Many very strange things happened at Wrigley Field Sunday afternoon:
- Lightning made at least two hits inside the ballpark, including one on the stairwell leading down from the left field bleachers;
- The day started foggy and cold, then became stormy and dark. After the rain cleared, the fog rolled in again, making it impossible for a time to see home plate from the bleachers. Then the sun poked through, the wind shifted to the south and the temperature rose to about 70 degrees.
- Aramis Ramirez hit a home run. (No, I am not making that up.)
- And, the Cubs actually beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, winning 3-2 behind solid pitching and timely hitting.
Given what first appeared on local radars and then out of the sky in the form of very heavy rain accompanied with loud thunder and (as noted above) frequent lightning, I thought the Cubs should have called this game and played it on September 1, when both teams have an off day before the next Cubs/Pirates series at Wrigley. I understand the Cubs have had three rainouts already and didn't want another one, but under the conditions that appeared to be in Chicago for most of the afternoon, why wait until very late in the day, inconveniencing fans and risking injury to players?
Well, I'll admit I was wrong on this one. Once it stopped raining and the weird fog that blew back in almost immediately cleared out, it turned into a nice afternoon -- except for a brief rainshower that announced itself during the fourth inning. This time, the Cubs did make the right call by waiting out one of the fiercer storms to come through the Chicago area this spring.
Now could the rain please stop? I think I've seen enough the last two months to last the rest of the summer.
Not only did the Cubs win, but they won after spotting the Pirates a 2-0 lead in a manner we've seen far too often this season -- too many walks. Ryan Dempster issued a pair of walks after two were out in the first inning, and as has happened time and time and time again, he then gave up a hit scoring both of the runners, a two-run double by Lyle Overbay.
But the Cubs came back on Aramis Ramirez's first home run in 45 games. That's right, A-Ram homered in season game No. 6, and today was the Cubs' 51st game of the 2011 season. He still trails his former teammate Ryan Theriot in RBI, though; Theriot has 19, Ramirez 18. The Cubs weren't done in that inning, either; Carlos Pena followed up with a hit, advanced to third on a Tony Campana single and a throwing error, and scored when Koyie Hill hit a sacrifice fly.
Yes, that's right -- Hill hit a sac fly and also singled in what's likely to be his last start for a while; Geovany Soto was activated from the DL today and Welington Castillo sent back to Iowa. Also today, Brad Snyder was called up from Iowa and Reed Johnson placed on the DL with back problems. To make room on the 40-man roster for Snyder, Andrew Cashner was moved to the 60-day DL, a likely admission that we'll again see Cashner pitch in 2012.
Sorry, I digressed a bit. The Cubs took the lead in the third with good hitting -- a leadoff double from Kosuke Fukudome, followed by a Darwin Barney sacrifice and another sac fly, this one from Starlin Castro.
And then it was left to the pitchers; Dempster threw six credible innings, giving up just three singles after the first inning, and Kerry Wood, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol finished up, Marmol posting his 10th save and Dempster lowering his season ERA to an even 6.00. That isn't great, but a month ago it was 9.58. And wasn't this the plan? To have starters get to those three relievers, who would shut down opponents?
During the storms, Cubs security cleared the box seats and bleachers, and perhaps wisely so given the lightning hits, so I wound up staying below until after 2:30, when the rain finally stopped. Of the 37,464 announced as the paid crowd, maybe 25,000 or so were in the house; the bleachers were about 90% full at peak, and though some didn't wait out the rain (or maybe didn't show up at all), the ones who did were rewarded with a Cubs victory, and fairly quickly, too; the game time of 2:36 was the 11th shortest of the season so far and had everyone out of there by 6:30, something I wouldn't have thought possible when the skies turned nighttime dark at noon.
I said before this homestand the Cubs had to go at least 6-3 to have any hope of contention this year. Contention may still be far in the distance, but the Cubs have the NL's worst team, the Astros, coming in tomorrow. Not only that, but Houston also has the league's worst road record at 8-17. This is the time this Cubs team has to step up, if stepping up is to be done this year.
And the weather people promise this for Monday:
Memorial Day: Sunny, with a high near 92. Breezy, with a south southwest wind between 10 and 20 mph, with gusts as high as 25 mph.
After today's clearing skies, I think I actually believe them.