Jack Brickhouse, the legendary Cub announcer of the 50's, 60's and 70's, used to say after games like today's, "That'll be a happy plane ride for the ballclub!"
Or words to that effect.
And the Cubs' charter, which left right after the game for tomorrow's (Pacific time) twilight start (dictated by ESPN) ought to be a happy place indeed, after they smacked a really, really bad Rockies pitching staff for fifteen hits, including three home runs, and scored in double figures for the second time in three days, beating Colorado 11-6 to take the series three games to one.
The Cubs have also won five of seven and eight of twelve to get back to the .500 mark, and moved into second place with Houston's 2-1 win over Milwaukee this afternoon. The Cubs also picked up a game on the Cardinals, who lost to the Nationals 3-2.
Despite the threat of rain and wind shifting all over the place (it was blowing in when the gates opened, but by game time was a stiff breeze right in our faces, from the west), tickets were hard to come by. Unlike yesterday when I had extras (finally taken off my hands by my friend Ron from LF), today many people were seeking, not many finding, and it showed in the announced attendance count, 40,322 -- the largest crowd of the year so far. That's not something you would expect for a game vs. the Rockies on a Sunday; but as this is a holiday weekend, perhaps many people viewed this as another "Saturday", and since the Cubs are on the road for all three holiday dates this season, it was a chance for anyone wanting to attend the closest thing to a "holiday date" to do so.
Holiday dates aren't what they used to be. Years ago everyone would play day games and sometimes doubleheaders on holidays. Now, even with all three holidays occurring on Monday this year, not only does that not happen, but check out tomorrow's schedule -- ten of the thirty teams are off, treating it as just another travel Monday.
I ran into my friend Other Brian, who you may remember from last year turned into a jinx nearly every time he showed up. Today, he decided to sit in left field, ensconced with his mother-in-law and his kids -- and his son Aaron got a BP ball, so perhaps that was the good luck charm. If that's what it takes, I think I'll send them to LF every time they show up.
Meanwhile, back on our bench: when Jerry Hairston led off the bottom of the first with a single, Dave turned to me and said, "How much you want to bet he gets picked off?"
I replied, "I won't take that bet because I agree with you!"
It took only six pitches, three of which were used to retire Neifi Perez -- but on the third pitch to Derrek Lee, Hairston was picked off. He managed to draw a throw in an attempt to steal second, but was thrown out easily.
He didn't have a bad day -- played well enough in the field, and also drew an important walk in the Cubs' eventual game-winning rally in the sixth inning. But frankly, I hope this platoon arrangement that Dusty's been using with Todd Walker and Hairston stops pretty darn soon (though it likely won't tomorrow, as the Cubs face lefty Wilson Alvarez -- and Alvarez always gives us fits).
Speaking of Walker, he hit the first pinch-homer of his career in the seventh inning today, putting a cap on the scoring and putting a dent in the side of a yellow Chicago School Transit bus parked right behind us on Sheffield. That was one of the three Cub homers today, one by Aramis Ramirez -- whose bat seems to have come alive again; he's put twenty points on his batting average in the last three days, and a three-run shot by Jeromy Burnitz to the opposite field.
Nope, no homers from Derrek Lee today, but he had a busy day anyway, with three hits, a walk, a stolen base and three runs scored, which gives him the current league lead in:
Home runs (16)
Runs (39, tied with Brady Clark of Milwaukee)
Batting average (.366)
Slugging percentage (.738)
Amazing. Talk about an MVP season. Derrek's starting to get the sort of adulation that Sammy Sosa got on each at-bat. There was definitely a buzz in the ballpark each time D-Lee came up to bat, and like him or not, that's something that Sammy used to do and something that's been missing from Wrigley Field this year. The ballclub needs that sort of energy, feeds off that sort of energy.
Yes, we'll keep it up!
Meanwhile, Sergio Mitre was handing the Rockies back pretty much every run that the Cubs scored; Preston Wilson hit a monstrous home run onto Waveland Avenue, and Dave and I discussed the merits of possibly acquiring Wilson. He's got a pretty large contract -- $12 million this year -- but he's always hit well in Wrigley Field and he could probably be obtained for a couple of bags of used baseballs, that's how much the Rockies would like to shed his contract.
Yes, I know Wilson strikes out a lot. But he's got tremendous power -- two years ago, before various injuries put him on the shelf, he had a 141-RBI season with a decent OBA, despite the strikeouts.
Wilson turns 31 in July and appears healthy. Despite the fact that it'd put Jason Dubois on the bench (or maybe in a Rockies uniform), I might do something like this. Until Ramirez woke up a couple of days ago, D-Lee was carrying this team by his lonesome. Having Lee, Ramirez and Wilson would take a lot of pressure off the rest of the offense.
I see I've majorly digressed here.
When Mitre was finally yanked for Roberto Novoa, Dave was nearly beside himself -- "Here's the state of the Cub bullpen, when they are in a one-run game and this is the guy they go go." Novoa promptly proved him right by allowing a two-run, lead-changing single, runs charged to Mitre; but then he struck out Wilson to end the inning, the key play of the game, according to Dave, and he was right.
This is what is known as "vulturing" a win, after Phil Regan, who in the 1960's was well-known for doing stuff like this -- blowing a lead, then getting the win, particularly in the LA Dodgers' pennant year of 1966, when he was 14-1.
To be fair, Dave also praised Dusty for his use of the rest of the bullpen. I agree. Joe Borowski still didn't have very good velocity today -- he topped out at 89 MPH. But -- he was throwing strikes, had good movement and spotted his pitches well. Dave and I agreed that if this continues, you have your seventh-inning setup man. Mike Wuertz came in and threw a scoreless eighth -- there's your 8th-inning guy.
Ryan Dempster would have thrown the ninth in a save situation; instead Will Ohman had an uneventful inning, ending the game with two strikeouts. So the trade of LaTroy Hawkins has already paid dividends -- it's slotted several relief pitchers into defined roles. This almost always produces better relief results.
Yes, the Rockies are a really bad team. Dave asked me if I thought they could threaten the 2003 Tigers' mark, and I said no -- I think even a bad Rockies team has an advantage at Coors Field (they're currently 10-11 at home), but that they might lose 110 games, and so might the Royals.
Dave might have been a little distracted today. At one point he asked me, "Why isn't the Boston/New York score on the board? Shouldn't they have that instead of, say, Seattle/Tampa Bay?"
This ordinarily would have been a cogent and reasonable question, so I gently pointed out to Dave that the Red Sox/Yankees game is the ESPN night game, and thus an easy choice to leave off the board, which has enough space for only six games in each league.
And so the Cubs move on to the Left Coast, playing a vulnerable Dodger team and then on to a stern test in San Diego, where the Padres have the best home record in baseball at 16-4. I know that some of you are Californians and will attend these games, and I hope you'll post your experiences in the diaries over the next week.
And bring us some wins, please!