I had just arrived at my seat, sat down, got organized, and Jeff told me he had something for me.
It was a Proclamation from Mark, in from California bearing an important gift. Here is the Proclamation, in its entirety (and yes, Mark, it'd have been way easier if you'd have e-mailed me the file so I could have copied/pasted. But dedicated soul that I am, I re-type it here for all of you):
The crowds demanded that the Evil Woo of Left Field be sacrificed once and for all today, but the Laws of the State prohibit this as such. An appeal to the Good and Honourable Blagojevich the Just was not granted, and Woo was spared his life yet again. The shirtless, unwashed masses then clamored for the head of Number Twenty, known as Corey the Lost. This, too, was not allowed, as it is still hoped that he will, in time, findeth the instruction manuals for the Five Goodly Tools he is believed to possess.
We offer instead, our first-born tomato of the Summer Season. May its humble sacrifice bring us a multitude of Pitching, Defense and Three-Run Homers. May the many seeds that spilleth on the ceremonial scorecard bring the Beloved Cubbies the strength to smite our enemies from the evil Redbird Empire of the South.
Or at least the Wild Card.
Anno Domini 2005
Well, geez, how could I refuse such a well-planned and orchestrated and written ritual? The Tomato Inning has sort of fallen by the wayside this year, as I felt I couldn't duplicate its magic, but maybe I just had to wait for Tomato Harvest Season.
Jeff produced the Implement of Execution (a lovely plastic knife), we cut the tomato in half, and after a couple of false starts, the tomato piece landed squarely on the first- and second- inning squares of the players Howard lovingly has dubbed "Todd Hollandswalker".
Bingo! The two of them went five-for-eight, and the "Hollandsworth" portion of the duo drove in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, and the Cubs won their fourth in a row, 3-2 over the Brewers, on a lovely, sun-splashed (fortunately, not spritzer-water-splashed by Cub employees -- Bill, our favorite Security Guard, took care of that for us) afternoon at the Yard.
Dave and I noticed Kerry Wood's adjustments right away. It's very subtle -- but key; he's not throwing across his body as much any more, and he seemed much more within himself, just as Cub pitchers have been for the last four days, throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters. He threw a nearly effortless 91 pitches (65 strikes, and consistently hitting the mid-90's) in six innings, and perhaps as he and Mark Prior regain arm strength, the Cubs will at last realize that the 12th pitcher on the staff is not needed, and extra bench strength (Ben Grieve?) can be recalled from Iowa, or acquired on the waiver or trade market.
Unfortunately, Wood didn't get today's win, because the usually-reliable Glendon Rusch's second pitch in relief to Lyle Overbay was deposited in the left-field bleachers, tying the game at 2-2. This after Wood had snapped off that yakker (the one I mentioned yesterday) several times on his way to nine strikeouts (and only two walks), and except for another solo homer (Bill Hall's in the fourth), kept the Brewers slinking back to the dugout shaking their heads all day.
Think about this. In the last four games, the Cubs have allowed a total of four runs -- all four of them on solo homers. The win today clinches a winning month of June (14-12 with one game remaining); they've had a winning record each month this season so far. Baby steps, I know.
I had written when the last road trip started, that between then and the All-Star break, I felt the Cubs had to go at least 14-9 in the 23 games upcoming, to position themselves well for the second half. After a rotten start (a 4-6 trip), they're now 6-6. Going 8-3 in the next eleven games isn't going to be easy, with tough NL East oppposition, but with the pitching staff now apparently clicking on all cylinders, it is at least possible.
I don't want to be too critical of Rusch. After the homer, he set the next two hitters down on strikes, and finished the inning uneventfully. And for those of you who think Dusty Baker mishandles pitching staffs (and many times, yes, he does), the eighth inning was handled perfectly. Mike Wuertz began it badly, by giving up a single to Brady Clark. After a sacrifice and a groundout, Carlos Lee was intentionally walked, setting up a confrontation with the lefty-hitting Overbay.
Fortunately, Dusty didn't go with the "proven veteran lefty", Mike Remlinger, who isn't a LOOGY. The LOOGY on the staff now is Will Ohman, and Ohman dispatched Overbay on three straight sliders -- even after I had said to Dave after strike two, "He better not throw that pitch again." He did, and got away with it.
Roberto Novoa, who we used to joke was Spanish for "Kyle Farnsworth", is a completely different pitcher since his recall last week, than the guy we saw briefly earlier this season. He walked Geoff Jenkins, but then struck out the side, and got the win after the ninth-inning rally. It may be early to say this, but Novoa may turn into what we hoped Kyle would. If that happens, the trade will have been well worth it.
Bad: Neifi! trying to steal second with Derrek Lee at bat in the 2nd. I refer you, and Neifi!, to the Todd Walker quote at the top right. Why would you ever do this?
Good: Ronny Cedeno pinch-hitting and drawing a four-pitch walk, to which I yelled, "You watching this, Corey?" The answer was...
Bad: Apparently not, because he flied out on the very next pitch.
Good: Jeromy Burnitz homering and starting the winning rally on another four-pitch walk.
Bad: Derrek Lee trying to go from first to third on a slow grounder to third base. It wasn't a bad risk, but his slide scared the heck out of us. Fortunately, he was fine.
I asked Dave what the best thing for Corey Patterson would be right now (insert your own joke here). He said, "Sitting and watching for three or four days." I'd like to see Dusty try this. Like him or not, Corey is pressing so badly right now that the only way he's going to get a hit is by pure luck. Other players go into slumps and eventually get out of them, but you can tell he's putting so much pressure on himself that maybe a day or two off would be the right thing to do. Remember this: the man DOES have talent. If he could only tap it, he could be one of the best players in the game. The question is, how do you get him to do this? No one has yet found that answer.
Tomorrow, the Cubs go for the sweep. It's about time we had one of those, and Greg Maddux, who threw very well against the White Sox and appears to be rounding into the same second-half form he had in 2004, will go for his staff-leading eighth win of the year (do you realize if he gets it, he will be seventh in the league in wins? Do I hear a groundswell for a Maddux All-Star berth?).
Incidentally, hi to Clay from L.A. who stopped by to say hi and chat for a bit. You can feel sorry for him because he got a new job and he's about to become Clay from Fargo, N.D. (nothing personal if you're from Fargo, but it's a lot colder there than it is in L.A.!)
Till tomorrow. Don't forget, tomorrow's the deadline to vote Derrek Lee (and others!) onto the NL starting All-Star team. Use the link at the upper right corner.