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Late Night With The Cubs

The first day after a homestand is always one of catching up with stuff that I let go while the Cubs are in town.

So I spent the afternoon taking both cars to get an oil change, paying some bills, running some stuff over to the post office, and then with anticipation, flipped on the TV to see if the Cubs could hit Randy Johnson all over the yard for the second time this month (they did it on April 1 at Ho Ho Kam Park).

I fell asleep in the fifth inning with the score 4-0, and this was a good thing, as it only got worse from there, winding up in a 9-0 loss to the Diamondbacks, the first time the Cubs have been shut out this year, only two days after the pitching staff put up its first blanking of the season.

This included the longest home run ever hit at Bank One Ballpark, a 503-foot shot by Richie Sexson off of Francis Beltran, and despite Beltran's talent, I think he's still not quite ready for the majors, and is likely going to be sent back to Iowa when Mark Grudzielanek comes off the DL, which still may be another week.

Speaking of "Bank One Ballpark", I wonder out loud if the name will be changed to "J. P. Morgan Chase Ballpark" after the merger of these two huge banks is finished later this year. That would be a silly name for a baseball stadium, and frankly, if I were the Chase people, I'd keep the Bank One name as a marketing tool, since Bank One is a well-established name in the Midwest and Southwest, and Chase, being a New York bank, might be seen as an interloper.

It's the same thing that happened in San Francisco after SBC took over Pacific Bell. You'd think that a large corporation like this would figure out that they could not only keep the goodwill of the name of Pac Bell, which has been a fixture in California for decades, but could save money by not having to re-do letterheads, logos, etc. Further, the name "SBC" means nothing to most people in San Francisco, but many had a fondness for "Pacific Bell", and at least the name had some regional flavor to it.

"Bank One" doesn't have the same feeling in Phoenix, but at least it lends itself to a catchy nickname for the place -- "the BOB", after its initials.

Yes, I'm digressing, because there's not much good to say about last night's game. Nevertheless, I shall persevere.

Dusty sent Jose Macias out there last night to start at 2B, his first start of the year, but he might as well have sent last year's version of Lenny F. Harris. No one could hit Johnson -- he had ten strikeouts and allowed only two harmless singles; the Cubs got three hits off reliever Randy Choate, including the only extra-base hit, a useless pinch-hit double by Ramon Martinez in the 8th.

On the telecast, Steve Stone mentioned that someone (and I was sleepy, I forget who!) was mentioning to Randy Johnson that he was tipping his pitches by either flapping his glove open or closed, depending on what kind of pitch he was throwing. Apparently, that worked, because this looked like the old Johnson, not the one who gave up nine runs to the Cubs in five innings in that exhibition game on April Fool's Day, and not the one I saw get pounded all around the BOB on Opening Day against the Rockies. That day, he couldn't find the strike zone. Last night, his slider was sharp and he was pushing 95 MPH with his fastball. Good thing the Cubs will not likely face him again this year (the only other series vs. the D'backs being next week at Wrigley Field).

One of the reasons, I think, that the Cubs beat up on Johnson in Mesa, but were not able to only three weeks later in Phoenix, is that the Mesa game was a day game in bright sunshine, and the Phoenix game last night was at a huge stadium at night, and having been at the BOB several times, I don't think visibility for hitters is very good there. This is a real benefit to a hard thrower like the Big Unit.

Tonight, the Cubs face Brandon Webb, who they also beat up pretty good in an exhibition game at the BOB on April 2. Sergio Mitre, who has thrown very well this year, will face him, and Todd Walker will be back in the starting lineup after sitting out the last two games against left-handed starters, the first two games the Cubs have played against lefty starters this season.