As a gentle rain fell on the South Side of Chicago, I had a nice conversation with a sixty-something Sox fan wearing a Nellie Fox jersey, while on my way walking toward the Cell. Both of us commiserated on the state of our respective teams, and I wished him well.
Not too well, you understand, and today's game had all the earmarks of yet another frustrating loss -- but then the guy that all of us have affectionately termed "The Riot" came through, both offensively and defensively, and the Cubs beat the White Sox 2-1, winning the season series and positioning themselves for a possible, yes, possible, badly needed series sweep tomorrow.
And Ryan Theriot had his big day on an afternoon when he wasn't even supposed to be in the starting lineup -- Mark DeRosa was supposed to start at 3B, but was a late scratch (is that eye problem from the other day still bothering him? It must be, because even though he was supposed to be "available", there was an obvious PH opportunity for him in the 8th against LHP Boone Logan, and Lou didn't use him there, so I wonder), and so Theriot started at 3B, a position where he's had some defensive problems.
Not today. Twice he speared screaming line drives (off AJ Pierzynski in the first inning, with a runner on second, and off Juan Uribe leading off the fifth), and then he executed an absolutely gorgeous, sweet, perfect suicide squeeze bunt to win the game for the Cubs in the 9th.
Imagine that. Perfect execution on both sides of the ball. Sit back and savor that for a while -- we haven't seen very much of it this year, have we?
Alfonso Soriano led off the game with a HR for the second day in a row and fifth time this season. The Sox scored in the last of the 1st on a leadoff single by the just-activated Scott Podsednik, a stolen base, a groundout, and then a double by Paul Konerko.
And that was it. Both starting pitchers settled down after that -- at one point, Rich Hill struck out five of six -- and about the fourth inning, when it was still drizzling, I started thinking (yes, I really did!), "The next team to score is going to win this game."
Which is, of course, exactly what happened. After Hill and Javier Vazquez were removed from the game, both bullpens did a good job of keeping the game scoreless till the 9th, when the Cubs executed a rally of the type we've been dying to see all year:
- Cliff Floyd singled up the middle and was removed for PR Angel Pagan.
- Daryle Ward (an outstanding PH both last year and this) also singled, sending Pagan to 3B, and was also removed for a PR, Koyie Hill (an obvious move since Ward was hitting for C Rob Bowen, and Hill was going to have to go into the game anyway).
Stop and mull this again. Not only was the execution perfect, this is a sign that the ballclub's players at last seem to be settling into their clearly defined roles, and further, stepping up in situations where they absolutely, positively must -- and Theriot, in particular, deserves props today because he wasn't even supposed to play. Dave and I have discussed numerous times the many roster changes so far this year and how any team can reach its "rhythm" doing that. Maybe it's taken this long for Lou Piniella to find the players who he is comfortable with, and the roles he wants them to fill. It can be reasonably argued that such a thing could have and should have been done during spring training. But perhaps the "right" mix just wasn't available then.
The changes may continue, as has been suggested in today's Sun-Times, with a deal of Jacque Jones, opening a roster spot for a desired 12th pitcher. But based on Carrie Muskat's notes on the Cubs website today, there aren't really any viable options at Iowa:
Among the candidates are lefty Neal Cotts, who was 0-1 with a 7.33 ERA in six starts at Triple-A Iowa. Cotts, who opened the season with the Major League team, has had inconsistent numbers. On June 13, he gave up one earned run on five hits over 5 2/3 innings, and in his next start against Memphis, he gave up seven earned runs on eight hits over 4 1/3 innings.
Clay Rapada isn't an option, because he was just sent down to Triple-A, and rules require him to be there at least 10 days unless an injury prompts a need. Rocky Cherry hasn't thrown as well as he did in Spring Training. Cherry had four saves and a 7.33 ERA in 21 games at Iowa.
Right-hander Angel Guzman, on the disabled list since June 2 with a strained right elbow, has just resumed throwing in Mesa, Ariz., at the team's facility. He's not an option either.
Finally, in the last few days a not-so-mysterious ticket booth has appeared right outside the ballpark, on Addison Street. For anyone who ever doubted that Wrigley Field Premium Ticket Services wasn't connected with the Cubs, these photos should dispel those doubts forever:
(as always, click on thumbnail to view full-size in new browser window. If you are using IE, you may have to click the lower-right corner of the image in the new window to expand it to its full size; in Firefox click anywhere on the image. Photos by David Sameshima)