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The wind was howling out at Wrigley Field Wednesday night -- sustained at 20 miles per hour, according to the boxscore of the Cubs' 6-5 loss to the Reds in 11 inning, but with gusts much higher than that -- and you might have expected the game to be a slugfest of baseballs flying onto Sheffield and Waveland.
Just one ball left the yard, Alfonso Soriano's 30th home run of the season, and that was a ball launched to the far side of Waveland -- it would have been a home run even without the wind. (The ball was retrieved for Soriano, who asked for it; the youngish man who picked it up on a bounce left his information with a Cubs security man. I'll see if I can find out what Soriano gave in return and post that info later today.)
But it figured that the wind would inject itself into the decision, and it did. David DeJesus... well, I couldn't tell. Misjudged? Overran? Simply misplayed? ... a fly ball into short right field by Brandon Phillips. Phillips hustled into second base and the next hitter, Drew Stubbs, singled him in with the eventual winning run, with about the same number of fans in the seats at the end of the game as were there for the beginning of Monday night's game... making this the second time this week that baseball was played at Wrigley after 11 p.m.
I mean, I love baseball and the Cubs, but ... shorter games are nicer.
For a while Wednesday night, it looked like it was going to be one of those shorter games. The teams completed six innings in about an hour and 45 minutes, helped along by the Cubs being able to do almost nothing against Mike Leake. Leake retired the first 11 batters he faced before Anthony Rizzo singled in the fourth. After a walk, Starlin Castro singled him in. For a while, it looked like that would be it; Chris Rusin struggled through five innings, giving up 10 hits and five runs. Too many Reds hits and walks to detail, and it likely would have been worse if the Cubs hadn't turned double plays in the first two innings.
Then, the Cubs bats woke up in the sixth, and after the first two men were retired. Now read that sentence again. That just doesn't happen, especially to this Cubs team. Nevertheless, it did. Rizzo singled; that was followed by the Soriano homer to make it 5-3; another Castro single was followed by a double down the left-field line by Luis Valbuena. And then this happened:
Looks like Valbuena was taking off his batting gloves when he got picked off at 2nd. #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 20, 2012
That's why statements like this one about Valbuena by manager Dale Sveum make me roll my eyes:
"Obviously we have some holes in a lot of areas that might need to be fixed," Sveum said. "Valbuena is going to be part of the organization, and he does one heck of a job himself."
Look. Valbuena plays very good defense. He can get a hit or three off the bench; he appears to like key situations. But he is hitting .219/.316/.352. He's got an OPS+ of 78. He's a useful bench player, nothing more. On a good team, he doesn't start every day. That statement's eerily reminiscent of Dusty Baker saying Neifi Perez "saved us" in 2005. From what? Valbuena's TOOTBLAN might have cost the Cubs a chance at tying the game in that inning; perhaps they'd have won in regulation.
Speaking of Baker, he did not manage the Reds Wednesday night after being hospitalized for an irregular heartbeat. He's reportedly fine; former Cubs coach Chris Speier ran the Reds Wednesday (and will Thursday as well). We all weren't fond of the way Dusty's managerial tenure here ended, but I wish him well and hope he's all right.
Meanwhile, the Cubs had their chances to win the game late; they scored the tying run on a Welington Castillo single in the eighth and left the bases loaded; they also had the winning run on third base with one out (and the bases loaded with two out) in the 10th but could not score.
The bullpen did a good job; six innings, two hits, just the one unearned run that lost the game. I like what I've seen out of Jaye Chapman in particular thus far; of all the kiddie corps of relief pitchers, he seems like he has the best chance to stick on a long-term basis.
The best news Wednesday night came out of St. Louis, where the Cardinals beat the Astros. Why was this good news? Because the Cardinals' win meant that the Reds' magic number to clinch the NL Central could go no lower than three Wednesday night -- that means no clinching celebration for the Reds at Wrigley.
The teams wrap up the series Thursday afternoon. The game preview will post at 11;30 a.m. CDT.