I had several different ledes written in my head to this one, but they all got figuratively torn up in a ninth inning that seemed to last hours (mainly because of the annoying little rainshowers that fell through most of it). So instead, I'll just use this line, one of my favorites: "Anyone tells you they have this game figured out, laugh in their face."
Lots of laughing going on now, especially since the Cubs made an improbable comeback against Giants closer Sergio Romo and defeated the Giants 4-3, after Kyuji Fujikawa did his best Carlos Marmol impression in the top of the ninth inning.
But here, I'm starting at the end. Let me first give credit to Carlos Villanueva, whose second start of the year was even better than his first; Villanueva threw into the eighth inning and allowed only three singles, striking out three and walking one. If he hadn't given up the eighth-inning hit to Gregor Blanco, Dale Sveum would probably have let him finish the inning; he'd thrown only 93 pitches. Of all the free-agent pitchers signed by the Cubs this past offseason, Villanueva has so far performed the best; Villanueva has never before in his career had a chance to be a rotation starter from Opening Day, and he is making the most of his opportunity. Here's yet another indication of why individual pitcher wins mean nothing -- the pitcher who threw the worst Friday, Fujikawa, got the "win", while Villanueva, who has allowed one earned run in 14 innings of work this year, has two no-decisions to his "credit".
Here's one of the ledes I had considered, if the game had been locked down by Fujikawa: if I had told you that one team would be shut out while the other team hit two solo homers Friday, you'd have likely thought, "Okay, Matt Cain threw a shutout and Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey hit homers." Not so; the Cubs took their 2-0 lead on solo shots by David DeJesus and Starlin Castro. DeJesus' homer had a little wind help; Castro's was a line shot into the left-center field bleachers. The Cubs had several other runners in scoring position, but couldn't get any of them home through eight.
I really don't understand Fujikawa's troubles. In Japan, one of the things he did best was throw strikes and not walk hitters. But Friday, he was consistently working from behind, hit Posey and got hit hard when he was throwing pitches in the zone. He might have gotten out of the inning with a save if a ground ball by Hunter Pence had been turned over for a double play, but Pence was too quick for Alberto Gonzalez's relay. I don't blame anyone for that; the play set up too slowly for a DP, especially with rain starting to fall hard once again right then. The next hitter, Brandon Belt, gave the Giants the lead.
So with Romo coming into the game and the bottom of the Cubs order coming up, it did not look good. Dioner Navarro, who had a good spring, was 1-for-12 coming into this game; Romo had not allowed a run nor a walk this year. He'd faced 20 batters and retired 18 of them, posting six saves in six attempts.
No matter, said Navarro, who took strike one and then yanked a fastball into the bleachers just next to the right-field well. It had help from the wind; we'll take it. That was the first regular-season home run Romo had allowed since September 17, 2012 and his first blown save since July 30, 2012, when he blew one vs. the Mets. Since then he had converted 15 straight in the regular season. And beyond that, there's this:
The homer hit by Navarro was an incredible oddity. Romo had allowed just three homers in 29O at-bats against left-handers previously, and the switch-hitting Navarro had homered off righties once every 65 at-bats, compared to once every 29 at-bats versus lefties.
Romo then struck out Luis Valbuena and Brent Lillibridge; this should have surprised no one. DeJesus followed with his third hit of the day, a single, and Castro lofted a 2-1 pitch to deep center field; it looked like it might take off on the wind into the bleachers, but instead hit off the wall just over Angel Pagan's glove and DeJesus scored the winning run, setting off a happy scrum of Cubs just near second base.
Like I said, I don't really get it. Once Fujikawa blew that lead, there's no way the Cubs should have won that game against Romo. But they did. I hope this isn't a pattern for Fujikawa; his struggles looked a lot like Marmol's, minus the walks (he threw just 15 strikes in 30 pitches). If this keeps up, Sveum is going to have to consider Plan C for closer, and I don't even know what that might be.
It was cold again. This is not news to you. The sun came out briefly around the fourth inning, prompting a huge cheer from the cold, huddled masses, the loudest of the day except the one after Castro's game-winner. Obviously, not anywhere near the announced 30,996 showed up, but of those who did, most stuck around for the end.
Despite Villanueva's great pitching so far and his lack of individual wins, he seems to have the right attitude, as shown in this quote:
#Cubs Villanueva: "I'm happy just getting the [team] W. ... The atmosphere in our clubhouse now, I wouldn't change that for the world"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) April 12, 2013
This team is pretty flawed and maybe this win doesn't mean anything beyond today. Or maybe it will. The two teams will go at it again tomorrow at 12:05 CT; the pitching matchup should give us another good game: Madison Bumgarner vs. Jeff Samardzija.