This one, I knew I wouldn't be able to stay up for, because of the later start (and even with that, Dodger Stadium appeared half-empty at game time, despite an announced crowd of 52,484), so I tried the fourth-inning trick again.
I didn't make it through the bottom of the fourth; when the Dodgers loaded the bases with nobody out, I thought: "This doesn't look good," and it didn't: Hiroki Kuroda and the Dodgers shut out the Cubs 3-0, LA's first CG of 2008 and the Dodgers' first CG shutout since... today's starter, Derek Lowe, threw a one-hitter against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on August 31, 2005.
We will, all of us, be hoping that history doesn't repeat itself this afternoon.
Most of the recaps, including this one from Yahoo, call the missed DP call ending the first inning as a turning point in the game:
Trailing 1-0 on Kent’s RBI double in the first inning, the Cubs were the victims of a blown call in the fourth by first base umpire Derryl Cousins with runners at the corners and one out. Shortstop Chin-lung Hu turned Kosuke Fukudome’s grounder into a double play, but replays showed Fukudome was safe at first on the relay from Kent to James Loney.
While that cost the Cubs a run -- Ryan Theriot, who was on third, would have scored the tying run -- to me, that wasn't the key play of the game. That occurred in the last of the fourth, when, with runners on first and second and nobody out, Blake DeWitt grounded to Theriot. It was a sharply hit ball, but it appeared, at first, to be a routine play -- and one that a better SS than Theriot might have turned into a double play.
Nope and nope. DeWitt, who is not exactly a speed merchant (one SB in his brief major league career and 11 SB and 12 CS in 459 minor league games), beat Theriot's throw, loading the bases with nobody out. That's when I turned the TV off. Now, even the result of this inning shows some resilience that previous Cub teams wouldn't have had. You know this, right? In the past, someone would have hit a bases-clearing double and before you could blink, the Cubs would have been behind 6-0 or 7-0.
Instead, the Dodgers scored only one run, on another grounder to Theriot, and then Sean Gallagher struck out Chin-Lung Hu and Kuroda to keep the game close. Props to Gallagher, who kept his team in the game, at least.
Back to the ball hit to Theriot. We have debated and debated and debated Ryan Theriot's value (or lack thereof, in the opinion of some of you) on this site and it is not my intention to start another such debate (yeah, good luck stopping that, right?). But I have also said (and the numbers folks back this observed opinion) that Theriot doesn't really have the range or arm for SS. He's a 2B playing out of position. Personally, I think Ronny Cedeno at least gets one out and maybe a DP on DeWitt's grounder... which changes the entire complexion of that inning, and maybe the game. While Ryan Theriot is hitting .329/.410/.395 -- an .805 OPS -- he is probably worth keeping in the lineup. But if that starts to drop, Ronny Cedeno has to play. Has to, Lou, no matter if Theriot is your long-lost nephew (that's a joke, incidentally).
Beyond that, the bottom line is that the Cubs didn't really lose as a result of this: they just got beat last night when they got shut down by a pretty good pitcher. That kind of stuff happens even to great teams (example: the 114-win 1998 Yankees got shut out five times, including by scores of 7-0, 9-0 and 11-0. This makes three for the 2008 Cubs). Kuroda not only held the Cubs to four harmless singles, he also struck out eleven and didn't walk anyone.
One last thing, and I still don't understand this: the Cubs have a long reliever in Jon Lieber. If Lou is so worried about bullpen overwork, why doesn't he use Lieber that way, instead of wasting him in a one-inning appearance?
Z's going this afternoon; I have confidence that the Cubs will bounce back. The Cubs' two nearest pursuers in the Central, the Cardinals and Brewers, also lost last night, so the Cubs maintained their 3.5 game lead. (But Derrek Lee really has to start hitting, and until at least Tuesday, they really have no choice but to put him out there, with Lou's 1,275-man pitching staff.) I'll have a game thread up by early afternoon.