PEORIA, Arizona -- OK, so it's still just an exhibition game, and the Cubs came back against a few guys the Mariners went across the street to Buca di Beppo and recruited to pitch -- but it's always nice to win, and the Cubs' 4-3 comeback win over the Mariners this afternoon was satisfying nevertheless.
For a while it didn't look like they were going to play at all -- it was pouring rain here in Scottsdale this morning, and I called the Peoria Sports Complex for info. Once again, I got a very nice lady on the phone who was more than willing to spend time chatting with me... "Oh, yes, the sun is shining brightly here!" I didn't really need to chat, but it was nice to get someone with useful info.
I did go out and buy an umbrella I could stuff into the pocket of my cargo shorts anyway, and headed west. Fortunately, it didn't rain -- just a couple of sprinkles early on -- and eventually the sun did come out.
They have a large tent under which you can eat after you get your food (they've got GREAT grilled cheeseburgers at Peoria -- take a lesson, Mesa!), and I chatted with a nice gentleman from Seattle, a retired Boeing exec who told me, once he learned I was from Chicago, that Boeing should have moved east 20 years ago. This surprised me until he explained that he had to do so much business at 6 am because most of Boeing's customers are in the Midwest and Eastern time zones.
That done, on to the ballgame.
The Cubs started most of their Opening Day lineup, except for three spots where people are competing for a backup roster role: Michael Restovich at DH, Ryan Theriot at 3B, and Angel Pagan in CF.
Restovich: well, I think we can forget about him. He was 0-for-4 with two K's against, as I said, several miscellaneous Mariners relievers. The starter was Thomas Oldham, a 23-year-old who looks 18 and spent last year in AA. He handcuffed the Cubs on one hit for three innings and then Mike Hargrove used one pitcher per inning. The Cubs couldn't touch anyone till Eric O'Flaherty in the 8th; he gave up five hits, including a three-run homer to Angel Pagan. Pagan also singled, played a good CF, and even though he has no major league experience, I think he's shown enough to make the major league roster.
The game-winner in the ninth was off another kid, Stephen Kahn, a solo HR by Michael Barrett, who had three hits today. The HR was hit on a 3-2 pitch just after a Cub fan yelled loudly, "Take ball four, Michael!"
I think the HR was a much better result.
The crowd of 9611, about 1000 short of a sellout, was about 2/3 Cub fans, though there was a large contingent of Mariner fans crowding the lower railing just before game time watching Ichiro go through his pre-game warmup routine, which appears to be very precise; I'll bet he does exactly the same things in exactly the same way each day. It was instructive to see him being this dedicated, while a few feet away Richie Sexson (who has a reputation as a bit of a prankster) was regaling some of the other Mariner starters with a joke or two.
About Cub pitching, Glendon Rusch had his best start of the year, coming one out short of six innings. His line looks good, but all the eight hits off him -- including a Yuniesky (What kind of name IS that, anyway?) Betancourt homer, were hard-hit. In fairness, he could have had two fewer hits, and one fewer run, if John Mabry hadn't made two bad misplays on balls in left field. Note to Dusty: keep Mabry out of the outfield unless there's an emergency.
The rest of the defense wasn't much better. Ronny Cedeno made two throwing errors, one of which directly led to a run off Roberto Novoa (who looked pretty healthy after his bout with Valley Fever). The second error, which came after Derrek Lee had left the game, probably would have been saved if Lee had still been at 1B rather than Matt Craig. As noted in the game thread, Craig did save another Cedeno throw and tagged a fairly fast runner out in the ninth inning.
OK, I can say ONE good thing: Todd Walker made a couple of nice plays today, including a diving-stop-flip-to-SS start of a DP.
Good stuff for Cedeno today: he drew a walk, only his third of the year.
Scott Williamson came back and faced one hitter and retired him. This is good news; he probably wasn't scheduled to pitch again this early after his appearance on Sunday, but this ought to relieve any worry that he's seriously hurt. Ryan Dempster's one inning was typical: a walk and a strikeout, no runs, and Michael Wuertz threw an uneventful ninth for his first save of the year. Dempster, for his part, had his inning against major league hitters (Sexson, Adrian Beltre, Carl Everett, and backup IF Jose Lopez), and I'd think he's ready to start the season.
Onward. I had a whole essay ready to write if the game had been tied after nine, because after using seven pitchers, I doubt the Mariners would have wanted to continue the game. It had to do with the odd way the National Hockey League deals with overtime/shootout games in their standings. But you really don't care about that, do you?
Z pitches tomorrow in his final tuneup before Monday's opener. Rain is again in the forecast. Right now the sun is shining brightly. Let's hope it stays that way.