It seemed over before it even started.
No, I'm not talking about the 2009 season, although it is rapidly fading unless the Cubs can make a quick turnaround.
I'm talking about today's Cubs 6-1 loss to the Phillies. With a pitcher as good as Cliff Lee going, there is little margin for error on the part of his opponent. Ryan Dempster didn't pitch a bad game, but he made two mistakes -- one was a wind-aided homer by Ryan Howard into about the second row in left field, the other a solo shot by Pedro Feliz two batters later, and they might as well have called the game off right then, because Cubs hitters had no idea how to solve Lee.
That's not a knock on them, necessarily -- many teams have had the same trouble. The Cubs scored exactly as many runs -- one -- off Lee as the Giants and Rockies did in his two previous National League starts after he came over to the Phillies from Cleveland. The Cubs' best shot at Lee was in the second inning when they loaded the bases on a pair of walks and a single by Jake Fox. However, the bases-loaded batter was Dempster, who came into the game with a .089 career batting average and who was 3-for-40 this year (.075) starting today's action.
Naturally, he struck out.
The rest of the game played out fairly evenly, with the Phillies dinking out a couple more runs and the Cubs getting a consolation run in the fifth on a Jeff Baker double, followed by a Ryan Theriot single. If there has been any bright spot over the last week, it's been the play of Baker, who is 11-for-19 (.579) over the last five games with two doubles, a triple and a pair of walks and who is now hitting .333/.397/.526 in an admittedly small-sample-size 63 plate appearances as a Cub. With Mike Fontenot struggling, expect Baker to play second base regularly for a while, at least.
There's no doubt this team is far different with Aramis Ramirez not in the starting lineup. As I mentioned earlier, the Cubs are 25-17 with A-Ram starting, now 33-38 without, and watching him drive down Sheffield about 10:45 this morning in his red Maserati, I wondered when or whether we'd see him back in the lineup. There seems no word from anyone on when he'll return; we were all hoping for today. Maybe tomorrow. Lou Piniella seemed completely discouraged and defeated in his postgame news conference, offering little more than platitudes. It may be that Lou and the team could come to an amicable parting of the ways after this year, and new ownership, wanting to make a splash, might go after Tony LaRussa, whose Cardinals contract is up at the end of this year. This was total speculation on the part of my friend Dave this afternoon, but it's certainly food for thought, especially if this season doesn't wind up in a comeback.
I also wanted to say a few more words about last night's beer-tossing incident in the bleachers. Both the Cubs and Phillies CF Shane Victorino have filed a complaint against the fan who did it. The only problem:
... the Chicago Police Department is looking for the individual.
As you may have heard, security in the bleachers got the wrong guy, who, protesting was handcuffed and taken to the Town Hall police station down Addison before they checked TV replays and discovered that the protests were valid. At Chicago Sports in Haiku today, they posted a pretty good screen cap of the guy who apparently did it and said, in haiku:
Do you know this guy?
Then you should pick up the phone
And call the police!
I watched the video of the incident. It is my opinion that the man pictured at Chicago Sports in Haiku is the one who threw the beer. The cubs.com article linked above also says:
The Cubs do have security in the bleachers, and Kenney said he wasn't sure what other steps the team could take.
"What are you going to do?" Kenney said. "We serve beer and people sit in the bleachers. If you think about how many years we've gone with no issues of any kind, including situations where we had our fans in some way animated about our own players, where they weren't favorable towards them -- so this is an isolated instance. [We'll] handle it the right way, we think, with the police."
While Kenney is correct -- this is an isolated incident -- there are some measures they can and should take to keep the rowdiness down. I will say that security has been much more vigilant about underage drinking this year, but there's more they can do to calm the idiot behavior. So Crane, here are my suggestions for making the bleachers a better place to be, all of which I think are reasonable and none of which are too onerous on fans or the team:
- To keep the drunkenness down, issue wristbands to everyone who wants to buy alcohol, with four tabs (or punch holes, whatever). After you buy four, you're done. Cut off alcohol sales two hours after game time, and keep up the good work on stopping the underage drinking.
- Assign knowledgeable and well-trained security people to the bleachers and keep the same people in the same locations every game. This was done years ago and the regulars and season ticket holders would get to know them; they'd get to know the territory and could quickly figure out where trouble would start. With new security faces there seemingly every day, they have trouble with just enforcing the rules they think they know, much less look for trouble. And give them better training in how to enforce the rules that need to be enforced, not just nitpick (I heard today that one security guard yelled at a fan who simply had the tips of his fingers over the top of the wall. Ridiculous).
- Assign security to both the top row AND bottom row of EVERY aisle. Right now there's only one security guard at the bottom of each aisle, and some in the middle of rows -- not nearly enough people to quell problems.
- Get some uniformed Chicago police officers in the bleachers. Just a uniformed presence might keep some of the idiots from doing stupid things. This is done at Yankee Stadium (or, at least it was in the old one, I assume they do the same at the new place) and it really does help keep people behaving properly. In addition, have some plainclothes or off-duty Chicago police roam the bleachers throughout the game.
Will this cost more money? Sure it will. But wouldn't it be worth it to keep from having more black eyes on the franchise like this one?
Enough. At least the weather's been nice the last three days, for really the first time all summer. Too bad the baseball hasn't been as nice. Onward, and let's sweep the Pirates this weekend.