For eight innings today, the Cubs and Mets played a game suited to two teams in first place -- trading single-inning runs twice, having good defensive plays and key strikeouts after runners got on base, and increasing the excitement with each inning gone by.
Then Ryan Dempster came into the game, and the result was much the same as the last time he faced the Mets in New York on May 17 -- an atrocious inning in which he gave up five hits and a walk, and even then, had he been able to bear down and get Shawn Green (who hit a double just fair down the left-field line), the Cubs could have gone into the last of the 9th trailing only 3-2.
In fact, it could be argued that Dempster didn't really throw that badly, and he absolutely, positively had David Wright struck out on a 2-2 pitch that was called a ball by plate umpire Paul Schrieber. Had the Cubs gotten that call -- who knows? Maybe Dempster would have set the Mets down in order in the rest of the inning, and then we wouldn't have seen Billy Wagner in the 9th...
... woulda, coulda, shoulda. It didn't happen, and a tense 8 innings turned into a Mets blowout of the Cubs, 6-2 this afternoon in front of another huge throng, 41,512, on a perfectly gorgeous afternoon, 77 degrees at game time (why they sent the ushers with the squirt bottles into the bleachers on a 77-degree day, I'll never know), without a single cloud visible anywhere, and the wind blowing in. This cut down a couple of fly balls that otherwise might have made the bleachers. It didn't stop the Mets' Ramon Castro or the Cubs' Derrek Lee, who hit matching solo HR in the sixth inning.
The Mets, in fact, could have blown the game open just about any time. Cubs pitchers, starting with Carlos Zambrano, had terrible control today -- walking eleven. The Mets left RISP in the 1st, 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, and even in the 9th when they scored four runs, leaving fourteen in all. The Cubs were fortunate to have stayed close as long as they did -- props to Carlos Marmol and Bob Howry, who also issued walks (Marmol: 2, Howry: 1) but got key strikeouts when they needed them, raising the crowd noise level at times to near-playoff level intensity.
It got loud again when Kerry Wood got up to warm up in the 7th inning, although a bit more muted than it might have been because he started throwing during Eddie Vedder's rendition of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game", when the crowd was all up and buzzing anyway. Wood probably would have come into the game, I think, had the Cubs been trailing in the top of the 8th instead of tying the score. When they tied it up Howry got up and quickly got ready, and when he came in to start the 8th he got an ovation from those who didn't see Wood sit down and Howry get up. We joked that that was probably the loudest ovation that Howry's received in his major league career. Wood, incidentally, did some "just for fun" throwing with Eddie Vedder (who was wearing a jersey with the name "VEDDER" and the number 34 on the back, in the bullpen during batting practice.
For all of you who are on the "Dump Dempster" bandwagon again -- remember that other closers have failures like this. We can't anoint Wood as closer right now -- he hasn't even thrown a major league pitch in over a year! If Dempster fails, I'd say Marmol is the next best choice, given his 96+ fastball and filthy slider. Sentimentally, sure, Wood is the selection, but let's wait and see. Even Francisco Cordero, who leads the NL in saves with 31, has had some spectacular meltdowns this season.
It would help if Cub starters could go deeper into games -- I don't think there's anything seriously wrong with Carlos Zambrano, who left with "heat-related leg cramps". What heat? It wasn't that hot today. In any case Z had very little command today, walking seven batters in his five innings (plus allowing the leadoff HR to Castro in the 6th). It's nearly imperative, with no day off for ten more days, to have Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis throw into the 7th inning, at the very least, tomorrow and Sunday.
Jeff wasn't with us today as he had to attend a wedding in Kentucky this weekend. He'd given up on the Official Simpsons Movie Donut after it had multiple failures during the Arizona series. Jessica, showing up today after an early AM flight from NY, did not know this and so brought me one. Taking one for the team, I ate it in the sixth inning. Boom! Derrek Lee's HR followed two batters later. Those things are high-carb and full of sugar, and in the end, the Cubs didn't win today.
I wore my Kerry Wood jersey today in anticipation of Wood making an appearance. Since he didn't, I'll wear it again tomorrow, and since everyone else in the bullpen has thrown the last two days, I'd expect him to be the first guy up. We all remarked at how thin he looked; comparing him to the photo of him that was in today's Tribune, taken the day he made his first comeback on May 2, 2000, he looks like he's lost almost fifty pounds off his 6-5 frame. He looks like an 18-year-old high school kid. Let's hope he throws lights-out like he did in high school. The team could use the lift, both psychologically and literally, as the bullpen's been run pretty ragged the last week or so.
Quick note on tonight's Phillies/Brewers game: Kyle Kendrick throws against Yovani Gallardo in a matchup of highly touted rookies. Then tomorrow Cole Hamels, the Phillies' top starter, goes vs. Dave Bush, and Sunday, Adam Eaton faces Jeff Suppan. I like all these matchups from a Cub standpoint -- and the Phillies showed us they're a pretty good team when they were here the last four days. So let's go Phillies, and pick up the pieces tomorrow afternoon at Wrigley Field.