... to so many games this lost season.
Rookie opposing pitcher? Check.
Bizarrely constructed Cub lineup? Check.
Giving the opponents extra outs with bad defense? Check.
All of this added up to a frustrating 2-1 loss to the Giants late last night, a game I figured I was going to see only a couple innings' worth -- only for some reason I was all wound up (no, not because of the Cubs, just wound up), and couldn't sleep, and thus made it into the top of the sixth before I finally fell asleep.
This prevented me from seeing the Giants take the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning.
And, I wound up seeing the rest of the scoring, which consisted of Nomar airmailing a throw on a routine ground ball hit by the opposing pitcher, for heaven's sake, halfway to Napa.
Bob Brenly, who in his own way is getting as insightfully critical as Steve Stone, spent a fair amount of time after this saying that Nomar likes to "throw on the run", all arms and legs, and that is, in fact, the way he plays defense. Maybe that worked for Nomar when he was younger, but it doesn't now, and this points up clearly the fact that though the Cubs could use his offense, he belongs in a less demanding defensive position than SS or 3B, and thus if I'm Jim Hendry, I sit him down and try to convince him that his future is as a left fielder (that's the Robin Yount argument I made here a few days ago).
The unearned run turned out to be the difference in the game, as all the Cubs could muster was Derrek Lee's 41st home run (more on this anon) and a ninth-inning leadoff single by Jerry Hairston, which was followed by three first-pitch-swinging outs, which if I had any hair, I'd pull it all out.
For one thing, why isn't Neifi bunting in that situation? You've got to tie the game up, at least, going to the last of the ninth, so why not try to get a runner in scoring position?
Credit where credit is due: Matt Cain is the real deal, I think. He actually doesn't turn 21 till next month, and he reminds me of a young Cub pitcher who came up at age twenty several years ago and turned heads... Kerry Wood. The difference is that Cain seems to already be a pitcher, not a thrower, as Wood still maddeningly is, even after seven years in the majors.
Ah, well. We've been through this before.
Let's talk about Lee's wonderful season, shall we? The 41st home run was also Lee's 87th extra-base hit. Derek Smart over at Cub Town posted the other day about Lee's offensive season, the first 40 homer-40 double season in Cub history, and Derek almost dismisses it as statistical trivia.
I see it as far more than that. The 87 XBH, as noted on Smart's list, rank fifth in club history, and with three more (I'd think he can do that in 21 remaining games) it'd be third. He has an outside shot at 100 XBH; if he does so it would only be the second time this has been accomplished in the NL since 1948 when Stan Musial did it; the other was Sammy Sosa's 2001 season.
Lee has kept his walk totals consistent (with 72 so far, he already has more than last year and should wind up with 80 or so), while cutting way down on strikeouts (88, compared to 128 a year ago, and if he can keep this under 100, it'd be the first time he's played a full season with that low a total). His OPS is 1.096, and he has 350 total bases.
There are, in my opinion, only four seasons in Cub history that are comparable to what Lee has accomplished this year:
Lee still has a shot at 50 HR (a longshot, yes, I know, with only 21 games left), 100 XBH, and 400 total bases, and if he should accomplish those, I think this season would outrank the two Banks years. With the Cubs out of playoff contention, Derrek isn't likely to win the MVP, though he'll surely get some votes, and will likely finish third (Albert Pujols and Andruw Jones, to me, are the top two candidates).
All of this is to remind you how special a season we are seeing from a class individual. In the disappointment and disgust we feel over the ballclub's performance in 2005, at least there is an individual achievement to celebrate. I'm sure Lee himself would tell you he'd rather be going to the postseason... but let's not let this accomplishment go unnoticed or unrecognized. It's far more than trivia.
Finally, I spoke to Jeff on the phone a couple of hours before the game -- it sounded like his phone was under water, but he said he was just at a noisy bar -- he also said it was about 60 degrees outside and drizzling. Hope any of you who are at this series, dressed warm.