The Cubs hadn't had a walkoff win in 2006 until today, so let's run down the heroes... before we talk about how they got to the "walkoff" point in the first place.
- Juan Pierre made the catch of the year off an Albert Pujols drive. I wish I'd have been able to see it -- in left-center field, right against the wall, that's one of the few blind spots we have from our spot in the LF corner. Interestingly enough, as most of you know, ESPN's Baseball Tonight has been doing its All-Time Web Gems for each major league team as part of a series for the last couple of weeks. Just by coincidence, the Cubs are scheduled for tonight. Think they might have some last-minute editing to do?
- Phil Nevin, who had two very different hits -- a bloop just out of the reach of three Cardinal fielders to tie the game after Bob Howry had coughed up the lead in the top of the 8th, and then what would have under normal circumstances been a booming double to center in the 10th, but since only one base was needed for the win, it turned out to be a game-winning RBI single, culminating today's high-energy 5-4 Cub win over the Cardinals, a game that all of us agreed was the best game we'd seen all year.
- Michael Wuertz, who gave up the long drive that Pierre caught, then slammed the door on the Cardinals in the 10th, paving the way for the winning rally.
- Henry Blanco, for laying down an excellent bunt in the 8th inning, setting up Nevin's tying hit;
- Carlos Zambrano, for settling down after a rough first inning. After Yadier Molina homered (I said to Dave, "What's this series -- 'give up a HR to their crappy-hitting catcher' series?"), he slammed the door, giving up only two more hits and a walk and striking out five from the 2nd to the 7th, and had he not had to struggle through a 20-pitch 7th, he might have been able to at least start the 8th, which might have avoided the Chris Duncan tying HR. But then, we'd have missed all the excitement of the 8th, 9th and 10th innings.
- And, Cubs security and maintenance crews, who were called on in the third inning when a young woman in front of us lost her lunch all over at least two benches. Mike & I agreed, that was the first time we'd ever seen that -- and she wasn't even drunk, it was apparently from some bad food she'd eaten (not necessarily Wrigley Field food, either). Three innings later, she and a friend who accompanied her to First Aid returned to applause from the entire section.
I've always been a Ryan Dempster fan, because I think he is one of the genuine "good guys" in the game, and I have often said I think he "gets it" (for which, I know, I have been flamed). And he "got it" last year to the tune of 33 saves in 35 chances, and a fine ERA once he went exclusively to closing. This year's been different, and I attributed part of that to the erratic nature of save opportunities for Dempster.
I'm beginning to rethink this, especially after implosions like today's. Dempster wasn't anywhere near the plate, walking three and giving up a line-drive single to Ronnie Belliard, and finally had to be yanked in favor of Will Ohman -- which reminded Dave, who was on the warpath about "PLAY THE GAME RIGHT!" today (after Z decided to play Babe Ruth in the 4th instead of sacrificing, and struck out, and tried to break his bat over his knee and failing), that Ohman probably should have been in the game to start the 8th against LH-hitting Duncan. Dusty Baker always plays platoon matchups -- why not here?
Here's another maddening thing -- Neifi Perez batting second. Now, Perez isn't a bad player, although he's not really a GOOD player either. I'll give him credit -- and Dave and I discussed this at length today -- for coming to play every day, playing with energy and enthusiasm each and every time he goes out on the field. And I think he knows that at this stage of his career, he's a bit player. Once in a while, bit players have to start.
BUT NOT BAT SECOND!!
And the worst part about this is, Neifi had a decent game today, with two hits (including a bunt single -- if only he could have done that during this game back in May) and played good defense. Unfortunately, this probably only means he'll wind up starting -- and batting second -- again tomorrow, because Cesar Izturis is battling some hamstring trouble.
In fact, had the game gone past the 10th inning today -- and after last Wednesday, all of us figured we were in for another marathon -- BOTH teams would have been in trouble for bench players. Tony LaRussa had already emptied his bench; all he had left was his backup catcher, Gary Bennett, because starting SS David Eckstein got hurt yesterday in a play at the plate and was likely unavailable. Same for Dusty Baker, who was down to Michael Barrett -- and Barrett was banged up a little too, which is why he couldn't start.
Fortunately, Nevin and Pierre's heroics won the game, and although ultimately it won't mean anything, it sure is nice to walk out of the ballpark with a little lift, and seeing the TEAM leave the field with a little lift, than to trudge off again with another loss. Incidentally -- and I don't know if Fox showed this -- after Pierre's spectacular catch, the entire team, and half the guys in the dugout, met him running in from CF with congratulations.
Congratulations indeed. The Cubs played a nice game today and won, and beating the Cardinals is a bonus. That makes the Cubs 11-4 against St. Louis this year and ensures that the Cardinals can do no better than tie their fewest wins (two) ever in Wrigley in one season. Better yet, let's have them set a NEW record for that tomorrow.
One last thing, and thanks. My friend David from RF, who took so many of the great bleacher reconstruction photos you saw over the winter, read my post the other day about wanting one of the NASA caps they were giving away in Houston. So, today he stopped by and gave me a NASA cap -- quite a nice one, in fact. What a guy! Thanks, David.