ten-cent Three Dollar Beer Night at Wrigley Field, the Cubs lost to the Cardinals 6-4.
Since rhetorical questions seem to be popular around these parts, here's one: how many microcosms of the season do we need before it becomes the actual season? Is a tree actually falling in this rhetorical forest?
The Cubs had 13 hits and drew three walks off Cardinals pitchers, and two batters -- neither of whom was named Reed Johnson, who has as many HBP (four) as the entire rest of the team -- got hit by pitches. If you're keeping track, that's 18 baserunners. Four of them scored and two were erased on double plays. 12 men left on base, 3-for-10 hitting with RISP. Rhetorical question No. 2: how many times do I need to write this before I can just save it as a template?
Beyond the lack of RISP hitting, all 13 of the hits were singles -- and this on a night when the temperature pushed toward the 70-degree mark for the first time this season during a Cubs home game (67 at game time; it was 90 degrees at O'Hare, a record for the date, on Tuesday, but the lake breeze kept it cooler at Wrigley). The wind still was blowing in for most of the first few innings from right field, but at least it wasn't a night for parkas and blankets, and more than a few leaves of ivy made shy, tentative appearances on the outfield wall, perhaps not quite wanting to believe spring is really here.
Carlos Zambrano threw another good game, despite being a bit shaky in the first inning. Seven innings of three-run ball should put your team in position to win 90% of the time, and the Cubs might have if not for Kerry Wood's worst inning of the year. Wood threw 35 pitches and was one strike away from getting out of the eighth inning scoreless when Daniel Descalso ripped a 2-2 pitch into right for a two-run single.
None of this might have mattered if not for an adventurous night from Alfonso Soriano in left field. In the first inning he had Albert Pujols caught between second and third on a Matt Holliday single; instead of throwing to the infield, he ran halfway there. By the time Soriano finally threw the ball to Aramis Ramirez at third, the throw was a little off and Pujols was safe. Holliday reached second. Fortunately, that resulted in no further runs when Yadier Molina hit into a double play. Soriano then made two nice catches in the second inning, briefly getting the crowd back on his side... and then completely fell down when Nick Punto hit a ball pretty much right at him in the fourth. That went for an RBI triple.
The Cubs managed to tie the game in the seventh; that rally was a nice one, with three singles and a sacrifice fly producing two runs, but they could get no closer after Wood's bad inning.
Worse news was the appearance of Koyie Hill in the bottom of the first inning, pinch-hitting for Geovany Soto. A few tweets confirmed the worst -- Geo had strained a groin muscle stretching to block some pitches in the dirt in the top of the first. He's having an MRI today, and from what it sounded like in Mike Quade's postgame remarks, looks like Geo is headed to the DL. Welington Castillo was pulled from Iowa's game at Colorado Springs early, and may be in Chicago tonight. I hope if that's the case, Castillo starts; there's no point in having him here and benching him for Hill. We'll see. Also perhaps on his way to Chicago is Doug Davis, who was also taken out of last night's Iowa game somewhat early (only 59 pitches). Davis may be starting Saturday's game against the Giants, which he could do on three days' rest with that relatively low pitch count. Davis allowed two runs in 3.2 innings Tuesday night, striking out five with no walks.
None of this is very encouraging. The Cubs have lost 11 of their last 17 -- but of those 11 losses, the last five have all been by two runs or less. It's mostly a simple inability to get runners home after they get on base. Getting the hits is great. Maybe the Cubs need to pretend there's no one on base every time they come to bat -- because hitting with runners on appears to be a lost art for this club.
One other note, in case you care: Ryan Theriot got booed. Loud. Every time he came to bat. The Cubs did their job -- he was 0-for-5.
About the cheap beer night -- the bleachers were mostly full Tuesday night, and most people seemed to be taking advantage of the deal; I saw very few with full-size beers, most had the smaller, 12-ounce $3 brews. Lines were reported to be quite long most of the night. The Cubs hired extra security and apart from a couple of people hauled out late in the game, there were no incidents. That's good; all we can hope is that for the remainder of Tuesday nights as colleges get out for the summer and temperatures warm, that calm remains in the seats.
It's certainly calm on the field, at least when the Cubs are hitting with runners on base. They'll try it again this evening.