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Doing It With A Net

This morning, the City of Chicago approved the interim steps the Cubs had taken to prevent any more concrete chunks from falling at Wrigley Field, and so today's game went on as scheduled, with huge nets draped under the upper deck.

It looks odd, though from the bleachers it's far enough away that you don't really notice, or at least you can tune them out. They also draped nets above some of the ramps in the bleachers themselves, but I also noticed places above the bleacher ramps where some concrete had fallen away (you could see the steel retaining rods, and you shouldn't be able to see those) and they did NOT put any nets in those places. There haven't been any problems in the bleachers anyway, and so the rest of the season should continue unimpaired.

One radio station with a sense of humor was handing out yellow plastic hard hats with the station's logo on it (anything for a promotion, right?) and there were plenty of people wandering around the bleachers with them on. Of course, once you're in a bleacher seat, there's nothing over your head anyway, right?

Actually, today there were many flying objects going over our heads, absolutely none of them concrete. Eight home runs were hit (oddly, none by the majors' HR leader, Jim Thome, who was a harmless 0-for-5 with two strikeouts), three by Aramis Ramirez, yet it was an inning with a couple of bloopy little singles and some really bad defense by the Phillies, which overcame a three-run deficit and got the Cubs their seventh win in the last ten games, 10-7 over the fading Phils, who have lost five in a row -- and the Cubs didn't even have to pretend they were the Marlins to do it.

That's because I had my secret weapon today -- my friend Tom, an old friend from my college days at Colgate University, who's been making an annual pilgrimage to Wrigley Field since 1998, either to root for the Mets (accident of birth, folks -- he grew up on Long Island in New York), or, this year, for the Cubs against one of the Mets' main rivals. He claims he's death to the Phillies, and he'll be held to that all weekend, though he's not coming to tomorrow's game, only Sunday's. I figure that since Tom will be in the city of Chicago tomorrow, that's good enough.

It was a cool day for late July, only 70 degrees at game time, with low clouds seemingly threatening rain, though it never did. This made even weirder the sight of Phillies catcher Todd Pratt spraying the LF bleachers with the groundskeepers' water hose, something that is the bane of my existence -- I cannot imagine why they let him do this. I hope it turns out to be a one-time thing.

Anyway, as an honored guest, Tom was included in the Tomato Ritual, holding my scorecard while the tomato piece was dropped. It landed on the fourth inning, which was when the Cubs came from behind the first time, tying the game at three on Derrek Lee's two-run bomb, one of the few homers today that didn't leave the premises completely and wind up on the street. After Bobby Abreu worked a 2-0 count off Mark Prior (who was WAY off today, incidentally) in the top of the fifth, Tom was afraid that Prior would lay one right down the middle for him (because he had just walked Placido Polanco and didn't seem like he could find the plate with one of the nets) which he promptly did, into the juniper bushes.

This is when I said to Howard, "I don't think six runs is going to win this game."

Seriously, ask him. I did say this, and with the wind blowing out, Ramirez hit his second homer of the game in the sixth, and that's when the fun started, and Larry Bowa was checking his voicemail after each batter to make sure he still had a job.

Two singles later, Jose Macias pinch-hit for Jon Leicester (who threw yet another stellar inning-plus today and got the win), and bounced one high to third, and David Bell returned the favor by throwing high to the plate, making it 6-5. Mark Grudzielanek duck-snorted (sorry, but that's what those things DO look like!) a ball in between Abreu, Polanco and Thome.

Corey Patterson followed with a single, and the inning could have been even bigger than the five runs that did score if plate umpire Paul Schrieber hadn't blown the call on Grudzielanek trying to score.

Sammy Sosa, who came into the game 8-for-48 against lefthanders this year with zero homers, finally figured out that if you shorten up and try to go the opposite way, you can actually hit that way, and his opposite-field single drove in the final run of the inning.

The Cubs needed all of those runs, too, as Kyle Farnsworth decided he'd rather issue walks than get outs; he walked the first batter he faced (and inexplicably kept throwing sliders instead of his 100 MPH fastball -- the only reason I can fathom is that he threw an inning yesterday), a tradition by now, and then the first batter he faced in the next inning just for good measure, but Ramirez slammed his third homer of the day way onto the street, and then Farnsworth was involved in one of the weirdest plays you'll ever see.

First of all, I was surprised Dusty even had Kyle in the game, since he had thrown an inning yesterday, and then even more surprised to see him bat for himself... but since Dusty's alternative was to put Todd Wellemeyer in the game, something he seems physically incapable of bringing himself to do, Farnsworth batted.

Here's what ESPN.com's game log says Kyle did in that at-bat:

Roberto Hernandez pitches to Kyle Farnsworth
Pitch 1: ball 1
Pitch 2: ball 2
Pitch 3: strike 1 (looking)
Pitch 4: strike 2 (swinging)
Pitch 5: foul
Pitch 6: ball 3

Well now, that's not an entire at-bat, is it? The boxscore says that Farnsworth walked, which isn't right either.

Here's what really happened. On that 3-2 pitch, Farnsworth hit a sharp grounder back to Hernandez. Michael Barrett, who was on second base with one out, had broken for third. Hernandez ran right at him and almost had him dead to rights, but threw poorly to second, and Barrett was safe. When the ball scooted into center field, both runners set out for the next base -- Barrett was safe at third, but Farnsworth was thrown out, sliding headfirst into second base.

So the proper scoring is, Farnsworth reached base on an E-1, and then got thrown out 8-6.

That's got to go into the top ten funniest things I've ever seen a pitcher do in a major league baseball game.

And then not satisfied with this play, Hernandez wild-pitched Barrett home for the tenth run.

When the Phillies started playing Alphonse & Gaston, we figured Larry Bowa was being fired, and then each time they did something else goofy, we'd say, "Larry! Ed Wade's calling! You're fired again!"

Groan all you want, but the Cubs won today and so laughs were permitted and plentiful. Ramirez was on deck in the bottom of the eighth when Lee grounded out, and we all kind of groaned, because it'd have been nice to see A-Ram with a shot at the history books.

But we'll take the win, and hope we see the history on Sunday. Speaking of which, the Cubs have put on the scoreboard, on the bottom line on the AL side, the note:
GREG MADDUX 299
which knowing Maddux, probably just embarrasses him (and besides, it's not like the HR chase, which could be updated a couple of times a game -- this one can only be updated once!). I spotted him during BP standing about 60 feet from the 400-foot marker in CF, working on his pitches, working on his mechanics, the master craftsman never satisfied with his work. He's about the most modest superstar I think I've seen in modern baseball, and that's refreshing.