Cubs got destroyed by the Braves 16-5 today in their first game of the 2010 season, it was still worth stopping on the road on my way home from Arizona to watch the game.
A couple of important things about today's blowout (which got so bad that even the sure-handed Derrek Lee made a throwing error). First, before all of you get your torches and pitchforks out for Carlos Zambrano, remember that last year he threw very well on Opening Day and the Cubs won the game 4-2. How'd that season work out?
And in 2005, Z was ejected from Opening Day at Phoenix with a 9-3 lead and two out in the fifth, one out short of a win, and the Cubs won that game 16-6. How'd that season work out?
So for all of you who are yelling "Z sucks", or other epithets, remember: it's just one game. And that first inning could easily have gone another way. Two balls that were catchable dropped between Cub fielders, and another one -- that could have been an inning-ending double play ball -- got past Ryan Theriot into center field. The only Brave who hit the ball hard in the first inning was Jason Heyward, who homered in his first major league at-bat. It was, after that, all downhill for Z -- but it could have easily gone the other way.
Even before that, the Cubs had made the game interesting with Marlon Byrd's three-run job in the first, and later, they made it close at 8-5 when Aramis Ramirez smacked a two-run blast (totals for A-Ram: no homers in spring training, one in one regular season game). It was, though, another play not long after that, that has me absolutely livid, and calling -- as I did during last year's playoffs -- for replay to be instituted in baseball. NOW. Follow me past the jump for more.
You saw the play. We all saw the play. Aramis Ramirez, on first base running toward third, saw the play. Everyone in Atlanta saw the play -- except, apparently, for umpire Marvin Hudson. Marlon Byrd's sinking line drive was caught, and then dropped, by Nate McLouth. It wasn't even one of those plays where you see the ball flap out of the glove for a second, then back in, and you could say, "Well, maybe he had it long enough", or "Well, I can't really tell."
It was obvious. The ball bounced twice on the ground -- unfortunately, Hudson wasn't in position to see it, and McLouth did a great acting job. He picked it up and doubled Ramirez off first.
Instead of having runners on second and third (or at least on first and second) and nobody out with the tying run due up, the Cubs had two out and no one on. Now, given what happened the rest of the way with the bad relief appearances of Jeff Samardzija and Justin Berg, there's no way of knowing whether the Cubs could have come all the way back.
But the umpires took away the Cubs' chance. There's no other way to put it. And psychologically, a team can have itself taken out of the game by things like this -- whether you agree with that or not, I believe that happened today.
And the solution is simple: as I suggested last fall right here, all plays except balls and strikes should be subject to review. HR calls already are -- add to those plays like this one; safe/out calls and fair-foul calls. Give each manager two "red flags" like NFL coaches have. Put a fifth umpire on every crew (now, that would be something the umpires' union would be in favor of), station him in the press box for immediate review of things like this. It'd take far less time than arguments do; it would eliminate ejections; and would add strategy as managers would have to decide whether to use up one of their "red flags" on an early-inning call in a scoreless game or save it for later. In today's case, clearly Lou would have used it, and clearly the call would have been ruled in the Cubs' favor.
What's wrong with getting it right? Can Bud Selig answer that? Can he give me ANY good reason why such a system wouldn't be better than the garbage call that was made today?
Do it. It can be done during the season. Home run replay was added in August 2008. Do it. Do it. Do it NOW. Before more nonsense like this happens.
Anyway, as we are occasionally presented during a long baseball season, it's now 48 hours until the next game on Wednesday night. Remember this: as bad as the Cubs and Z looked today, it's only one game, only one loss -- and there have been plenty of seasons, such as the 2005 and 2009 campaign openers noted above, where the Cubs have won and looked good on Opening Day, and the season tanked from there. Some good things did happen today -- the solid relief of Sean Marshall and James Russell, which kept the game close until the umpires blew it. Relax and enjoy the next couple of days, and the Cubs will get 'em on Wednesday.