Thanks, Jeff Samardzija.
If you could have just fielded your position properly in the eighth inning -- you induced an easy comebacker by Justin Turner -- the Cubs would have gone into the ninth with a 4-3 lead, and even with Carlos Marmol being Cardiac Closer this year, they probably would have won in regulation time and ended by 11 p.m. Eastern time. This was important on Sunday because hordes of football fans were waiting for ESPN's SportsCenter to give them highlights of the first game of the NFL season.
I can afford to joke about this now because the Cubs and Mets, thus tied 4-4, played for nearly two more hours before the Cubs exploded for a six-run 11th inning and beat the Mets 10-6, but not before John Grabow made it interesting by allowing a long two-run homer to Jason Pridie in the bottom of the inning, as the clock approached 1 a.m.
48 players, including 15 pitchers -- and for once, the other team used more pitchers than the Cubs did -- appeared in this game, including some Mets callups I had never heard of. Mike Baxter? Dale Thayer? Valentino Pascucci? (No, I did not make that one up.) Josh Stinson? Josh Satin? (In fact, the Mets used three players named "Josh" in this game, including catcher Josh Thole, who didn't start, but entered as a pinch-runner in the eighth inning.)
If you wanted to see a lot of baseball (including BCB's own Doggie Stalker, Jessica, who stayed till the end -- hoping she will post in the comments), you got your wish Sunday night. If you wanted to see a lot of good baseball -- well, you should have been watching another game.
The Cubs left 12 men on base. This isn't unusual. It's the 24th time they have left 10 or more runners on base this season. For once, they got outdone in that department. The Mets left 15 men on base, including leaving the bases loaded in both the ninth and 10th innings -- and in the ninth, they had the bases loaded with less than two out and could not score. Samardzija struck out Pridie on a 3-2 pitch, when he was one pitch out of the strike zone from walking in the winning run.
I have to say, that was impressive.
So was the Cubs' winning rally -- started by a four-pitch walk to Marlon Byrd. This is almost impossible to do. Prior to Sunday night Byrd had only 19 unintentional walks in 426 plate appearances. Bryan LaHair singled (more on him later). Carlos Pena singled him in with the lead run, and then Tyler Colvin walked to load the bases.
Again, that's a nearly impossible task. Colvin, before Sunday, had 10 unintentional walks in 206 plate appearances. Colvin also drove in three runs on Sunday, giving him 20 for the season with a .153 batting average. If that average doesn't come up before the season ends, it will be the third-lowest BA for anyone who had 20 or more RBI in a season. (And it's not good company. The guy ahead of him on this list is Bob Uecker, who hit .150 in 1967 while driving in 20 runs.)
Easy win now, right? A six-run lead in the 11th inning, with the clock pushing 1 a.m. local time?
Not so fast, because John Grabow came into the game. You'd have thought this would be the perfect time to give John Gaub -- who has been sitting patiently in the bullpen since last Tuesday without getting into a game -- his major league debut, six runs ahead in the bottom of an extra inning. Three easy outs and you're done. (Maybe Mike Quade forgot Gaub was there.)
Grabow decided to make it interesting by allowing a single to Satin -- a man playing in his fifth major league game -- and then a two-run homer to Pridie, edging his season ERA over five, before ending it. We may not know much about what the new Cubs GM, whoever it may be, will do to the roster before 2012. But I think we can be pretty certain that after 16 more games, we won't have to look at John Grabow in blue pinstripes any more. (And I say this having met some of Grabow's family in Pittsburgh two years ago. Really nice people, and I'm sure he is too. I just don't want him pitching for the Cubs any more.)
All of this happened long after Matt Garza turned in seven pretty good innings, allowing just three runs. Garza wasn't as sharp as he has been in some other recent starts, but it should have been good enough for a win. This is the seventh time this year that Garza has left the game with the lead in position for a personal "win", but did not get it due to bullpen failures, yet another example of why individual pitcher "wins" are virtually meaningless in modern baseball.
So the Cubs won the series (and season series) from the Mets and headed to Cincinnati very late Sunday night to begin their four-game set with the Reds Monday night. About LaHair... well, the man can hit. And draw walks; he had two of each. And scored four of the ten runs. Sure, he deserves more playing time this month, but again, keep in mind: it's September, and watching these two teams bumble around Citi Field this past weekend, it's not high-quality baseball by any means. Should the Cubs simply dump Pena and put LaHair in at first base, given these 20 at-bats? Of course not. But he has put himself in the conversation.
A few words about the 9/11 ceremony and subsequent controversy over the Mets' desire to wear NYPD and NYFD caps during the game. The ceremony was quite moving and well-done by the Mets; it honored those who gave their lives 10 years ago, and those who still serve, without being over-the-top. Meanwhile, the Mets wanted to wear caps honoring first responders, as they did in the first game in New York after the 9/11 attacks 10 years ago. MLB issued an edict forbidding them to do this and threatened a large fine to the team, so the Mets backed off after wearing the caps during batting practice, although at least one player wore one of the caps in the dugout during the game. There's more on the story here.
Players did wear jerseys and caps with American flags on them. Not surprisingly, you can buy one of these Mets caps or Cubs caps for $36.99 from the MLB online store. All teams wore these on Sunday, and:
# A portion of the proceeds will be donated to:
# 9/11 Memorial and Museum
# Flight 93 Memorial
# Pentagon Memorial
That's all well and good -- and there are, as you know, other similar caps worn during the season on various holidays, getting uglier and uglier every year, with portions of the proceeds to a good cause -- but in my opinion, when a team has a feeling as strongly as the Mets did to honor NYPD and NYFD first responders, MLB ought to lighten up. Joe Torre, who now works as MLB vice-president for baseball operations, but who of all people should be sensitive to this issue, having been Yankees manager in 2001, issued a typically bland corporate statement:
"Certainly it's not a lack of respect," Torre said. "We just felt all the major leagues are honoring the same way with the American flag on the uniform and the cap. This is a unanimity thing."
In 2001, the Mets wore the caps despite a threat of a fine. They should have done the same thing Sunday night. It would have been embarrassing to MLB to come down hard on the Mets for that kind of gesture. Perhaps MLB could institute a policy that once a year, teams could do this if they had a suitable cause they wanted to honor. While "unanimity" is fine, there certainly was good reason to grant an exception Sunday night.
Onward. We've still got a little bit of Cubs baseball left. Bad as it's been at times this year, you'll still miss it when it's gone for the winter.