BOSTON -- In the end, all the interleague visit that had been anticipated by thousands in Chicago and Boston accomplished for the Cubs was yet another series loss and more injuries.
That, unfortunately, appears to be the story of the 2011 season. The Cubs lost to the Red Sox 5-1 Sunday night and leave Massachusetts down a center fielder, an infielder/outfielder and with yet another pitcher missing a start (in fact, Matt Garza won't pitch in the upcoming Mets series; late last night it was announced that Ryan Dempster, Casey Coleman and Carlos Zambrano will throw in the first series of the upcoming homestand).
Sunday night was yet another familiar refrain: inability to hit with runners on base, although there weren't many of those to begin with (just five hits). Meanwhile, the Red Sox showed the Cubs how it's done; in the fourth inning, they loaded the bases with nobody out and scored (as it turned out) all the runs they'd need with a pair of sacrifice flies. How many times have we begged for even that and received nothing but double plays or strikeouts?
Before the game, there was a nicely-done ceremony honoring men and women from the US military, with a huge American flag covering almost the entire Green Monster in left field at Fenway Park. Perhaps Mike Quade could have called for pitching reinforcements from the military members lined up around the infield. It couldn't have been much worse than what actually happened.
Maybe there wasn't another realistic option, although Dempster could have been called on to start Sunday night on three days' rest. But Mike Quade's unhealthy obsession with James Russell came back to bite the Cubs once again. Not satisfied with three decent innings out of Russell, Quade decided to press his luck by leaving him in for the fourth, despite having an extra pitcher in the bullpen (Justin Berg, recalled to take Marlon Byrd's roster spot). This made little sense on its face, because Russell had thrown 39 pitches on Friday night and doesn't appear to have the stamina to be a starting pitcher to begin with.
John Grabow or Jeff Samardzija could have come in; instead, Russell started getting hit hard in the fourth inning and, essentially, that was it.
The Cubs offense looked pretty weak but this time, I won't necessarily blame them; Tim Wakefield's knuckleball was very, very good and it didn't appear that any team would have hit him the way he was dealing. Then, when Wakefield was lifted to a rousing standing ovation from Boston fans in the seventh, Daniel Bard entered the game. Bard can reach 100 MPH; compared to Wakefield's knuckler, he probably appeared to be throwing 200 MPH. Cubs hitters couldn't touch him, nor could they score off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who made his only series appearance in a non-save situation. The entrance music for Papelbon, I have to say, is a little much, with a terrifying-looking Boston skyline on the video board and semi-drunken Red Sox fans singing along.Marlon Byrd left the hospital with fractures in his face, a swollen-shut eye and the continued great attitude he always has. When Carlos Pena visited him in the hospital Saturday night:
When Pena arrived at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Byrd was sitting up slightly and able to talk.
"When I saw him, I took a deep breath and it was a relief," Pena said. "He was hungry. He said, 'I'm so hungry.' I said, 'Good.' I know when stuff like that happens, usually the last thing you want to do is eat.
"To see him conscious and cracking a smile, now I could relax a little."
Reed Johnson will have to fill in playing center field; presumably, Tyler Colvin will be recalled, although that's kind of pointless unless he gets playing time. Jeff Baker said after the game he'll be ready for Tuesday night, though he was limping pretty bad as he left with a left groin strain. And there was a scare in the seventh inning when Starlin Castro dived for a ball that he knocked down, then got up very gingerly. He stayed in the game and seemed fine, though.
I also didn't understand the warning given to Kerry Wood and both benches after Wood hit Jed Lowrie with his first pitch of the eighth inning. Why would you intentionally hit someone like that, trailing 5-1 in the late innings, when there had been no activity like that earlier in the game? It did not appear intentional. Why stir something like this up in the final game of a series with a team you won't likely see for at least three more years?
I still don't know what to think about what keeps happening to this team. At times -- the series in Florida, for example -- they look pretty good and you think, "OK, this is the start of a winning streak." Then they play like they did Friday night and rueful head-shaking is the only response. The Red Sox are clearly a very good team, despite their 0-6 start; they've now won eight of nine and stand only half a game out of first place in the AL East. Do the Cubs come out of Boston patting themselves on the back for "hanging with them"? Or begin to retool? Sticking close isn't a very good consolation prize.
The coda to this series was inadvertently written by a couple of somewhat inebriated Red Sox fans outside Fenway Park just after the game ended. Virtually every red-clad Bostonian was friendly and welcoming during this visit. These two decided, fortified by alcohol and the two wins, to heckle anyone they saw wearing Cubs garb. And so they began to yell, "Barton! Barton!"
Too nice and civilized, they didn't even get the name right.
But seriously, Boston, thanks for the hospitality and showing off your historic ballpark, even if the weather was mediocre (not your fault and it felt like home) and the seating legroom has my knees still locked up this morning. It may be a pipedream in this season that's fast swirling down the baseball drain, but the next time we see you, I'd like it to be some year in October.