MESA, Arizona -- 13,245, the largest crowd of the season at HoHoKam Park (and judging by the cheering, close to half Giants fans), paid to see some pretty bad baseball between the Cubs and the visitors from San Francisco.
Four errors, several bad baserunning plays and two solo Cubs home runs later, the Giants had a 3-2 win over the Cubs, the Cubs' fourth consecutive defeat.
First, let's start with the good stuff. Matt Garza threw four good innings; he gave up two runs, one of which scored when Steve Clevenger tried to catch Melky Cabrera stealing third base. The ball wound up in left field and Cabrera scored; Pablo Sandoval, who was on first base, advanced to second and scored on Aubrey Huff's single. That made it 2-1 Giants after Anthony Rizzo hit a home run just to the left of the batter's eye background screen in left-center field. That ball kept rising as it was leaving the yard; at first it didn't look like it would go, but it wound up traveling about 430 feet.
That's the good. If you dare, past the jump is the bad.
The Cubs ran themselves out of an inning in the sixth. Starlin Castro led off the inning by reaching on an error charged to Ryan Theriot (how familiar does that sound?). He advanced to second on a single by Rizzo, but was then thrown out trying to steal third. Rizzo took second on the caught-stealing.
Truth be told, I don't mind things like that during spring training. We know Dale Sveum is trying to get the Cubs to be more aggressive on the basepaths. During the regular season in a situation like that (down a run, two runners on, nobody out), you probably wouldn't run like that. Even though the Cubs failed in those attempts, maybe they learned something for future SB attempts.
Blake Lalli (whose name was pronounced "lah-LEE" by PA announcer Tim Sheridan) homered in the eighth, his second of the spring, for the Cubs' second run. (Even better, the home run was off former Cub Ramon Ortiz.) Unfortunately, the Giants had made it 3-1 in the top of that inning on a single, a stolen base (off Lalli catching) and a horrific throwing error by Lendy Castillo that allowed the runner, Emmanuel Burriss, to score all the way from second.
Because there was no TV of this game, let me give you a complete description of the play in question, since some of you think L. Castillo has a shot at making the bullpen. After the leadoff single, Castillo struck out Brett Pill and Whiteside, both on 3-2 counts, both on nasty breaking balls. That's good.
This is bad: Castillo got Trevor Graham to hit a dinky little comebacker. And then Castillo threw it about 10 feet over Edwin Gonzalez' head (Gonzalez replaced Rizzo at 1B in the seventh).
10 feet? You're thinking I am exaggerating. I am not. The ball landed on the tarp down the right-field line on the fly, and Burriss had no trouble scoring.
Unfortunately, I'm not done with "bad". In the bottom of the ninth, Mather led off. He doubled sharply down the left-field line. This is good! Tying run on second, nobody out.
This isn't a horrible idea; try to take the Giants by surprise. They're probably not expecting Jackson to bunt, he's got decent speed, maybe the Cubs can get another baserunner. Unfortunately, the Giants were ready for the bunt and Joe Mather wasn't. Jackson was thrown out easily at first base and for some reason, Mather didn't take off until too late and was easily doubled up with a tag at third.
This isn't good! Two out, nobody on, and Tony Campana grounded to third to end it.
Good thing these games don't count. Lessons learned, we hope.
The sellout crowd brought the season attendance to 75,207, an average of 9,401 over the eight dates so far, which is running almost 10% ahead of last year's first eight dates. Weather permitting (and it very well might not), the Cubs expect another sellout for the next home date Sunday against the White Sox.
Meantime, half the squad heads to Las Vegas to play the Rangers in a pair this weekend. Saturday, Jeff Samardzija will face Derek Holland in a game that's on MLB.TV (online) and cubs.com audio. The other half of the team will be at Phoenix Muni to play the Athletics, with Paul Maholm against Travis Schlicting. There will be audio coverage of that game via the A's broadcast team and I'm also heading to Phoenix Muni tomorrow afternoon.
When perhaps, the Cubs will win, or at least play fundamentally better.