Before you read this lead, keep in mind that I am absolutely, positively NOT saying that this team is as good as the 1984 NL East champions.
But I did see something today that I saw often in that ballclub.
In '84, quite often, in fact, the Cubs would give up a run or two in the top of the first inning of home games.
And it didn't matter. They came back to bat in the bottom of the first, or subsequent innings, and you could feel the attitude, viz.: "It doesn't matter. We're going to win anyway." And they did, often -- the '84 team went 51-29 at home.
I felt a little bit of that today. Maybe that's what Lou Piniella had in mind when he said he wanted "Cubbie Swagger". Now, that's a bit of a clichéd phrase, but that's essentially what I'm talking about here. Attitude. Confidence. The knowledge that you, as a team, are good enough baseball players to spot a ballclub a lead in the first inning and come back to win anyway.
I wouldn't recommend a steady diet of this, but today's comeback win, 6-4 over the Nationals, providing the Cubs' second three-game winning streak of the season, was most impressive, particularly since they started out deep in the hole, giving up four runs in the first inning.
BCB reader lemon17pie mentioned in the game thread that Carlos Zambrano was likely tipping his pitches by throwing across his body. We noticed that right away, even from the left field bleachers, and Z threw 35 pitches across his body in the first inning, getting hit hard by Felipe Lopez (leadoff triple), Ryan Church (double) and former NL Central nemesis Austin Kearns (two-run HR), sandwiched around another of those tiresome Z walks, something he MUST cut down on.
Whatever was said to him in the dugout after that first inning changed everything. Z threw five more innings, allowing only three hits and one more walk, and getting a couple of called strikeouts. If he could only hold his focus for that "one bad inning" -- something he's had several times already this year -- that ERA, up slightly after today at 5.80, would begin to drop precipitously.
As Z held the Nationals at bay, the Cubs started pecking away at Jason Bergmann, whose motion likely telegraphed his own pitches. Derrek Lee's double streak ended today at eight games, but he homered and singled, driving in two runs, and hit the ball hard in his only out of the day, a solid rocket of a line drive that was caught by Church to end the fourth inning. Lee's leading the majors in batting average at this moment, hitting .422, and seems locked in to a zone we hope he never comes out of. (Cliché enough for you?)
The best thing about the Cubs' two rallies in the third and fourth inning that wiped out the four-run deficit and gave them a 5-4 lead was that all five of the runs scored after two were out. This is something Cub teams of previous years simply could not do in any way, shape or form and it is extremely gratifying to see all sorts of lineups (and I wasn't thrilled with seeing Ryan Theriot and Felix Pie and Matt Murton all on the bench today, either) accomplish this.
Speaking of Murton, he had a terrible pinch-hit AB today, popping up to short right field on the first pitch he saw, when he had the opportunity to advance Jacque Jones, who had led off the inning with a single. After a walk, Pie drove Jones in with a single of his own with an insurance run.
Alfonso Soriano also had a good day against his former team, going 2-for-5 with two runs scored and an RBI and raising his average to .315.
And Lou ran through nearly his entire bullpen after lifting Z to start the 7th -- four different pitchers had to enter the game, allowing two walks and a double but no runs. While it didn't feel too good at the time (and you should have heard some of the invective in the bleachers aimed Will Ohman's way) -- props to all four (Neal Cotts, Michael Wuertz, Ohman and Bob Howry) for getting out of that inning.
There were a few spitty raindrops but the sun also lazily peered through the clouds as if to say, "No rain today", on a day when multiple school groups were heard cheering their name as it flashed on the message board in the fifth inning. We also spotted a large group in the section next to us celebrating "John Lee's 40th Birthday In The Bleachers", complete with T-shirts and nametags reading "Old Fart's Friend", which led Jeff to wonder what that makes us.
That's a question perhaps best left unanswered.
Seated next to us were three Japanese tourists who asked Jeff, who has always been the "official photographer" of our section, to take their picture. Naturally, that prompted Howard to lean into the photo, something the three young Japanese folks (who left after the seventh inning) accepted readily. When they get back to Japan, no doubt, they'll wonder who the American guy with the faded Cubs cap is in their photo of their day at Wrigley Field.
Which turned out to be a nice day -- it wasn't nearly as cold as I expected, game time temp announced as 56 degrees, and it felt warmer -- as well as well-played baseball. Keep this up and good things can and will continue to happen.
Finally, wanted to give my thanks to Max Crawford. "Who?" you're asking. Max is the guy who runs the LED scoreboards on the upper deck and underneath the main scoreboard. I had gotten his email address through "someone I know" and asked him whether it'd be possible to put, somewhere in the ballpark, an indication of total hits and errors -- which we used to have on the old scoreboard on the LF upper deck.
Thanks, Max. He's posting a "traditional" R-H-E linescore at the end of each half-inning, as well as during pitching changes, and also posts the "due up" hitters. Much appreciated. The more info you can get out there, the better.