There was a scene at Wrigley Field Monday night that I haven't seen in years, if ever.
Alfonso Soriano's rocket of a home run in the first inning of the Cubs' 9-1 win over the Rockies sailed over the bleachers and headed toward Kenmore Avenue.
Not one of the regular ballhawks was there waiting to chase it down. The only one of the regulars I saw all evening was Ballhawk Dave, who was actually in the bleachers during batting practice. The corner of Waveland and Kenmore was almost completely empty. The ball finally came to rest in front of the "Budweiser House", the one that now carries a United Airlines ad, and someone who just happened to be walking down the street picked it up.
The Cubs had their fun early and often on another chilly evening that had the crowd thinning out by the middle innings. (This time, they weren't headed to watch the Bulls game, I presume; that one was hardly worth watching.) The Cubs smacked six doubles, and it would have been seven except for a generous gift by the official scorer in the seventh inning; Nate Schierholtz smacked a ball down the left-field line which was fumbled around by Carlos Gonzalez. It probably should have been a double and an error, but the scorer granted Sheer Hose a triple, his first of the year. Monday night was when I realized how mediocre an outfielder CarGo is; Cubs hitters smashed many baseballs down the left-field line in his direction. If he wasn't taking bad routes to them, he was running rather slowly after them. He's having a decent year at the plate, but went 0-for-4 Monday night.
Most of the Rockies had oh-fers against Travis Wood, who has turned into not only the most reliable starter on the Cubs staff, but one of the best in the National League. He had Rox hitters off balance all night, giving up just two singles. He finally tired in the seventh inning, issuing a pair of walks, but since his pitch count was reasonably low (he never did get to that magical 100 mark which seems to trigger a spring on the dugout bench, sending Dale Sveum to the mound), he was allowed to complete the inning. Wood has gone at least six innings in all eight of his starts and seven or more in three of them. His 2.03 ERA ranks seventh in the National League, and his 0.90 WHIP is fifth. Keep this up and there could be a trip to Citi Field in July for the All-Star Game.
Cubs batters reached base early and often and pounded out 14 hits; Welington Castillo had two of the six doubles and Soriano doubled in addition to his homer. Starlin Castro had a pair of hits and worked a walk in the eighth inning, nice to see even if it had no effect on the scoring. Even Wood got into the act, doing his part to ruin my argument in favor of the DH by hitting a single and another one of the six doubles. Wood is now 4-for-17 (.235) for the season with three runs scored and a stolen base.
Sveum decided that the nine-run lead in the ninth inning was safe enough to dispatch Carlos Marmol to the mound. Marmol did strike out the side, but ruined the shutout by allowing a home run to Josh Rutledge. Kyuji Fujikawa threw a 1-2-3 eighth with a pair of strikeouts and, since his return from the DL, looks like the guy the Cubs thought they were getting when they signed him from Japan's NPB. In his three outings since he was activated, he's thrown three innings and allowed one baserunner, on a single, and struck out four. If he keeps this up, the Cubs bullpen will be much improved.
In case you're wondering about the team record for doubles in a game, it's 10, set in 1931 in this wild 17-13 loss to the Cardinals. In that game St. Louis set the major-league record -- which still stands -- for doubles in a game with 13.
I've been saying all season that the 2013 Cubs aren't as bad as their record. The offensive outburst Monday night moved their run differential to -5; the Nats, who the Cubs just beat in a weekend series, have a differential of -8 with a record of 21-17. It's not difficult to see how this Cubs team, now with better pitching and an offense starting to heat up, might be able to put together a winning streak.
That'd be nice. Speaking of heat, it's supposed to be suddenly summer Tuesday night, with temperatures in the 80s and the wind blowing out. Perhaps the ballhawks will feel the south-southwest breezes and return.