About an hour and a half after the game should have ended, with a masterpiece thrown by Matt Garza, Marlon Byrd bounced a ball down the third base line that appeared to be touched by Chris Johnson -- who had just taken over at third base in the 12th inning -- with the bases loaded, scoring Starlin Castro with the winning run. The Cubs won 4-3 over the Astros in a game that took three hours and 52 minutes, but that could have ended in the ninth inning if Garza had just been able to throw one... more... strike... past Carlos Lee.
He couldn't, and Lee tied the game with his second home run of the day and 23rd all-time at Wrigley Field. He trails only Albert Pujols and Adam Dunn among active visiting players in Wrigley home runs.
Can you imagine all the home runs he might have hit the last five years if the Cubs had signed him instead of Alfonso Soriano? Ah, we can dream, can't we?
The story of the day, at least until the ninth inning, was Garza.
Through the first eight innings Garza gave up just four hits, walked nobody and struck out four. One of the hits was Lee's first home run, a rocket of a solo shot in the second inning that briefly gave the Astros a 1-0 lead. Geovany Soto hit a similar bomb of his own in the third to tie the game, and the Cubs took a 3-1 lead in the sixth when Aramis Ramirez hit his first triple of the season (with some help from some poor Houston outfielding), and was singled in by Jeff Baker. Baker scored himself three batters later on a Soriano single.
And that's where it stood entering the ninth inning, with Garza having thrown 96 pitches. We have had many discussions here about Mike Quade's "respect" for veterans and trying to get them wins, or other statistical achievements, sometimes at the expense of winning the game. In this case, he was clearly trying to get a win for Garza, who has had the bullpen blow seven leads for him this year.
Really, I didn't have a problem with it this time. Garza threw an outstanding game and deserved to win it. If he doesn't throw that one pitch to Lee, he's got it. Even after that, the Cubs had the chance to win the game in the last of the ninth, with the winning run on third base and two out, which would have given Garza a win (and a CG, too).
Now, here's where I quibble with Quade. I've been lukewarm on Bryan LaHair, but he has hit well so far. Why not put him up there instead of Blake DeWitt against Fernando Rodriguez? DeWitt's been decent as a PH this year, but why not try something else?
DeWitt walked, and Starlin Castro didn't have a good at-bat; he was called out on strikes to send the game into extras.
So the game continued. The announced crowd of 35,318 was maybe half that actually in the park on a cloudy, coolish day with a couple of sprinkles. Many left after the ninth. Carlos Marmol threw two very good innings today -- only 19 pitches, very efficient, even while striking out three. Jeff Samardzija gave up a leadoff single in the 12th but then got out of it. He got the "win" -- and eventually, people will de-emphasize individual pitcher "wins", because they simply don't mean what they did decades ago, except for guys like Roy Halladay and Justin Verlander and Cliff Lee, who pitch deep into games every single time out there.
That led to the weird baseball in the 12th. Castro walked and was sacrificed to second. Aramis Ramirez was intentionally passed, after a totally unnecessary mound meeting. Then a wild pitch put the runners on second and third -- but it took quite some time for the outfield to come in, and then another mound meeting (to a chorus of boos from the maybe 3,000 people left) before they decided to put Reed Johnson on to load the bases.
That led to the winning hit by Byrd, at least once everybody figured out that it was a hit.
Hey, it's a win. The Cubs still do have a chance to finish with a winning home season if they can win the remaining five games.
If you missed my tweet earlier today, the Cubs handed out 2012 pocket schedules (link opens .jpg of both sides of the pocket schedule) which indicate that single game tickets don't go on sale until March 9, 2012. That's about two weeks later than in recent years; I'm not sure of the reason for the change. Incidentally, today's announced crowd brings the season total to 2,839,727 with five dates left. The Cubs must average 32,055 per date to break three million. While they may do that, for the last couple of months there have been far fewer than the announced totals actually in the house. That's what the Cubs must worry about for 2012 ticket sales.
In the meantime, they can give the Astros the first 100-loss season in Houston franchise history if they can beat them Saturday. Go for it. It's history, at least.