It was hot and sticky at Wrigley Field Saturday; this is perhaps one of the last really hot, humid summer afternoons before fall kicks in and you get that biting northwest wind that reminds you that winter is not far behind.
Even though this baseball summer has been a miserable one -- both play-wise and hot-weather-wise -- those of us who are dedicated baseball fans don't want it to end. Because even bad baseball is better than no baseball.
If you are thinking I'm trying to avoid writing about this game at all costs, you're right. The Cubs' 4-3 loss to the Rockies, a loss that dropped their record in one-run games to a really bad 11-22, wasn't particularly well-played -- it featured a Rockies error that helped lead to Cubs runs, Cubs misplays that led to Rockies runs, more reflexive platoon pitcher-switching that slowed the game down to a crawl, and was generally duller than dull.
There are, though, a couple of things worth talking about. Follow me past the jump for those.
Brooks Raley pitched pretty well for the third straight time; he was lifted after five innings and 80 pitches. His only real mistake was a ball that got up to pinch-hitter Josh Rutledge; Rutledge hit a two-run homer that cut the then-Cubs lead to 3-2. This was after a couple of hits, an error and Brett Jackson's third homer of the year gave the Cubs a 3-0 lead. Jackson's home run was wind-blown; it just barely made the left-center field basket.
Jackson had a good day; he doubled and homered and walked; unfortunately, he had a shot at bringing the Cubs back in the last of the ninth, but was called out on strikes to end it. Jackson's starting to look more comfortable at the plate every day; if he can cut his K's down from two a game to one a game, that's a major-league hitter we have in center field.
In the sixth, Andrew Brown hit Manuel Corpas' fourth pitch onto Waveland to tie the game. It was his first major-league home run. The guy on Waveland who got it -- not one of the regular ballhawks -- was exhorted to throw it back, but his throw hit the back of the fence behind my section. A ball was then thrown onto the field, but it wasn't the HR ball; someone from the Cubs went to Waveland to get the real ball for Brown.
The Cubs gave up the lead, and the game, in the seventh on some shoddy defense; after the Rockies had runners on first and third with one out, Carlos Gonzalez hit what could have been an inning-ending DP ball to Starlin Castro. Castro's relay throw was a bit offline and pitcher Alex Hinshaw (making his Cubs debut, becoming the 48th Cub this year) wasn't in position to take it. Car-Go was safe and the lead run scored.
And that was really it; a bunch of pitching changes and pinch-hitters produced nothing else, and even the slow-working Rockies closer Rafael Betancourt dispatched the Cubs fairly quickly in the ninth, finishing them off on just seven pitches.
I did want to call these two lines to your attention:
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS 45 2 6 0 0 0 1 1 7 .133 .167 .133 .300 49 4 5 2 0 1 4 1 16 .102 .118 .204 .322
Now who do you think those lines belong to?
If you've been following along, you should recognize the second line as what Josh Vitters has done since being recalled, including his 0-for-4 Saturday. The first line looks quite similar, doesn't it? A few less strikeouts, but less power, too (all singles from the first guy, three XBH from Vitters).
Vitters has played in 15 major-league games, starting 11 of them. The first player's line includes 12 games, all starts.
Figure it out yet? The first line is what Ryne Sandberg did in his first 12 games as a Cub (during which, incidentally, he was a rookie third baseman). Now, I am in no way suggesting that Josh Vitters could turn into anything near what Ryne Sandberg became. But there's no question in my mind that Vitters can become a capable major-league player and, especially in this lost season, deserves to be out there every single day the rest of the year (maybe with an occasional day off). If the Cubs want to see what Luis Valbuena can do, use him as a utility guy, giving Vitters, Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney days off; that way they can all get at-bats.
Here's another line from a young third baseman:
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS 39 2 0 0 0 0 1 10 10 .000 .204 .000 .204
This player had a hot start to his rookie season, then went through the above slump. His manager stuck with him through that slide, which lasted 16 games; the player started 13 of them.
Give up? That's current White Sox manager Robin Ventura, during his rookie year; he recovered to hit .249/.324/.318 that year, and eventually had a fine, long career.
So just because Vitters isn't hitting now, don't think that can't change. He just needs to keep playing. Now's the time to do it.
Sunday's forecast, which includes a a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms, doesn't look too conducive to baseball. We'll see. It's not like the game means anything.