The weather was beautiful Friday; mid-70s with a nice breeze and low humidity and sunshine.
The baseball was beautiful from a Cubs standpoint; solid pitching and timely hitting.
If you closed your eyes you could pretend it was still 2008 and all was well in Cubs World.
It's not, of course; the Cubs' 7-4 win over the Pirates simply brought them back to only 30 games under .500 in one of the most dismal seasons in franchise history. Still, some good baseball was played at Wrigley Field Friday afternoon, although few saw it -- the announced crowd of 26,946 was the smallest of the year and just the second of under 27,000 since April 26, 2002 (the other was April 4, 2011, a much colder afternoon than Friday). Perhaps 17,000 showed up to see the Cubs bash a whole bunch of Pirates pitchers around the yard.
Hey, message to Clint Hurdle: just because it's September and you have eleventy-dozen relievers in your bullpen, it doesn't mean you have to use every single one of them! Hurdle used eight relievers Friday afternoon, making... well, I lost count of how many mid-inning pitching changes. It is actually not against human law to let a left-handed relief pitcher face a right-handed hitter, or vice versa. But try convincing modern managers of that. In Hurdle's case, it backfired, as he brought in righty Jared Hughes to face Alfonso Soriano and Starlin Castro, after lefthander Justin Wilson had recorded a pair of outs sandwiched around a walk to Luis Valbuena in the bottom of the sixth with the Cubs clinging to a 4-3 lead.
Hughes hit Soriano with the first pitch he threw, and the next Hughes pitch was deposited in the left-field bleachers (about four rows down from me) for a three-run homer by Starlin Castro, who had earlier driven in the Cubs' first run with a single.
7-3? The Cubs winning? Who would have believed it? Although, this Pirates team doesn't in any way resemble the team that came into Wrigley in late July and took two out of three. They've now lost seven in a row and look tired and defeated. Andrew McCutchen brought the Bucs back to within three runs with a solo homer off Manuel Corpas, but Shawn Camp and Carlos Marmol finished up. Marmol posted his 20th save, even after hitting the first batter he faced.
It was that kind of game. There were seven walks issued, a couple of hit batters, a passed ball, a Pirates runner picked off, Brett Jackson thrown out at the plate when he didn't have to be running (probably a contact play, and a reasonable risk when you're up three runs, but still), and various other ugly-looking plays in a game between a team that's earned its fifth-place standing and another that doesn't appear anywhere near sniffing the wild-card race it's somehow still in.
Chris Rusin, congratulations on your first major-league win. Rusin threw four no-hit innings before Gaby Sanchez led off the fifth with a double; he eventually scored and Dale Sveum pulled Rusin after he gave up a leadoff hit to Starling Marte in the sixth. Rusin threw 78 pitches, 56 for strikes. Could he be a part of next year's rotation? There are two answers to that.
- Yes, because there aren't going to be any more choices
- Yes, because he actually has decent MLB stuff and could be a No. 5 starter for just about anyone
There have been other teams with playoff aspirations in the last couple of years who have run into bad Cubs teams and sat home in October, notably the 2010 Padres, who lost three of four to the Cubs in San Diego in the season's final week and missed the playoffs by one game. Maybe the 2012 Pirates will suffer the same fate; they've now lost four straight to the Cubs, but somehow stay in the wild-card hunt, now 3½ games behind the Cardinals.
To conclude today, I present this ESPN Chicago story which quotes Theo Epstein as saying next year isn't going to be much better. The summary is pretty much what's been said around here most of the season -- that 2014 or 2015 will come before this team can contend again. We'll see what happens.
In the meantime, a win on a nice late-summer day at Wrigley Field... a rare enough event these days, so enjoy.