It figures, doesn't it? In this season that has made very little sense since Opening Day?
Sam Fuld, who has actually had a fairly productive rookie season, finishing just short of .300 (29-for-97, .299) and with an OPS of .821, came within two at-bats of becoming only the fifth player in major league history with as many plate appearances as he had this year (112 coming into today) with zero RBI -- and three of those were pitchers. Here is the complete list, not including today's game.
Instead, "Little Sam Fuld", as Vin Scully called him when he made that diving catch in Dodger Stadium in August, took advantage of a west wind howling out to right field and launched a fly ball that made it into the first row of the right-field bleachers for his first major league home run and RBI. Later, Sam drove in the Cubs' second run of the day with a groundout. (The wind also blew over my Super Big Gulp, nearly full, only five minutes after the gates opened. In past years spilling this drink has been considered by us as "good luck" for a Cubs win. Silly superstition, yes -- but it didn't portend the right thing today.)
That would have made for a great story if those had been the only two runs of the game; unfortunately, Fuld wasn't the only player taking advantage of the wind. The Diamondbacks' Chris Young, who has made a career of hitting homers at Wrigley Field, hit his fifth lifetime home run at Wrigley off Ryan Dempster with two men on base in the fourth inning, and that was the difference in the Cubs' season-ending 5-2 loss to Arizona, leaving the season record at 83-78, seven and a half games behind the Cardinals, who also lost today (and who enter the postseason, ominously, on a losing note -- they lost eight of their last ten regular season games).
Curiosities abounded today -- in addition to Fuld's feats, Dempster struck out ten, tying his season high and giving him the club leadership for the 2009 season at 172, one more than Rich Harden. One of the K's allowed Gerardo Parra to reach base on a wild pitch. That allowed Dempster to register four strikeouts in the fifth inning. That's the 52nd time in baseball history that a pitcher has done that; Dempster becomes the fifth Cub to do it. Here is the complete list of those who have accomplished this feat; the last Cub to do it was Kerry Wood in the second game of a doubleheader on September 2, 2002. That one was notable because in the fourth inning of that game, when Wood registered four K's, there was an out recorded other than a strikeout; Wood wild-pitched two runners on base.
Also, apart from the delayed 2001 regular season, which ended on October 7 due to the one-week suspension after the 9/11 attacks, this is the latest regular season date ever at Wrigley Field.
Dempster finishes the year with a 3.65 ERA, higher than he would have liked, I'm sure, but still within range of the 2.96 he recorded a year ago. He did manage to post a 200-inning season, something he'd been shooting for, and overall I think he had a very good year given the problems his daughter had after she was born on April 1. Dempster might have had an easier time today and maybe gotten a win, had So Taguchi not dropped Chad Tracy's popup in short left field. While it was not an easy play with the wind, Taguchi had it in his glove and then dropped it -- 3B umpire Ed Rapuano had even signaled "out" before the other umpires realized Taguchi had dropped it. That helped lead to the first two Arizona runs and after Young's homer, Lou played spring training rules with the bullpen, using four relievers to mop up for an inning each. They did all right, giving up only two hits and striking out six.
The Cubs went down meekly in the lat two innings and that, as they say, was that. Leaving the ballpark for the final time of a season that goes no further than the regular schedule is always sad, even on a day like today when the weather was sunny and decent for most of the afternoon. Jim Hendry has much work to do and as I noted this morning, he may have already begun. As noted in eths' FanShot, Von Joshua has already been dismissed as hitting coach, no real surprise, as his work didn't seem to produce any real results, and hitting coaches are often the designated management scapegoat.
We await changes and positive developments for 2010, and we go into this offseason with hope, as ever, that "next year is THE year". BCB isn't going anywhere, of course; we'll be here all offseason with updates, fun stuff and new things, so stick around. In the meantime, I leave this season as I do every season, with this quote from the late A. Bartlett Giamatti's The Green Fields of the Mind:
It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.