Funny thing -- no one was supposed to be at Wrigley Field this afternoon; it was a scheduled off day. So the only reason the Cubs and their fans got to enjoy probably the nicest weather day we've had in Chicago all summer (80 degrees, light breeze, low humidity, a handful of puffy fair weather clouds) was because of Monday night's rainout, rescheduled for Thursday afternoon.
At last, the weather gods smiled on Wrigley Field in 2011.
The baseball gods did, too, but not until Carlos Marmol made it interesting in the ninth inning; the Cubs' 4-3 win over the Nationals, their ninth win in their last 11 games, was closer than it had to be thanks to Marmol having an unwieldy save. He threw only 18 strikes in 34 pitches, issued two walks and gave up two infield hits before striking out two and getting Rick Ankiel to fly deep to center field to end it for his 26th save.
But I'm starting at the end. Let's go back to the beginning, shall we?
It didn't start well for Ryan Dempster. He gave up a monster home run to Ryan Zimmerman in the first inning -- after starting the inning with two comebacker ground balls. Zimmerman's ball landed on the north side of Waveland, near the corner of Kenmore, on the fly, probably about 420-430 feet. That run held up until the fourth inning, when Marlon Byrd singled and Alfonso Soriano hit a ball that Jayson Werth just missed with a dive. It went to the wall and Soriano motored his way to third.
No, I am not making that up. It was his first triple of the season and only the fifth he's had since 2007, when he first injured his leg. He had five triples that year -- all of them before the end of July. About a week after the last one is when he suffered the hamstring injury in this Sunday night, August 5, 2007 game vs. the Mets. That's what began to rob Soriano of his speed and mobility in the field; he suffered more leg injuries in 2008 and 2009. None of this could have been predicted when he was signed.
Anyway, for one day at least, we saw a bit of speed from him. The Cubs took the lead and extended it to 4-1 in the seventh, when Aramis Ramirez slammed a two-run homer and Carlos Pena hit a towering drive just fair onto Sheffield.
That, believe it or not, is the first home run hit by a Cub this year that completely left the premises on either side of the park. Sorry, Waveland ballhawks, I know you've been waiting.
The Nats eked out a run in the eighth when Soriano misplayed an Ian Desmond popup into a double; he scored on a single and then Kerry Wood was called upon.
Suddenly, after being shaky much of the season, Wood has been lights-out lately. He has now struck out the last eight batters he has faced, which ties a team record:
8 straight Ks for Wood (2 in 8th) ties Farnsworth's/Juan Cruz's club mark since mound lowered in '69.
Perhaps Wood has something left after all. That'd be nice.
Marmol, I've already written about. All's well that ends well, I suppose, but I'd rather not have had the Mitch Williams-style save. The Marmol-of-September-2010 style is the one I'd prefer to see from him.
I do want to say one more thing about the rainout policy, which made for a large number of empty seats Thursday afternoon. The announced attendance was 34,733, which is the number of tickets sold. About half that number were in the ballpark. So that means 17,000 people simply had to eat their tickets, either because they couldn't come back on a Thursday afternoon from a Monday night rainout, or they couldn't sell or give them to someone else to use. If the Cubs had an exchange policy similar to most teams, say allowing people to exchange for any available Monday-Thursday game, they'd get those 17,000 people back in the ballpark -- buying food and drink, for one thing.
The Cubs cite the White Sox and Red Sox as having similar policies, ignoring the 14 teams that do allow exchanges (and the rest of the teams either have domed stadiums or are in California, where rainouts are rare). About that, I say this: the White Sox policy is similarly wrongheaded, and the Red Sox have sold out nearly every ticket for several years -- so they don't have exchangeable inventory. The Cubs do, especially this year. It would be a customer-friendly policy to allow exchanges. I hope they do.
In the meantime, wins are nice. The Cubs will have a tough series ahead in Atlanta, but perhaps they will rise to the occasion of playing a contending team.