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Ugly Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

And we saw an awful lot of ugly in today's 12-9, 10-inning loss to the Cardinals.

Let me start near the end. Sometimes I really, really hate the way modern baseball games are managed.

Look at the situation going into the 9th inning -- tied 7-7, Bob Howry barely getting out of the 8th inning after having had two balls hit hard on him.

Why would you not bring in your closer in that situation? The game's on the line, and Ryan Dempster hasn't thrown in three days.

No, instead Howry is left in. After he walked Chris Duncan to lead off the 9th, even THEN would have been a good time to bring Dempster in. Nope, Lou's anchored to the bench, with predictable results. Howry's been hit pretty hard this season and he was again in that inning, giving up a two-run triple to Scott Rolen (his fifth hit of the afternoon).

By the time Dempster did get into the game in the 10th, after a stirring ninth-inning rally (oh, but I have some bones to pick about that one, too), he got himself into trouble with a little bloopy single by Preston Wilson, and then a line drive off the glove of Aramis Ramirez which, had it been caught, could have resulted in a double play.

Dave called the home run by Albert Pujols, and I guess any of us could have predicted it. I pointed out to Mike that by the 10th inning, the flagpoles on the scoreboard were bending in the wind -- I haven't seen it quite that windy in a couple of years at the ballpark -- but Pujols' HR, which made Waveland Avenue above left-center, didn't need any help. Those were the first runs Dempster had allowed this season.

When I was walking back to my car I saw mini-storms of trash flying down the street and dust flew into my eyes, having been picked up by the very windy conditions.

Back to the Cubs' game-tying 9th-inning rally: again, terribly mismanaged by Lou, in my opinion. After Michael Barrett's leadoff single, Matt Murton hit a ball very hard right at David Eckstein. That brought up Ronny Cedeno, who was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.

This is a no-brainer. There was no one warming up in the Cardinal bullpen. Why leave Cedeno (who had no chance against Jason Isringhausen, and wound up striking out for the third time) in the game, when Alfonso Soriano is on deck? Let Soriano bat for Cedeno, and then Felix Pie, a lefthanded hitter, should have batted for himself.

Turned out OK when Soriano doubled. That brings me to the next managerial mistake. Yes, I know Soriano wasn't supposed to play till tomorrow. But if he is healthy enough to hit, he should be healthy enough to run the bases -- so when we saw him get taken down for pinch-runner Cesar Izturis (incidentally, Dave said he thought Izturis was 15 pounds overweight, and maybe that's part of Izturis' problem), we all shook our heads in disbelief.

If Soriano can't run the bases on an 80-degree day, how is he going to be in the starting lineup tomorrow, when it may be a bit damp and cooler? Or in the lineup Wednesday, when it may not get out of the 40's? If he can play, then he should have played. This led to the placement of Murton in CF; no one could imagine him ever having played CF at the professional level ("Maybe in high school," Dave said). Had the game gone on more than the one more inning it did, with the swirling wind and shadows, that outfield (DeRosa in RF, Murton in CF, Floyd in LF) could have wound up a comedy of errors, or maybe in an actual bunch of errors. Plus, that left Lou with only Henry Blanco on the bench as a spare position player.

It didn't matter, of course, once Pujols homered.

It was ugly from the beginning. Wade Miller had a decent first three innings, notwithstanding the HR he allowed to Jim Edmonds (one of six longballs today); that could be forgiven, given the windy and warm conditions. It was in the fourth and fifth, when he started giving up more hits and two more home runs, that Lou finally came and got him, Miller having used up 97 pitches to get fourteen outs.

I guess he's got one more start to get himself straightened out, because Angel Guzman can't be recalled till he's down for ten days (and Guzman threw poorly for Iowa last night), but really, Miller needs to be on a short leash.

Not that the bullpen's been much better, and I pass along this rumor for whatever it's worth: the Cubs have apparently made inquiries about acquiring Scott Linebrink from the Padres. Who they would send to San Diego in any such deal, I do not know. Clearly, the bullpen could use some help, along with the rotation.

I also have a bone to pick today with Cliff Floyd, who stopped running out of the batter's box when he grounded to first with Ryan Theriot, who had doubled, caught off second in the first inning. The Cardinals tried to get Theriot and failed, but Floyd didn't run fast enough to beat the relay throw. If he does, the Cubs have two men on and nobody out and maybe score more than two runs in the first inning.

Bob Dernier may be here helping teach baserunning longer than he expected.

It is still too early to panic, and I do know that Lou Piniella is not going to sit around and say "Tough day, dude," like a certain previous manager would have in this situation. If he can do anything, he will -- although I'm not so thrilled with the idea that the team is going to go back to 12 pitchers. Who goes from the team if they do? Does Pie go back to Iowa? Does Ronny Cedeno go back to Iowa (that'd get MY vote)? Does Daryle Ward get waived? Today's AP recap, linked above, says:

Cubs manager Lou Piniella said he still hasn't decided what to do with an outfield that is jammed with five players. With Soriano slated to move to left field from center when he returns to the starting lineup Monday, the Cubs could stick with rookie Felix Pie in center. That means Matt Murton, Cliff Floyd and Jacque Jones will be vying for playing time in right. "He (Pie) is going to need to play every day, whether it's here or in (Triple-A) Iowa. We'll talk about our outfield situation here over the next day or two," Piniella said.

Which tells us exactly nothing. We'll find out something tomorrow, and as Dave said, though it is too early to panic, the Brewer series -- given that Milwaukee is in first place -- becomes critical, because the Cubs simply cannot afford to get swept.

In theory, the club's best pitcher -- Carlos Zambrano -- is going tomorrow. We remain, for now at least, hopeful.

I have no further word on the hospitalization of Ron Santo for an irregular heartbeat, other than what's in the link in this paragraph. I hope he's OK, and send my best wishes for recovery to him.

It was nice to see BCB reader dfrancon, who was here all weekend from Dallas (but who didn't attend yesterday's win -- only the two losses), and also John, better known as reader Cubspizza. I also met Matt Weis; thanks for stopping by, although you never did tell me your user name. I only recognized you from your Iowa Cubs cap.

Enough. Though the weather was great, the baseball wasn't, and I'm tired of losing. Let's start a winning streak tomorrow. Till then.