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The Blame Game

TEMPE, Arizona -- It can't be Ernie's fault any more because he and Carole left here yesterday. I was thinking about blaming my new friend John from the Cubs newsgroup, but I don't think that's fair since I just met him and this is the first Cub game we attended together, and besides he lives here so he winds up rooting for the Diamondbacks (when they're not playing the Cubs).

So instead I'm going to chalk this one up to Howard, though I certainly won't ban him. For one thing, he just arrived yesterday, so I have to give him at least one more chance as well.

This is my way of saying that the Cubs better step up and take some responsibility themselves, because they looked pretty pathetic in today's 3-0 loss to the Angels.

I suppose I should give credit where credit is due. Kelvim Escobar, who slammed the door shut on the Cubs last June when he was a Blue Jay, picked up right where he left off in a 7-inning, three-hit, seven-strikeout performance (his first win of the spring). So I'm thinking, good thing he's in the other league where we don't have to face him -- oops, yes, we might, because the Cubs travel to Anaheim this June, same weekend, second weekend of June, in fact, where the Cubs were in Toronto last year. At this point let's just hope the Angels rotation is such that the Cubs won't have to face him.

Matt Clement pitched for the first time in nine days and it showed. He was wild in the first inning and that helped lead to two Angel runs; after that he settled down pretty well and threw four decent innings. Obviously, he had to sit out this long because Dusty is setting up the rotation for the start of the season. Kerry Wood will pitch tomorrow, then not again till Opening Day. Greg Maddux will go Thursday (against Randy Johnson, incidentally), Carlos Zambrano on Friday, and then whoever is to replace Mark Prior will face the Diamondbacks on Saturday, then have his first turn skipped due to the off day next Tuesday.

This article implies that Dusty has already chosen Sergio Mitre to fill Prior's slot and all I can say is, I hope not. Mitre threw poorly in his last outing and frankly, I don't see what the Cubs see in his stuff. I don't necessarily have another choice (Andy Pratt, just acquired from the Braves, had a shaky, two-hit, one-walk, though scoreless inning today), but maybe Jim Hendry can acquire someone before the weekend.

There was some good that came out of today's game. LaTroy Hawkins, who had not thrown well at all before today, had a 1-2-3 inning which included two blow-em-away strikeouts.

Unusually again today, Dusty didn't pull any of the starters, except Michael Barrett, and then Todd Walker after he was hit by a pitch in the eighth (I presume, simply as a precaution).

After Barrett was pulled he was running in the outfield and someone was yelling encouragement at him ("Hit 40 homers this year, Michael!") and Barrett smiled and pumped his fist and you can tell he's so excited to be a Cub; he's already been quoted as saying there are more people and more excitement at these exhibition games than at most of his home games in Montreal.

Goofy defensive plays of the day: Derrek Lee was charged with an error on dropping a foul popup, a play he should make in his sleep. In his defense, the sky is very "high" here and I have seen many good fielders mess up this easy play. That batter, Jose Guillen, eventually struck out. Also, Todd Hollandsworth dropped an easy fly ball in left with runners on first and second, but had the presence of mind to throw to third after the runners held up, and got an unusual 7-5 force play.

Finally, after years of coming to Tempe, I figured out the way to avoid traffic -- there are private parking lots across the street which charge the same as the official lot and are much easier to get out of.

This game had another significance -- it is the tenth game I have attended this spring and the first one that was not sold out. That's absolutely amazing. The entire Cactus League has already set an attendance record with four days to go, and the Cubs will break their own attendance record tomorrow, and will set an all-time record for any team at spring training with the expected sellout on Thursday.

Incidentally, I have kept track of the Cubs spring record and the papers are incorrect -- they had it as 12-13 coming into today, but 13-13 is correct, and after today it is properly 13-14, with the two ties.