The low morning clouds, fog and cool breezes parted by game time and by mid-afternoon the sun was shining brightly; by game's end there wasn't a cloud in the late-summer sky, and the 77-degree game-time temperature made it perhaps the nicest day of the entire summer.
And the grand old veteran Greg Maddux allowed only five hits and a walk, threw a complete game, his second of the year, and the Cubs completed the wonderful Saturday by defeating...
Oh. Sorry. That's where you hear the sound of the needle scratching across the record (for those of you old enough to remember what a LP record even is, in this iPod era), and you are jerked back to ugly reality.
The Marlins beat the Cubs 2-1 in a snappy two hours and twenty minutes -- fast enough that some people who hadn't heard about the game time change showed up behind us in the sixth inning, figuring they were early, only to find the game had started an hour and a half earlier.
It was the Cubs' third loss in a row, sixth in their last seven games, and put them the furthest below .500 they've been all year, seven games under.
And despite the fact that Maddux threw an efficient 102-pitch CG, the loss was his own fault, on two of those pitches that got away and hit batters:
- the fifth pitch of the game, that hit Juan Pierre, thus causing me to ask Jeff, "Didn't we see this game yesterday?" Pierre stole second -- sound familiar? -- was sacrificed to third by Jeff Conine, only the fifth sac hit of Conine's over 6,000 at-bat major league career, and scored on a sac fly.
- and, an 0-1 pitch to Dontrelle Willis that hit him with the bases loaded in the fifth, providing the second run for the Marlins, breaking a 1-1 tie and that, as they say, was that.
- Maddux, who led off the fifth with a single and went no further;
- Jerry Hairston, who led off the eighth with a single, was sacrificed to second, but died there;
- and Burnitz, who doubled off Conine's glove at first (he had gone there in a triple-switch in the 9th), but went no further.
Lawton, for his part, made it to New York for today's Yankees/Royals game, and singled, walked and scored a run in the Yankees' 8-7 comeback win over KC, a loss which mathematically eliminated the Royals from postseason consideration, not that they had any realistic chance anyway.
In other scoreboard-watching, I noted that the Rangers pulled Kenny Rogers after six scoreless innings, and said to Mike, "He must have punched out another Fox cameraman." It was his first start at home since his suspension.
Back to a couple of things about today's game: neither Mike nor I could remember the last time we saw a Cub pitcher throw a complete game in a losing cause. Maddux was terrific, apart from the hit batsmen, and deserved better, and might have gotten it if ANY Cub hitter could have driven in a runner from scoring position with less than two out; there were several such opportunities in the last two innings, and Derrek Lee looked particularly bad hitting against Guillermo Mota, who was called in to throw to him after Willis gave up a leadoff single to Jerry Hairston. We joked that Dusty would probably send up Jose F. Macias to bat for him -- frankly, Macias could have done as well; Lee is 0-for-8 in this series.
Now, let's talk about Corey Patterson. In his first three at-bats today, Corey saw seven pitches, swinging at five of them and popping up, grounding out and flying to right. In doing so he left runners on in the second and fourth innings. He saw five pitches in his ninth-inning at-bat against Marlins closer Todd Jones, having a decent at-bat by fouling off three pitches before grounding out. I am of two minds about Corey -- I want him gone, but unless he plays reasonably well the last month, he has little or no trade value. The problem then becomes -- if he DOES play well over the last month, does Jim Hendry say, "Hmmm... maybe he's turned the corner"?
You see the problem here, I am certain.
So, with the loss, Maddux will now have only six more chances to win the five games he needs for his eighteenth consecutive 15-victory season. He now needs only nine more innings for his $9 million 2006 contract option to vest, and don't believe any of those silly retirement stories. Maddux will be on the Cubs' Opening Day 2006 roster. Book it.
Sight seen: during batting practice, A. J. Burnett standing about 50 feet behind first base, throwing balls high and deep into the bleachers, nearly reaching our bench. So if Burnett goes back on the DL soon for shoulder problems, you'll know why.
And, I wore the t-shirt I received from my friend Miles at Distant Replays to the game today. If you don't remember, that's this one:
Finally, Chuck at Ivy Chat criticizes the Cubs for not recalling Matt Murton after the Lawton trade. Murton was optioned to Iowa on August 19 and MLB rules require any such player to stay down for ten days, unless replacing a player on the DL (today's roster opening wasn't created for that reason; it was the Lawton trade). So, Chuck, you're off-base here; it has nothing to do with service time, and I think the Cubs have at this point conceded the season and wanted to reward a career minor-leaguer with some major league time. Murton will be back on September 1.
After that time, beginning with the Friday, September 2 game at Pittsburgh, if Murton is not playing every day in left field, I'll join your chorus of criticism.
Till then, I'll enjoy the sunshine and my friends (today, we were also joined by Jeff's out-of-town visitors Tim and Donna) and baseball, and yes, tomorrow's Ryne Sandberg jersey retirement ceremony.