ATLANTA -- I see you all went crazy in the game thread with the discussion about Ted Lilly's unwarranted ejection (and note: though I was as passionate as all of you were, could you keep the profanity to a dull roar? Thanks), I'm going to start my comments on another ridiculous Cub loss, 5-4 to the Braves (making them now 3-13 in one-run games, by far the worst in the majors), this time in front of a national TV audience, with some remarks about Michael Barrett.
You know what, Michael? You're a really nice guy. You do a lot of good work for charity, you've got a nice family, you really want to play for the Cubs and you work and try really, really hard.
But it's time for you to either take up another position in the field, or another profession. How many more pitches like that need to go by before the brass does something about it? Yes, the pitch by Ryan Dempster that went into the dirt and scored Willie Harris with the winning run was ruled, correctly, a wild pitch, because it bounced. But a major league catcher has to block that ball, particularly in a game situation like that. It was the second time in this game that Barrett failed to block a pitch like that; the other time, in the third inning, it didn't matter, but this one cost the Cubs the game.
That wasn't the only failure, of course; Dempster was absolutely horrid last night (I'm writing this in the wee hours, because I've got to catch a morning flight back to Chicago when the sun comes up and I don't know when I'll get back online), throwing only 11 strikes in 29 pitches, and when he was in the strike zone, the Braves pounded him for three straight hits opening the eighth inning, leading to the two intentional and one unintentional walk that won the game for Atlanta. (And this after a spectacular offensive failure in the top of the 8th, with the Cubs failing to score after loading the bases with nobody out.)
Yes, the eighth inning, something that all began in snowball fashion with the completely ridiculous ejection of Ted Lilly for allegedly throwing at Edgar Renteria.
Now why would he do this, after starting the game with two strikeouts? Clearly, the pitch just got away. I have heard (and perhaps someone else can confirm) that NO warnings were issued before Sunday's game, and if that's the case, plate umpire Jim Wolf completely overreacted by ejecting Lilly. I can understand not wanting things to snowball after last night, but really, throwing out a starting pitcher after three hitters puts that team in a bind -- and then Lou Piniella outmanaged himself by yanking Carlos Marmol after only 2.1 innings. Marmol allowed five hits and two runs -- the only really bad pitch he made was the HR to Kelly Johnson -- but he threw only 43 pitches and could easily have gone another inning. Then he let Will Ohman and, Michael Wuertz throw only one inning apiece -- I wasn't quite sure why he left Angel Pagan, who had pinch-hit for Ohman, in the game in right field, swapping out Jacque Jones, forcing another pinch-hitter later for Wuertz (Matt Murton, who has the annoying habit of swinging at the first pitch every time he pinch-hits; he did it again tonight, flying weakly to left).
This left, after Howry came in to throw the sixth, Dempster as the only viable pitching option, since both Sean Gallagher and Scott Eyre had thrown two or more innings on Saturday, and further, left only Koyie Hill and Ryan Theriot (who eventually hit for Howry) on the bench, with Aramis Ramirez not really available. What if the game had gone into extra innings?
So Lou -- better take a remedial course in double-switching, OK? I know, I know, you get a week off of it starting on the 18th with games in AL parks. But this roster has got to be better-managed right now, or more games are going to be lost as a result.
And all of this after the Cubs came from behind to take a 4-2 lead on some excellent hitting by Mike Fontenot, who tripled in a run and then hit his first major league HR (I had no idea a guy that small could hit a ball that far!), after he had been hit in the face by Renteria in the first inning after the HBP, when Renteria stole second base. Really, that was completely uncalled for.
It's a good thing this was the last game this year (barring a miracle meeting in the postseason) between these two teams (the Braves won the season series 5-4). There's bad blood between the clubs now, and perhaps it's best to let this sort of thing rest until 2008.
Carlos Zambrano, who had been sent back to Chicago to rest up for his start tomorrow, rather than have to fly back with the rest of the club and get in at 3 or 4 in the morning, must have been pretty amused watching all the histrionics on TV. Carlos -- you'd better be more than amused, because you're going to have to throw a complete game on Monday night, to give the bullpen some rest, since the Cubs' next off-day isn't till the 18th.
Before the game I took in the brand-new World of Coca-Cola in downtown Atlanta. This is a cool place and I'd highly recommend it. They have a ton of old Coke memorabilia, unlike many such exhibits, it's not reproductions, but real stuff from Coke ads dating back all the way to 1905. There's a Norman Rockwell painting (real also); you can also see old Coke TV ads dating back to the 40's, and some ads from other countries, some of which have never been seen here.
There are a couple of silly little film presentations on how a Coke is made and manufactured, mostly good for kids, and there's a huge room where you can taste-test 70 different Coke-owned beverages sold all over the world. It's a fun way to spend a couple of hours, and to realize how much Coca-Cola is probably the most recognized brand name on the entire planet.
Finally, I met up with Peter Greenman and his dad, longtime BCB readers, before the game -- a shout-out to you two; and also Miles, a longtime friend who works at Distant Replays, a store selling cool retro sports memorabilia located here in Atlanta -- if you're interested, click on their banner on the left sidebar.
And I also wound up sitting in front of a family of Cubs fans, originally from the Chicago area, now living in Charleston, South Carolina (hi to you -- you got a BCB card from me, and welcome!), whose nine-year-old son was attending his very first Cubs game. You might say, "Well -- this is the sort of indoctrination that all of us got into being a Cubs fan." But sitting in front of a wide-eyed boy looking at major league baseball for the first time, hearing his enthusiasm (and being impressed by his knowledge), reminds me, and I hope all of you, that as upset as we get with the play of our favorite team, as cynical as we can become at times, let us never forget how we first viewed the game we all love, through the eyes of a child.
A couple of photos to lighten up your mood:
Left: In the middle of every first inning, they put the "Injury Report" for both teams on the Jumbotron. Note what it says is bothering Roberto Novoa. Right: Sean Gallagher carrying the pink backpack to the bullpen. (Photos by Al)