The last four installments of this series, I knew, would be tough to write. The Cubs, as you know, have been pretty bad at the major-league level the last four years, going 273-375, a combined 102 games under .500. Unlike past Cubs teams that have been decent at home and putrid on the road, the team hasn't even had a winning record at home in this four-year span, bottoming out in 2013 with a 31-50 home mark, the most home defeats in Wrigley Field history.
So there isn't much to choose from among home games since 2010 -- but this one stood out.
Before the Sunday night affair between the Cubs and White Sox, the Blackhawks, who had just won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years four days earlier, brought the trophy to Wrigley Field and posed with it and both baseball teams near the pitcher's mound before the game. That was a remarkable scene, and one that likely won't be repeated any time soon, even if the Hawks win more Cups -- three Chicago teams on the same field at the same time, as depicted above.
And then the game started, and the two pitchers, Ted Lilly and Gavin Floyd, started putting up zeroes. No one got a hit until Alfonso Soriano doubled with two out in the bottom of the seventh; it's one of the longest times for a double no-hitter to go in recent memory. There had been a walk to Derrek Lee before Soriano's hit, and the next hitter, Chad Tracy (who had just 11 hits in a Cub uniform) singled in D-Lee.
1-0 Cubs, and Lilly had allowed just three baserunners (A.J. Pierzynski and Gordon Beckham had been hit by pitches, and Floyd drew a walk and was later erased on a double play). Could Ted finish the first no-no in Wrigley since 1972?
Here's what I wrote about what happened next in the BCB recap:
With what was at first a soft, then more moderate, rain beginning to fall in the eighth inning, Lilly put the Sox down 1-2-3; the third out was an adventure when Tracy nearly tripped over third base trying to catch Jayson Nix's popup. Tracy had also made a nice play on an Andruw Jones sharp grounder in the sixth; often, in no-hitters, you see weird or outstanding defensive plays. Then with the place rocking despite the rain, former Cub Juan Pierre led off the ninth batting for Floyd. The first thought was -- he's going to bunt. But with the field getting wet and muddy, that wasn't the likely outcome. Instead, Pierre lined a no-doubt-about-it single to center, and Lilly was done after 108 pitches. Had Ted been able to finish, we would have seen something almost as rare as a no-hitter -- a double complete game. Carlos Marmol came in and immediately walked Jones; he wasn't sharp last night. He balked the runners to second and then -- and I couldn't believe this -- the Cubs ordered Alex Rios intentionally walked to pitch to Paul Konerko, the Sox' best hitter this year. Really? Yes, I know Konerko's a double play possibility... and they nearly got one; Konerko bounced to Lee, who threw home for the force. One out to go. Marmol, after struggling, got Carlos Quentin to fly to center, where Marlon Byrd nearly had to push Starlin Castro out of the way to catch the ball.
As you can see, this was written long before a Marmol appearance would have made us quake with fear. 2010 was Marmol's best year, and at the time of this game he had 12 saves in 14 opportunities, a 1.93 ERA, a 1.075 WHIP and just 14 hits and one home run allowed in 28 innings. But this "struggling" Marmol was perhaps a portent of things to come.
The win "improved" the Cubs to 28-35. The loss made the White Sox 28-34. Neither team looked as if it were going anywhere, but the Sox went on an historic run, winning 11 in a row and going 22-4 before fading in August and September and finishing second in the A.L. Central. The Cubs? Not so much. They hit rock bottom on the day Lou Piniella retired as manager; they had gone 5-20 over their previous 25 games and were on pace to go 66-96. Only a "dead cat bounce" record of 24-13 under Mike Quade prevented that, and wound up getting Quade hired for 2011.
Regardless, this game was the most exciting of the year, not that there was too high a bar set for that in 2010. More of these in the future, please.