Once upon a time, major league baseball teams used to play games of about two hours, or a little more, with regularity.
Then, multiple mid-inning pitching changes lengthened the games. And then, longer TV commercial breaks allotted between innings tacked on more minutes (think about it: every extra 30-second commercial between every half inning adds 18 minutes to a game).
The Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates took all of this to extremes over the weekend at Wrigley Field, each successive game being longer than the one preceding it. Game times were 3:24 (Friday), 3:25 (Saturday, not even including the 91-minute rain delay) and 3:28 on Sunday, a total of 10 hours and 17 minutes of exciting baseball play.
I did say exciting, right? Well, that may not be completely true. Pitchers in this series combined to issue 26 walks and 54 hits; 57 runners were left on base and only by sheer volume of hits (10) and walks (nine) today did the Cubs finally outlast the Pirates 6-3 and salvage one game of this final series between the two teams for 2011. The win gave the Cubs a split of the season series with Pittsburgh, eight wins each, even though the Cubs were outscored in the 16 games, 77-64.
Randy Wells had a shaky first two innings in which he threw more than 50 pitches, but allowed only one run after he got out of a bases loaded, nobody out jam. See? It's not just the Cubs who do that. After that he was almost as sharp as he was in San Francisco last Monday. In throwing six solid innings, he lowered his season ERA to 4.86 and in his last five starts, it's 2.14, with only 23 hits and eight walks allowed in 33.2 innings (0.92 WHIP). Wells is looking much more like the Wells of 2009, or of the second half of 2010; I believe this indicates he probably came back too soon from the April injury. A strong finish this year -- he should get four more starts -- will be a good base to build on for 2012.
As I mentioned, the Cubs drew nine walks and had runners on base in every inning. Even though they left 13, they had enough hits in key situations to take a 5-1 lead. Some shoddy defense from former Cub Ronny Cedeno helped, as did a likely missed call on a tag play at first base. Marlon Byrd drove in a pair of runs, his first multi-RBI game since August 7, and Koyie Hill singled, scored in a run and had an unusual RBI groundout.
Bryan LaHair, making his first appearance -- and start -- for the Cubs since his recall, had a pair of hits and reached base on a second error by Cedeno. The second LaHair hit blooped into left field and scored a hustling -- yes, I said hustling -- Aramis Ramirez from second base. LaHair made one putout in left field; hard to tell how good (or not) he is out there, because he barely touched the ball. Byrd called him off a couple of fly balls that he (LaHair) might otherwise have made a play on.
It appeared that Mike Quade had no intention of getting Carlos Marmol into this game -- Sean Marshall started warming up to close when the score was still 5-3. When the Cubs added an insurance run in the eighth, Marshall kept loosening up and John Grabow also got up in case the game got out of a save situation. Marshall gave up a pinch-hit single to Ryan Doumit but otherwise retired the Pirates unscathed, for his fourth save of the season.
I'm really looking forward to the Reds coming to town. Why? Because there can't be any way possible that they could play as slowly as the Pirates did this weekend. Only two other nine-inning games at Wrigley Field this year were longer than the three in this series: a 10-8 win over the Dodgers on April 23 and a 4-3 loss to the Yankees on June 18. 327 pitches were thrown on Sunday; unlike Friday, there were fewer foul balls. 57 pitches were fouled off, 17.4% of the total; my understanding is that number is pretty close to a normal percentage of foul balls in most games.
Unlike Saturday, Sunday was a gorgeous day with low humidity and sunshine and late-summerish temperatures in the lower 70s. A few clouds scudded by and there was a breeze blowing in most of the day, which did not prevent Neil Walker's two-run homer off Jeff Samardzija. The surprisingly large announced crowd of 40,469 apparently included quite a big walkup sale, probably due to the nice weather. There were many fewer no-shows on Sunday than on most recent home dates. And those people must have been the ones doing the wave. Here's all I have to say about that: dont'. Just don't. The wave is stupid.
Of which nine remain. It's unlikely, but the Cubs still could have a winning home season by winning eight of the nine. (I did say it was unlikely.) At least baseball is still here. As bad a season as this has been, we'll miss it when it's gone.