Reed Johnson had been almost the forgotten man on the Cubs 25-man roster up to Wednesday. He had started only one game of the first sixteen, and was 2-for-11, a single and a double. Some people here and elsewhere had suggested that maybe he was done, perhaps the Cubs should find another man to be the fifth outfielder.
So when Johnson entered the first game of Wednesday's day/night doubleheader with the Padres in a double switch in the 10th inning, no one took any particular note. An inning later, Johnson reminded us of 2008 days gone by, hitting Luke Gregerson's first pitch of the inning into a very small knot of fans remaining in the left field bleachers for a walkoff home run, giving the Cubs a 2-1, extra-inning win over the Padres. It was the second straight extra-inning win and the Cubs' first walkoff home run since Aramis Ramirez hit one last May 17 against the Rockies.
Johnson continued his hot hitting in the second game, eventually having four straight hits -- all off righthanded pitchers, no less. But it was an ill-considered decision by Reed to try to stretch a double into a triple that may have cost the Cubs a sweep. Reed was out easily at third, and at the time the score was 4-1 Padres in the fifth inning and it didn't seem that important. But the next three Cubs all got hits and had Johnson not done that, maybe the Cubs could have tied the game and got Aaron Harang out of there.
Instead, only one more run scored and the Cubs could get no closer than one run to San Diego after an Alfonso Soriano two-run blast and had to settle for a doubleheader split and a one-run second-game loss, 5-4.
Wednesday was one of the coldest days I can remember at the ballpark this late into April. The wind never died down and the temperature never got above 42 degrees. In fact, for only two of the nine home games so far has the temperature even been above 50. It doesn't appear that this weekend is going to be any better weatherwise, either.
The frigid temperatures kept the first game actual in-the-house attendance to about half of the announced 35,544. The second game announced total was similar -- 35,095 -- but it couldn't have been more than 10,000-12,000 in the house. By the time the three hour and 59 minute first game ended at 5:22, no more than a couple of thousand remained. In a nice gesture, the Cubs told everyone that remained at that time that they could stay for the second game even if they didn't have a ticket. Several hundred appeared to take them up on this offer despite the weather.
Matt Garza threw six solid innings in the first game despite throwing 114 pitches. He also reached base on a failed sacrifice, and after an error and a forceout, he wound up on third. This appears to be the first time in his professional career that he has been as far as third base. Marlon Byrd singled him in for his first professional run, and until Carlos Marmol had control trouble in the ninth inning, walking the second batter he faced, it looked like that might hold up for a second straight 1-0 win.
Instead, the Cubs' worst nightmare on a split DH day happened -- extra innings. Give Jeff Samardzija a little credit for working his way out of his own walk-induced jams and throwing a pair of scoreless innings before Reed Johnson bailed him out with the walkoff.
The teams were apparently totally committed to starting the second game at 6:05, and the 40-minute turnaround time has to be some sort of record for a separate-admission doubleheader. I did get a couple of reports of trash not being cleaned from some sections, and some of the bleacher benches were pretty wet with spilled beer, but in general the cleanup crew did a decent job, given that they really had only about 15-20 minutes to get as much trash as they could out of the seats.
Now, let's talk about the decision to go with the College of Pitchers again in game 2, despite its failure last week in Houston. Let me put this in big letters so there's no mistake:
This is a really bad idea.
James Russell simply isn't a major league quality starting pitcher. Every time it looked like he might, just might, work his way out of self-induced trouble, he gave up another home run -- three in all, including one by Ryan Ludwick that nearly hit the side of a building on Waveland on the fly and scattered a group of three young women walking down the street who had no idea they were about to get nailed by a home run ball (it wound up in the glove of a man wearing a Soriano jersey -- ballhawk, where were you?).
Mike Quade compounded the College of Pitchers fiasco by double-switching Carlos Pena out of the game when Russell was removed for Jeff Stevens. What is this, a split-squad spring training game? Might have been nice to have Pena in the lineup later in the game against all those righthanded relievers Bud Black trotted out there.
Credit to Stevens and Marcos Mateo for keeping it close for four innings -- Mateo with a pair of scoreless frames despite seemingly not having any idea where the ball was going most of the time. John Grabow also threw a scoreless frame -- credit for that, mainly, to Geovany Soto, who threw out one runner trying to steal and perhaps helped engineer the pickoff that ended the top of the ninth inning. Geo threw out three runners in the second game; he looks a lot better throwing than he has since 2008.
Soriano's homer, his sixth, made it a one-run affair, and the Cubs actually got the tying run on base in the ninth before Heath Bell threw a perfect bender to Darwin Barney to get him on strikes. Tip o' the cap to Bell, normally a fastballer, for that one, and so the Cubs end the day where they began it -- again at .500 for the ninth time this year, at 9-9.
But you know what? Last year's team would have folded up after blowing the first-game lead, and they never would have even come close to the rally that got them close in the second game. I like the way this team has done that, and please, Mike Quade and Jim Hendry -- find someone from the system to start the next "College of Pitchers" game. Anyone. Doesn't matter, just not the way you've handled it so far. Essentially, by doing it this way, you are giving away a game every five days. With the Central division up for grabs, the Cubs can't afford that.
Enjoy the off day -- the Cubs surely will, having won another series, once they thaw out.