MESA, Arizona -- OK, so I resisted using that tired old phrase for tie games during the rain-shortened tie against the Brewers last week, but now that there's been another one -- today's 4-4 deadlock with the White Sox -- I figured I'd trot it out.
But before I tell you about the game, let me tell you what happened to me after the game. It was cloudy all day, and then not long after the game ended, the sun came out. Woo-hoo! I thought, a chance to catch some rays.
So, I sat out on my patio, enjoying the warm late-day sun, decided to close the screen door ... and promptly locked myself out.
Fortunately, I have a nice sister-in-law who lives here, with a key, and she came over and let me back in.
That's one reason this post is delayed, as I hadn't even taken a shower after the game; I was just about to do that when the lockout scenario happened.
Refreshed now (like you care, right?), here's what puzzles me most about the end of the tie game. First of all, it's not so surprising that the White Sox didn't bring a lot of bodies to Mesa today. This is their last scheduled exhibition game outside of their home base in Tucson, so I understand them traveling light. It is odd that they'd only have three pitchers, but so be it.
Given that fact -- and Dusty Baker MUST have known it before the ninth inning even began -- why wasn't he going for the win when Henry Blanco was up with a runner on third and one out? That'd have been the PERFECT situation to try a suicide squeeze, or even a safety squeeze, or, for that matter, a delayed double steal, considering two good baserunners (Ronny Cedeno on first, Ryan Theriot on third) were on base.
No, instead Blanco just hit away. He did have a pretty good at-bat, running the count full and fouling off a couple of pitches into the outfield seats, before popping up foul to third base.
That left it up to Michael Restovich, who has shown very little this spring, and he grounded out meekly to third.
This was after Neifi had his third hit of the game; he also homered off the LF foul pole and doubled and scored, and after Marquis Grissom drew a -- ready for this? -- four-pitch walk.
Don't get too excited. Neal Cotts, one of the Sox' better relievers, had nothing today, and you could tell that from the first pitches he threw to Angel Pagan. Pagan also doubled -- this time, hitting righthanded against Cotts -- and man, has he been impressive.
Anyway, they didn't waste any time declaring the tie -- as I said, this must have been known to Dusty Baker before the 9th even started -- and so I wonder why he wasn't more aggressive when he had a real good shot at winning.
All of this came after Greg Maddux and Mark Buehrle put on a pretty good-looking pitcher's duel for six-plus innings. Buehrle was a bit less touchable than Maddux, giving up only the aforementioned Neifi homer, and back-to-back doubles by Neifi and Blanco, for the two runs he allowed.
Maddux nearly matched him, except he ran out of gas in the sixth inning, allowing two runs when Jim Thome homered (Thome also homered off Bob Howry in the seventh), and then he hit Jermaine Dye, and two seeing-eye singles bounced just out of the reach of a diving Jerry Hairston.
The Thome homer off Maddux landed right on my blanket on the lawn.
No, really! I saw it coming right at me and tried to position myself to get it, but I couldn't get it on the fly (no glove, darnitall!) and it bounced into the hands of ... a Sox fan wearing a Konerko t-shirt, next blanket over. If you were watching the game and saw someone "throw it back" (a "tradition" I think is mightily stupid, as those of you who have been following my writings for a while already know) ... that wasn't the real ball, it was a throwback ball. Kudos to the person or persons who did that. At the time that ball flew onto the field, the real ball was nestled in the hands of a very cute one-year-old girl who was sitting with the family from whom Mr. Konerko T-Shirt came.
Naturally, I had to look this up, given the length of Thome's and Maddux' careers -- Thome is, in the regular season, only 2-for-16 against Maddux. One single, one double, five strikeouts. The HR to my blanket was one of the longest ones I've ever seen hit to that part of LF -- I was sitting right up against the scoreboard.
Other stuff: Juan Pierre tried to bunt his way on yet again today. He pushed it a little too far past the pitcher, and Tadahito Iguchi made a nice play to get him by half a step. You'll note in the box score that Scott Eyre and David Aardsma both threw scoreless innings, but do not be fooled by statistics, my friends. Neither one of them could find the plate very well; Eyre walked Brian Anderson, and Aardsma ran the count full on the first couple of hitters before getting them to ground out. He did strike out White Sox minor league SS Mike Myers (c'mon -- just how many guys with that name ARE there?) to end his inning.
I arrived fairly early today -- 11:30 -- to find the parking lot almost full, a rarity on a Monday. Oddly, since the White Sox moved their training base from Florida to Arizona nearly a decade ago, I hadn't seen a single White Sox-Cubs exhibition game till today; they were generally scheduled earlier in March, and I usually come here at this time, late in the month. Because of the rivalry, and the White Sox being, you know, the defending World Champions, the crowd was probably 40% enthusiastic White Sox fans, most of them wearing jerseys or t-shirts for their favorite players. I counted mostly Konerko, Guillen and Buehrle shirts, but spotted at least one "CORA" and even one "ORDONEZ" -- hey, once you invest in a shirt, you're going to wear it, right? That's the same reason I spotted multiple Cub "GARCIAPARRA" jerseys around the ballpark today.
Today's crowd was 12,894, not only the largest of the year, but beating (by two people) the previous all-time Ho Ho Kam record, set March 11 of last year against the Diamondbacks.
Mark Prior threw again today, but that doesn't mean anything. He'll stay behind in Arizona when the team leaves, and ... sigh ... start the year on the DL again. But, as forecast here, it appears the Cubs will start the season with an 11-man pitching staff, due to the frequent off-days in the first two weeks. What struck me odd about that article was this:
Scott Williamson not guaranteed? Will Ohman not guaranteed? That's news to me.
Finally -- Al's sources say the Freddie Bynum rumors are just that, rumors. Everyone does agree, though, that Bynum is VERY fast.