MESA, Arizona -- In the two games played between the Cubs and Reds today, won by the Reds 7-6 in Mesa and 9-8 in Las Vegas, there was a total of seven home runs hit -- four by the Cubs, all in Vegas, and three by the Reds, one in Vegas and two in Mesa. It's one of the two in Arizona that I nearly had a great story to tell you about -- Chris Heisey's leadoff homer off Carlos Silva in the third inning after Silva had thrown a pair of perfect frames. Here's the not-quite-as-good truth.
It headed right at me, but I didn't pick up the flight of the ball until it was almost overhead. It hit off the net over the scoreboard, nearly off the top of the board, and came straight down where it hit off the heel of my left hand and rolled down the berm, where someone else climbed over the small fence, retrieved it and threw it on the field. (Even though I don't have a throwback ball with me here, I'd have kept it.)
Meanwhile, in Vegas, Starlin Castro hit a pair of home runs -- for the first time ever in one game, he said afterward -- the second of which cleared the 433-foot sign on the center field hitter's background, a wall that's about 30 feet high. Scott Moore also hit a pair of home runs for the Cubs in the Vegas game, and the Cubs went into the ninth inning with the lead -- promptly coughed up by Robert Coello, who struck out the first hitter he faced and then gave up four straight singles that won the game for the Reds. I managed to get back from the Mesa game just in time to see that on WGN-TV.
Carlos Silva was better today -- and then he wasn't. He threw two perfect innings, quite efficiently, and then the Reds started teeing off on him. In addition to Heisey's homer, Silva gave up a long double to Ramon Hernandez, another homer to Jeremy Hermida, and a triple to Reds 1B prospect Yonder Alonso, who later scored on a Hernandez sac fly. Of Silva's 15 outs, one was a strikeout, five were ground balls and the rest fly balls. He did manage to lay down a nice sacrifice bunt in the fourth inning, that helped lead to the Cubs' first run, driven in by Fernando Perez, who had three RBI in all today.
So what to do with Silva? He "lowered" his ERA to 16.20 today -- that's better than 29.70, right? -- and the Cubs will surely give him one more, at least. Todd Wellemeyer, who came in to replace Silva with a 6-4 lead, had control problems, issuing three walks and a passel of hits, although the final run off him, which turned out to be the winner, was due to an Aramis Ramirez error. This team still has work to do on defense. Marlon Byrd, though, continued his hot hitting by going 2-for-3 (now hitting .577); Darwin Barney had a pair of hits to raise his spring average to .318, and Bobby Scales, who won't make the team but is always fun to root for because he's such a good guy, was 3-for-5 with a pair of RBI and is hitting .462. Unfortunately, when Scales came up with a chance to tie or win the game in the last of the ninth, he grounded out.
I got to see Trey McNutt for the first time today. He gave up an infield single, but otherwise had an uneventful inning -- mostly against Reds minor leaguers, probably Double-A level, similar to who he'll be facing this year. That may be his last shot at major league spring training this season, though.
Our old buddy Dontrelle Willis, on another of his last chances, gave up most of what turned out to be a five-run Cubs rally in the fifth inning; that included a pair of hits allowed, two walks, and his departure from the game with an injury suffered when he tripped over a bat and sprained his ankle trying to back up a play. It's really too bad -- Willis had tremendous ability and is still just 29, but he appears just about done.
Attendance watch: today's crowd of 10,327 was the second-largest of the spring, and that's not a good sign. With spring breaks beginning and great weather, this game should have drawn more people. In past years, a mid-March Saturday game in perfect, warm conditions would have been a sellout. That makes the spring total at HoHoKam 67,477 for nine dates, an average of 7,497, far below last year. The Vegas game drew 9,047, lower than in previous years. Other games today: Brewers/Diamondbacks (Maryvale) 6,838; Dodgers/Royals (Surprise) 5,451; Dodgers/Giants (Scottsdale) 12,081; Athletics/Mariners (Peoria) 7,040; Rangers/White Sox (Glendale) 5,868; Padres/Rockies (Talking Stick) 11,506; and Angels/Indians (Goodyear) 5,400. This fits in with the pattern: the Giants and the new D'backs/Rockies complex are drawing well, everyone else is struggling.
Tomorrow, Carlos Zambrano faces the Dodgers' Rubby De La Rosa in Las Vegas, and Braden Looper will go against the Diamondbacks' Daniel Hudson at Talking Stick. Both games begin at 3:05 CDT -- that's Daylight Saving Time -- don't forget to turn your clocks ahead one hour tonight if you are in the USA or Canada (except in Arizona, Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and parts of Saskatchewan and Quebec).