If you're of "a certain age" you likely remember the phrase in the headline to this recap as something Jack Brickhouse used to say when the mediocre-to-bad teams of the 1960s would come up just short in an otherwise agonizingly good rally.
That's pretty much the summary of the ninth inning of Friday's 6-5 Cubs loss to the Reds, which dropped their record to 11-18 and the team record in one-run games to 4-7 and their team record in losses that leave you dumbfounded to... well, pretty much all of them.
In fact, I had a whole story I was going to tell you about the Wrigley Field seagulls, who by the ninth inning pretty much outnumbered human beings in the bleachers, but what the Cubs did in that ninth inning was far more entertaining. Aroldis Chapman came into the game in a non-save situation, with the Reds up by four runs in the bottom of the ninth. He proceeded to have a Carlos Marmol-like meltdown, except without the hit batters and wild pitches. To give you an idea of why Chapman's horrendous inning was so unusual:
- He had faced 48 batters in 2013 before today. Just eight of them had reached base (five hits, two walks).
- In just 16 other games in his career (out of 151 appearances) had Chapman given up two or more walks.
- In just three other career games had he given up three or more runs.
- In just one other career game had he given up four hits.
And yet, this offensively-challenged Cubs team did all of those things, coming back to within one run after pinch-hitter Scott Hairston walked with the bases loaded, forcing in a run and Welington Castillo drove in a pair of runs off Chapman. After Castillo's hit, Chapman walked Cody Ransom to load the bases, forcing Dusty Baker to take him out for J.J. Hoover, who struck out Darwin Barney to end it. The key at-bat in the inning, though, was Alfonso Soriano's; with the score 6-4 and two out after Anthony Rizzo struck out and Chapman clearly struggling, Soriano wasn't patient and hit Chapman's second pitch into right field, too shallow to score Dioner Navarro from third base (Navarro eventually scored on the Hairston hit). Soriano also had a poor at-bat with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh, when a simple fly ball would have plated a run.
"A day late and a dollar short." That's pretty much the story of this Cubs team; they left 12 men on base and though the boxscore shows them with a 5-for-15 mark today with RISP, all of those hits were concentrated in the sixth and ninth innings. The Cubs left RISP in the first, fourth, fifth and seventh innings, innings in which they could have knocked Mike Leake out of the game; a little better bullpen work would have kept the Reds closer, meaning the ninth inning could have won the game (of course, if Chapman is in a save situation, maybe that inning turns out differently; closers do seem to have a different mindset when they can tack another notch onto their save counts, than when they can't).
All of this resulted in a loss that took three hours and 29 minutes, most of it in a steady rain, cold temperatures and a wind howling off Lake Michigan. That part of the story, you've heard before; it was 41 degrees at game time, making the average game-time temperature for the 13 home games so far 55 degrees. That sounds great, but take away the three 70-plus days this week and the other 10 average out at 44 degrees. It's been a miserable spring weatherwise at Wrigley Field.
It's pretty much been like that baseball-wise, too; this Cubs team does just enough to make you think they might be able to come back from deficits, or produce enough decent pitching to hold off the opposition, only to crush those visions of good baseball like the paper cups that we used to hear popping under feet in the near-empty Wrigley Field of the 1960s, a Wrigley Field nearly as, or sometimes even more, devoid of people in seats as it is now.
That's about it for this one; Carlos Villanueva didn't pitch poorly, but couldn't complete the sixth inning, and though Michael Bowden got him out of a jam there, Bowden issued three walks (one intentional) and hit a batter, resulting in a run on no hits in the seventh. As noted above, this team needs better bullpen work. Kameron Loe also gave up a run. I'm guessing both of those guys are on the bubble when Kyuji Fujikawa returns, though Bowden might survive because he was a No. 1 draft pick of Theo Epstein's in 2005). Props also to Luis Valbuena for going 3-for-4, raising his batting average to .253. The Cubs activated Ian Stewart from the DL today, but then optioned him to Iowa; I doubt we see him in Chicago any time soon.
Oh, yes, the seagull story. It's not that exciting, but was inspired by this tweet:
It's funny. The seagulls seem to have an innate sense of when the game's coming to an end, whether it starts at noon or 1:20 (they are less around at night games). Friday, as I noted, there seemed more of them than humans in the bleachers, and as the last couple of innings dragged on, they began swooping up and down, waiting for the game to end so they could have their dinner (two of them got into a fight over a nacho chip that had landed on the field, leading to them being termed "angry birds"). The gulls have their own Facebook page, and probably only will be around for a few more weeks; after Memorial Day, when Chicago beaches officially open, the gulls tend to stick closer to the lakefront, where beachgoers leave them plenty of food.
Brett Taylor, former front-page contributor here and head of Baseball Nation, is in town this weekend and stopped by for a couple of innings, having forgotten his rain gear at his hotel. Nice to chat with him for a while; he looked pretty cold and wet by the time he headed downstairs.
The Cubs and Reds go at it again tomorrow. The weather's supposed to be better (it could hardly be worse). Maybe the baseball will be, too.