MILWAUKEE -- The next person who tells me "Jacque Jones is a good outfielder", is going to be sentenced to watch his performance in today's 8-6 Cub loss to the Brewers, a game which was eminently winnable.
It wasn't all Jones' fault, and I'll get to the rest of the blame later.
Mark & I did have a nice time today. I always do have a good time at Miller Park -- especially since most Cub/Brewer crowds up there seem like they're at least half Cub fans, often many more than that. Odd Miller Park note -- though the roof was closed (on a gorgeous, breezy day, which made it a little hot inside), the outfield windows were open.
The Brewers' weekday afternoon games tend to draw larger crowds in some cases than the night games, and today was no exception (41,686, compared to 36,012 for Wednesday's night game). And "BOOOOOOOOO" was the operative word today.
First, Mark & I, both wearing our Mark Prior jerseys (well, it worked last Saturday, anyway), were booed by a Brewers fan in the parking lot before we even got inside. Then, when the Cubs lineup was announced, the Brewers' PA man finished the announcements by saying, "The Cubs are managed by #12, Dusty Baker." That brought loud booing -- from the CUB fans in attendance. That ought to show everyone, if they didn't know already, how down Cub fandom is on Baker. And, a late-inning cheer from the at least 60% Cub crowd of "Let's Go Cubs!" brought further booing from the Brewer fans in attendance.
We began our day in the .300 Club, the Brewers' stadium club, courtesy of Howard, who had obtained passes to entertain some customers there, only to have them cancel, so he didn't wind up going at all. They give each kid who comes in a baseball with the kids' menu printed on it -- clever touch -- but to Mark's credit, he passed on the fried chicken fingers and had the adult buffet, which was quite tasty. The place is nice, well appointed, with attentive but not overbearing staff -- but you don't feel like you're even in a ballpark, even though we were seated right next to the place where Bernie Brewer slides after a Milwaukee HR. The windows are sealed up tight and so you don't even hear the crowd noise.
So, we headed down to our RF-line seats, and the Cubs manufactured a nice run in the first inning, courtesy of a Juan Pierre double, a lovely sac bunt by Ryan Theriot (who also had three hits -- DUSTY! Give this kid more playing time!), and a sac fly by Aramis Ramirez.
The lead was promptly coughed up in the bottom of the first -- and the culprits were Mark Prior and Jones.
I don't know what's wrong with Prior, but at least according to the pitch speed meter at the ballpark, he only hit 90 MPH once in the entire first inning. He didn't have command either -- issuing two walks and hitting Tony Graffanino with a pitch. The way he's pitching, it appears that he's hurt, even if no one's willing to admit it.
Jones, meanwhile, was gifting the Brewers a run when on Kevin Mench's bases-loaded single, he decided to FedEx the ball toward the plate -- he had ZERO chance of getting Jeff Cirillo, and should have attempted a throw toward third instead. So that made an unearned run, plus put runners on second and third instead of first and second. Jones airdropped yet ANOTHER dumb throw when Gabe Gross hit a sacrifice fly to him -- he had ZERO chance of getting Prince Fielder at the plate, since the ball was hit fairly deep, and should instead have thrown toward third, keeping Mench at second. Mench eventually scored on another sac fly to Jones -- who AGAIN tried to get the runner at the plate, allowing Graffanino to take second.
There are the two runs that eventually were the difference in the game.
Jones doesn't run as well as he used to, but he still catches pretty much everything he can get to. That is the sum total of his usefulness in right field. If he's not throwing the ball to the backstop, he's throwing it into the ground 10 feet in front of him. If this is a case of the "yips", hie him to a sports psychologist pronto. He clearly has the arm strength to throw a baseball a very long way. You just don't always know where it's going.
And then, after the Cubs clawed back from an 8-1 deficit on the strength of two-run HR from Ramirez and Henry Blanco (I agree with those of you who say, get a Gregg Zaun-type to platoon with Blanco, and trade Michael Barrett, whose value will never be higher, or put Barrett in left field -- he couldn't be worse defensively than Matt Murton), Jones had a chance to be a hero in the ninth. Cesar Izturis, pinch-hitting for Theriot (you should have heard the guys sitting behind us ripping on that move, in fact, ripping on every move Baker made all game, ripping on Neifi, the whole ten yards), drew a walk. This may not seem like much to you, but in nearly 150 plate appearances this year, that is Izturis' tenth walk.
Then Ramirez lofted a fly ball into right-center, and Brady Clark and Gross couldn't seem to decide who was going to catch it, and it popped out of Clark's glove for an error.
After John Mabry batted for Phil Nevin (really, Dusty -- you don't have to get the platoon advantage every single time) and hit the ball hard to Mench, Jones came up with the chance to be a hero.
Instead, he hit into a game-ending double play.
Dusty, as noted above with the moves of Izturis and Mabry, had backed himself into a corner anyway. Had the game gone into extra innings, here was the list of available position players:Yes, that's right, I put that blank space there because there weren't any. The next bat off the bench would probably have been Carlos Zambrano. Which, in some ways, is a better option than certain position players on the bench anyway.
Oh, well. I see that a lot of you voted for the Cubs to win the wild card in the latest poll. I trust that was just optimism run wild. Even I didn't vote for them, and it appears that the best we can hope for the rest of this year is for the Cubs to play well for a week or 10 days, then look really bad for a series, lather, rinse, repeat.