This one was well worth everyone's entertainment dollar.
The Cubs' 10-8 come-from-ahead-then-behind win over the Dodgers Saturday afternoon had a little bit of everything: bad pitching from starters, good relief and bad relief, a successful double steal (!) by the Cubs; a couple of questionable umpiring calls (one benefiting each team), even sunshine and temperatures in the 60s, something that has been missing from Wrigley Field all season.
And just when pretty much everyone in the ballpark was screaming for Carlos Pena to pinch hit for Jeff Baker with two men on and two out in the eighth inning, Baker, who rarely hits righthanders, smacked righty Blake Hawksworth's first pitch into the right-center field gap for the eventual game-winning runs, to the delight of a sellout of 41,161. Most of those ticketholders actually showed up on the nice afternoon; there were maybe 2,000 no-shows, although the right field upper deck emptied out by the eighth inning. That's where the strong west wind was blowing. In the bleachers, some were in T-shirts and shorts for the first time this season.
Now, back to the beginning. Ted Lilly got warm applause from Cubs fans as he did his usual pre-game outfield run; then he proceeded to give up 11 hits in less than five innings, and the Cubs had fashioned a 5-1 lead. But the much-anticipated pitching matchup with Ryan Dempster turned into a battle of the bats, as Dempster spent much of his time giving the lead back; he surrendered three home runs before he, too, was mercifully taken out of the game.
What appeared to be a huge turning point early in the game turned into simply a conversation topic -- Mike Quade's failure to bat for Dempster with the bases loaded and two out in the fifth inning, when Dempster clearly had nothing and the Cubs were clinging to a 5-4 lead. Dempster struck out on a 3-2 pitch and then proceeded to stink it out in the sixth, finally forcing Quade to call on Sean Marshall to face Andre Ethier. That was the right thing to do at the time, though a bit late, and Ethier made the move look bad by driving in the then-lead runs to make it 7-5.
Two Dodger relievers threw 1-2-3 innings, but it was Jeff Samardzija who kept it close. Props to the Shark, who faced four batters and struck out three to keep the game at 8-5 before the Cubs batted around with their winning five-run rally. Besides Baker's game-winning double, key at-bats in the inning were made by Reed Johnson, who laid down a perfect bunt single; Kosuke Fukudome, who worked a walk; and Starlin Castro, who drove in the first two runs of the inning to make it 8-7. After Darwin Barney tied it with a forceout, Aramis Ramirez kept it going for Baker with a bloopy little hit to left in front of Jerry Sands.
Sands played some outfield in the minors, but was later moved to 1B. The Dodgers don't have an opening at 1B, so to get Sands' bat in the lineup, he's been playing left field for them. He's not hitting and let two balls drop in front of him for hits today; both runners scored.
It's absolutely clear to me that this team is different from last year's. Last year's team would have folded up its tent after going behind 8-5; this year's club seems to know how to come back, having done so on several occasions already even in games they haven't managed to come all the way back and win. Starlin Castro had his third four-hit game of the season and seems to have a knack of getting hits when they mean the most. And the Cubs had a 16-hit, four-walk game without a single home run, scoring with -- I hate to use the phrase, but it appears true -- clutch hits. They were 6-for-15 with RISP today.
Carlos Marmol finished up rather uneventfully -- only one walk -- for his fifth save.
A few loose ends: the Cubs have now hit the .500 mark at every number from 1-1 to 10-10; that is a new major league record, surpassing the 1951 Red Sox and 1970 Yankees, who got to 9-9. Now would be a good time to start a winning streak and snap that record.
The strange call in the first inning -- when the umpires ruled Starlin Castro had intentionally dropped the ball -- did not make sense to me. If he was ruled to have caught the ball, he then caught a runner off first base for a double play. If he was ruled to have dropped the ball, he also completed a double play. It's an academic discussion since the Cubs won the game, but this didn't seem to make sense. The only way it does is if the ball is ruled dead at the time it was "intentionally" dropped.
When James Loney was ruled to have interfered with Darwin Barney on a pickoff play in the fourth inning, it almost seemed like a makeup call for the first one; Barney went way out of the baseline, but the umpires said it was because Loney interfered. That one didn't matter, either, as Marlon Byrd, the next hitter, grounded out to end the inning.
So the Cubs have a real momentum-building type of game under their belts; it remains to be seen whether they can use it that way, but this feels a lot better than last year.
Finally, a word of caution after such a nice win seems out of place. But the decision, which has apparently been made, to start James Russell again on Tuesday, is, in my opinion, an enormous mistake. Russell is a decent situational lefty, but he really has no business starting a major league game. The Central division is up for grabs; all the teams are flawed and if the Cubs really have any intention of going for it this year, they simply cannot afford to give games away every five days, which they have essentially done with Russell's two starts. Mike Quade has a couple of days to change his mind. Let's get someone here who can actually start a game.
In the meantime, winning another series would be nice. Carlos Zambrano will face LA's Hiroki Kuroda tomorrow afternoon.