Pitcher Jim Bullinger of the Chicago Cubs focuses in on home plate as he begins his wind up and delivery before releasing a pitch at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, California. (Photo: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
The 1994 Cubs season was pretty miserable. They lost their first 12 home games, not winning at Wrigley Field until May 4 in an overall 6-18 start; by then manager Tom Trebelhorn had had his famous firehouse chat after a Friday afternoon April loss to the Rockies.
By July things had begun to improve, a little, though the team was still far out of contention. Dark clouds were beginning to hover over the game as the possibility of a strike loomed.
But on one sunny Sunday at Wrigley Field, a young pitcher with hope for the future pitched one of the best games of his life. (And yes, I know the photo is from a road game.)
Maybe this miserable season can be salvaged, up to a point.
That is, if the players don't go out on strike. The Players Association is going to meet on Tuesday and there are strong rumors flying that they're going to set a strike date for sometime in August. Given the ruination of seasons like 1972 and 1981, if the players go out this late in the year, will there be time to get things settled? Maybe that's what they're thinking, that a late strike will give them leverage. It has to worry teams like the Expos and Indians, who have had such long playoff droughts, and are having great years.
The Cubs don't have to worry about anything like that, but today's 3-0 shutout win over the Reds in front of a sellout of 39,317 on an absolutely gorgeous day at Wrigley Field at least gave us the hint that perhaps better days are ahead.
Since the Cubs' 6-18 start, they are now 37-35; that's playing a bit over .500 ball for more than two months' time. Obviously, trailing the Reds in the new NL Central by 13½ games, they're not heading to the playoffs, and not as the wild card either -- they're even farther behind the Braves, who lead that race. What's even weirder is that with the new divisional setup, both West divisions are being led by teams with losing records. As of the end of Sunday's games, the NL West-leading Dodgers are 48-50 and the AL West-leading Rangers are 48-52.
And that's a division leader. It would be really strange to have two teams with losing records in the playoffs.
Anyway, today, Jim Bullinger threw by far the best game of his career. Coming off a complete-game two-run performance against the Rockies in his last outing, Bullinger shut down the Reds with no runs and just five singles and a pair of walks over eight innings. Manager Tom Trebelhorn apparently didn't think Bullinger had back-to-back CG in him, even after throwing only 100 pitches, so he pulled him for Randy Myers, who registered his 20th save in an easy 1-2-3 ninth.
The Cubs didn't have many hits either, also just five, but made the most of them; Eddie Zambrano, playing left field today, had a pair of singles and scored twice, once on a Mark Grace double, the other time on a bases-loaded walk. Zambrano hits pretty well when he starts -- why won't Trebelhorn play him more?
Anyway, it might just be another win in a lost season, but maybe the Cubs can get back to near .500 by the time this year ends. Hey, they did it last year after being six games under on Sept. 2.
That is, if this season even gets to the finish line.