The 1996 Cubs were an enigma. They had finished the 1995 season on a high note, with an eight-game winning streak in the season's last week and nearly roared their way into the strike-shortened season's playoffs. They got off to a decent, if just barely over .500, start in '96 and were in first place in early May, before going on a 5-16 skid that ended as June began.
It's in this context that the game of Friday, June 14, the second game of a homestand, occurred; it was typical of the time. A summer day, a not-quite-full house, and the false hope that something good was just around the corner.
Don't you love it when the Cubs get back at ex-Cubs?
Yes, it's been a long time since Bob Tewksbury was a member of the Cubs -- and if you blinked, you might have missed it eight and nine years ago -- but the Cubs teed off on him twice in the fifth inning this afternoon at Wrigley Field and beat the Padres for the second straight day, 5-1.
Today's homer heroes were Scott Bullett, not usually a power hitter, who smacked his second, and Sammy Sosa, who followed later in the inning with his 22nd.
The Cubs have now played 66 games and Sammy has 22 homers. That would put him on pace for 54, which would be the most in the National League since George Foster hit 52 for the Reds 19 years ago, and only two short of the Cubs team record of 56, set 66 years ago by Hack Wilson.
Could it be that the guy we have been calling "Selfish Sammy" with his strikeouts and baserunning blunders, could finally be blossoming into the kind of hitter that Larry Himes envisioned when he shipped George Bell to the White Sox four years ago? Sammy hit 36 last year, giving us a taste, and although his overall numbers are still a bit shaky at .248/.299/.550, he's hitting .300/.345/.760 in 55 PA so far this month, with five doubles, six HR and 11 RBI. He's struck out only seven times and even drawn four walks.
At age 27, this would be the time for Sosa to get into his peak years. It'd be about time, I'd think.
Steve Trachsel pitched into the eighth inning, finally having to be lifted after 114 pitches, although that doesn't seem like so many compared to what guys like Fergie Jenkins threw back in the day. Trachsel gave up just five singles and a run; Bob Patterson and Jim Bullinger finished up with hitless relief and best of all for a Trachsel game, it was finished in a snappy two hours and 26 minutes.
Attendance, which has finally started to heat up along with the weather, was 30,877 on a pleasant, 67-degree day, a little coolish for this time of year, but not bad. If Sammy keeps hitting home runs, I'd expect the house to start filling up almost every day. Can you imagine? Attendance has been down since the strike, and it might take something like baseballs flying out of the yard every day to get people to come back. (A few more Cubs wins wouldn't hurt, either.)
Will it ever happen?