This evening, somewhere deep in the bowels of the visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field, in the manager's office, whether anyone's there to see or hear it or not, Ryne Sandberg has to be thinking, "Thank heavens Dale Sveum got that job!"
On an oppressively hot afternoon where people in the Wrigley Field bleachers were passing out from the heat and humidity, the Cubs blew a 5-0 lead and lost to the Phillies 6-5, their 42nd defeat in 67 home games. They need go just 6-8 in the remaining 14 Wrigley games to lose 50 home games for the first time in franchise history. (Don't say it can't happen, because the Cubs are now 3-16 at home since the All-Star break, and would have to play better than that to go 6-8.)
Not sure what to talk about first, so let's go all-Sandberg. P.A. announcer Andrew Belleson, when announcing the lineups, said, "Here's the lineup for the visiting Philadelphia Phillies, managed by former Cub and Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg." He paused while applause rang out among the admittedly sparse crowd. Then Belleson again introduced Sandberg during the exchange of lineup cards (pictured above). That's not something normally done for that exchange; again, a pause was made for a warm ovation for Sandberg.
After that, the Cubs proceeded to hit Roy Halladay pretty hard; Halladay, still coming back from shoulder surgery, never hit 90 on the Wrigley speed meter with his fastball, and it showed. Anthony Rizzo homered, a wind-aided blast, in the first inning and Nate Schierholtz hit his 20th. That gives the Cubs a pair of 20-homer men for the first time in two years; in 2011, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Pena all hit 20-plus, for all that was worth. The 88 home runs the Cubs have hit at home is second among all major-league teams at home (the Orioles lead with 94).
The Cubs also hit three doubles today, giving them 249 for the year. That's a pace for 301, which would fall short of the team record. The Cubs, all told, have 411 extra-base hits, which is first in the National League and fourth overall, as of this writing.
All of that and $42 would have bought you a bleacher ticket for today's game.
Besides the leaving of Jeff Samardzija in way too long, after he was clearly tiring in the Phillies' four-run sixth on an extremely hot day, and the failure of Kevin Gregg to hold the tie with two out in the ninth, I have just one other thing to say...
What on Earth was David Bell thinking, sending Dioner Navarro home on Darnell McDonald's pinch-single with two out in the seventh in a tie game? Navarro doesn't just run with the proverbial piano on his back; I'm pretty sure he has the entire Chicago Symphony Orchestra strapped there when he's running. If Navarro isn't the slowest runner in the major leagues, he's in the top three. McDonald's single didn't really go far enough into right field for even a good baserunner to score; Navarro was out by plenty.
Yes, I'd rather have had the bases loaded and Darwin Barney coming to bat. Interestingly enough, when Dale send McDonald up to bat for Brian Bogusevic against lefty Jake Diekman, Sandberg didn't counter with a righthanded reliever. His outside-the-box thinking cost Sandberg when McDonald got a hit, but Bell bailed him out with his bad send.
You could just feel the hot air get even hotter and more oppressive after that, and really, following that play, it wasn't really a matter of whether the Cubs would lose the game, but in what creative fashion they would lose, and Gregg provided the "creative" by hitting Roger Bernadina, allowing Bernadina to steal second (just his fourth steal of the year), and then allowing the game-winning single by Michael Young with two out.
Same story, different day.
The announced tickets-sold total of 27,763 is the smallest paid Friday crowd between Memorial Day and Labor Day since 28,435 saw the Cubs and Dodgers September 3, 1999. Far fewer than that actually showed up, likely because of the heat, and though Sandberg did get a warm welcome, it was much more subdued than you might have imagined.
I'm starting a new feature here: 100-loss watch. The Cubs need to go 6-22 the rest of the way to lose 100, and if you think that's not possible, their record in August is 7-20, with one game remaining in the month, Saturday afternoon. Chris Rusin faces Cliff Lee. You still think 6-22 isn't possible?
And Ryne Sandberg, welcomed back to Wrigley Field by Cubs fans, definitely had the last laugh, at least for one day.