MESA, Arizona -- You have seen the cartoons on this site, drawn by my friend Mike, a man I have known for 25 years.
Today, he joined me at a spring training game for the first time. Jeff, who sits with us at dozens of games each year, called me this morning to say he was sick (of losing baseball? or really sick? I'm not sure), so he didn't come.
But we were joined by several other friends -- Jessica from NY, her friend John, who lives here, and therein lies a story. John owes me dinner tonight, from a bet we made last year about the Brewers -- we were discussing the Richie Sexson deal, and I said I didn't think it'd make the Brewers better, he did, and he said it would, so I bet him the Brewers wouldn't have a better record in 2004 than 2003. They started out on fire, with a winning record at the All-Star break. Then they had the worst 2nd-half record ever for a team that had a winning record at the ASB, and in the end, the very last game of the season decided it -- they lost, and thus, I won dinner tonight.
We were also joined by Rob of 6-4-2, the Dodgers/Angels "double play" blog, his wife Helen and a couple of friends of theirs who are Padres fans. We talked a lot about our respective teams (he's primarily an Angels fan, or at least he was dressed like one today) and though I think the Angels have to be the favorites in the AL West, he's picking Oakland.
They were off tonight to see the Padres play the A's at Phoenix Muni, but they'll be back on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Cubs were stinking out the joint again, losing dispiritedly to the Angels 6-4.
I've been talking to Mike while writing this post and he wanted to make the following key points about today's game:
First, Carlos Zambrano pitched not quite as well as in his dominant last start. He had good stuff but not his command, and the key inning for him was the fourth when Robb Quinlan led off with yet another ball that Corey Patterson let fly over his head (willya play deeper, please, Corey? Jim Edmonds, you are NOT), and he bore down and retired the next three batters on an infield popup, a fly to right, and a strikeout of Kelvim Escobar.
Second, Sergio Mitre, who wound up allowing the second and third runs off Z by allowing a ringing double to Orlando Cabrera, is rapidly pitching his way off the team. It's too bad, because I think they may be running him out there to showcase him for a trade, and his trade value is dropping as fast as Corey's OBA did last September.
Finally, Mike was as impressed in one day with Nomar's play both in the field and at the plate, as the rest of us have been all spring. Nomar seems to be a man possessed with the desire to prove that he can return to the level he established in 2000-2001, when he was winning batting titles. I'd hope that if he starts the season on fire like this, and he's shown every indication that he's perfectly healthy, that Jim Hendry ought to sign him to a contract extension.
Hendry's got to be burning up the cellphone lines after Chad Fox again had a not-so-good ninth inning; after whipping off what looked like a 95-MPH fastball to get Curtis Pride on strikes, the next batter whipped a ball just as fast up the middle for an RBI single -- this after Fox had wild-pitched David Matranga into scoring position after a walk. Fox is maddening -- you can see he has ability, but he drives you nuts with walks and ill-timed wild pitches like this.
Kind of like a nicer Kyle Farnsworth. You'd like to see him succeed, but you fear that he'll do this all year.
Offensively, Z and Derrek Lee homered for the Cubs and that was about it for the offense. In the 9th, Francisco Rodriguez came in to close for the Angels, probably the first closer I've actually seen in the closing spot (I'm not including LaTroy Hawkins the other day because I hope he's NOT going to be the Cubs' closer), and he promptly gave up a single to Angel Echevarria, then struck out two hitters, gave up another single (to Henry Blanco, after, of all things, a walk to Neifi!) scoring Echevarria, who had advanced to second on a wild pitch.
Jason Dubois came up next, and you know what? It actually felt like you were seeing a power hitter come up who could win the game with one swing.
And he had a pretty good at bat, fouling off a couple of pitches before Rodriguez snapped off a really nice backdoor slider to end the game.
Sight seen: as Mike & I were waiting in line, a young couple asked me if I were Al. I said yes -- didn't recognize them. Turns out they were from Iowa and had sat in front of us in the bleachers a couple of times last year. Small world.
Tomorrow, Mike & I will take the drive down to Tucson for the Cubs/Rockies matchup at venerable old (as venerable as things get here in Arizona!) Hi Corbett Field, and I'll report from there late tomorrow. Mike also brought a couple of cartoons down here, and as soon as I can find a place with a scanner, I'll get them posted here too.
Naysayers note: Kerry Wood threw four innings in a simulated game today and will start Tuesday against the Brewers unless there are any further back problems.
I refuse to panic until there is actual news to panic about.