For seven innings, at least, last night, we had yet another terrific game at Wrigley Field between the Cubs and Yankees.
Then, the clear differences between the two teams showed up. With the game tied 4-4 in the top of the eighth, Mike Quade chose to leave Sean Marshall in the game to face Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher.
On the face of it, this isn't that bad a decision. Marshall has been very good this year and can get both righthanded and lefthanded hitters out. The problem is that Marshall (and please stop with the cute nicknames, Mike Quade: "Marsh"? Please.) threw 33 pitches on Thursday and 14 on Friday and may be getting to "overworked". The next problem is that... well, the Cubs didn't really have that many other options. Chris Carpenter was the next guy up in the pen (with Kerry Wood still on the DL). Evidently, Quade didn't want Carpenter to face A-Rod and Cano.
This appears to be one of those "and death is not an option" choices. Marshall gave up sharp singles to A-Rod and Cano -- this after he had a 1-2-3 seventh -- and you could almost predict the three-run blast that Swisher hit deep into the right-field bleachers. (In fact, my friend Dave did call it.)
And that, as they say, was that. The Yankees don't blow leads like that -- not with a bullpen that's got five different pitchers with an ERA under 2.00 -- and they didn't, although David Robertson and ex-White Sox Jeff Marquez gave the Cubs five baserunners in the eighth and ninth innings, all of whom were stranded. That gave the Cubs seven runners from the fourth inning on who were in scoring position with less than two out, none of whom scored. This is, unfortunately, a familiar Cub story the last two years.
When Alfonso Soriano hit a three-run homer off CC Sabathia -- a home run that must have given him a great deal of personal satisfaction, hitting it off his former team -- to give the Cubs a 4-1 lead after three, a Cubs fan could be forgiven if he or she actually thought the team might take the game and series. Then, though, the Cubs made another fielding gaffe that helped the Yankees climb back into it. With one out and a runner on in the fourth, Cano hit a dribbler in front of the plate. Better defense would have ended the inning with a double play; instead, Starlin Castro took his foot off the bag at second, then threw late to first, so both runners were safe.
Good teams take advantage of those situations, and the Yankees did, making it 4-3 on a single, a walk and a high bouncer with the bases loaded where Aramis Ramirez had no chance of getting Cano at the plate. They tied it on a pair of singles and a sac fly in the sixth, setting up Swisher's heroics, and then put it away with three more in the ninth off James Russell and Rodrigo Lopez.
Can we please have one thing in this lost season? When Kerry Wood returns, could we please see the name "Rodrigo Lopez" on the "unconditionally released" list? I've seen no useful redeeming features with Lopez; he isn't going to start any more games and the Cubs don't use guys in true "long relief", so he's pretty well useless. Carpenter has a great arm; he can touch 98 on speed guns and he's going to be a good major league pitcher.
The problem with this team is that they just don't have quite enough of anything. Not enough to put good teams away when they have an early lead. Not enough from Randy Wells on a night when he really needed to give the team seven innings due to an overtaxed bullpen. Not enough hits with runners on base -- 10 men left on again by the Cubs.
Yankee fans overran Wrigley again last night. ESPNw's Amanda Rykoff and a large group of her friends (one celebrating a birthday with a sign reading "All I want for my birthday is a Yankees win", complete with battery-operated lit-up candles) sat with us in the left-field corner. They attempted to do the chant that Yankees bleacher fans do in New York for their starting lineup when they take the field; they chant each player's name until he acknowledges them with a wave of his glove. Brett Gardner in left field did so; I thought I saw Swisher in right do so as well, but when they tried to chant Mark Teixeira's name, he likely never heard it, nearly 400 feet away at first base, so they stopped. One more fight briefly broke out on the third-base side, but it was quickly quelled; the bleachers were a sea of calm during this series. I have nothing but good things to say about Yankee fans -- I only wish we had a team as good to root for. All weekend, the visitors from New York showed the Cubs how things ought to be done. Perhaps someday the Cubs will get the lesson.
126,283 fans paid to watch the three games, which is an all-time record for a three-game series at Wrigley Field, breaking the old mark (124,810 vs. the Brewers in late June 2007) by a considerable margin. They saw great baseball -- some played by the Cubs, but mostly, from the Yankees.