SURPRISE, Arizona -- Talk about surprises -- man, did I go to the wrong game today!
I decided, as I often do on split-squad days, to go to the non-Mesa game. This way I can get a look at some of the minor leaguers, and non-starters, and I knew today's Mesa game was on TV, so most of you would see it.
But nine-plus no-hit innings by Cub pitchers? That is absolutely unheard-of in a spring training game. The Cubs won it in 10, after John Koronka allowed the only Oakland hit after two were out in the top of the 10th.
For more on this game see the Smooth Jazz Man's excellent diary. He kept calling me with updates from Mesa, his voice sounding more and more incredulous and excited as the game went on; meanwhile I kept saying, "Well, it's 6-3 here, and it's kind of dragging," as the Cub fans around me were chuckling at the constant ringing of my phone.
According to this cubs.com article, no-hitters in the spring are extremely rare, for the Cubs or any other team:
That was the last recorded spring no-hitter since the Angels defeated San Francisco, 15-0 on March 16, 1996.
Baseball historian Ed Hartig couldn't find any record of the Cubs having a no-hitter in Spring Training since 1990, and the last recorded one was Feb. 26, 1970, when four pitchers combined to lead a team of Cubs rookies over some local college players in a 5-0, seven-inning game.
So today's crowd at Mesa did indeed see something special.
Meantime, the 8,571 at Surprise who saw the Cubs beat the Royals 9-4 today were mostly Cub fans; it was obvious both from the Cub t-shirts and jerseys in the crowd and the loud cheering, drowning out most of the Royals fans, except for two very enthusiastic KC fans who cheered at every hit for their heroes. I sympathized with them; how difficult must it be to be a fan of a team that is almost certainly going to lose 100 games again this year?
That sort of fandom, enthusiasm, is to be commended, not criticized. Until MLB gets some sort of REAL revenue-sharing plan in place, the small-market teams like the Royals are always going to be at a disadvantage.
Instead, this year KC has signed veterans like Mark Grudzielanek, Doug Mientkiewicz (hey, at least they'll keep the uniform-letter-sewing folks busy!) and Reggie Sanders.
I got to Surprise early enough to have lunch, and taking up the Jazz Man's recommendation to avoid the meatball sandwiches, I instead found a grill stand run by a local restaurant chain, El Paso BBQ Co., which was serving a really nice BBQ brisket sandwich. It's a really nice casual restaurant too, if you're in the Phoenix area where they now have six locations (and one in Tucson).
Anyway, after eating and checking out the large but rather routine souvenir shop (didn't buy anything), it was off to my seat five rows behind first base.
The Cubs came out swinging against Runelvys Hernandez. This is clear evidence that the Royals are going to suck. Hernandez is their #2 starter. He gave up six hits and five walks in three-plus innings, including a three-run homer in the first to Michael Barrett. The inning could have been bigger if Jerry Hairston hadn't gotten himself caught stealing promptly after walking to lead off the game.
It was Barrett's day. He had two more hits and a walk and six RBI -- something else you rarely see in an exhibition game. He stayed in the game for four at-bats; I think this is because he is a bit behind, having not had many AB's in the WBC. He sure looked ready today.
As did Aramis Ramirez. Here's how hot Ramirez is: he went 2-for-4 and his average went down from .600 to .590. It would have been three hits, except that a mammoth shot down the LF line was just to the left side of the foul pole, with two runners on base in the second inning.
Jerome Williams threw pretty well; he had one shaky inning (the second, when he issued a leadoff walk, followed by a just-missed DP -- how can you just miss a DP when Matt Stairs is the batter? -- and another hit, leading to two runs). Rich Hill was the only other Cub pitcher at Surprise today; Williams threw five innings and Hill four, so Hill got credit for a save. Hill allowed five hits but didn't walk anyone and struck out four, pitching against mostly major league hitters (the Royals put their regular lineup out there save for Mike Sweeney and David DeJesus, and whoever their starting 3B is going to be, likely Mark Teahen, although today's KC starter at 3B, Alex Gordon, was their top draft choice in 2005).
Man, is he fast: Felix Pie almost beat out a routine ground ball to second base. He also played a nice right field, making an excellent diving catch on a sinking line drive off the bat of Mientkiewicz in the third inning.
Man, is he slow: Marquis Grissom took what seemed like an hour and a half to chase down a routine single down the LF line, turning it into a double by Angel Berroa, who has good speed but is no Pie. He also had three really bad at-bats before hitting a double in his final at-bat in the Cubs' three-run sixth. Angel Pagan continued to be far more impressive than Grissom; he homered again today, and played center field well. Pagan seems at home in any of the three OF positions, and if it comes down to a choice between him and Grissom, I'd take Pagan. I'd also take him ahead of Michael Restovich, who appears best suited to being a DH (and today, he wasn't even very well suited to that, striking out twice).
You can say what you will about Neifi Perez, but he had a nice game today -- he had three hits, including two long doubles. I had forgotten to mention this last night -- he batted righthanded against the right-handed knuckleballer R. A. Dickey, but lefthanded today against RHP Hernandez. Must be something about the way the knuckleball breaks, I suppose, but Neifi did nothing against Dickey last night.
I handed out some BCB cards to both Royals and Cubs fans today, and to the Royals fans I say again... I really do feel for you. The Cubs have gone through, in the last sixty years, stretches in their history when their chances were just about as hopeless as KC's seem to be right now. The Royals have two pretty good players in DeJesus and Sweeney, but that's about it. The only KC pitcher I saw today who did anything at all decent was Jimmy Gobble, who threw a 1-2-3 inning -- but that was against Cub minor leaguers.
Today was the spring's final split-squad game; the ballclub reconvenes in toto tomorrow in Mesa -- apparently, without Derrek Lee, who didn't play today, having gone home to take care of some family business. Don't worry, he's not hurt.
Jerome Williams pitching on Saturday; Aramis Ramirez preparing to hit. Right after this photo he hit a tremendously long fly ball out of the park -- just foul.
(as always, click on thumbnail to view full-size in new browser window. If you are using IE, you may have to click the lower-right corner of the image in the new window to expand it to its full size; in Firefox click anywhere on the image.)