There may be life in the corpse after all.
After getting only two runners past first base through seven innings, one of them scoring, the Cubs wasted Ted Lilly's outstanding starting outing when Kevin Gregg gave up a run-scoring single to Fernando Tatis.
No, wait. That's not fair to Gregg, who got Tatis to hit a two-out fly ball that most left fielders would have caught up with. Alfonso Soriano actually did do that, then let the ball pop out of his clove. It was his third defensive miscue of the game and gave the Mets a 2-1 lead, though his relay throw to Ryan Theriot was sent on home to nail Daniel Murphy at the plate.
And the way the Cubs have played most of this month, that would have been it -- giving up the lead run in the late innings, they haven't been able to mount comebacks. This time, though, a double from Milton Bradley -- who also had an adventurous game in the outfield, even while having a fine day at the plate -- started the game-winning rally off Mets reliever Brian Stokes. Stokes has been the Mets' most consistent reliever all year, but he couldn't stop the Cubs. Derrek Lee moved Bradley to third on a deep fly ball to RF, where he scored the tying run on an Aramis Ramirez single.
Jeff Baker walked -- that surprised all of us, who thought he might not have checked his swing in time on a 3-2 pitch -- and then Soriano hit his game-winning blast.
Carlos Marmol made us think he was going to play walkathon again, walking the leadoff hitter in the 9th, but then he got three quick outs including a pair of K's and the Cubs took the first game of the series 5-2, helping Lou Piniella celebrate his 66th birthday today.
Let's address the booing of Bradley and Soriano first. I've consistently said that I'd only boo a perceived lack of effort. I don't see that from either one of those players -- I do think they are giving 100% effort on the field. Bradley was booed when he misplayed a ball in the second inning, allowing the Mets' first run to score, and thereafter had a mix of boos and cheers when he came up to bat. He also bowed to the crowd in RF after making a nice catch in the seventh inning, which I thought was pretty funny and actually, an appropriate reaction from him. The booing really isn't necessary, but I can understand fans' frustration with Bradley, who just doesn't seem to be a good fit here. He's made odd comments and then blamed the media for trying to inflame things. There was quite a group of reporters on the field outside the Cubs dugout before the game, probably trying to get more on this story, which I wish would just go away.
It is not my purpose here to reignite the debate about whether Bradley should stay or not. My position is clear and I'm sticking with it -- I think he should be traded, and hope the Cubs can do that. In the meantime I hope he hits the hell out of the ball in September, because that would help the team he's on right now. Here are some cogent comments from Cubs Hall of Famer Billy Williams on this issue:
The sense he gets, Williams said, is fans are focused on what players do on the field and they don't care about race or your family tree.
"Here's a case of a player who played here and had some good years -- Randy Hundley -- and his son [Todd] came here and didn't do so well and he got booed," Williams said. "It's not directed to any player who's doing good, it's directed to players who aren't having a good year. The fans just want to see good baseball.
"Because we've made the playoffs the last couple years, they want a winner here," he said. "If you don't perform, they say, 'Hey, he's in the Major Leagues and he should perform.'"
Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee told Bradley the best thing to do is ignore the comments. Williams agrees.
"You've got to have confidence that you can get beyond that," Williams said. "Those people have a problem. You have to be like a duck out of water -- you have to let it flow off your back."
Amen, Billy. Amen.
As for Soriano, Lou admitted during the postgame news conference that Sori's knees are still bothering him and that "he just can't move around out there". Well, if that's the case, why isn't he on the DL, or why hasn't this been revealed until now? This has been speculated on for at least a couple of months, and perhaps a DL stint back in May or June would have fixed the problem and he'd be at full strength now. Instead, Lou said Soriano probably wouldn't play tomorrow and would be examined by the trainers. It's not clear whether that means Soriano has to be shut down for a while -- given that it's nearly September 1, there's no great need to place him on the DL, since rosters can expand in three days. If he can hit like he did today, maybe a day off here and there would keep him able to play most of the time, and he could start another hot streak.
Now, back to the nicely played win -- it's too bad Lilly couldn't have gotten the victory today, because he threw yet another fine game. But the bullpen did its job and so did the offense, coming from behind. I'm not going to turn this into blind optimism because I see the reality of where the Cubs would have to go if they want to make something out of the last 36 games of the season. Today's crowd of 39,381 included maybe 9,000 no-shows; the bleachers were pretty full but there were many scattered empty seats elsewhere, due not only to the recent play of the Cubs but the late-Septembrish weather. There were quite a number of people seen around the park in Mets garb, probably having planned their trips months ago when the Mets were still thinking about contending. Those fans probably never dreamed they'd not see Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran, all disabled.
Nevertheless, a win is a win, and well done at that. They'll try to take another one from the Mets tomorrow. Keep the faith.