Yes, that's right. It's maddening when you go to the ballpark and see the Cubs, who have played miserably all year, play well in all aspects of the game -- pitching, timely hitting, patience at the plate, good defense -- and it makes you wonder:
WHERE THE HECK HAS THIS BEEN ALL YEAR?
Of course, this team isn't good enough to have played like this all year, but today's 6-2 win over the Giants, only the 55th of the season (comparison point: in 2004, the club with the best record of the last several years, they won their 55th game on July 29), was indeed satisfying to watch, especially since it was played in a snappy two hours and nine minutes.
I'm going to officially say to each and every one of you: mea culpa. It does appear that I was wrong about Rich Hill, and when I'm wrong, I will admit it. If he can pitch like this (and he did so in his last start, too) all the time, it appears that he actually has made the adjustments necessary to succeed at the major league level. He walked only one today -- oddly enough, the opposing pitcher, Noah Lowry, who came into the game hitting .150 -- and struck out six, and had Giants hitters popping the ball up with frequency, when he wasn't getting them to beat the ball into the ground. Had Hill not given up back-to-back doubles in the 8th to two Giant scrubs (Lance Niekro, Joe's kid, recalled today, and Fred Lewis, making his major league debut), he might have been allowed to finish the game (he'd have been shooting for a shutout in that case). As it is, 106 pitches, 75 strikes in eight innings is outstanding.
I saw that 8th inning from the second row behind the Cubs dugout. What was I doing there? Well, I had heard from one of my "spies" (OK, Ron from LF) that Mike, who ordinarily doesn't come to weekday games, was sitting there. I ran into a security guard who I know, who got me past the gauntlet that usually zealously guards the entrance to the treasured lower boxes. I was allowed in (after a reasonable request that I wait till between innings) and surprised Mike, who told me he and a coworker had been given the tickets at his office and let out early on this holiday weekend, just in time to see one of the best games of the year.
Barry Bonds wasn't supposed to play today anyway, the Giants having played a 3 1/2 hour game last night in Atlanta and having arrived in Chicago at 2:30 this morning. And the Giants didn't take batting practice; several of them hit in the batting cage in RF and then Moises Alou, who had befriended many of the old LF regulars in his time here, came by to say hello, and signed autographs, including one for Mark, who shagged a couple of Cub BP homers. One of the balls he got was a Derrek Lee BP ball, and he raced over to show me that it had an "Inaugural Season Busch Stadium 2006" insignia on it. Weird. Guess the Cubs got some of those in St. Louis last weekend and brought them back with them.
Apart from Rich Hill's performance, the Cubs had eight hits, six for extra bases, including Matt Murton's 10th HR of the season and the first HR of Ryan Theriot's major league career. Theriot isn't a power hitter and, even though he also doubled today, I wouldn't expect him to hit for this sort of power on a regular basis. But, he did hit them off a quality major league pitcher, Lowry, and he has clearly earned playing time the rest of this month.
It is incumbent on the manager of this club to give it to him, even though Theriot isn't one of his "pets".
Finally, it's definitely September. The announced crowd of 38,583 included about 10,000 no-shows; it was coolish when Mark & I left the house and so I wore jeans; Jeff had told Krista that he thought I'd be wearing jeans and a jacket, so he was half right.
If this is what the Cubs are going to do the rest of this month, I can and will enjoy that, and know that somewhere on the current roster, there are some useful parts that could be used in building a winner in the future. Is it all there? Of course not. There's much work to be done, too.