If you have never lived in Chicago, you likely don't understand the sublime ridiculousness of sitting at a baseball game on a Monday, freezing with a wind howling off Lake Michigan and temperatures barely above 40, and then three days later going to another game where the wind is blowing strongly out of the southwest, temperatures soaring into the 80s with a chance of severe thunderstorms.
Winter and summer. All in one week. That's Chicago! Incidentally, though I did not personally experience the horrific winter that those of you who are in Chicago year-round did, I will certainly never complain about warm summer weather. I trust after a winter like the one just ended, most of you won't, either.
Whether it was the weather or some other factor, the Cubs' bats came alive Thursday night at the Cell, slamming three home runs as part of a 15-hit attack. The 12-5 win over the White Sox prevented the Sox from sweeping the Crosstown Series and was the Cubs' highest offensive output of 2014 by a significant margin. In fact, the 12 runs equaled the Cubs' total from the previous five games combined.
Nevertheless, the outcome of the game was in doubt until Mike Olt launched a grand slam into the left-field seats to cap a five-run eighth inning. It was the Cubs' first slam since Junior Lake hit one against the Brewers September 6, 2013 (in fact, the Cubs' list of 2013 slam hitters is quite odd: Lake, Scott Hairston and Travis Wood). Every Cub who played Thursday night had at least one hit and all but Lake and Chris Coghlan scored a run.
These kinds of games are usually great fun. I say "usually" because this one dragged on... and on... and on... and on... and on... all right, I'll stop now, but that's how this one felt. At least there was some action in the four-hour, seven-minute marathon, but early on, the two starters, Jake Arrieta and Scott Carroll, simply would not challenge hitters by throwing strikes. Arrieta had to be pulled after four innings' work, despite his team having a 6-4 lead, because he had thrown 81 pitches, just 47 of them for strikes. There were nine walks in the game and innumerable long counts and Rick Renteria had to pull Justin Grimm with two out in the bottom of the ninth because, after Grimm retired the first two hitters in that inning easily, he had allowed a run and loaded the bases on singles. Wesley Wright was summoned to face Alejandro De Aza, who he struck out to end it. It's a sign of how weird this one was that if the Sox had scored just two more runs, Wright would have been credited with a save.
It was very nice to see just about everyone in the Cubs lineup hit. In addition to Olt's slam, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro homered; Castro's homer was particularly stunning, landing about 15 rows into the left-field seats, probably about a 430-foot blast. Rizzo nearly hit another homer in the eighth inning, but the strong southwest wind appeared to blow it back over the fence, where it landed for a double. Rizzo eventually scored on Olt's homer. Rizzo had three hits in all, and both Nate Schierholtz and Ryan Kalish had singled and tripled by the third inning. It was the first time a Cubs team had hit two triples in a game since July 3, 2013 at Oakland.
The bullpen did a nice job of holding the White Sox down in what was a close 6-4 game for a few innings; until Grimm's brief little meltdown in the ninth, Brian Schlitter, Zac Rosscup and Neil Ramirez had thrown three innings of one-hit ball. Grimm did strike out the side in the eighth, and perhaps had run out of gas by the time he allowed the Sox' ninth-inning run. Schlitter wound up credited with the individual "win," for whatever that's worth, because Arrieta failed to go five innings.
All told, 359 pitches were thrown Thursday night, just 217 of them for strikes. Perhaps 2,000 of the 26,332 that were announced as having paid Thursday were around when Wright finished off the evening with the strikeout of De Aza. About 6,000 more were in the house than the previous night, perhaps lured by the summerlike day, but these two crowds were still the smallest in the 98-game Cubs/White Sox interleague series. I'll have more on this in the Attendance Watch post later this morning.
Adding to the silliness of the evening were four hit batters by Sox pitchers (and Gordon Beckham by Schlitter). After Maikel Cleto hit Welington Castillo in the eighth (the second time Castillo had been hit, loading the bases two batters before Olt's slam), warnings were issued, but when Jake Petricka hit Castro in the ninth, no ejection occurred, perhaps because the umpires figured the game had gone on long enough already. Seriously, nine-inning games should not last more than four hours.
Be not fooled by this offensive display, Cubs fans, the most runs a Cubs team had scored since a 14-6 demolition of the Astros June 23, 2013. This team will struggle to score runs against a better pitching staff. Is the injury-depleted Braves staff one of those? We'll find out starting Friday night, when Jason Hammel (who, fortunately, was sent ahead to Atlanta early Thursday and didn't have to take the Cubs' redeye flight after the long game) faces Julio Teheran.