TEMPE, Arizona -- The forecast this morning when I left for the ballpark was "Cloudy, showers, thunder possible, high 67".
They're not always right here, and they've been forecasting rain for the last two days -- heavier today -- and today, the skies parted, a few fair-weather clouds scudded by, the temperature got to 76... actually, quite a nice day for baseball.
The Angels took advantage of the day, and some sloppy Cub relief pitching, and beat the Cubs 8-4.
Obviously, no one here in Arizona read the open gameday thread, where I reminded everyone TWICE that gametime was noon MT (1 pm CT). The stands were half-empty at gametime, and I still saw people walking in at 1:30, by which time the game had proceeded to the sixth inning.
At that time, the Cubs had a 3-2 lead, fashioned because the first five hitters singled -- sharply, too -- off Angels starter Bartolo Colon. There was a throwing error allowing a run to score, but it wound up being an earned run due to all of the hits. After that, though, Colon slammed the door, allowing only three other hits and pitching six full innings.
Only one of those hits -- a fifth-inning Aramis Ramirez single, which was promptly wiped out on a first-pitch Jacque Jones DP ball -- was from the starting eight.
Two others were from our irrepressible Venezuelan pitcher/hitter extraordinaire, Carlos Zambrano.
First he BUNTED his way on. And it wasn't close, either. The rest of the ballclub could take bunting lessons from Z. The other hit was a ringing double off the left-center field wall.
Unfortunately, no one else could bring him in.
Z was done pitching after five innings, and then something happened that made no sense at all. Mark Watson, a 32-year-old lefty who was in Cubs camp either last year or in 2004 (can't remember) came in to pitch.
Why bother? This guy has ZERO chance of pitching in the major leagues this year. Why not give some work to John Koronka -- who was, in fact, the next pitcher, or someone else who actually might need it?
Watson has even LESS chance of making the majors after giving up four hits and four runs, including an inside-the-park HR to Angels prospect Brandon Wood. Now, to be fair, it had just gotten quite windy, and the ball took off on Juan Pierre and just fell out of his glove. After that, he couldn't catch up to it fast enough, and with Pierre's mediocre arm and Wood's speed, he scored easily.
Incidentally, Wood is considered perhaps the Angels' top prospect, and he showed it today, with one other hit and several slick plays in the field. The Angels expect him to be their starting SS by 2007.
There was one other wind-blown play -- a popup that Angels 1B Edgardo Alfonzo (he'd moved over from 2B in a double-switch) couldn't handle. It was a tough error; Angel Pagan hustled his way to 2B and eventually scored, the only run the Cubs managed off three Angel relievers.
Koronka, for his part, didn't help his case today, giving up a 420-foot HR to Angels catching prospect Mike Napoli -- and that one wasn't windblown.
The starters played the entire game today, save Derrek Lee, who was relieved at 1B by John Mabry in the 8th inning. I know there are some who think that the presence of Jerry Hairston at 2B a bit more in the last week means that he's going to start -- but I wouldn't assume that.
I like Tempe Diablo, but I have one... small... complaint. Small. I forgot my pencil. I sharpened it, then put it down on the table. It's still sitting here, sharp point and all. And nearly all the other ballparks sell a team pencil in the gift shop. Not Tempe. No pencils for sale.
I did stop by their office and the folks there were nice enough to give me a spare pen. I hate scoring in ink, but only made a couple of mistakes, easily corrected with whiteout.
BCB reader "Slats Grobnik" had emailed me yesterday saying he wanted to meet up at today's game. I gave him my cell number, but before he could call, I was walking down the 3B line, to get some food (FWIW, they have a quite nice grilled chicken sandwich at a grill stand there) and I heard someone call my name. It was "Slats" and his wife and son. Apparently, he recognized me from some of the photos I've posted here.
That's a little bit weird, actually; I never think of stuff like that, but I suppose many of you DO know what I look like. It's OK -- just a little odd.
I spotted Andy MacPhail, in a snappy-looking Cubs polo shirt and chinos, sitting down to eat with his wife and son. You know, I do respect some privacy of public figures like that -- I figure they do have the right to eat lunch, even in public, without being bothered. So I didn't.
The crowd of 7,996 -- a couple thousand short of capacity -- seemed at least half Cub fans, but the Angel fans in attendance made it very clear who their favorite is: Tim Salmon. Salmon's the feel-good story of the spring here in Arizona, having missed a year and a half with injuries, but now at age 37, he appears to have made the Angel squad as their starting DH. Over at Halos Heaven, they did a "Top 100 Angels of All-Time" countdown over the winter, and Salmon was ranked the #1 Angel ever.
There's no doubt of his popularity, and he's always been a class act, and he's worked hard to get back to the game. Just as Marquis Grissom wanted to go out of the game on his own terms, so does Salmon, and it appears he has a little bit left, enough for maybe one final season. Good for him.
This wasn't a good day for Cub relievers, but Z threw well, and hit well, and he looks ready for Opening Day next Monday. The Cubs still need one more win in the last three exhibition games to clinch their first winning spring since ... 2003.
Finally, I commend you to my SB Nation sister stathead site, Beyond the Boxscore, for a detailed analysis of the 2006 Cub pitching staff. Excellent detail on all the projected pitching staff members, written by Derek Smart of Cub Town.
Carlos Zambrano warms up in the Cubs bullpen before today's game -- photo by Al