Extended spring training continued Wednesday evening between the Cubs and White Sox, the scene shifting from Cubs Park in Mesa to Camelback Ranch in Glendale and...
What? You mean this isn't extended spring training? These games really count?
The White Sox must be glad of that, because their 8-3 thrashing of the Cubs put them over .500 for the season and won them the 2014 version of the Crosstown Cup, the fourth time they have won that mostly-meaningless piece of hardware in its five-year existence.
There are two main stories from this game. First was the strike zone of rookie umpire Tom Woodring; Cubs manager Rick Renteria and catcher Welington Castillo were both barking at Woodring about that, in the fifth inning after Gordon Beckham's three-run homer and then in the sixth when Castillo was called out on strikes. Renteria was tossed, his major-league-leading third ejection of the year (and keep in mind, with the new replay-review system it's much harder for a manager to get thrown out of a game). Castillo was lucky he didn't get tossed, too.
But beyond a couple of questionable calls, the real bad thing that Travis Wood did was walk White Sox catcher Adrian Nieto with two out in the fourth inning, right after Castillo had picked Marcus Semien off first base.
Prior to Wednesday's game, Nieto had 26 big-league plate appearances, had struck out 10 times, and had walked zero times. Nieto is a Rule 5 guy who the White Sox kept as their backup catcher, and he had not played above High-A before this year.
How do you walk a guy like that? Even if the plate umpire is squeezing you -- throw strikes, Travis!
Wood paid for that walk one batter later when Gordon Beckham hit a three-run homer, the second straight game he'd homered off the Cubs, making the score 4-1 White Sox. Wood also got hit by a broken bat during that inning when Moises Sierra's bat splintered on an infield grounder that Luis Valbuena wound up throwing away for an error. Fortunately, Wood was all right:
#Cubs Wood was hit in the lower abdomen by the broken bat but was adamant about staying in the game— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) May 8, 2014
It doesn't appear that being hit by the bat had anything to do with Wood's later problems; he just had a bad outing. The Sox righthanded hitters just pounded him; in addition to all the damage detailed above, Jose Abreu had three hits off Wood, including two doubles, all hard-hit.
The Cubs did manage to get back into the game in the next half-inning. Mike Olt homered and Emilio Bonifacio doubled in Darwin Barney, who had singled.
Wait. Did I just write "Darwin Barney, who had singled"? Yes, yes I did. That was Barney's first hit this month -- he had been 0-for-9 in May -- and gave him one more hit than Cubs pitchers have. The pitchers won't be able to catch up until Friday, when the Cubs return to National League play in Atlanta.
Anyway, at 4-3 it appeared the Cubs might still have a shot at this game, but Wood got hit hard in the fifth inning, allowing three hits and a walk without retiring a batter. Just for old times' sake, it was Paul Konerko delivering the big blow, a bases-loaded double scoring all three runners. Konerko later scored the Sox' fourth and final run of the inning on a single by Semien. Konerko, who has been with the Sox long enough to have played for them when they held spring training in Tucson, has played in 75 of the 97 Cubs/White Sox interleague games. His career numbers against the Cubs: .300/.361/.592 with 20 home runs and 59 RBI in 260 at-bats.
Konerko is a class act and has had an admirable career. But I certainly won't miss him ripping doubles and home runs against the Cubs.
After that they might as well have sent everyone home, because the Cubs had just one baserunner after the fifth inning -- Starlin Castro walked leading off the ninth and was erased on a spectacular double play, begun by Alexei Ramirez with a nice over-the-shoulder catch of a Castillo popup, after which he doubled Castro off first. The Cubs' bullpen (Brian Schlitter, Carlos Villanueva and Wesley Wright) held the Sox to three hits and a walk over their four innings of work.
The other story of the game was the attendance. The weather was a bit nicer than the two cold nights at Wrigley, with temperatures hovering around 60. Yet the White Sox sold just 21,075 tickets (looked like there were about that many in the seats, too, very few no-shows), by far the smallest attendance at any of the 97 Cubs/White Sox games since 1997. That's more than 9,000 more than the previous low (30,282 at the Cell June 19, 2012). This can be almost exclusively attributable to the high ticket prices at the Cell for these games, the highest-priced games on the White Sox schedule. I spoke to one Sox season-ticket holder who had paid $115 for a lower box seat near the third-base dugout. Similar seats for the Sox/Yankees games two weeks from now (the Yankees play the Sox right after their set at Wrigley) are $89. That's the next-highest-priced game.
I suspect the White Sox cost themselves as many as 10,000 tickets sold and possibly many more by pricing these two games that high. Whether they made enough money with the high prices to offset that is an open question. Even with warmer weather forecast Thursday, I doubt the tickets-sold count will be much higher, if at all.
The Cubs will try to snap their four-game losing streak and salvage one game of this series tonight at the Cell, with Jake Arrieta facing Sox rookie Scott Carroll.