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A Prior Engagement

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Dave was just starting to explain to me how he had been watching Mark Prior throw, and on several occasions his elbow came below his shoulder on his release point -- and that could be the cause of many of his problems to date -- when Michelle, an EMT who also works as a Wrigley Field security guard, came up and started rubbing the top of Dave's head.

This put all of us into paroxysms of laughter while Prior was getting into trouble in the sixth inning.

Fortunately, there's a team that has a dumber manager than the Cubs. The way Jim Tracy has run the Pirates this year makes Lloyd McClendon's job with that team look great by comparison. Consider the scenario: your team went down 4-0 in the first inning, but you have fought back to within 4-3, and you have the bases loaded, two out, you've knocked the other team's starter out of the game and you have a lefthanded reliever come in to face your lefthanded hitting pitcher, who, despite having had two hits in the game, has thrown 92 pitches -- and you've got a couple of righthanded hitters on the bench.

So what does Tracy do? He lets Zach Duke bat against Will Ohman, and Ohman snapped off a nice-looking curveball for a called strike three.

After that the Cubs padded their lead with home runs by Matt Murton and Angel Pagan, and held on for a 7-5 win over the Pirates this afternoon.

Howard, Jon, Dave, Phil, Mike, Jeff, Krista (and their friends from Champaign), Mark (he hasn't gotten his clipboard yet, but he will) and I were today joined by BCB reader Sparkles, who took the train into the city from the western suburbs, and also another regular BCB'er, moose97, who is visiting from his new home in northern Minnesota, and Steve, visiting from Pennsylvania (a Cubs fan, though, not a Pirates fan, and if you were a Pirates fan, would YOU road-trip with this team?), so it was a festive afternoon in the LF corner, and on the field as well. In taking out our sandwiches, Mark dropped a piece of cheese on his scorecard and I accidentally dropped a piece of turkey on mine.

So, we're thinking, we'd have a Cheese Inning (the 2nd) and a Turkey Inning (the 3rd). Neither of those turned out to generate any offense at all. You can't force these sorts of things, you know.

Don't read too much into the HR by Pagan and Murton. Murton's been hot -- on the homestand, 10-for-22 with 5 doubles, 2 HR, 9 RBI and 2 walks -- and I really do want to see him out there every day, to get some consistency. Still, today's power show was against a bad team. Let's see him do it against contenders. Pagan -- well, I like Pagan, because he's a switch-hitter, runs well, plays good defense and has gotten his average up to .293. I'm not sure if I ever posted this here, but something that Dave originally pointed out to me about him bothers me quite a bit. In the July 2 game against the White Sox, during a pitching change, we spotted Pagan sitting in a chair in the bullpen.

Now how many outfielders have you ever seen do this? That's pretty damn lazy, if you ask me, and especially from a rookie trying to prove he belongs in the major leagues. I'll give Pagan credit for working his way back from a pretty severe hamstring injury early this year -- but show me hard work on the field, too.

Ronny Cedeno played a better second base today, but made a baserunning error in the first inning, getting himself thrown out at third base for the last out of the inning, after Prior had gotten the Cubs' fourth straight hit off Duke. Making the third out of an inning at third base is bad enough, but he also did it so quickly that Murton, rounding third, hadn't crossed the plate before the out, negating what would have been the fifth run.

All's well that ends well, of course, but that inning could have been five or more runs and maybe Duke, who had a 0.56 lifetime ERA in 32 innings vs. the Cubs before today, would have been chased from the game in the first inning.

Other than that, I thought Prior threw pretty well until he started losing his command in the sixth inning, when he walked three and hit Jose Bautista; fortunately, Ohman came in and shut that down, partly thanks to Jim Tracy's brain fart. Tracy had another one in the 8th, when with runners on first and second and no one out, he decided to have Bautista -- who has 12 HR in about 250 AB -- lay down a sacrifice bunt, trailing by two runs on the road.

Sometimes, any or all of us say managers should go against the book, but this was just plain stupid. Sure, the Pirates scored a run -- on a groundout -- but then there were two out and only one man on base, and the pitcher's spot due up. Who do we see bat? Our old pal Jeromy Burnitz, who clearly remembered his year of Dustyball -- he hacked at the first pitch and flied to right. Incidentally, Burnitz, for some unfathomable reason, was taking ground balls at shortstop during batting practice.

Mark probably had a better BP time than Burnitz did. He got three balls autographed -- OK, it wasn't as "big-name" a haul as his Dempster/Prior/Shawn Green signing fiesta the other day; today he got Will Ohman and Pirate pitchers John Grabow and Matt Capps. But for an (almost) 11-year-old kid, that's still part of the fun of coming to the ballpark.

And the Cubs, though out of the race (SHHH! Don't tell Dusty. He still thinks there's a chance!), have had a successful homestand at 7-3 with one game remaining, and have played, for the most part (the first game of Thursday's DH notwithstanding), fairly solid baseball.