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The Wind Was Blowing Which Way, Now?

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In the 9th inning of game one today, my phone rang.

It was my friend Maze from Los Angeles, a Padres fan. He asked how the weather was.

I told him the wind was blowing IN about 900 miles an hour, and the Padres were winning 8-2. He was following the game and said, "The wind was blowing IN?"

He knew, as all of us in attendance did, that the two teams had combined for five home runs in the first game. It made very little sense -- especially Geoff Blum's two dingers, from a guy who normally hits 8 or 10 in an entire season, one from each side of the plate -- but that's what happened.

By the time the day was over the Cubs and Padres had traded 8-3 decisions, and it was almost as if the teams had gone into their respective clubhouses between games and switched uniforms, not just game scores, that's how different the two games felt.

How else can you explain a day where Neifi Perez started BOTH games and got three hits in each one?

How else can you explain a day where Mark Prior, coming off what some think was a season-threatening injury, to turn in a sparkling six-inning, four-hit, six-strikeout performance... and get two hits at the plate?

How else can you explain a day when we all groaned when the second-game lineup was announced, a lineup that read like a spring training split-squad game... and that was the lineup that blasted out seven runs in two innings off Brian Lawrence? Dave, had he been in the bleachers with us, would have said that that lineup included only ONE genuine major league player -- Derrek Lee.

Lee, for his part, came through with his second five-RBI game of the season, slamming a three-run homer into the LCF bleachers, against the wind that was officially measured at 18 MPH in the box score for game two (16 MPH for game one), but appeared to be gusting to over 35 MPH at times. We were blocked from most of the wind where we were sitting, especially when the wind shifted directly out of the north (instead of the northeast, where it began the day) and we were blocked by the scoreboard and the CF bleachers.

At one point some people came by and said they heard rumors it was snowing on the ramp. I had gone down there between games to attempt to go to the men's room (no luck, the line was halfway up the ramp) and it felt cold enough to snow, that's for sure -- 47 degrees. In the sun it felt fine, but the announced crowd of 39,230 was never anywhere near that number. By the middle of the second game it had dwindled to the usual people huddled up in the sun down the RF line, with most of the rest of the park empty, and by the 9th inning, there probably weren't more than 4,000 people left.

Still, even with two games played today, the day ended time-wise (about 5:50 pm) before either of the two extra-inning games over the weekend. That's rare for a doubleheader, to end in less than six hours, and it would have been shorter if Dusty hadn't insisted on a wasted pitching change in the 8th inning after Mike Remlinger walked the only two batters he faced. Chad Fox came in, and here is an excellent illustration of why ERA's for relief pitchers are misleading.

Remlinger's ERA for the day is infinite -- zero IP, 2 ER. Fox's is 0.00 -- 1 IP, zero ER.

Who pitched worse? Remlinger, who walked the only men he faced? Or Fox, who allowed a hit scoring one run and then a sacrifice fly scoring the other, which he then followed up with a walk?

OK, neither had a stellar day. But Fox looks good, keeping his season ERA at 0, while Remlinger's jumps to 4.50.

This post has been kind of stream-of-consciousness, and I need to wrench it back on topic.

Only three of us sat together today -- Jon, Howard and me. Jon saved seats while I was at work, and working till noon, I missed the first inning. In doing so I missed most of Kerry Wood's ugly pitching, beginning with the leadoff homer to Blum, then a hit batsman, a couple of walks, and all this before anyone was retired.

If you eliminate the first seven batters of the game, Wood pitched 6.1 innings, allowing six hits, two runs, with no walks and six strikeouts. Too bad Kerry wasn't ready to start when everyone else was. You can quibble with Dusty stretching him out to 112 pitches, but I understand this, not knowing how much he'd need the bullpen in game two.

I still can't figure out all the home runs, particularly Blum's second one of the first game off Cliff Bartosh, which was a high fly ball -- all the rest of them, including Corey Patterson's first of the year, were low line drives -- the second Blum homer would have probably hit the far side of Waveland Avenue if not for the wind.

I'll take some credit for Patterson's homer, incidentally. Just before it was hit, I yelled out, to no one in particular, "You suck, Corey!" BOOM! Homer. After yelling, "You still suck!", I did the same for the next two hitters, Perez and Nomar, and both got hits. The string ran out after that, although Aramis Ramirez hit the ball hard and out to third (and let me tell you, I didn't really want to say, "You suck, Aramis", or "You suck, Nomar", I only did it as a silly superstition) and then Jeromy Burnitz had an RBI sac fly, and it was 5-2, but that's as close as Jake Peavy let the Cubs get.

In game two, just the reverse happened. The Cubs came out swinging against Lawrence, everyone hit -- almost literally, by the end of the second inning, only Jose Macias and Henry Blanco didn't have hits (neither had one all game), and that allowed Prior to cruise. Two-thirds of his 92 pitches (63) were thrown for strikes, and he didn't walk anyone till his last inning of work, the sixth.

Mike Fontenot, who is listed as 5-8 but looks even shorter than that, made his major league debut (wearing #29) as a pinch-hitter for Mike Wuertz (who had his first shaky inning of the year, allowing a run on two hits and a walk), and when Fontenot drew a four-pitch walk, all three of us agreed: he immediately goes into Dusty's doghouse. You'd think that after Dusty watched an inning like the Padres 8th -- where Cub pitchers issued three walks and SD scored two runs -- that maybe he'd think "Gee, think this could work for us, too?"

Guess not.

Now, this series maybe feels worse than it should. The Padres are legitimate contenders and have been picked by many to win the NL West. Jake Peavy is one of the top pitchers in the National League. The Cubs lost a tough 1-0 game two days ago; win that one and you've won the series. Since it's lost, that gives you a .500 homestand instead of 4-2.

I know this team has shortcomings. But the return of Mark Prior gives me hope. The six GOOD innings that Kerry Wood threw today give me hope. The fact that the scrub team scored seven runs in two innings gives me hope.

Look at where other "good" teams are. The Cardinals lost today -- to the Reds. At home.

The Braves got blown out today. By the Nationals. At home. They lost two of three to Washington -- and their new closer blew a two-run lead in the 9th last night.

It's early. However, as I mentioned the other day, the next nineteen games are all vs. NL Central opponents. By the end of that stretch, we ought to know a lot more about where this year is going.

And, we hope that Ramirez' tweaked groin doesn't turn into anything more serious than that.

Sign seen: "Throwing Fire With Prior". After about two innings, I noticed that this sign had the words "WOOD AND" folded up and covered up.

Sign #2 seen: "I (heart) Wood". With "Wood" crossed off and "Prior" written in with sharpie.

Sign #3 seen: "I Want To Be A Cubs Wife -- Pop The Question, Patterson."

With that, till next time.