When you hit three home runs and score six runs on twelve hits against the Washington Nationals, admittedly a good-hitting team, you really should win. (Such a run total would have won any of the four games the Cubs took from the Nats in Washington last month).
Not last night, unfortunately. Carlos Zambrano looked like he wanted to throw every pitch 900 MPH and win the game singlehandedly with his bat. That's not how Z is at his best; as I've noted several times here, Z's best games are when he has his heavy sinker working and gets lots of ground-ball outs. Of the 13 outs he managed to record before being yanked after 95 pitches (only 55 strikes), just four were via ground balls.
Still, the game was not completely out of reach when Lou called for Aaron Heilman to relieve Z. Wait, that's kind of a non sequitur, isn't it? When you put Heilman in a game, that sort of automatically puts it out of reach. Heilman entered the game with the bases loaded and one out, trailing 5-1. Now, putting Heilman in any game with the bases loaded is a really bad idea, considering the number of walks he issues, but last night Heilman decided to eschew the bases on balls. After managing to get the second out of the inning on a strikeout of Ronnie Belliard, he let Elijah Dukes put the game on ice with a grand slam.
The Cubs attempted to make it interesting with three runs in the sixth to cut the deficit to 9-4, chasing starter Garrett Mock, but then Tom Gorzelanny decided to remind us why the Pirates were so willing to dump him, allowing a three-run blast to Josh Willingham -- his second HR of the night -- and the Nats had their 15-6 blowout. Willingham reached base and scored all five times he batted, with a pair of singles and a walk in addition to the homers. It was the Nats' biggest run-scoring outburst of the season and the most the Cubs allowed in one game.
Z's fourth HR of the season gave him the following distinctions: he is only the fourth pitcher since World War II to have at least three seasons with four or more HR (Earl Wilson had four such seasons, Bob Lemon and Don Drysdale three each), and he is the eighth pitcher in that time frame (and 14th since 1901) to have 20 career homers.
To which the answer is, "So what? We want to win!" And you'd be absolutely correct. If the Cubs' fading chances at a playoff spot were to come to fruition, we all thought they'd have to, at the very least, sweep the Nationals. That's gone, but I am not going to give up until the task seems pretty well impossible. It's almost there, but not quite yet. Win these next two games -- and get some cooperation from other teams -- and a baseball miracle might still be at hand.
You could, however, see the discouragement in the announced crowd number of 37,297, which is almost 4,000 below official sellout capacity (41,160, according to the Cubs website). The bleachers had large swaths of empty seats -- I'm sure you could see those on the TV broadcast -- including about half of my section in the LF corner. The bleachers might have been several hundred tickets short of a sellout, and for the first time since May the day-of-game ticket windows on Waveland were closed.
It is still too early, really, to start discussing 2010 and what changes I'd like to see (believe me, I'll have some when the season is over). Clearly, this team wasn't constructed too well -- although to be fair to Jim Hendry, they couldn't have anticipated the multiple injuries to key performers. Hendry could have put together a better bench to replace those players, though. Aaron Miles, who managed to turn a 3-0 count into a strikeout while pinch-hitting last night, is rapidly moving up the list of "worst OPS since 1969 for anyone with as many PA as he has". He currently ranks 36th on that list.
Speaking of injuries, the players appearing on the cover of the Cubs' scorecard magazine for the past three months have all wound up on the DL within weeks of their appearance (June: Ted Lilly; July: Reed Johnson; August: Carlos Zambrano). Who knew that all we had to do to rid ourselves of Miles was to get the publications department to feature him on the cover of the scorecard?
Enough. Let's at least beat these guys tonight.