When Bobby Scales bobbled what should have been a game-ending grounder at third base, a collective groan rose from the remains of the 40,348 in attendance today at Wrigley Field (many, especially in the chilly upper deck, had left early). And what wisdom does my friend Phil share with us?
"Jake Fox would have had that!"
Well, no, Phil, no, he probably wouldn't have had it. Fortunately, Kevin Gregg didn't let Scales' error bother him too much; he got pinch-hitter Mark Loretta to hit another ground ball, this time to shortstop Andres Blanco, and thoughthe play was pretty close at second, they got the forceout to end end a tense 2-1 Cubs win over the Dodgers on a wacky afternoon that started sunny and warm, was interrupted by a 10-minute rainshower, and ended with the wind howling in over the right-field wall.
Once again, as has been the case virtually every day since the Cubs' eight-game losing streak began, they got outstanding starting pitching. Ted Lilly made one mistake, and Matt Kemp deposited it in the first row of the LF bleachers for a 1-0 LA lead in the top of the seventh. But Koyie Hill (and was this the first time in ML history that both starting catchers wore #55? We uniform number geeks would like to know!) matched Kemp with a solo shot of his own in the bottom of the seventh, and three singles and a Kosuke Fukudome sac fly later, the Cubs had a 2-1 lead which Carlos Marmol tried to give away with a pair of walks in the 8th, and Gregg had to fight off Scales' error to nail down his eighth save.
One of those hits in the 7th was yet another pinch hit by Fox, who has three hits in his four at-bats this year for the Cubs and who appears to have brought the hot-hitting bat with him from Iowa. I still wouldn't start him at third base against the Dodgers, because if they do Juan Pierre will get four bunt singles every game. But Fox should keep working out there, taking as many grounders as possible, and perhaps he could start a game or three on the upcoming road trip to Atlanta, Cincinnati and Houston. Incidentally, the Cubs did not take BP today (though the Dodgers did), and when the gates opened there was exactly one Cub on the field -- Randy Wells, throwing the ball gently to one of the bullpen catchers, only 12 hours after throwing seven good innings. I like to see hard workers like this. I think the Cubs have a keeper in Wells.
The offense is still sputtering around somewhat; the Cubs had a runner on third base with nobody out in both the second and sixth innings and couldn't get him home, and also left the bases loaded (though with two out) in the third. That puts tremendous pressure on the starting pitcher; Lilly came through today, but eventually the offense is going to have to come through. Give some credit to Chad Billingsley, who is, after all, one of the better pitchers in the league.
Note from last night: Lou claims the confusion regarding Hill and Fukudome and who was really supposed to pinch-hit in the eighth inning was because Hill missed them frantically waving him back into the dugout; Hill was supposed to be a "decoy":
Piniella said Hill was a "decoy" in case the Dodgers chose to bring in a lefty. Kosuke Fukudome was ready to hit against Troncoso.
"I am certainly not going to hit Hill ahead of Fukudome or [Micah] Hoffpauir with a right-hander in the ballgame," Piniella said. "First of all, the other two I've used in that category, and second of all, he's my only backup catcher. It's something that shouldn't have happened."
Well, I guess I buy this, but seriously, Lou -- couldn't you have told Hill this before he stepped into the on-deck circle as a "decoy"? I promise you, he wouldn't have told anyone. Or couldn't you have given him a more obvious signal, since he said he didn't see one? This is another example of Lou being asleep at the wheel. Whether it would have made a difference in the game is impossible to tell. But in a close game like last night's, you can't leave anything to chance.
Finally, though Scales made an error in a critical situation, it didn't wind up hurting the team and his homer last night did, after all, give the Cubs at least a shot. Both of Scales' homers this year have been in a pinch-hitting role. The club record for pinch-homers in a season is four, set by Glenallen Hill in 1999.
Onward. The Cubs have shown they can stick right there with the team with the best record in baseball.