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Can't Anybody Here Close This Game?

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If you are a student of baseball history you will recognize the title as a paraphrase of a famous quote from legendary manager Casey Stengel, who, when surveying his woeful 1962 Mets one day, said:

Can't anybody here play this game?

Some sources quote this as:
Can't anybody play this here game?

Same thing, pretty much.

And so it was today, when our newest anointed closer, Ryan Dempster, failed. This cost Mark Prior another win (and vultured it for Dempster himself) -- Prior ought to have five now, having put the Cubs in a position to win both last Friday and today.

Thank the stars and the heavens for Derrek Lee, who hit a ball that likely would have landed in Evanston on another day -- today, with a howling north wind, it was just far enough (after a spectacular 11-pitch at-bat) for a walkoff homer and the Cubs beat the Mets 4-3 in 10 innings, and have now won three of their last four.

OK, it's a start.

Tuesday night = July
Wednesday afternoon = November

After sitting in 77-degree temperatures last night in shorts and a t-shirt, today the game-time temp was 49, and the wind announced at 14 MPH, which is a barefaced lie. It had to be at least 25-30 MPH, gusting higher, and I wasn't dressed for it -- I had to zip my Cub jacket collar over my ears, and thanks much to Howard, who had an extra pair of VERY attractive gloves for me; otherwise I felt frostbite coming on!

Jeff and Howard and I were also joined by faithful BCB reader JD and friend (incidentally -- any of you who have bleacher tickets, let me know if you're coming, and we'll save you seats), but it wasn't a day really very conducive to conversation. Still, it was nice to meet another BCB reader, and of course, now that the Cubs won in his presence in dramatic fashion, he'll have to return.

Sitting in the rest of the row were three twentysomething women who at one point asked us to watch their seats while they went to get food. The price, I said, was to take one of my BCB business cards and to tell their friends. So if you are one of them, or a friend, welcome!

Before we get to the dramatic ending, let's talk about what I am thinking of as "One Enchanted Inning" (and that was going to be the title of today's post had the 9th gone the way it was supposed to go!) -- that being the second inning, where the normal flow of baseball was interrupted by the following:

  • four walks, including one to a pitcher
  • an error on an easy play
  • a hit batsman
  • a balk
  • a run wild-pitched in
  • and, most amusingly, a popup that fell in between no fewer than four Mets fielders
This all resulted in two Mets runs and three Cub runs, even though there was only one solidly-hit ball by each side in its half of the inning -- a Victor Diaz double that would have been a three-run homer on any other day, but today stayed in the park for a two-run double. This was after Jerry Hairston decided to "style" a bit on what should have been an easy double-play grounder.

Hairston made up for this by getting himself hit by Victor ("The Other") Zambrano in the bottom of the inning, advancing to second on the aforementioned popup by Henry Blanco, moving up a base with Blanco on a balk, and then Hairston scoring on a wild pitch.

Following me so far? Well, never mind. Suffice to say that Neifi! had the other solid hit in the inning, a line-drive single that scored the lead run.

And that was it until the ninth -- Prior retired twelve in a row at one point, after struggling into the fourth with 70 pitches, and he allowed only another single to Diaz, who wound up being thrown out stealing by Blanco by about 20 feet.

Blanco's value was shown again in the next inning when he swiftly caught a popped-up bunt behind the plate, and Will Ohman proceeded to finish the 8th uneventfully. If Blanco could only hit even a little bit, he'd be tremendously valuable. Today he had a decent offensive day with the popup-looks-like-a-line-drive-in-the-boxscore single and two walks.

Dempster couldn't hold the lead, and again, what I feared was going to be his downfall was indeed his downfall -- the one-out walk. After looking really good striking out Mike Piazza, he walked Doug Mien... er, Men... er, Mint... oh, you know, that Doug guy, and three batters later, the tying run was driven in by the sort of hitter that's been driving the Cubs nuts all year -- Eric Valent. Yes, superstar Eric Valent, who entered the game hitting .148 with ZERO RBI.

Further, Dempster stopped a ball in his second inning of work (the 10th) with his forearm, and will be examined tonight -- so we may need yet another closer.

Back to bunting for a moment -- can someone please teach Todd Hollandsworth how to do it? After looking really bad popping the first attempt into the seats in the bottom of the 9th, he did it again on the next pitch and David Wright caught it.

Now, I don't disagree with this strategy -- in a tie game in the bottom of the ninth you want the winning run on third with less than two out. Yes, even if you're the Cubs, who rank 24th of 30 teams this year in getting such runners home. But after the first failed attempt, maybe it would have been a better idea to just swing away.

But! After that Corey, who must have been jealous of Prior's walk in the second, drew a four-pitch walk off LOOGY Dae-Sung Koo (isn't that a car?).

Now, here's where I disagreed with strategy. Neifi! was at bat. I might have tried a suicide squeeze -- you've got a good baserunner (Hairston) on third, and there's only one out, and Neifi! is a good bunter.

Instead, he did exactly what Jeff said was the one thing we didn't want -- hit into a double play, and worse, a 1-2-3 double play.

Luckily, Lee saved the day with his walkoff homer off Heath Bell -- Howard wrote his name on the scorecard as Bill Heath, who if you've been around long enough you'll remember as the guy who caught Kenny Holtzman's first no-hitter, one of only nine games he caught for the 1969 Cubs.

I see I've gotten way off topic -- must be still thawing out from this afternoon. We saw at least five of the usual idiots sitting there with their shirts off in the 36-degree windchill, and the 38,475 announced crowd was probably about half that in the house -- Phil chickened out even though he had a ticket.

It was worth it, and games like this CAN give a big lift going on the road. On Friday, we shall see if indeed it did.

Keep the faith.

UPDATE [2005-5-11 21:13:09 by Al]: Still thinking about Yankees reliever Felix Rodriguez?

Fuhgeddaboudit.

He was placed on the 15-day DL today with torn knee cartilage.

Chuck over at Ivy Chat suggests going after Billy Wagner, and this isn't such a bad idea.