In the ninth inning, Mike turned to me and told me that a 14-year-oldish kid wearing a Cub jersey behind us had just yelled:
We laughed at that, but Felipe Alou had indeed gone through his entire bullpen when he summoned 67-year-old ex-Cub Jeff Fassero in the 9th inning, to face Jeromy Burnitz with the bases loaded.
This was after Alou had made pitching changes on four consecutive batters in the eighth inning, after yet another ex-Cub (the Giants have four: Hawkins, Fassero, Moises Alou and Michael Tucker), LaTroy Hawkins, had started the inning by allowing a Todd Walker single.
Neither Mike nor I had ever seen pitching changes like that before; Hawkins wound up with the curious pitching line of allowing the tying run while getting a hold. This seems odd, but it's because there were two force plays that followed Hawkins' exit from the game (he was loudly booed both when he was announced at the beginning of the inning, and when he walked off the field), making the resulting baserunner his responsibility.
One of those force plays was yet another thing neither Mike nor I had ever seen. If you were following the game via the web, it didn't look out of the ordinary:
D. Lee grounded into fielder's choice, T. Walker out at second
This isn't quite right. Lee didn't hit a ground ball; he hit a popup about 30 feet behind Giants SS Deivi Cruz. Cruz let it drop, hoping to catch Lee jogging down the line and get a DP, as Walker had to hold up. Walker was forced at second, but Lee, running hard, was safe at first. It wasn't a case of "infield fly rule" because the ball wasn't in the infield!
In any case, four batters later Neifi! came up with the bases loaded and we were all thinking, "He can't do it again, can he?"
He didn't, but his sharp single up the middle tied the game.
And when Jeff Fassero was finally summoned to face Jeromy Burnitz in the ninth with the bases again loaded and one out (Howard and I turned to each other at the same moment and said, "How about a squeeze!")
Well, that would have been poetic (and appropriate instruction too, seeing that earlier in the inning, Jerry Hairston had popped two bunt attempts halfway to the upper deck before finally laying down a nice-looking sacrifice), but his line drive to medium-deep center field was enough to score Ronny Cedeno (who had led off the inning with a single, after entering the game in a double-switch for Neifi!, amazingly enough), and the Cubs beat the Giants 3-2 for their third consecutive victory, and since the beginning of the Marlins series just before the All-Star break, that makes the club record 11-5.
Do that for six weeks or so, and the Cubs ought to be leading the wild-card race.
It wasn't as hot as it was on Sunday here in Chicago; some early-morning thunderstorms and clouds had kept the daytime temperatures to about 90 instead of the 102 of the previous day; the game-time temperature was 88 and it felt like about 88% humid as the game began; we watched storm clouds gather as the sun went down and watched some pretty intense storms start to pop up on my radar-enabled web cellphone.
A security supervisor stopped by in the fourth inning to tell us, "In about 15 minutes it's going to start pouring." The cellphone agreed; though it took a bit longer than that, the skies opened up in the next inning, and it rained for about 45 minutes, steadily but never hard enough to hold up play. Mine was one of only about a dozen or so umbrellas visible in the entire ballpark; after the initial steady rain, it let up for a while, then sprinkled again in the eighth inning before giving up and just leaving the night sticky.
Rich Hill, called up when Kerry Wood was placed on the 15-day DL yesterday, (and Wood, according to that article, is to throw in relief when he returns, whenever that is) threw a credible five innings -- although with a Woodesque 98 pitches. He showed flashes of the Barry Zito-like curveball that has had him rocketing through several levels of the Cub minor league system; of his five strikeouts, three were called. Hill also had Embarrassing Moment #1 of his career, when, after beating out a single to the outfield grass, he stumbled rounding third base on a Todd Walker single and had to scramble back. The crowd booed, thinking he'd have scored, but there was no way. Hill would have been out by plenty, and then people would have been screaming for Chris Speier's head.
Isn't that refreshing? How many times did we blame Wavin' Wendell Kim for sending a runner to the plate to certain doom in the last couple of years? I think this is the first time I've even mentioned Speier here.
Mike Remlinger was called on to face six hitters, five of whom hit righthanded against him. Guess what? He retired all six of them with dispatch and efficiency (fifteen pitches). We figured Dusty Baker must not have been managing this game. The rest of the bullpen did its job as well; Baker (or whoever was impersonating him last night) realized the importance of this game by putting Ryan Dempster into the contest while it was still tied; Dempster dispatched the Giants without incident, although it took a nifty shoestring catch by Walker of an Omar Vizquel line drive to help, and Dempster was then credited with the win (his second in two days) after the last-of-the-ninth heroics.
There were literally dozens of people with Cub "ALOU 18" jerseys and t-shirts packing the sections below us, waiting for the ex-Cub to come out to right field for the bottom of the first. He was greeted warmly and smiled and waved back to the crowd. He was also serenaded with a cheer of "ALOOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU" when he made a diving catch of a sinking liner by Walker to end the fifth inning.
Thanks to Howard for having an extra plastic garbage bag with him last night so I could keep my backpack dry during the rain -- I almost wrote "rain delay" but there wasn't one -- and he and I discussed briefly the polls I've been posting here. It's about time for another one, but neither one of us could think of a good topic. Maybe we were just too wet. If any of you have any ideas for polls -- let me know, and I'll construct one.
Before the game I watched a guy a few rows in front of me, without any noticeable artistic talent, draw a sad-looking bicycle on a large posterboard and the legend "Dempster's Big Adventure", referring to the recent theft of Dempster's bicycle from his apartment near the ballpark. By the time Dempster got into the game and he had the chance to hold up the sign, it was pretty soggy from the rain. But give him points for trying, anyway.
Rich Hill threw well enough to rate another start, though it's possible he'll be returned to Iowa and Glendon Rusch given Kerry Wood's spot -- that would be my recommendation, anyway, considering how well Rusch has done in that fill-in role the last year and a half.
Keep believing. There's a lot of season left.