As you know from reading this post earlier today, Saturday marked exactly 50 years since I attended my first game at Wrigley Field.
Alfonso Soriano tried very hard to get me a souvenir of this 50th anniversary game, depositing his second two-run homer of the afternoon right in the aisle next to us. My son Mark, at the game, actually had his left hand on it. Unfortunately, it bounced away, into the hands of someone in the next section over. Neverthless, Soriano's four-RBI performance, along with solid pitching, produced one of the better Cubs efforts of the season, a 4-1 win over the first-place Pirates. You can see how it all happened at this video link.
Before all that, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville brought the Stanley Cup to Wrigley Field and showed it off to an appreciative crowd, smaller than Friday's gathering but just as enthusiastic at seeing one of the Cup champions. The Cubs also hosted Blackhawks singer Jim Cornelison, but Cornelison didn't sing the National Anthem (reason unknown). He did do the best rendition of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" that I've ever heard, holding the note of "ball" before the final "game" in an operatic tone.
Before that, the Cubs and Pirates played the first two innings in 50 minutes, only an hour and six minutes less than it took to play the entire game 50 years ago today. Once those two innings went by, though, the rest of the game went by quickly. Edwin Jackson was removed one out short of a quality start with two runners on base in the sixth inning; James Russell finished that inning up with a strikeout, and then Matt Guerrier got six outs on just 16 pitches, leading up to Kevin Gregg's 15th save in 16 opportunities. (Note: Gregg got hit pretty hard, as he gave up a single, then two hard-hit outs, fortunately hit right at fielders. Sometimes you can win that way.)
The Cubs might have scored even more runs if not for some good defense by the Pirates; Darwin Barney hit a rocket snagged by second baseman Neil Walker, who doubled Luis Valbuena off first base. (Not Valbuena's fault, as he was going on the pitch.) In the fourth, when Soriano hit his first home run, the Cubs had two runners on with nobody out after the homer when Barney hit into another double play, started on a nice stop by Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer.
This game was a sign of what the Cubs might be if they had solid top-to-bottom pitching. Jackson has shown signs of doing this kind of thing over the last couple of months; now all he has to do is keep doing it to build up consistency. One of the things that's been the worst about this team is bad bullpen work, as you know. Today's bullpen work, 3⅓ innings, one baserunner, is the kind of thing that has, for example, gotten the Pirates to where they are, with the best record in baseball. It's likely that the Cubs will have other bad bullpen days, until they can find the right pitcher combination to go out there. Gregg, for example, has to be coveted by other teams and the Cubs should probably trade him while his value is high.
Not that the Cubs had any idea this was a special day for me -- though thanks to Tom Ricketts for stopping by and saying hello -- but I thank them for playing one of their better games of the year, and producing a much better result than their counterparts did 50 years ago in the same location.
The Cubs can win yet another series Sunday; Carlos Villanueva returns to the starting rotation, making his first start since May 14. He'll face the Pirates' A.J. Burnett, who will be fresh off a DL stint.