In 1945, Chicago sportswriter Warren Brown was asked who he thought would win the World Series between the war-depleted Cubs and Tigers. His response, which has become legendary, was: "I don't think either team can win."
That's about how Monday night's 3-1, 12-inning Cubs loss to the White Sox felt. Neither team appeared capable of winning until Justin Grimm got himself in trouble with (what else?) walks and hits with two out and no one on base. White Sox third baseman Marcus Semien, who came into the game hitting .213, smacked a double that was fair by about two feet down the left-field line, and that, as they say, was that.
Jeff Samardzija. Yes, yes, individual pitcher wins don't mean anything, but you'd really like to see the guy get one, especially after he turned in nine innings of stellar pitching, allowing just three hits and an unearned run. If not for poor judgment on the part of Mike Olt in the first inning, the Cubs might have won the game 1-0. With no one out and a runner on first base, Gordon Beckham grounded to Olt, who made a poor decision in trying to throw off-balance and across his body to second base to get a fast baserunner (Alejandro De Aza) instead of getting a reasonably sure out at first. The throw was bad, both runners were safe (De Aza taking third), and the next batter, Jose Abreu, lofted a fly ball to medium-deep right field, scoring the runner.
That was it until the sixth inning in terms of scoring; Sox starter Jose Quintana retired the first fourteen Cubs he faced until he issued a pair of two-out walks in the fifth. Samardzija apparently got tired of seeing his teammates fail to hit, because he led off the sixth with a double. (No, that doesn't change my mind about the DH. Cubs pitchers are 6-for-61 with 29 strikeouts.)
Samardzija advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on Junior Lake's sac fly, and the game headed to the late innings tied, not the thing anyone really wanted to see on a night that was actually colder than Sunday night, with a stiff wind blowing from the northeast and game-time temperature of 41 degrees.
The biggest "controversy" of the late innings was the choice to leave Samardzija in to bat for himself in the bottom of the eighth with one out. Now, given the facts that the Cubs' bench is still shorthanded, the game appeared likely to head to extra innings, and that Shark had the only Cubs hit at that time and was breezing through the Sox lineup, I did not have a problem with this. Even though Shark grounded out, it seemed entirely possible that he could throw an easy ninth and the Cubs could save the entire bullpen by winning in the last of the ninth.
The top of the ninth was... well, not that easy. Shark, tiring, issued two walks (his first two of the game) and then got out of it by inducing Dayan Viciedo to hit into a double play. The 126 pitches he threw was a career high, and the third-most thrown by any pitcher this year.
I wouldn't have done it just to get him a "win." But I don't have a problem with doing it if the reason is "he's the most effective guy we have right now."
The short bench also forced Rick Renteria to use Travis Wood as a pinch-hitter in the 11th inning; Wood is a decent hitter (although his .529 career OPS is nothing special), but he rarely pinch-hits. He was 0-for-2 before Monday night and lofted a lazy fly to center field. The Cubs really have to get another position player to give themselves flexibility in games like this, especially since one of the eight relief pitchers (James Russell, who was spotted warming up in the bottom of the 12th) is almost never used.
The Cubs managed to get the winning run to second base with two out in the last of the ninth when Anthony Rizzo singled and advanced on an infield out. There he stayed when Welington Castillo struck out, and on we went to extra innings, where no one did much until the aforementioned White Sox 12th.
It would be nice if someone, anyone, would hit behind Samardzija, who became the first Cubs starting pitcher to pitch in the ninth inning this year (and it was just the third starting pitcher outing to go into the eighth). Shark now ranks 141st of 145 qualified starters in run support per start -- 2.0, and his 1.62 ERA now is second in the National League, behind only the Reds' Johnny Cueto.
All of this happened on a freezing-cold night on which an extremely large number of drunk and obnoxious people "celebrating" Cinco de Mayo inhabited most of our section in the left-field bleachers, drinking, carrying on and not watching the game for a single moment. I put "celebrating" in quotes because Cinco de Mayo has become another one of those holidays that translate as "an excuse for getting plastered." Fortunately, with the cold, they all left around the eighth inning, allowing the rest of us to watch the rest of the game in peace. Maybe 1,000 of the original crowd was still in the park when Luis Valbuena struck out to end it.
It will be a bit warmer Tuesday night, they tell us. With Edwin Jackson and Hector Noesi on the mound for the Cubs and White Sox, respectively, the bats should be warmer, too.