Today, those exclamation points aren't meant the way we affectionately used them last year to describe the way that Neifi played for a month or so before cooling off.
This time, they mean "WTF were you thinking, Neifi?"
Today's frustrating 5-3 loss to the Nationals didn't have to be that way, because the Cubs stranded twelve runners, including the tying run on base in the bottom of the ninth when Neifi inexplicably tried to bunt his way on base, and was thrown out easily by Nats 3B Ryan Zimmerman.
This even though Nats closer Chad Cordero hadn't pitched in five days, and that was a spectacular, five-run blown save to the Braves. And Cordero seemed as if he were on the way to another one, giving up a double to Todd Walker and then walking the nearly-unwalkable Jacque Jones, putting the aforementioned tying run on base.
I shake my head. I truly cannot imagine what Neifi was thinking -- even a single would have kept the rally going for John Mabry, even a walk, anything except pretty much conceding the game. It reminded us of Game Six of the 1992 World Series, which the Blue Jays won, and won the Series, when Otis Nixon did exactly what Neifi did today -- tried to bunt his way on with two out in the last of the 11th inning.
That wasn't the only stupid playing today. Juan Pierre, 0-for-5 in the leadoff spot, batted with the tying runs also on base in the sixth, after the Cubs had chased starter Ramon Ortiz with four straight hits. Now THERE was a situation that could have called for a bunt. Instead Pierre hit a comebacker that reliever Mike Stanton turned into an inning-ending DP.
And what's up with not hitting Ortiz till the sixth inning? He'd been absolutely brutally bad all year, and yet many of the Cubs were hitting first pitches for outs, including Pierre.
All of this wouldn't have mattered had Kerry Wood not lost focus on three hitters -- Ryan Zimmerman, Damian Jackson, and Alfonso Soriano, all of whom homered off him. Otherwise, Wood was pretty sharp -- hitting his spots, throwing 93 MPH consistently, and throwing a fairly efficient 71 pitches in five innings. I thought he could have gone another inning, especially when Ryan Theriot struck out on three pitches pinch-hitting for him.
Now, Zimmerman and Soriano have pop. But DAMIAN JACKSON? The guy who played a totally forgettable 15 at-bats for the 2004 Cubs and looked like he was done? The guy who had zero RBI before today? That's the one that really hurt, especially with a runner on second and two out and the pitcher due up -- Jackson could have been pitched around.
The sun was out when I left the house, so I didn't bring my umbrella. This was a big mistake, as I learned not long after the gates opened when the skies ALSO opened, and a downpour lasted about 40 minutes. I sat in my poncho for a while, but when it really came down, I went downstairs -- this is one of the nicer features of the new bleachers, a larger beneath-the-stands area where you can get shelter during rain delays. Fortunately, the rain cleared out by game time, and the sun popped in and out during the game -- warm when it was out, but a cool breeze when it was cloudy.
I was joined today by BCB veteran dmlichte (who signs his posts DmL), and both of us were impressed by Kerry Wood -- encouraged by his efficiency of pitches, discouraged by the home runs. We agreed that this was like a "last spring training game" for Wood, but that's about enough of that. If he's going to contribute at the major league level, he'll have to be ready to throw at least 90 pitches in his next start -- which, fortunately for him, will be against the Marlins, another bad team, and in a ballpark where he's pitched very well in the past, including this two-hit shutout in 2003.
Of course, there are now as many members of that team (two, including Derrek Lee) on the Cubs than there are on this year's Marlins (Dontrelle Willis, Miguel Cabrera).
I also met BCB reader Mike. Not the Mike who does all the great drawings here (and I've got another one for tomorrow, having to do with the upcoming series), but the Mike who designed the HTML coding for the bleacher reconstruction timeline page, for which I thanked him yet again. Now, this loss could be his fault, because he was in the bleachers on Sunday too.
Phil went for a walk and saw Eddie Vedder two sections over from us, as well as a couple of other members of Pearl Jam. I gave him a BCB card and told him to go over and give it to Eddie, but he wouldn't go, at least not during the game -- maybe afterwards, right Phil? So Eddie, if you're here due to the BCB card, welcome!
Just as the Marlins series a month ago, which should have been a sweep, the Cubs frustratingly lose a winnable game, and now go in to play the White Sox this weekend. It has been true for the nine years of interleague play, that the team that is more "down" between the Cubs and White Sox in any particular year when they meet, typically rises up and does better. I'm not making any predictions, only saying this:
Typically, Cub players when interviewed about the White Sox series will say something along the lines of, "It's more a rivalry for the fans."
But as I told Howard and DmL, if you can't get psyched to play the defending World Champions, in front of a full and raucous house, then there's something wrong with you. I expect a good series.
As mentioned in the diaries, the Cubs have signed Tony Womack to a Triple-A contract.
I cannot express enough how terrible an idea this is. Womack was bad last year. He was bad THIS year, which is why the Reds released him. There is no possible value in him -- he's Freddie Bynum, only ten years older. I hope he plays poorly at Iowa, so the Cubs will have to release him, too.
Finally, I was pleased to see Aramis Ramirez available to pinch-hit today, and he had a RBI single, and thus I'd imagine he'll be available to play tomorrow, even if just to DH.