PHOENIX, Arizona -- I'll get to that in a moment.
But first -- today felt like one of those mid-May Chicago days when you look outside and you think spring is just never, ever, ever going to come.
It poured rain most of the morning, and I really was kind of hoping they'd cancel the game; I didn't really relish the thought of sitting out in a cold rain. I called Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the A's training site, twice, and a nice lady answered the phone on the first ring -- both times.
Now there's a refreshing change.
Anyway, she assured me they were going to play, and so I left as late as possible to make the first pitch. Thus, I didn't even have a chance to get a program, and I had already eaten lunch. So this was a hardcore baseball day -- the park was less than half full (announced attendance of 4,892 seemed pretty close, though by the middle innings it seemed only about half that).
I had a really nice seat today (from which I took the photos below), but it was out in the rain, and all I had was a poncho. So I sat underneath the 1960's-era concrete overhang until the rain finally stopped in the second inning, then moved to my actual seat.
By then Jerome Williams had put the Cubs in a deep hole. Mark Ellis hit Williams' first pitch out of the ballpark, and Jason Kendall smacked his second pitch hard right at Matt Murton. There were three more hard-hit balls and two walks issued by Williams in the first, resulting in four A's runs -- after which he settled down and threw three very nice innings, too late, unfortunately.
Todd Wellemeyer was showcased again; this time there were two radar gunmen behind the plate and absolutely no grassy knoll in sight (Phoenix Muni doesn't have one!). Wellemeyer threw two credible innings and his velocity seemed pretty good; maybe this appearance will finally get him dealt.
I was impressed today, incidentally, with Buck Coats, a converted infielder who started in CF. He had a sharp single and made all the plays that came his way. Oddly, the Cubs only brought three players who are regular starters -- Murton, Jones and Todd Walker, who DH'd today. I was also impressed by Oakland's 3B today, Antonio Perez (who was acquired in the Milton Bradley deal) -- he had four hits and four RBI. Obviously, Perez is a backup to Eric Chavez, but he will help their club.
Something that all of you who wanted Bradley to become a Cub so much should know: twice he walked out of the batter's box on a 3-ball pitch that he thought was ball four, but wasn't. Umpires absolutely hate that. Bradley did walk once, but otherwise grounded out twice harmlessly.
Meanwhile, Barry Zito was slogging his way through six innings -- the first starting pitcher I've seen go six this spring. He had three 1-2-3 innings, but the others were iffy; Murton had two RBI singles and impresses me more each day I see him. Murton also had a nifty diving catch of an Adam Melhuse line drive in the sixth inning; at the time it preserved a 4-4 tie, because after Zito was lifted, Joe Kennedy (and I'm amazed he doesn't hurt himself on every pitch he throws with that slinging delivery of his) came in and allowed the Cubs to tie the game on a Jacque Jones single, a walk and one of the aforementioned Murton hits.
Oh, about Jones? When he hits, he looks great. The two singles he had were hard-hit and timely. His other AB was a swinging strikeout on which he looked absolutely clueless.
I predict this is going to drive us out of our skulls.
And that brings me to the explanation, at last, of why the Cubs' 8-4 loss to the A's means absolutely, positively nothing.
In the seventh inning, after Adam Greenberg had reached on a nifty bunt and the Cubs had tied the game, Michael Wuertz came in and gave up six hits and four runs. And if you only look at the boxscore line, that looks really, really bad.
But you have to consider the fact that there was a single-A team on the field behind Wuertz in that inning; at least two of the hits would have been handled easily by major league infielders, and Wuertz would have been out of the inning scoreless.
I keep up on the Cubs' farm system, as do many of you, but seriously: how many of you had heard of Joe Simokaitis, Jeffrey Culpepper, or Walter Norwood before today?
Yeah, neither had I. They're all 23-25 year old guys who haven't played above A-ball, and it showed. And that is the primary reason that Wuertz gave up four runs. There was also an error committed, but that was after all the runs had scored. Incidentally, yet another spring-training scoring mistake: the Yahoo box score above has Jason Simontacchi playing SS. That was Simokaitis. Again, you can see how that must have come from someone looking one space too low on an alphabetical list of players.
The A's PA announcer had trouble with this and the A's changes, too; he announced almost none of them till they came to bat. During that long A's seventh inning, Mike Rouse came in to pinch-run for Bobby Crosby, who had singled; when the A's batted around and Rouse came up again, the announcer said Rouse was the "shortstop", though he hadn't yet played in the field.
I guess the rain had seeped into just about everything. They're not used to that out here, you know; today is only the second rainfall in the Phoenix area since last October.
The sun came out about the time the A's were rallying, and the loudest ovation of the day (from the remnants of the 4,892 in attendance) was for the 9th-inning appearance of A's closer Huston Street. It wasn't a save situation, but Street dispatched the minor-league Cubs with no trouble at all.
In Mesa today, Carlos Zambrano threw five good innings but the other Cubs couldn't score and they lost to the Rangers 2-0. The hot-hitting Aramis Ramirez had two of the Cubs' five hits. Good to see Z hasn't missed a beat, but I worry about the Cub rotation given the fact that Williams, who is now the #3 starter, hasn't looked good all month.
Once again, the Cubs travel to Tucson tomorrow, this time to face the Diamondbacks. And once again, I shall not follow. There'll be other things here tomorrow. Stay tuned, as always.
Matt Murton awaits a pitch; Barry Zito throwing to Murton; an intense Jerome Williams follows through - photos by Al