TUCSON, Arizona -- It was the bottom of the 9th, and frankly it was a pretty sloppy game, though the Cubs had come from 6-0 down to tie it in the top of the inning.
I was tired and it's an exhibition game and it wasn't clear whether Dusty had brought enough pitchers to go extra innings, and so I said out loud, with the winning Colorado run on 2nd with two out:
Darned if that's not exactly what happened, though I was pointing down the LF line and the ball, hit by Andy Tracy, went to RF, scoring the game-winner in a 7-6 Cub loss to the Rockies that was way more exciting than it had any right to be.
For the first time since I've been here, it was one of those high-sky Southwest days where the blue goes on forever, and that is what we saw on our just-short-of-two-hour drive from Phoenix to Hi Corbett Field in Tucson. Mike spent the drive admiring the scenery (it's his first time here) and looking for creosote (not Mr. Creosote, the vomiting Monty Python character, but the plant native to this area). He didn't spot any.
It's been 21 years since I've been to a game in Tucson, and they've almost totally rehabbed 60-something-year-old Hi Corbett in that time, with new seating, food stands (the "Rockies Dog" with onions and peppers was good, but the service was reeeeeeeeeal slow) and a $2 program that is the only one in the Cactus League that lists non-roster invitees for all teams, not just the home team.
Hi Corbett is also laid out oddly. Most baseball parks have home plate in the southwest corner (Wrigley Field, for example). Some (the Cell, Miller Park) have the plate in the northwest corner. But Hi Corbett's plate is in the northEAST corner, meaning that if you were to play a night game there this time of year, you'd have the sun setting in the eyes of a righthanded batter. That, of course, was irrelevant today, and we were happy to be behind 3B in the bright sunshine, because it was a bit cool (65 degrees), and you could tell who the locals were -- they were all dressed in jackets and pants, while I broke out the shorts and sandals today.
We arrived to find the main parking lots full, but that was actually good news. They shunted us off to free parking at a nearby mall, only a 10-minute walk away.
Greg Maddux threw well today. You can look at the box score and see 6 IP, 5 ER, but the first four innings were done in a breeze (and he also was throwing strikes, having 7 K's), and I'd argue that even though only one run was unearned, due to a Jose Macias throwing error (one of three made by a pretty-bad-fielding Cub team today), Maddux might have gotten out of the fourth allowing only two runs. He also had a single that really crackled off the bat. Mike's comment about all this is that Maddux, 39 years old in three weeks, has little margin for error now, he must get by on his considerable smarts and he knows it, and the second HR allowed (to Clint Barmes, hardly a power hitter) is something he can't have happen during the regular season.
The Cubs came back with three in the seventh, two in the 8th and one in the 9th; Jason Dubois hit a 400-foot triple for one of the RBI and then had a really nice at-bat in the 8th, drawing a walk, which we all agreed probably upset Dusty Baker.
That is, if Baker was even paying attention today. I guess the child restrictions on kids in the dugout doesn't apply to spring training, because there was little Darren Baker, now about six years old or so, sitting next to Dad for the whole game. He didn't come anywhere near home plate, though.
The sellout crowd of 8,587 was about 2/3 Cub fans and we had seats four rows behind the 1B dugout (there's no grass berm at Hi Corbett), in a section where the seats and the stands are aluminum bleachers, which leads to the inevitable stomping up and down noisily. We also were seated right in front of a group of several Cub fans who treated this game like it was game 7 of the World Series, whooping and hollering at every Cub hit.
OK, we were happy too, but pace yourselves!
The LOOGY sweepstakes are still on, as the candidates -- Will Ohman and Stephen Randolph -- both threw today. Ohman edged ahead with a quick scoreless inning with two strikeouts. Randolph came in an inning later with a runner on second and two out, and induced an inning-ending groundout.
I'd pick Ohman, but I think the jury's still out, and further I have learned today that any Cub bullpen help is going to come from within, that there doesn't seem to be anything "out there" that Jim Hendry can pick up at a fair price.
Perhaps when Kerry Wood and Mark Prior are both healthy, this can still give Ryan Dempster a shot at closing. And that's because I still cringe at the thought of writing a (9) next to LaTroy Hawkins' name on my scorecard.
Patience, all. There's a week to go. Today's loss, despite the disappointment of the rabid rooters sitting behind us, was made by a team with only two regulars (Todd Walker, who left his #7 jersey in Mesa, and wore #60 today, and Michael Barrett) -- maybe three if you count Todd Hollandsworth and/or Jason Dubois. This is the Cubs' final trip to Tucson this March, and I'd expect beginnning tomorrow, you'll see a lot more of the everyday lineup playing a lot more of the games.
Kevin Collins, who hit 33 HR at Lansing last year, pinch-hit for Randolph in the 9th and hit a booming double. He bears watching this year.
It was also gratifying to see Dave Hansen, who had an emergency appendectomy only a couple of weeks ago, back in uniform, and on the field at 3B, where he fielded several chances flawlessly, and batted twice, going 0-for-2. If Hansen is healthy enough to make the team, maybe we can say bye-bye to Jose Macias, at last.