Joe Girardi of the Chicago Cubs at bat at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. Credit: Jonathan Daniel /Allsport
After having a terrible 2000 season, the Cubs got off to a good start in 2001 and by late May were in first place. This run to the top was highlighted by a 12-game winning streak from May 19 through June 2; that still stands as the team's longest winning streak since their last pennant. In fact, the Cubs have won 10 or more in a row only four times since 1945 -- 10 straight in 1953 and 1998, 11 in a row in 1970 and the 2001 12-game streak.
They extended the lead to as many as six games in June, and after a 16-10 July had a 4½ game lead in the NL Central going into August. Hopes were high for another unexpected playoff spot.
On August 7, the Cubs began a homestand with a Tuesday night matchup with the Colorado Rockies. (For amusement, check out who led off for the Rockies that night.)
They won the game. But that wasn't the biggest story of the night.
Now, at last, I think I might have seen everything possible at a major league ballpark.
Of course, that isn't likely literally true; there are surely things to come that I haven't seen before at Wrigley Field, including (hopefully) a Cubs World Series title, maybe even this year.
But I do not think I will ever again see an umpire eject someone whose role was to sing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch.
Yes, that's right, and if you don't believe me, watch this:
Former Bears defensive lineman Steve "Mongo" McMichael, in the press box to be the "guest conductor" (and isn't it time, after three years of this, to ditch it?), apparently took exception to the call that plate umpire Angel Hernandez made in the bottom of the sixth. If you missed it, Ron Coomer, who had doubled and advanced to third on a Gary Matthews Jr. sac bunt, took off for the plate when a Denny Neagle pitch bounced off Rockies catcher Adam Melhuse's glove. Melhuse managed to pick it up and flip it to Neagle, who tagged Coomer. He looked safe (the tag was late) to everyone in the sellout crowd of 40,266, and replays confirmed this. But Hernandez called him out.
Hernandez, as you see in the video, glared at McMichael and then, according to later reports, had crew chief Randy Marsh call the press box and throw McMichael out of the ballpark.
Umpires can do that, but I dunno. McMichael was expressing the views of most of the 40,266 in attendance. Should Marsh and Hernandez have thrown all of us out, too? (That would have been amusing, finishing the last two innings in front of an empty ballpark.)
Hernandez has been around for 10 years. He should have a thicker skin, I think.
Oh, right, there was a game, too. It probably didn't help matters any that it was really sticky and hot tonight, with a game-time temperature of 92 degrees. Neagle and Kevin Tapani battled in a close game through six; had Coomer's run counted, that would have tied the game 2-2. The Cubs made it moot, so we thought, with a three-run rally in the bottom of the seventh; maybe McMichael's rant inspired them. Coomer drove in the last of the runs with a sac fly. That gave the Cubs a 4-2 lead, but David Weathers coughed it right back in the eighth.
And as if all the McMichael foofaraw wasn't enough, the way the Cubs wound up winning the game was nothing short of bizarre. Ricky Gutierrez and Sammy Sosa led off the inning with singles, putting runners on first and second. After Fred McGriff struck out, Joe Girardi hit Justin Speier's second pitch into left field, breaking his bat in the process. Gutierrez rounded third and tripped and fell.
So Cub-like, right? But then the Rockies did a Cub-like thing. As Gutierrez scrambled to get back to third, Girardi smartly took off for second. As the Rox caught Girardi in a rundown, Gutierrez raced for the plate and scored the winning run, and the Cubs beat the Rockies 5-4.
Wacky doesn't begin to describe that, nor this improbable year. The Rockies aren't very good this year -- we ought to thank them for giving us Don Baylor, who has managed this team expertly this season, maybe en route to the postseason. Tomorrow afternoon, Jason Bere faces the Rox' John Thomson as the Cubs will try to pad their 2½ game lead over the second-place Astros.