MESA, Arizona -- With two out in the bottom of the ninth of today’s Cubs game, Brett Jackson stood at the plate after a pair of his teammates had failed to get the winning run home from second base.
Jackson calmly slashed a line drive down the left field line; the throw was late and the Cubs had a 2-1 win over the Indians.
This is the kind of scene we hope to see many, many times at Wrigley Field starting perhaps as soon as next year – Jackson driving in the winning run, his teammates surrounding him after he touches first base. Jackson didn’t start today’s game; he came in to replace Lou Montanez in the seventh inning, and he’s likely going to be one of the first roster cuts, because he’s expected to start the year at Iowa. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Chicago sometime this summer, and almost certainly as a September callup.
Before the game, the Ricketts family and several of Ron Santo’s best baseball friends, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and Randy Hundley, and Santo’s family, had a touching ceremony at home plate to honor Ron. Hundley was hilarious but the best moment went to Ron’s son Jeff, director of "This Old Cub". Jeff Santo asked the current Cubs to remember Ron and win the World Series in his memory. At that moment I looked into the Cubs dugout, where the entire team was standing at the rail – many applauded.
This may not be the team that does that, and surely none of us is predicting that. But you could tell they want to, and today’s game, though the result didn’t have much meaning, was at least a nice comeback after five perfect innings were thrown by Cleveland pitchers.
Go figure, right? Koyie Hill reaches base for the first time all spring with a walk to break it up, and then gets caught stealing on a missed sacrifice by Andrew Cashner (who, I saw later, I tweeted as "Cashmere" – damn autocorrect!). Cashner then broke up the no-hitter with a single, and he also threw four good innings; his only mistake was Jayson Nix’s long home run, the Tribe’s only run.
Randy Wells also threw four solid innings, and Kerry Wood gave up a single but then struck out the side in his inning, with a fastball you could hear pop on the LF berm, and the last out on a knee-buckling breaking ball.
It was nearly 90 degrees by the end of the game, and today’s crowd of 7,186 was again far below what has been the norm for Cubs Cactus League games. This being my first visit to HoHoKam Park this year, I checked out the food prices (up about 50 cents to $1 on most items) and souvenirs – still way overpriced. T-shirts $30, most caps $35. Seriously – don’t the vendors understand there is a recession on and that may be why attendance is down? Today, they gave away a blue cap with "10" on it in honor of Santo to everyone in the park; it was the same cap worn by the players today to remember Ron. These caps must have originally been designed for sale, as they still had a price sticker on the underside of the bill -- $21.99. They’re among the nicest giveaway items I’ve ever seen at a baseball game. More on attendance: 4,748 saw the Angels and Mariners at Peoria; 3,806 witnessed the Rockies and Brewers at Maryvale; the Royals and Angels drew 3,146 at Tempe; the Padres and Dodgers played in front of 3,858 at Glendale; and the Giants and Reds drew 4,087 at Goodyear. All of these figures are way below what they've been in past years -- and the weather was gorgeous today.
Nice to see a couple of BCBers and I had a long conversation about various Cubs topics with BCBer "Employee22". (No, we didn't discuss Mark Prior.)
Just to complete an enjoyable afternoon – and a fast game, 2:20 – in the bottom of the eighth inning the infield sprinklers came on for a minute or so before the grounds crew managed to turn them off. Right after that, the Cubs tied the game 1-1 on a wild pitch and an error.
Tomorrow, the Cubs face the White Sox at Glendale in a game that will be televised locally on CSN Chicago – note, you may want to turn the sound off as it’s the Sox announcers – and will also be picked up by the MLB Network for national telecast. Ryan Dempster takes the mound to face the Sox' Mark Buehrle.