The sun finally came out in Chicago this afternoon with pleasant temperatures, after what seemed like weeks on end of rain and thunderstorms, and, along with many other Chicagoans on a summer Friday, the Cubs and particularly right fielder Milton Bradley, decided to take the afternoon off.
Oh... wait. You mean they were supposed to show up at Wrigley Field and play a focused game of major league baseball today? Well, someone forgot to tell the offense for the first five innings, and then when that finally woke up in the sixth, someone forgot to put the thinking cap on Bradley, who made three major gaffes and the Cubs lost to the Twins 7-4.
Now. All of you here know I was not in favor of the Bradley signing -- my choice was Adam Dunn -- and even through all of Milton's troubles and injuries this year I have never, ever wanted him to fail. Oddly enough, the one gaffe that actually cost the Cubs a run -- the dropped fly ball in the top of the seventh after Milton had driven in two runs with a booming double off the right field wall -- I'm not going to really blame him for that. Late afternoon right field at Wrigley is a tough field to play, with the sun angling right into a fielder's eyes, and Bradley, having not seen the sun very often this season at home, just lost the ball in the sun. It happens. Had Milton caught the ball, that would have been two out in the inning and the next play was another fly ball to right, which would have ended the inning with no runs scoring.
Maybe that would have prevented gaffe #3, in which Milton forgot how many outs there were after catching another fly ball in the top of the eighth with runners on first and third with one out. He actually stood in the outfield as if to say, "Look! I caught that one!" and then pulled a Larry Walker when he flung the ball into the bleacher boxes behind him. A run scored -- which would have scored anyway on the deep fly ball, so that's NOT Milton's fault -- and Brendan Harris scampered to third. Fortunately, Justin Morneau flied to left and no further damage was done. They handed out Cubs license plate frames at the park today, but in the bleachers, we were given tickets to redeem for a frame after the game was over. Prescient? Maybe. Those frames would likely have rained down on Bradley after his mistake. (Note: I am NOT encouraging such behavior, only saying what might have happened.)
Backtracking to mistake #1, when Milton was on second after his double and Mike Fontenot was on third, he took off on a ground ball to short and was tagged easily. Derrek Lee was safe at first and a run scored. I'm not going to be too rough on Milton here either -- had he not gotten Joe Crede's attention by running, Lee would have been an easy out at first, with the run likely scoring anyway. So he cost the Cubs a base, and Geovany Soto popped up to end the inning.
I'm still not sold on Bradley as the big bat that's going to save this team. He seemed unfocused out there today, and he has yet to have any sustained stretch of hitting that would carry the team in the absence of Aramis Ramirez and the vanished bat of Alfonso Soriano. I repeat: I do not want Bradley to fail. But I'm getting a little tired of him always being the negative story.
All this on a day when, after being silent again for four innings, the Cubs finally scored a few runs -- more than they had the last two games combined; unfortunately, Randy Wells chose today to have his worst major league start thus far. He threw 78 pitches in 3.2 innings and never really had his best stuff. Meanwhile, Kevin Slowey was giving a pitching clinic, striking out ten and laying down a perfect sacrifice bunt in the sixth.
Now think about that: the Twins pitchers bat in only 15 or so games a year, yet two of them -- including a relief pitcher -- laid down absolutely beautiful sac bunts. This is yet another reason Ron Gardenhire is among the best managers in the game; his teams are always prepared and fundamentally sound. Joe Nathan, among the top closers for several years now, had no trouble with the Cubs in the 9th; I wondered why Kosuke Fukudome, who had never faced Nathan before, swung at the first pitch. Nathan threw only ten pitches in retiring the Cubs in the ninth, after Jose Mijares retired the two Cubs he faced in the seventh on two pitches and Matt Guerrier threw only four to get the last out in the eighth after Mijares got into a bit of trouble. Fundamentals... something the 2009 Cubs have had a lot of trouble with.
Finally, who let all these Twins fans into Chicago? They may have made up as much as 35-40% of the season-high paid crowd of 41,509, and they were as loud or louder than any game vs. the White Sox or Cardinals when Joe Mauer hit a two-run homer off Wells in the second inning. Props to Mauer, who is perhaps the best hitter in the game today. I find myself wondering why the Twins are a game under .500 -- the Cubs, now back to the .500 mark, are playing like a .500 team; sometimes looking really good, other times making mistakes and not taking advantage of opportunities.
So tonight, it's "Go White Sox, Royals and Indians", hoping those AL teams can help out the Cubs. My friend Phil is convinced, after seeing Alfonso Soriano at 2B for the first time this year with Micah Hoffpauir in LF in the 9th inning, that Lou will do that on a starting basis tomorrow. "Book it", Phil said. We'll see. At the very least, it would help the offense... I don't know how much more of Aaron Miles I can take. Even when Miles made a slick play in the fourth, retiring Mauer, he kind of slung the ball to D-Lee, still favoring his sore shoulder.
Enough. Let's get 'em tomorrow.