Randy Wells of the Chicago Cubs throws a pitch against the New York Mets in the first inning during a game at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Most of you probably spent Saturday afternoon watching college football, given the fact that the Cubs have been eliminated from playoff contention and they were playing another team not in the race.
Too bad for you -- you missed a highly entertaining game, although "entertaining" does not necessarily mean "good baseball". Fortunately for the Cubs, they played less bad than their hosts did and defeated the Mets 5-4, evening up the series at a game each and also improving the Cubs' record in one-run games to 23-24.
For the first seven innings, it looked like I'd have a completely different story to write about this game, as Randy Wells seemed to be cruising to another shutout. Wells threw seven shutout innings, with only 81 pitches through those seven. Perhaps unfortunately for him, the Cubs had a very long top of the eighth, in which they scored their third run -- one that would be needed later on -- and in which the Mets made a pitching change. Perhaps that took a little bit of Wells' rhythm away, as he walked Willie Harris and then battled Jose Reyes in a seven-pitch at-bat that resulted in a double, scoring the Mets' first run.
That brought Kerry Wood into the game, and that's when the fun began.
Wood was not good today. Although, maybe that's not fair to him -- he did throw 16 strikes in 23 pitches, struck out two and picked Jason Bay off first base to end the inning (maybe -- replays showed Bay might have beat the throw).
In between those strikeouts, though, Wood allowed a pair of run-scoring singles, both on two-strike pitches; the three runs that scored on those hits gave the Mets a 4-3 lead.
That was the 22nd blown save for the Cubs this year. And believe it or not, that's not even close to the league lead; the Rockies and Braves also have 22, the Astros and Cardinals 23, and the Nationals lead the NL with 27. The Mets weren't far behind in that category, starting today with 19, and they are playing closer-by-committee since the trade of K-Rod to the Brewers.
So today, Bobby Parnell -- who started the day with four of New York's blown saves -- got the call to try to nail down the win. David Wright, usually a sure-handed third baseman, booted Geovany Soto's routine ground ball to start the inning. Lou Montanez ran for Soto -- at last, Mike Quade seems to understand that you can take your starting catcher out in the late innings -- and went to third when Bryan LaHair doubled high off the wall in left. I have been skeptical about LaHair, and you shouldn't read too much into September games against mediocre opposition, but the man has hit -- so far, at least.
Seriously, this is a no-brainer; you walk A-Ram 100 out of 100 times in this situation.
But Mets manager Terry Collins didn't. He opted to let Parnell pitch to Ramirez, who yanked a fastball the opposite way into right field for a two-run single. Yes, amazingly, sometimes the other guy makes decisions (and plays; the Mets had four errors in this game) worse than Cubs decisions.
Carlos Marmol issued a walk, but struck out two before he had to rely on a good defensive play by DJ LeMahieu on a ricochet, to end it for his 34th save. Wood posted the "win", although he didn't throw well -- here is a perfect example of why individual pitcher "win" totals mean nothing. Wells threw well enough to win, but the "win" went to someone else. What's important is that the Cubs managed to come back after blowing a lead, and then hold on to it. Further, Wells' good game again seems to indicate that he came back too soon from his injury; he's been very good since August 1.
And that brings up another point. The Cubs are now 40-37 in games started by Wells (11-9), Ryan Dempster (17-13) and Matt Garza (12-15). That makes them 23-45 in games started by all other pitchers on the team, and if you take Carlos Zambrano's starts out of that mark (since he likely won't be back), it's 10-35 in games started by everyone else.
That says to me that the Cubs should be in good shape on the back end of their rotation. Garza, Dempster and Wells aren't No. 1 or likely, even No. 2 starters. But they can pitch the team to a slightly over .500 record. If the Cubs can pick up a quality starter over the winter, they should be in great shape pitching-wise in 2012. That might be even more important than spending tons of money on offense; the 586 runs the Cubs have scored is just a bit below league average (596), but the 690 runs allowed are second-worst in the league.
Just a thought. The Cubs can win the season series from the Mets with a victory in Sunday night's contest. That'd be nice.