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A Tale Of Two Games

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And no, I'm not Dickens. (Stop what you're thinking RIGHT NOW!)

It really was almost two different seasons at Wrigley Field today; two different weather seasons (drizzly and cloudy during the first game, bright, sunny and pleasant during the second), and the Cubs played like the bad old Cubs of May and June in game one, losing 10-2 to the Diamondbacks; but then they came out like the team that's gone 10-7 since the All-Star break (yes, I know that's not a great record, but it's far better than earlier, and better than most teams in the NL Central, as pointed out in the Summer of Failure diary) and won game two 7-3 behind Matt Murton's four-double, five-RBI performance.

Note that if you click on those recaps, they are identical except for the score at the top of the page. I'm not quite sure why Yahoo does that, but that's how they have them listed on their scoreboard page.

Mark came with me, as I noted in last night's recap, and had a banner day. In addition to getting the kids' giveaway of the day, the "Bob" Build-A-Bear (which looked suspciously like the "Len" Build-A-Bear given away at the end of June; what are they saying? That Len Kasper and Bob Brenly look alike? Or that they are bears? This will probably forever remain a mystery.), he also got his glove autographed by Mark Prior and Ryan Dempster, and a ball signed by Shawn Green.

That's a pretty good haul for an eleven-year-old.

Since I had to work, I arrived after the game started; walking down the street from my car to the 7-11 to pick up some food & drink, I looked up at the scoreboard and saw the "5" next to "ARIZONA" in the first inning.

Great. The game was pretty much over before I even got inside the ballpark. Carlos Marmol, who I have to remind myself does have talent, threw THIRTY-EIGHT pitches in the top of the first (no wonder I didn't miss much by not arriving till 12:30!), and that's just ridiculous. He managed to slog through four more innings, throwing 59 more pitches before departing for a pinch-hitter.

Even so, the Cubs had plenty of chances to come back in this game BEFORE they maddeningly stretched out the bottom of the ninth to about twenty minutes, scoring a run on a Ryan Theriot double and loading the bases before John Mabry ended it with a double play. Ack! Meaningless stuff, especially with another game to play. As they did so many times back in the losing months of May and June, the Cubs left RISP in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and ninth innings, scoring their total of two runs out of all those baserunners and leaving thirteen altogether.

One GOOD thing that came out of game one: David Aardsma threw an efficient scoreless inning, striking out two, and the fact that he was in the game at all was excellent news -- because Glendon Rusch was placed on the DL, cause given: "tennis elbow". Great. So as I suspected a while back, Rusch has been hiding an injury. I'm sure Rusch is a nice guy and all, but seriously -- if you're hurt, SAY SO instead of continuing to go out there and hurting the team by pitching.

The sun came out just about the time that first game was ending, and the Cubs' bats brightened with the sun, scoring three quick first-inning runs, with the big blow being the first of Matt Murton's four doubles. That ties a major league record; the last time a Cub accomplished that feat was by Billy Williams on April 9, 1969 in an 11-3 win over the Phillies.

Meanwhile, Juan Mateo began auspiciously by getting three unassisted groundouts to Phil Nevin in the first inning, and would probably have gotten into the fourth scoreless, except Ronny Cedeno couldn't pick up Damion Easley's ground ball in the third, leading to an unearned run. The second time around the batting order, the D'backs seemed to solve Mateo, as Dave reminded me, it's easy the first time, but as good hitters make adjustments, the pitchers have to as well. Mateo did, I think, very well for a guy who has never pitched above Double-A. He's got a live arm and didn't let a couple of doubles leading off the fifth bother him; Nevin made a very nice play on a Luis Gonzalez line drive and doubled Orlando Hudson off second. There's more on Mateo in this diary, in which several of you mention you think Mateo might be more suited to relief. It's probably too early to tell that, but I was most pleased, as I said, with his poise and the fact that he was able to locate his pitches reasonably well (54 strikes out of 88 pitches thrown).

Kudos also to Henry Blanco today; he laid down a nice looking sacrifice in the fifth, though that didn't lead to any scoring, and then a perfectly executed squeeze bunt in the seventh.

Dave and I spent a lot of time discussing the state of the NL; during the first game he was convinced that the Diamondbacks, with their apparently good offense, would win the NL West easily -- but during game two, we both discussed how mediocre their pitching staff is. Dave said, "They're a classic .500 ballclub", to which I replied: "A .500 club could win that division", and a .500 club could very well win the NL wild card, too. As we've said many times, it's a shame that Jim Hendry couldn't put together such a club this season, because the NL is so mediocre -- there's really only one superior team in the league, the Mets, and they have their flaws as well (as the Cubs found out in beating them two of three in New York last week). Even the Cardinals, at times, look absolutely awful, as they did in allowing eight runs in the last two innings to the Phillies last night.

We can't lament that; Hendry put too many eggs in the Wood/Prior basket this year, and then when Derrek Lee went down, slicing the offense in two, that was just about it for this ballclub. In the months of May and June the Cubs were 16-40. Apart from that, they are 28-23; play at that pace all year and you're contending for the division title. No, I'm not saying they have a chance like that NOW, nor even for the wild card; only that they would have if they'd played even .500 ball during May and June.

Today was Jeff's birthday, so Krista came with very gooey Rice Krispie treats. These are things I should not eat, but how can you refuse on someone's birthday? And this could be a good sign -- Matt Burtz (BCB reader 'gauchodirk') came to the bleachers for the fifth time this year. He had emailed me yesterday to say he couldn't make it, but with the DH scheduled, he was able to make game two -- his first win of the year at the ballpark. He'll be in attendance again tomorrow (of course, the fact that Carlos Zambrano will be pitching could be a little more important a factor as to whether the Cubs will win or not).

Other short notes from today: I was most impressed, and so was Dave, with Ryan Theriot in game two; he hustled his way into a couple of hits and a stolen base and made a nice tag play leading to a DP in the fourth inning. Theriot MUST get more playing time -- I do think he has a chance to stick with the club next year, likely as a utility player, but in order to get the necessary experience to do that, a guy has to play. The Pirates are coming in this weekend, Dusty. In case you haven't notice, they suck. Time to play Theriot!

Finally, on the way home, Mark, who has been keeping score now for about three years (and I note that his handwriting seems to get better with each passing year), asked me, "Can I get a clipboard?"

Cool! I'm SO proud!