PHOENIX, Arizona -- Oh, I was SO proud of myself.
Arriving early at the BOB, avoiding most of the traffic, I found a place to park about five blocks from the stadium -- free, on the street.
This would have been great, except after the game, I took the wrong exit out of the park and wound up taking about a ten-block tour of Phoenix' finest rail yards. I had to double back, actually go back into the BOB and back out the right exit to get to my car.
I know you don't feel sorry for me, but this is just about how the Cubs must have felt tonight in a maddeningly frustrating 5-4 loss to the Diamondbacks, evening the series and season record at one win and one loss.
Tonight's crowd was smaller and far more easygoing than the frenetic activity of Opening Day. I checked out some of the newer food stands; they have opened one called "Ribbies" -- rather obvious play on words, serving barbecue-style stuff, and I had a "Pulled Chicken" sandwich that was actually pretty good, though pricey at $6.50.
The two letter I's in the following photo are supposed to, I guess, represent ribs. I leave it to you, dear reader, to decide for yourself what they may look like:
As usual, click on photo to open full-size in a new browser window
Finally settled in along with my friend John who lives here, and his teenage son Josh who spent most of the game text messaging (never could figure out the attraction of that), on to the ballgame.
Greg Maddux ... well, he made two mistakes, both to Luis Gonzalez, and Luis hit both of them to almost the same spot in dead right field, the first a two-run homer, the second a solo job. This is something that Maddux did with disturbing regularity last year, allowing a career-high 35 homers, and I hope this doesn't continue that trend.
Sandwiched in between Gonzo's homers was a three-run shot by Todd Hollandsworth that bounced off the top of the wall and into the swimming pool in right center.
On Gonzo's second homer, Jeromy Burnitz tried to leap over the wall and grab it, just barely missing. Think our last right fielder would have even attempted that?
The eventual winning run scored after a questionable umpiring call at 2B in the bottom of the fifth. With one on and none out, D'backs catcher Chris Snyder grounded up the middle. Rather than just throw him out at first, Nomar decided to try to tag the runner, Chad Tracy, coming from first. From my vantage point (and that of several thousand other blue-clad Cub fans down the RF line) Tracy looked out, but 2B umpire Dan Iassogna called him safe. Two more singles followed, including one from pitcher Russ Ortiz (who, with a .206 lifetime average coming into 2005, is a pretty good hitter), and the D'backs had a 5-3 lead.
The Cubs had the tying run in scoring position in the 8th with nobody out and the middle of the lineup up -- and nothing doing. Aramis Ramirez struck out in the middle of this sequence, and I know how many of you hate the strikeouts, and so do I, but Ramirez didn't get cheated, worked the count, and it was just a matter of this time, the pitcher won the battle.
In the 9th, after Derrek Lee (who was identified on the stat part of the scoreboard correctly, but right next to that was a big picture of him labeled "DEREK LEE") daringly stole second with two out, Dusty chose Neifi Perez to bat for the pitcher.
You can rail about this all you want, but what choice did he have, really? With only five bench players, and Jose Macias having already pinch-hit (he popped up weakly), you're not going to run your backup catcher out there. I guess it was the "platoon" differential, as the other choices -- Jason Dubois and Jerry Hairston -- both hit righthanded and Perez doesn't.
Actually, Neifi didn't have a bad at-bat, and nearly stretched out his legs enough to beat out a deep grounder to short, but alas, not enough, the game ended.
Good things today: the bullpen was excellent, throwing three innings of one-hit, four-strikeout relief, and that included Chad Fox, who couldn't have found the strike zone with a halogen beam during spring training. Michael Wuertz threw hard and threw strikes and I still think Dusty ought to consider at least trying him in the closer role.
Bad things today: After a very nice day at the plate yesterday, Corey Patterson led off the game with a four-pitch (one foul) strikeout. Nomar went 0-for-4 with two weak little popups to second, though one of the outs was an RBI groundout in the 8th.
The Diamondbacks announce the "total" attendance, not the paid crowd, and the stadium crowd was announced at 31,370, of which 30,260 were paid admissions. At least half were clad in Cubbie Blue, and we were way louder than the D'backs fans... well, except when Gonzo hit the homers. When he came up the third time, with two out, a runner on third and two runs already plated in the fifth, Maddux ran the count to 3-0 and then intentionally walked him, a smart move, I thought.
It was Maddux' only base on balls of the night. His six strikeouts brought his career total to 2922, seventy-eight short of the milestone number of 3000.
Sight seen: a very large man sat down two rows in front of me bearing a strong resemblance to Carlos Zambrano. I knew it couldn't be Z, though -- the guy sat quietly for the entire game.
Couldn't resist. We'll get 'em tomorrow.
Oh, and Chuck? Mark Prior will start Iowa's opener at Albuquerque on Thursday, throwing about 80 pitches, and remains on target to pitch against the Padres next Tuesday at Wrigley Field.