Even at the wildly overinflated face value ticket prices for this series, today's 3-1 Cubs win over the Yankees at sun-kissed Wrigley Field was well worth the price of admission.
There was once a pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers named Preacher Roe, who was part of the great Dodger teams of the 1950s. Like Doug Davis, he threw lefthanded... and very slowly. Roe was once quoted as saying, "I've got three pitches: a change, a change off my change, and a change off my change off my change."
During his career, Davis made 18 starts against the Cubs. In at least half of them, he baffled Cubs hitters in exactly the way he tied Yankees hitters in knots today. Occasionally throwing breaking balls as slow as 67 MPH, Davis was outstanding Friday afternoon, giving up just three hits. If he hadn't given up a one-out double to Nick Swisher in the eighth inning, Mike Quade might have let him finish it; he'd allowed jut a pair of singles and three walks up to that time. Davis left in favor of Sean Marshall to a rousing ovation; he tipped his cap to the crowd. Now how often have we seen that at Wrigley Field lately? That was just about the best pitching performance by any Cubs starting pitcher this year.
Meanwhile, the over-capacity crowd of 42,219 -- and it was a legit number, or close; the standing-room areas and bleachers were stuffed full -- cheered the Cubs teeing off on Sweaty Freddy Garcia in the first inning for a pair of runs. Starlin Castro led the charge with an RBI double after a leadoff walk to Kosuke Fukudome; he then scored on an Aramis Ramirez single. Castro doubled again in the third and scored the Cubs' third run. He's raised his average to .315 with five hits in his last seven official at-bats.
Meanwhile, Davis was mowing down batters and Garcia settled down, giving up just one further hit, a bunt single by Tony Campana in the sixth. Campana looked like he had second base stolen, but a perfect throw by Russell Martin to Eduardo Nunez got Campana tagged out right on the butt before he got his hand into second base.
All of this set up some dramatic matchups in the later innings. After Davis was lifted, Sean Marshall came in and struck out Curtis Granderson. Mark Teixeira followed with an RBI single on a 3-2 pitch that just got too much into his zone, scoring the only Yankees run of the game. That brought Carlos Marmol in for a four-out save. To a crowd standing and cheering his every pitch, Marmol struck out Alex Rodriguez to end the eighth.
It almost felt like 2008, or even 2003 when the Yankees were last in town. A fan, or many, could be forgiven if he or she forgot for a moment that the Cubs still are double digits behind a division lead, because they weren't playing like a fifth-place team today.
Reed Johnson jogged out to left field to begin the ninth inning, replacing Alfonso Soriano even though Soriano would have been due up to bat second in the last of the ninth. It was a prescient call. Reed dived to make a spectacular catch of a tailing-away fly ball hit by Robinson Cano to lead off the inning. After Martin walked, Marmol got pinch-hitter Jorge Posada on a gorgeous slider.
Not satisfied to end it the easy way, Marmol allowed a bouncing single up the middle by Brett Gardner.
Chris Dickerson, who had played in Wrigley many times as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, was sent up by Joe Girardi to bat for reliever Luis Ayala (who is one of the last active players to have played for the Montreal Expos). Dickerson was totally overmatched by Marmol, who struck him out on three pitches to end it.
The afternoon was festive; thousands of Yankee fans chanted "Let's go Yankees" at various times, and were friendly and as always, passionate about their team and knowledgeable, as well they should be for fans of a team that wins as often as the Yankees do. They may be considered "the evil empire", but damn, I'd like the Cubs to win even a fraction of as many World Series as the Yankees have.
Regarding this series, the Cubs have clearly raised their game to the level of the opponent. Already having clinched a winning homestand with the fourth win this week, there's a real chance the Cubs can win this series. A.J. Burnett is good, but hardly invincible, and the Cubs have defeated CC Sabathia before. The 2006 Cubs were awful, but they scored nine runs off him in less than two innings in Cleveland on June 21, 2006. Perhaps even this not-so-fantastic team can do the same on Sunday.
For an afternoon, at least, it was good to remember what it felt like to play crisp baseball (maybe the best all-around game the Cubs have played all season) and have some energy in Wrigley Field. Here's to more of the same the rest of the weekend. And thanks again, Doug Davis. Nice to have one of these games for our side instead of against.