There are times when this team surprises you, and that makes for a most pleasant afternoon at the ballpark.
Summer is fading. It's late August. The team is going nowhere, and has looked pathetically awful the entire month; even guys like Anthony Rizzo, the presumed future of this team, have looked bad during this 4-17 stretch.
And they started out Friday's game the same way. Errors, walks, wild pitches, home runs allowed, and after three innings, they trailed a hot Rockies team 3-0. Not only that, but Rockies starter Drew Pomeranz had gone 12 up, 12 down; a walk in the second to Starlin Castro was erased on a double play.
But Rockies starters are on a 75-pitch limit, no matter how many innings they throw. That had to be on Pomeranz' mind when he began the fifth inning, which was probably going to be his last. He'd thrown 53 pitches through four. His fifth pitch of the inning was hit into the left-center field bleachers by Alfonso Soriano, the Cubs' first hit. Eight pitches later, Welington Castillo did the same, and the Cubs had cut the deficit to 3-2.
The game sped through seven innings; Jeff Samardzija settled down after the rough first three innings and retired 14 of the last 16 hitters he faced. Seven innings, six hits, two earned runs, two walks, six strikeouts: you're going to win most of the starts you have like that one. Shark's been real good this year, and starting to go out there and be consistent. He might get shut down, but that's a success story in a miserable year. I was wrong; I though him better suited for the pen, but he's clearly shown he can be a solid rotation guy.
3-2 it went into the eighth, when Brett Jackson led off with his first-ever (and we hope, first of many) Wrigley Field home run to tie it. Luis Valbuena, one out later, hit a pinch-double into the gap.
Let me pause here to talk a bit about Valbuena. I've been saying we need to see Josh Vitters at 3B, and why is Valbuena playing when we already know what he can do?
He seems to have a knack of hitting in these types of situations. He's only 2-for-6 as a pinch-hitter, but in tie-game situations he's now 11-for-31 with five doubles and two home runs. With his ability to play 2B, SS and 3B, Valbuena's future value would seem to be as an all-purpose infield utility guy who can come off the bench and pinch-hit in key game situations.
Joe Mather, who had no business being Friday's leadoff hitter, singled in Valbuena with the lead run, and the Cubs scored another one when the Rockies made two really bad throwing errors. Vitters was thrown out at the plate to end the inning trying to score on a medium-depth fly ball to right. It was a reasonable risk to take, already ahead by two runs.
Carlos Marmol finished almost without incident -- the one hit he allowed was a pop fly that Darwin Barney just missed making a spectacular grab on over the right-field bullpen mound. It was Marmol's 16th save of the year -- shockingly, he has not blown one since April. Either he can come back and close in 2013, or he should have high trade value this offseason.
Who knew? A pleasant day, if a bit on the humid side; some good come-from-behind baseball. What more can you ask from this year's Cubs?