SURPRISE, Arizona -- A surprise downpour hit the Phoenix area early this morning, drenching in particular the Scottsdale and Mesa area -- but not so much in the west Valley in Surprise, where the roads and grass berm were pretty dry. By noon, the sun had hazily peeked through the clouds, so there was no issue getting today's game played, although in cooler temperatures than the last few days (only in the mid to upper 60's, still comfortable).
When it was all over, the Cubs and Royals had fought to a 5-5 tie. It appeared that the Cubs were willing to go another inning, as they had a couple of pitchers loosening up while the Royals were tying the game in the last of the ninth, but Royals coaches and manager Trey Hillman came out of the dugout and seemed to request the game be called, which it was.
Ties are the flavor of the month this year in the Cactus League. This was the Cubs' second tie in three days; the Royals have three of them and the White Sox four. In fact, only two of the 15 Cactus League teams do NOT have a tie game so far this spring -- the Giants and Padres. Since the Cubs still have games against those two teams later this month, maybe we can take care of that for them.
Why all the ties, many more than in previous years? Obviously, the decisions in spring games mean nothing, and after the players get the work that's needed, if the game is still tied after nine or ten innings, the managers have seen what they need to see. I suspect we'll see many more of these in future springs.
Ryan Dempster threw pretty well, although with more walks (three) than he'd probably have liked, and he ran out of gas in the sixth inning, giving up a pair of long extra-base hits sandwiched around a sac fly. When Carlos Marmol relieved him, it looked good at first -- he had a nicely-done K of Jason Kendall, but then Royals backup C Brayan Pena sent a two-run homer just out of reach of a leaping Tyler Colvin into the Cubs bullpen, tying the game.
Back and forth it went for the rest of the afternoon; the Cubs took a 5-4 lead into the last of the ninth, only to see Marcos Mateo fritter it (and likely, his chances of making the team) away by allowing singles to the first three batters he faced. Surprisingly, with the tying run having scored and the winning run in scoring position with nobody out, Royals manager Trey Hillman opted to have Kila Ka'aihue bunt. Ka'aihue (I just like typing that) is a big man -- 6-4, 235 -- a power hitter who's hit a pair of homers in 20 spring at-bats. Sure, the bunt puts the winning run 90 feet away with one out, but when Lou Piniella pulled the outfield in, Mitch Maier hit a line drive right at Colvin. An intentional walk later, a groundout ended it.
More on various Cubs and Surprise Stadium after the jump.
Aramis Ramirez served as DH today -- for three at-bats, anyway -- to loud applause from Cubs fans, who were about half the smallish crowd of 6,527. He singled twice and looked just fine -- here's hoping he can take the field again soon. John Gaub didn't do himself any favors with his outing today -- a ringing triple given to Jose Guillen, followed by a run-scoring single by Kendall. Colvin looked good again at the plate, with two singles. I think, though, that Colvin would not be well served by making the major league team. He needs regular play -- bringing him to Chicago and starting him once a week and asking him to PH is not a role he's well-suited for. Sam Fuld can do that better, I think -- let Colvin play for Ryne Sandberg at Iowa (it'll be his second year under Sandberg), and call him up to start in case of injury.
Despite the crowd of only a little over half of Surprise Stadium's capacity, traffic and parking were an issue for many -- I heard quite a number of comments about people stuck in traffic. I didn't have any food there today, having eaten before leaving for the game, but I know the food selections there are pretty good, as are the souvenirs, which seemed reasonably priced.
One last thing. The PA system there was way too loud. Don't know how it sounded to any of you listening to or watching the game, but no matter where you placed yourself, it was so loud between innings that carrying on a normal-level conversation was impossible. Several requests to customer service to turn it down were ignored. We'll see if it's any better tomorrow. Sean Marshall will throw for the Cubs tomorrow against the Rangers' Brandon McCarthy. According to this blog post by Rangers MLB.com writer T.R. Sullivan, Rich Harden will be Texas' Opening Day starter.
Good luck to them, based on Harden's 11.25 spring ERA in four starts.