MESA, Arizona -- If this game had ended after the eighth inning, I'm sure we'd all be happy, due to some good pitching, timely hitting, excellent defense and another home run by Junior Lake.
Unfortunately, games go nine innings, and Alberto Cabrera, who's expected to be part of the big-league bullpen, got hit hard in the ninth. The Cubs eventually gave the Angels six runs in that ninth inning, and lost 8-4, running their record at Cubs Park to 4-10 with one game remaining. (Note for people who think a new ballpark affects a team's record -- it doesn't. Good teams win no matter where they are and bad teams don't.)
Besides Lake's home run, which gave the Cubs a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning, the big play of the game was a tremendous running, diving catch by Albert Almora off a long drive by Collin Cowgill for the last out of the fourth inning. Almora ran into the wall and took a long time to get up; my friend Rob McMillin, who had a much better look at the play than I did, told me that it appeared that Almora's knee hit the small concrete patch below the padding on the wall. That appears to be confirmed by this tweet:
#Cubs Albert Almora survived crash with wall. Has bruise on his right knee. Team says he's OK— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 25, 2014
Sounds like the kind of thing that, had this been a regular-season game, he would have stayed in the game. Outstanding defense shown by Almora, though. Count me as impressed.
The Angels regulars scored a pair of runs off Tsuyoshi Wada over four innings, then they all were departing just as Cubs coaches and trainers were running out to look after Almora. Wada was re-signed to a minor-league deal after being released Monday (there's some sort of payment that the Cubs avoided making by doing this, and they're not the only team that did this sort of thing Monday, either, lots of teams released and re-signed players in this way); I suppose he'll wind up in the rotation at Iowa, though this was his "best" start this spring and even this one wasn't really that good (five hits and three walks in four innings).
The rest of the bullpen did pretty well, up to the ninth inning -- four scoreless innings with just two hits and a walk allowed by Pedro Strop, James Russell, Hector Rondon and Blake Parker. The first three are all likely headed for the major-league pen; Parker's already been optioned, but I'm sure we'll see him again this year.
There were two replay reviews during this game. Angels manager Mike Scioscia thought that Josh Hamilton's long drive in the third inning might have been a home run. That review took about a minute, to confirm the ruling on the field of "double." Then, with two out in the ninth after the Angels turned an apparent double play on a ball hit by Darwin Barney, Rick Renteria came out to ask for a review. My understanding of the replay rules is that this wasn't an official "challenge," since it was after the seventh inning. Renteria thought Barney was safe; personally, I didn't think it was that close, but it was worth using the system since this game was set ups for testing. Again, the ruling was confirmed, this one taking about two minutes.
In both cases, Tim Sheridan, the PA announcer, let fans in the stands know what was going on, and the Cubs also put on the video board, "This play is under official MLB review." So, the system appears to be working as planned, though I have yet to see a play reversed. It'll be interesting to see what happens the first time a play does get reversed.
A few words about Mike Olt's performance: he went 1-for-3 and made several plays at third base, both routine and not-so-routine; one was a nice play on a bunt by Mike Trout. That one impressed me; one of the best players in baseball, with great speed, tried to bunt on Olt and Olt was up to the challenge.
It was hot in Mesa this afternoon. Though the game-time temperature in the box score (and announced) was 78, a weather app on my phone said it was 91 at about 3:30, with 12 percent humidity, and at one point virtually everyone's phone near me went off with an alert -- for a possible dust storm in the area. We could see the clouds of dust building to the south and east of Cubs Park, but all of it stayed in that area, not coming close to the area around the ballpark. This is the first time I've ever seen such a storm at this time of year in the Phoenix area; those of you who live in Phoenix year-round likely know that this is more of a summertime phenomenon.
Attendance watch: Though the park didn't seem that crowded, another record was set: 15,276, which brings the season total for 14 dates to 198,645, an average of 14,189. Thursday's crowd will break the all-time spring-training attendance record set by the Cubs in 2009 at HoHoKam Park -- 203,105 in 19 dates. This year at Cubs Park is 15 dates, and with another sellout expected, the record will be somewhere in the area of 213,000.