I have witnesses, three of them: Jeff, Mike and Matt (who's now 3-0 at Wrigley Field this year and so is being urged to return often).
It's the bottom of the eighth and Jerry Hairston has just been hit by a pitch, and hard, and that had to hurt in the increasing cold.
And I said to the three of them:
"What's the most ridiculous thing that could happen right now?"
We all agreed: the MOST ridiculous thing would be for Neifi! to hit a three-run homer, landing right in our laps.
Well, I got most of it right, anyway. It landed more toward right-center, and down about ten rows, but there it was, Neifi!'s third homer of the season (only one off the club lead, for heaven's sake) and I looked over and Mike and Matt were laughing their heads off and Jeff was sitting with his head down, shaking it from left to right...
And I said, "Maybe I ought to save those for more important occasions."
The Cub offense woke up on a day with the wind blowing out and stomped on the Reds 10-6; the whole Neifi! thing would have been much funnier if Chad Fox hadn't given the three runs back on two walks and an Adam Dunn homer that not only cleared our heads, but cleared Sheffield Avenue, the sidewalk, and hit the building across the street on the fly. With the temperature dropping and everyone fleeing for warmer climes, Mike Remlinger had to be summoned to get the last two outs.
The weirdness started right after the gates opened, and a plane flew over carrying a banner saying:
Jeff and I looked down a few rows to some commotion and we realized that Brooke and Billy were right there in the bleachers. Naturally, we yelled for her to say "No!" Apparently, she had already accepted.
Meanwhile, baseballs were leaving the yard with alarming frequency during BP, which led me to my usual conclusion that it doesn't matter what you see in BP; I've seen literally dozens of games where you think it's going to be a 10 homer, 15-12 game, and it winds up 2-1.
That's how this one started -- Mark Prior didn't have his best command, and walked two in the first two innings, but settled down enough to have ten strikeouts; he got a bit more efficient in the last couple of innings, but 101 pitches is rather a lot for such a performance. He allowed his first two earned runs of the season, the first of which was a no-wind-needed shot to left by Austin Kearns in the fourth, giving the Reds a brief 1-0 lead.
The Cubs took it back in the bottom of the inning with -- GASP! -- some timely two-out bleeder hits by Jeromy Burnitz and Michael Barrett (who seems to be coming out of his slump; he had two other hits and two RBI tonight), and the key blow putting the ballclub ahead for good was a two-run double by Derrek Lee in the fifth, after Neifi! had driven in the lead run with a base hit to right.
The evening started fairly nice; as I mentioned in the open thread, it was in the low to mid 60's when the park opened, but the wind wouldn't die down as it often does in the early Chicago evenings, and by the time the ninth inning hit, it was, well, pretty darn cold. Fortunately, the ten runs and twelve hits tonight (five for extra bases) will do a good job of masking the fact that Fox did an absolutely rotten job of shutting down the Reds with a seven-run lead. He then left the game, apparently injured -- maybe this will finally give Mike Wuertz, who got a nice called third strike on Kearns tonight, a chance to close.
Much as I've criticized LaTroy Hawkins, he did not deserve to get booed tonight, and why is that? Because he was in the game where he belongs, in the EIGHTH inning. If not for a Neifi! error (OK, so he's human after all), he'd have had a 1-2-3 inning. Once we figure out exactly who the ninth-inning pitcher should be, Hawkins is one of the top setup men in baseball, has been for quite some time, and I believe will continue to be effective IF limited to that role.
The people sitting in front of us noticed that all four of us were keeping score, and one woman sitting with them said, "Oh, I used to keep stats for my cousin, who's now with the Boston Red Sox."
Who's that, I asked.
Kevin Youkilis, known to many as "The Greek God Of Walks", even though he's not Greek.
So that was cool, and I left her some BCB cards to take back to Where magazine, where she works (you probably know this magazine if you travel -- it's the one you find in a lot of hotel rooms, with information about the city you're in).
Tonight's game solves none of the problems afflicting the Cubs, but a win is a win. Tomorrow, once again the Cubs will attempt to win three games in a row for the first time this season.
And I'd like all BCB readers to join me in the quest to put Neifi! on the All-Star team.
Think about it. Other than Colorado's Clint Barmes, who is also off to an unconscious start, name me another shortstop in the National League who's hitting as well as Neifi!
You can't, can you.
You'll have to write him in -- but go over to MLB.com and let's get Neifi! on the NL All-Star team!
UPDATE [2005-4-26 9:03:45 by Al]: A couple more notes from last night... Paul Friedman returned as PA announcer, and what a difference. He knows how to pronounce names, how to read the Cub lineup with more enthusiasm than the visitors, gives lineup changes accurately, and it was just a pleasure to hear him.
I had no idea Reds fans disliked us so much.