It looked and felt just like the Brant Brown Game, didn't it?
A lazy fly ball that the left fielder should have caught to end the game instead winds up giving the game to the other side. It didn't happen exactly as it did ten years ago in Milwaukee -- when Brown dropped the fly with the bases loaded and the Cubs ahead by two, all three runs scored and the Brewers won. In this case Alfonso Soriano's drop just tied the game and the Pirates had to wait two more innings before winning 6-5, but the net effect is the same -- a demoralizing, depressing loss of a game that should have been won.
The good news is that the 1998 Cubs came back from that deflating loss and won the wild card spot five days later. This team is far better than that one and has far more time left, and they'll come back.
But for today, as Len said, Carlos Marmol must have been standing on the mound watching the fly ball knowing he'd saved the game, and then it all changed. The psychological impact of something like that cannot be overstated.
Let's start at the beginning, though, shall we? I hereby offer my services to MLB as a replay official. I work cheap -- don't even need them to buy me a big plasma screen so I can see the plays up close, I already have one -- and I'll instant-message the correct result to the ballpark right after I make the right call. For the fifth time in the last week, an umpire blew a call when Luis Rivas' drive in the first inning hit the top of the LF wall in front of Soriano (who took his eye off the ball, the #1 sin for any fielder), then bounced straight up in the air, never actually landing in the stands, before landing on the field. (Rivas later hit an actual, indisputed homer to the LF corner, as if to say, "See, I really CAN hit one.")
Soriano is partly to blame here. If he had played the ball (and probably didn't because he couldn't find it), then Lou might have had a good reason to come out and ask the umpires to have a conference, and who knows, like they did in New York last Sunday, maybe they'd have overturned the call. You could say this was the difference in the game, since the Cubs would have had a 5-3 lead in the 9th instead of 5-4, but as Bob Brenly said repeatedly during the telecase, you don't know what would have happened if, as should have happened, Rivas wound up on second with a ground-rule double. Maybe he'd have scored anyway.
Soriano tried to make up for his lazy play by hitting a two-run homer in the Cubs' four-run third that gave them the lead, but Ted Lilly just wasn't sharp today. You could tell he was laboring, and each inning that he got through without giving up a run was a gift. He left with the game tied at 4 and having thrown 101 pitches.
The bullpen did its job as the Cubs took the lead on an Aramis Ramirez RBI single, just as A-Ram gave the club the lead last night with his double. Marmol did his job too, although I could have done without the walks. Can anyone explain how that run off him counts as earned? Soriano was charged with an error on the dropped fly ball -- if he catches it, the game is over! The run has to be unearned.
Ah, well. Doesn't really matter. It's a run anyway, a loss anyway, and the team just has to regroup coming home tomorrow. Fortunately, the Cubs have played extremely well at home and they had just as tough a road trip (through St. Louis and Cincinnati) earlier this month and came home and had a terrific homestand. I expect nothing less this time -- 5-2 is imperative, 6-1 would be great.
Len & Bob were, justifiably, extremely critical of Soriano after his drop. They said, correctly, that he really isn't a very good left fielder, apart from his plus throwing arm. With his leg in uncertain status, that has to decrease his range. The Cubs have to think about doing one of two things: if Soriano really is hurt -- and it appears to this observer that he still is -- put him on the DL and let him rest till he's well. If not, then they have to consider taking him out of games for defense in the late innings.
In the meantime, I was serious about my offer of being a replay official, though of course I could only do it for road games, since I'm at all the home games. Len & Bob discussed this and said in shooting the breeze about this issue, someone came up with the idea of assigning an extra umpire to every crew, to cover the outfield for just such situations. That'd be a tall order -- you'd have to have someone who could run fast, to cover the entire outfield -- but this, along with all the other suggestions, are worth considering. In this Baseball Prospectus article ($), John Perrotto says Bud and the boys may actually do something... but check out what Lou has to say, too:
Commissioner Bud Selig has admittedly never been a big fan of the concept. "The commissioner calls instant replay umpires getting together and trying to get the call right," said Bob Watson, MLB vice president of standards and on-field operations. "That is instant replay in his estimation." But when Selig was a guest on XM Radio’s The Baseball Beat on Friday, he told host Charley Steiner that he is at least willing to consider replay. "Everybody knows how I think about these issues," Selig said. "I really am a traditionalist because I think it is right to understand the history of this sport, to be very careful anytime you make a change. But I am very seriously reviewing this entire matter, and I’ll take it from there. I can’t say any more now, because I don’t know how it is going to come out."
As the GM vote suggests, most people in the game are already in favor of limited instant replay. "I think it can be a win-win situation if everyone ends up voting for it," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "I would be in favor of it because some of the calls--fair or foul, or contact calls [in or out of the park]--are tough for umpires to make."
Astros manager Cecil Cooper would like to see replay used in what he calls 'game-changing' situations. "I think we should have like they do in basketball," Cooper said. "All the times at the end of quarters or end of the games they always let the video determine whether the guy got the shot off."
Cubs manager Lou Piniella, though, is a contrarian, and wants no part of instant replay. He admits to getting frustrated when watching NFL games on television and seeing the coaches throw their red flags to challenge an official’s call. "When they start reviewing calls, I know I have five minutes to go to the refrigerator," Piniella said. "It just really slows the game down. All the general managers and either managers or bench coaches were just required to be on an hour-long conference call [Wednesday] with the commissioner’s office about speeding up the pace of the games. Replay would only slow games down. Players make mistakes, coaches make mistakes, managers make mistakes, and so do umpires. We’re all human, and I don’t think you should take the human element out of the game."
Food for thought, anyway. For now, get this game out of your psyche. There are 112 games remaining, and tomorrow is at home.
One final note -- it's time to call an end to the Jim Edmonds Experiment. His lazy fly ball pinch-hitting today looked like a 60-year-old coach hitting fungoes. He's DONE.