COOPERSTOWN, New York -- After driving through several downpours, and enjoying an entire baseball game despite several of the same in Toronto, I've arrived on the outskirts of Cooperstown, for tomorrow's festivities surrounding the Hall of Fame Game.
I know there's been quite a bit of discussion about tomorrow's events, and I'll have more to say about that in the morning.
For now, I know I shouldn't complain too much. The Cubs won only their third road series of the year by defeating the Blue Jays 7-4 this afternoon, but I do have a complaint, and it has to do not just with the way Lou Piniella managed the pitching staff today, but how all major league managers are managing their too-large staffs in 2008.
There's far too much analysis going on, far too many matchup changes, far too many pitching changes for the sake of changes. This one should have been real simple: Ted Lilly threw very well, but in part because of the five walks he issued, he had gone through his six scoreless, one-hit innings with 110 pitches, and we all knew that he was going to be yanked after that.
The score was 7-0. The Cubs have a long reliever, who could easily be a starter in the major leagues today, Jon Lieber, and he hadn't pitched in five days before today. So Lou, why wasn't Lieber in this game???? Good heavens. Send the guy out there and let him throw three innings. The game would have been dispatched easily, likely with a 7-0 final score, and it probably would have been half an hour shorter, too (and Lieber would have had a well-earned save). Instead, Lou started mucking around with matchups, with mid-inning pitching changes (what would have been wrong with leaving Carlos Marmol in for one more out -- yes, he shouldn't have been in the game in the first place, but one more batter wouldn't have hurt at that point), and putting Kerry Wood into a game in a non-save situation, which is never good for a closer, and wasn't today.
Piniella has been managing long enough to remember the times when managers used to do this as a matter of routine -- use relief pitchers for more than an inning at a time, when they were capable of doing so. This saves the rest of the staff and uses pitchers the way they're suited to being used. But then, I don't think I need to tell you this, as I see you've been discussing this in Kinky Reggae's FanPost all afternoon and evening.
OK, the complaint department is now closed. This team keeps rolling along -- just when you think the offense is stymied, they come out with four or five hits in a row, getting them in bunches, and putting games away. Derrek Lee had two more hits and 3 RBI today and seems to be working his way out of his slump -- he did pretty well at DH and Lou is considering more of this in Tampa, along with perhaps using Geovany Soto, to give him a day off behind the plate while keeping his bat in the lineup. Aramis Ramirez hit his first HR since May 26, and sometimes that's a sign of A-Ram's signature -- a hot streak that could last several weeks.
That's what I like best about this team -- there isn't just one player contributing offensively, and when one or two slump a little bit, the others pick them up. The Cubs have a very balanced offense, not locked in to hitting only HR, or any other type of offense. They're still drawing walks, and hitting doubles, and having long-sequence offenses like today.
The roof started open today but you could see clouds building through the opening and during the third inning, when the Cubs had their first offensive rally, they began to close it, a process that takes about 20 minutes. Lou came out and stalled a while because at one point, the batter was in shadow while the pitcher was still in sunshine, which makes it difficult to hit. He stalled long enough to get the shadow over the mound, at which time it seemed to unnerve Jays starter Jesse Litsch, and the Cubs started smacking the ball all over the yard. After the game I heard it had rained very hard a couple of times -- I'm not necessarily a fan of domed stadiums, but in this case, they do have their use.
Ted Lilly threw fine, despite all the walks, and the only hit he allowed was a scooter just under the glove of a diving Mark DeRosa. I had an upgrade coupon so moved from the 1B-side seat I had the first two days to a seat behind the plate, where I wound up sitting behind a know-it-all Blue Jays Fan, who claimed he was a season ticket holder but really knew very little. He said once the roof was closed it'd "feel like a sauna" inside (wrong; they turned the AC on and it was comfortable) and tried to taunt Lilly by yelling, "Hey, get ready to slug Lou when he comes to take you out! -- a reference to the fight Lilly had with Jays manager John Gibbons two years ago, but the way I recall it, that fight was picked by Gibbons (who has fought with other players, including Shea Hillenbrand when he was with the Jays), not Lilly. All in all, the Jays fans were welcoming and friendly; I saw several more signs for Reed Johnson, including a "WE ♥ REED" sign in right field. I imagine it gave Johnson great satisfaction to have two more hits this afternoon. Jays fans are pretty down on their team and management, judging from comments I heard both at the stadium and on the radio postgame show I heard in the car driving out of town.
This is the first time the Cubs have won a series on artificial turf since August 30-September 1, 2004, at Montreal. Granted, they don't play on turf very often any more -- since there are only three teams left with it (Toronto, Tampa Bay and Minnesota, and the Twins won't have it after 2009), and this road trip will be all on turf and that'll be it for this year. The turf in Toronto looks bad from the stands and my friend and BCB reader bison, who was in town with his family and had his kids on the turf yesterday for "Kids Run The Bases", said it looked even worse from field level. Today, I also met BCB reader John M, who stopped in Toronto from Ireland on his way to a business meeting in Las Vegas; had lunch with him and Jessica (Doggie Stalker) in the Hard Rock at the Rogers Centre -- sorry I missed any of the rest of you who tried to find me over the weekend.
Which was enjoyable, for the city and the victories. On to Tampa, after the detour here in upstate New York. More on the suddenly-controversial Hall of Fame Game in the morning.