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The Prince Of Breaking Ties

And that wasn't exactly the way, I'm sure, that Rocky Cherry envisioned making his major league debut.

The second-to-last Cub who could have reasonably appeared in the game (twenty-two Cubs played; the only ones who didn't were lefty Neal Cotts, and the starting pitchers for the rest of the series, Rich Hill and Ted Lilly), he came on to start his first game in a major league Cub uniform in the 12th inning, and after retiring J. J. Hardy on a popup (that Ronny Cedeno nearly didn't catch), Prince Fielder lofted his second home run of the game just barely out of Jacque Jones' reach, and the Cubs lost to the Brewers 5-4, their second four-hour-plus game in the last week.

The last Cub pitcher to make his major league debut in extra innings did so also against the Brewers, in Milwaukee, in the 17th inning of this memorable 2003 game. That was Todd Wellemeyer; he struck out the side and earned the save in the game. Cherry's debut was less spectacular, but Wellemeyer's career went south after that. I still think Rocky Ty Cherry (yes, that's his real full name) will do better than that. Cherry was recalled to bolster the bullpen, since no fifth starter is needed till next week, and Wade Miller was placed on the DL with "middle back spasms". Um-hmm. I'd expect Miller to either be asked to go to Iowa after the 15 days, or perhaps just be released, a noble, relatively inexpensive experiment that failed.

It's hard to believe, but the Cubs are finding new and inventive ways to lose every single day. Last night, they left the potential lead/winning run in scoring position in the 8th, 10th and 11th innings, and wound up being forced to use Jason Marquis as a pinch-hitter in the 11th (he did have a decent at-bat before striking out), because Lou Piniella made the following, to me, very strange substitutions:

  • After sending Matt Murton to bat for Cliff Floyd in the 7th (still with a 4-2 lead at the time), he could have put Murton in left, Felix Pie in center and Jacque Jones in right, giving Alfonso Soriano the rest of the night off -- probably would have been a good idea, given that it was his first day back after the hamstring pull. Instead, Soriano stayed in, basically wasting Murton. He looked just fine in left field, and it looks like he'll be staying there permanently, but it wouldn't have hurt to ease him back in; hamstring injuries, as Aramis Ramirez could testify, are notorious for giving players trouble for entire seasons.
  • In the 8th, Daryle Ward was sent up to bat for Henry Blanco (who had doubled in his last at-bat) with the game now tied and a runner on second base. This was a no-brainer; Ned Yost ordered Ward walked, and Ronny Cedeno went in to run for him. This used up three players, since Michael Barrett then batted for Cesar Izturis.
So, in extra innings, that left Ryan Theriot and Marquis as extra hitters off the bench.

Not that it mattered anyway after the first four innings; after Brewers starter Claudio Vargas was lifted trailing 4-0 after four innings, six Brewers relievers gave the Cubs only five hits -- and five walks -- over the last eight innings, with squandered opportunity after squandered opportunity.

This after Carlos Zambrano started the game appearing to have figured out what was wrong with him earlier in the month; he breezed through the first three innings before throwing 23 pitches in the fourth (one run allowed, a J. J. Hardy home run), and 29 in the fifth (another run allowed on a couple of singles and a walk), and 17 more in the sixth before Lou mercifully pulled the plug on him.

Z's pitching line for the day -- 5.1 innings, 2 earned runs, seven strikeouts -- looks OK, and he "lowered" his ERA almost a run to a still-unsightly 6.91, but he has GOT to start throwing more strikes (103 total pitches, 62 strikes); I hate to agree with Jay Mariotti again, but when he writes:

Among many issues at Wrigley Field, including Piniella's mental well-being, there is continuing evidence that Zambrano's wildly emotional psyche is being rocked by his contractual uncertainty. With no Cubs' offer imminent and perhaps none coming until the offseason, every Zambrano start becomes more significant. As midnight neared, he was asked to assess his April struggles.

"I wasn't great. I wasn't good. I have to learn and just keep pitching," Zambrano said. "We have a long season to go."

... I have to think he's on to something. At least Z owned up to not being very good last night. John McDonough was very noncommittal when he stopped by our section in the bleachers on Saturday and Phil and I asked him about Z's contract -- naturally; why would he tell us? But maybe it is wearing on Z.

It was cool but not terribly cold; I was actually surprised when I read in the box score that the game-time temperature was 47 degrees. It felt ten degrees "warmer" than that and as the evening progressed, the wind died down, which was too bad, as Fielder's game-winning HR just made it over the basket in RF; the earlier-evening wind might have knocked it down, as it did with several other fly balls. Incidentally, the Cubs used to announce the weather conditions before the game, and it seems to me they've missed a marketing opportunity by not getting such a thing sponsored. They already announce the UV rating, sponsored by a sunblock (inevitably, it's way off, and laughable when it's announced before night games), so why not the weather conditions, too?

The chilly weather kept the announced crowd of 33,920 down to perhaps 20,000-22,000 in the ballpark, with the bleachers perhaps half-full, including this year's first visit from BCB reader Matt Burtz (gauchodirk), who wished he had dressed warmer, and quite a few noisy folks from Wisconsin who led "Let's Go Brewers!" chants during their extra-inning rallies, and one guy in the third row of our section who kept yelling at Brewers LF Geoff Jenkins, "Jenkins, you suck!" the entire game.

To which, to his credit, Jenkins spent the entire night ignoring the guy -- until the 8th inning, when, after finishing his between-inning warmups, he threw the warmup ball right at the guy, who, armed with his glove, promptly dropped it. Served him right.

Well. Should I sit here and type out invective or give up or panic or say, "This team sucks?" No, that's not my nature, and despite the fact that 7-12 isn't the record any of us envisioned after nineteen games, I still think this team can and will turn it around. But they had better do it soon.

Finally, The Employee is having "exploratory" shoulder surgery today, likely ending his season, and if the exploration actually finds any trouble, more than likely ending his 2008 season as well. It's a shame, given the promise he showed four years ago. But this sort of thing should have been done back in 2005.