MESA, Arizona -- Today's temperature in the Valley cracked 90 degrees for the first time and there was a strong breeze blowing out toward left field. The Cubs were launching baseballs over the scoreboard and into the parking lot during batting practice -- Geovany Soto (who didn't play today) smacked five in a row out of the yard at one point.
So what do we get during the game? A matchup filled with ground balls, errors, baserunning misplays, strikeouts and caught stealings.
Our old friend Albert Pujols was the only one who homered, in the first inning off Paul Maholm, a laser-beam shot that never got more than about 30 feet off the ground, with a man on base.
This could have been predicted. Pujols' lifetime numbers against Maholm: .564/.609/.897 (22-for-39, seven doubles, two home runs). It's no wonder Maholm said this after the game:
#Cubs Maholm gave up 1st pitch HR to Pujols on Sat: "There's a reason I made sure no AL West team was on my wish list."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 31, 2012
Other than the homer, which followed a Howard Kendrick double, Maholm threw a solid 4⅔ innings, giving up just one other hit and striking out six. And fortunately for him (and the Cubs), he won't have to see Pujols again this year. The Cubs will see him tomorrow in Tempe, but then will say farewell; it'll be a Pujols-less season at Wrigley Field for the first time since 2000.
Pujols also entertained the crowd by forgetting how many outs there were in the fourth inning; he started to trot off the field after retiring Ian Stewart for the second out on a ground ball. Loud heckling from the crowd brought him sheepishly back onto the field.
The Cubs scored a run in the fifth thanks to an error by third baseman Mark Trumbo. If you are an Angels fan, the words "third baseman Mark Trumbo" should make you afraid, very afraid. He's a first baseman squeezed into a position he can't really play because the Angels already have Pujols, Kendrys Morales and Bobby Abreu to fill the positions he can play.
Then they gave the run right back in the top of the sixth when Darwin Barney made a rare error, booting a ground ball. That run was unearned, off Rodrigo Lopez, who battled his way out of a rough inning by striking out the last two hitters; he followed it with a scoreless seventh. Lopez has almost certainly made the team as a long man, mop-up, middle reliever. He's done a pretty good job this spring. If used properly, he could be a valuable guy.
See? There. I can say nice things about RoLo.
The Cubs tied the game thanks to some daring baserunning in the bottom of the sixth. After a single, a stolen base, a walk and a groundout by Blake DeWitt made it 3-2, Steve Clevenger singled Reed Johnson to third. Johnson took off for the plate and Clevenger was able to stay in a rundown long enough for Reed to score. I like this kind of baserunning and the Cubs seem to be taking chances, but not TOOTBLAN type of chances -- instead, well-calculated chances to run, though the team isn't on the whole what you'd call a typical "speed" team.
And then -- nothing. From the seventh inning on, the Angels had just one baserunner, a leadoff single in the seventh, erased on a caught-stealing. The Cubs had just two, a single in the eighth and a two-out double in the 10th by Barney, who was stranded to end the game.
The Cubs' bullpen did an outstanding job today -- 5⅓ innings, three hits, two walks, six strikeouts and an unearned run. The five Cubs who pitched in relief today: Kerry Wood, Carlos Marmol, Rafael Dolis, Rodrigo Lopez and James Russell -- are almost certainly on the team. It's the last two spots that are going to scare us most of the year.
Loek Van Mil, who threw the 10th inning for the Angels, is seven-foot-one. If he makes the major leagues -- and he's a pretty good bet to, as he had a very good year in Double-A in 2011 -- he'll be the tallest player in major-league history.
Seeing him pitch to Tony Campana made Campana look like a fourth-grader (he retired him on a fly to left to end the game). But what's possibly even more interesting is Van Mil's full name. Go ahead, click on it. You know you want to.
I'm not sure what happened to Bryan LaHair today; he was in the tweeted lineup, the lineup posted on the usual board at HoHoKam, and in the announced lineup just before game time. But DeWitt trotted out to first base and played the entire game there.
On Sunday, these two teams will rematch, this time in Tempe. Chris Rusin, who has already been reassigned, will start for the Cubs against the Angels' Jered Weaver. Today was my last day in Arizona; I'll be heading back by car starting tomorrow morning.