Carlos Pena of the Chicago Cubs is tagged out at home by Russell Martin of the New York Yankees on June 18, 2011 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
Let me first say that once again Saturday afternoon... and early evening (it still feels like this game is going, somehow)... even the vastly overpriced tickets for the Yankees' 4-3 win over the Cubs were worth every bit of the entertainment dollar.
Now then, let's discuss the various ways that the Cubs put themselves out of the game, beginning with the ridiculous number of walks issued: ten of them. In fact, it's amazing that the Cubs trailed only 4-2 going into the bottom of the ninth, given the 11 hits and 10 walks the Yankees had. The Cubs pulled off another one of those multiple-throw rundown plays; Alfonso Soriano deked Alex Rodriguez into trying to stretch a single into a double, and Reed Johnson's relay to Blake Dewitt to Geovany Soto cut down one more run in the ninth. Still, the Yankees stranded 13, which kept the game close.
In that ninth inning, John Grabow was not loosened up quickly enough to come in to pitch to Robinson Cano, even though Jeff Samardzija was, um, less than stellar. Shark threw only 18 strikes in 40 pitches. Finally, he threw one across the plate and Cano doubled. Then he was left in to throw to Nick Swisher, likely because Swisher is hitting .348 against lefthanders this year. With Swisher hitting only .176 (though with a .319 OBA) against RHP, naturally, Samardzija walked him. Only then did Grabow come into the game.
Grabow got Russell Martin to pop up, but then light-hitting Eduardo Nunez singled in an insurance run for the Yankees, which they wound up needing. A second runner, as noted above, was thrown out at the plate.
All of this came after the two teams pretty much battled to a draw for eight innings, the difference coming on a single by Brett Gardner in the sixth inning, making the score 3-2 Yankees after Carlos Pena had tied the game with his 11th home run of the year in the fourth. (Note: Pena's total would rank fifth on the Yankees.) Pena also smashed really, really hard into Russell Martin trying to score on a shallow fly ball to Gardner in the sixth, following two surprising Yankee errors that prolonged the inning.
Meanwhile, Ryan Dempster struggled into the sixth; his game today resembled his 2008 division series start against the Dodgers. Dempster walked seven that night and six today, and got pulled after Gardner's hit. James Russell finished off that inning on a fly ball and the pickoff of Gardner, and then Chris Carpenter threw a scoreless inning.
Carpenter looks good. He has a live arm -- touched 98 on the ballpark pitch speed meter -- and if he can learn to command his pitches, he could be a real good late inning relief option. When Kerry Wood returns (and he was throwing again on flat ground in the outfield during BP again today, seemingly with no trouble, so maybe he'll only be out the minimum 15 days), let's hope Carpenter (I suppose sooner or later we'll hear Mike Quade call him "Carpy") stays and we'll see the last of Rodrigo Lopez.
Let's talk about the bottom of the ninth now. Reed Johnson led off the inning with a home run off Mariano Rivera, which would have tied the game if not for the mess made in the top of the inning.
Stop here for a second. A home run off Rivera is extremely rare. It was the first home run he had allowed this season and Reed was the 102nd batter he faced this year. He gave up only two last year, facing 230 batters, and in his career, just 63 home runs (including today) in 1177.1 innings, facing 4,686 hitters. Kudos to Johnson for taking Rivera into the bleachers. Further kudos to Alfonso Soriano for singling off him -- that's only the sixth time in 29 appearances this year that Rivera has allowed more than one baserunner in an appearance.
Not so many kudos to Geovany Soto. The situation did call for a bunt, though Soto's not likely to be able to lay one down; he has none in his major league career. So you've got two options here: send up Koyie Hill, who can bunt; you've got to try to get the runner into scoring position. Or, let Soto lay off a pitch or two, hoping he can get a pitch to drive like Johnson and Soriano did.
Nope. A Rivera cutter was pounded into the ground by Geo for a double play, sucking all the life out of the crowd, almost all of whom stuck around till the end of a three hour and 43 minute marathon (I'm still not sure it's not still going). Jeff Baker then struck out to end it.
A total of 340 pitches were thrown Saturday afternoon, 186 of them by Cubs pitchers. Only 102 of those 186 were strikes. Cubs pitchers have got to start challenging hitters more. I realize the Yankees are a good-hitting team that will jump on good pitches. But this interminable nibbling isn't helping either, not when you put 10 hitters on base via walks.
Yankees fans seemed even more in evidence Saturday than Friday; chants of "Let's go Yankees!" were followed in perfect rhythm, good-naturedly for the most part, with "Yankees suck!" from Cubs fans. Both Rivera and Jorge Posada, who pinch-hit in the eighth, were greeted with loud ovations from Yankee fans -- well deserved, I'd say, for the great careers they've had. There were no incidents -- except a fight that broke out down the LF line just after the last out was recorded. I couldn't see who was involved in that; it really was getting to be time to go.
The Cubs played the Yankees tough today, just not tough enough when it counted. With all the pitches thrown today, the Cubs really need Randy Wells to give them seven good innings on Sunday. CC Sabathia is hittable -- as I've mentioned before, even the bad 2006 Cubs pounded him while he was with Cleveland. The series is still winnable.