ATLANTA -- It's really that simple. Bad defense did the Cubs in, in last night's ugly 9-5 loss to the Braves, and some of it wasn't even stuff that "shows up in the boxscore", as the proverbial saying goes.
Here are the four bad plays that, in my opinion, cost the Cubs all six runs given up by Jason Marquis (and all four runs in the second inning were unearned):
- Mike Fontenot dropped a throw from Michael Barrett, who was attempting to throw Willie Harris out trying to steal second. Barrett, as you know, isn't very good at throwing runners out; he's thrown out only seven of 36 attempting to steal. This time, he had Harris out -- but Fontenot dropped the ball. This would have ended the first inning, since Edgar Renteria had struck out on the pitch.
- TWICE, in the following at-bat, Barrett dropped a foul tip which would have been strike three, again ending the inning with no runs scoring. Predictably, Andruw Jones hit the pitch after the second drop halfway to Chattanooga. Which raises the question, especially with first base open and Jones having been 7-for-11 lifetime with four HR vs. Marquis: why would you even pitch to him??? Jones should have been walked; there shouldn't have been a pitch anywhere near the strike zone to him while Marquis was on the mound. Now, he is 9-for-13 lifetime with FIVE HR vs. Marquis. Lesson to you, Jason: DON'T PITCH TO HIM!!
- And finally, Marquis did himself in, in the second inning, by taking an easy comebacker hit by Scott Thorman, not a fast runner, and pulling Derrek Lee off first base. Three batters later, the inning would have been over, even after walking Yunel Escobar, when Kelly Johnson grounded out. (I'm assuming Tim Hudson, a .132 lifetime hitter, would have made an out, rather than sacrificing.)
And now we know why Sean Gallagher didn't throw Friday night; Lou was saving him for something just like this, the shortest outing for Marquis since last September 13. Gallagher, I thought, threw pretty well; he did allow a HR to Edgar Renteria that glanced off Jacque Jones' glove, bounced off the top of the wall, and into the seats, but otherwise was consistently throwing 93-94 MPH, and throwing strikes, too (32 in 54 pitches).
And all this on a day when the Cubs exploded for four runs in a nice long-sequence first inning after Hudson and the Braves decided to retaliate a day late for Alfonso Soriano's three-HR outburst of Friday by hitting him with the first pitch of the game.
Really, guys, you can't think of anything better than that? The Cubs did get their "revenge" of sorts for this when Jones' comebacker in the third inning hit Hudson in the knee and forced him from the game. The ensuing parade of relief pitchers (Bobby Cox seemed to manage this like a spring training game, having a different pitcher for the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th innings) made the game drag on in the muggy Georgia evening for three hours and nine minutes.
And I think I know why this game was a loss. I ran into BCB reader Will23 and his friend Katie before the game; he also stopped by several times during the game to talk about what was going on. During all of this he revealed that he has never seen the Cubs win in person.
So now you know. Will won't be at tonight's game because he's got to drive back home to be at work Monday morning, so we have a chance to win.
I'm kidding, Will. Nice to meet you. Come on up to Wrigley Field any time. (Your streak has to end sometime, right?)
Before the game I had a look around the Ted, which is somewhat hard to find -- I swear, if I spent a week here I wouldn't be able to figure out where places are -- but once you get in, getting around is easy. The concourse, though wide, seems rather dark. This is the concourse beneath the 100 level of seats; I did notice another walkway behind the 200 level, which seems more open and from which you could, if you so chose, stand and watch the game (and, in fact, it seemed as if a fair number of people with upper-deck tickets were doing just this, as the crowd was announced as 51,816, the fourth-largest in Turner Field history).
There are the usual food stands; the selection seems decent, though I didn't have any from the concession stands; instead, I sat down and had dinner at the "Chophouse". If you haven't been to the Ted, this is a sit-down restaurant in right-center field, behind the "Welcome To The Bigs" sign you see on TV. The food was pretty good and the prices not unreasonable; I met a couple who had driven from North Carolina. Both originally from the western suburbs of Chicago, she's a Cubs fan, and he was, as she said, "my Sox fan husband who just drove me here." I gave them a BCB card, so if you're reading this, welcome!
The highlight of the informal walking tour was the Braves Hall of Fame and Museum, which doesn't appear to be much at first glance, but which has Braves memorabilia and displays going all the way back to the franchise's origins in Boston (in fact, in the Chophouse they have flags "celebrating" Braves titles in Boston going back to their first NL title in 1877). Among the coolest displays is a World War II display which has Warren Spahn's military uniform and his Purple Heart.
Listening to the Braves' postgame radio recap, they were talking about this game as if it could be the salvation of their season. Maybe, but if they have to rely on other teams' bad defense to get themselves kick-started, they may be waiting a long time. With the Brewers having a jaw-dropping bullpen meltdown at Texas (four runs scoring after two out, no one on in the last of the 9th) and losing 4-3, the Cubs remain at five games behind, and with John Smoltz not throwing tonight, I believe the Cubs have a good shot at leaving Atlanta with three wins in four games, and that would be just fine with me.