There have been colder baseball days than Saturday at Wrigley Field, but not many. 38 degrees at game time with a 16 mile-per-hour wind created a wind chill of 28. Big cheers erupted any time the sun made a brief appearance, but even then it never really got warm. This April, instead of spring, feels like an endless November. I think I felt warmer at the NHL Winter Classic, which was played January 1. Maybe next year they can start the baseball season in January, when it's warmer.
I'll say one thing for this year's Cubs team, as compared to last year's -- at least they're competitive in pretty much every game. Saturday, it wasn't quite enough; the club's third straight one-run game ended in defeat, 3-2 to the Giants, despite Dioner Navarro's pinch-hit home run. Navarro has now homered in consecutive pinch-hit at-bats. If you think that's rare, you're right. Only once in Cubs history before this week has the same player hit pinch-homers in consecutive games -- Dale Long, who did it August 13, 1959 and August 14, 1959, oddly enough, also against the Giants (the Cubs won both of those games, unlike this year). The Cubs hit just six pinch-homers all of 2012, so having two so far this year is way ahead of that pace, obviously.
Unfortunately, Navarro's heroics weren't enough to win the game. Jeff Samardzija threw six credible innings, but until Navarro's blast, Madison Bumgarner had been better. Bumgarner is, after all, one of the best pitchers in the league and there are times you have to just give credit to the other guy. This time, I'll say that Michael Bowden has to take his share of the blame, for giving up what turned out to be the winning run in the seventh inning. Brandon Crawford led off the inning with a single, and then Bumgarner set up to bunt him to second. Bowden tried to get Crawford at second, but his throw was too late, and that turned out to be the key play in that inning. After another bunt -- this time Bowden did get the lead runner, Crawford, at third, but with only one out that set up Marco Scutaro to drive in Bumgarner with a single for the Giants' third run.
After Navarro's homer, Dale Sveum called on Carlos Marmol. Marmol walked Buster Posey on four pitches. This should not surprise you; four-pitch walks to the first batter he faces seem to be a Marmol specialty. After he threw ball one to Hunter Pence, Chris Bosio came out to talk to him. Marmol then got Pence to pop up, got Brandon Belt to hit into a force play (that came very close to being a double play) and struck out Andres Torres.
What could Bosio have said to Marmol that made such a big difference? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
The Cubs got the tying and lead runs on base with nobody out in the eighth, and then Alfonso Soriano hit a ball that went off Pablo Sandoval's glove at third. Just a tiny bit more speed and Soriano would have been safe; as it was, the runners moved to scoring position with one out. Good, right?
Well, no. Nate Schierholtz batted for Scott Hairston and was intentionally walked, and Welington Castillo smacked Santiago Casilla's first pitch right to Crawford for an easy double play. Hey, Welington! Take a pitch or two in a situation like that, willya? When a fly ball ties the game?
The Cubs went out meekly 1-2-3 in the ninth inning, and the last out might have ruined Steve Clevenger's attempt to become a supersub for this year's Cubs. Swinging at strike three, Clevenger immediately fell to the ground and didn't get up for about five minutes, then walked gingerly back to the dugout assisted by coaches and the team trainer. Given Clevenger's oblique injury from last year that wrecked most of his season, I feared that might have recurred, and this indicates that might be true:
Clevenger is getting MRI today with a possible left-oblique injury that he sustained on his game-ending swing.— The Northwest Herald (@InsideTheCubs) April 13, 2013
That's really a shame as Clevenger had worked very hard to make the team, and his versatility was becoming quite useful for the club. I hope for the best, but am afraid this could put Clevenger out for a couple of months.
I can remember other Aprils when the Cubs played through cold, or drizzly, or windy, or rainy weather, but not every single day; at least there was no rain Saturday, though a few snow flurries dotted the sky at times. The average game-time temperature so far through five dates is 44, and that includes 61 degrees on Opening Day. No other game has been played in anything near good baseball weather. But I'll give this Cubs team props, again; they have played the defending World Series champions (who were cheered on by a large, orange-clad contingent of their fans on the first-base side) tough three straight days and could have won all three games. That wasn't the case with last year's team, which seemed out of most games early and even when they were close, you somehow felt they'd do something to blow their chances. This year's team definitely has more talent.