A couple of days ago, I came across this Roger Ebert review of a forgettable film called "North." The review, one of his most famous, had been linked online because it was the review's 20th anniversary. In it was one of Ebert's most memorable lines:
I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it.
That's how I felt about the Cubs' 8-3 loss to the Padres at Wrigley Field Wednesday night. I hated this game. Hated hated hated hated hated this game. Hated it.
The length -- yes, the length. You know this about me already: nine-inning games that drag on and on and on and on, just can't stand them and this one...
Let's go over some of the particulars. Cubs pitchers walked 11 Wednesday night. Here's a list of all the nine-inning games in the expansion era (since 1962) where the Cubs issued 11 or more walks. There are 19 such games -- that's an average of one about every two and a half years. (The last one before Wednesday was September 26, 2010 against the Cardinals, amusing to look at because of the players who played for the Cubs in that game, only two of whom remain in the organization.) You probably don't have to look to guess the Cubs' record in those 19 games -- it's 0-19. Thus another loss was probably predetermined by the walkathon. It wasn't just the Cubs, either; Padres pitchers added to the misery by issuing six walks. At one point in the middle innings, the two teams sent 16 hitters to the plate, and eight of them walked. Yasmani Grandal walked twice, and he didn't even get into the game until the eighth inning. That's when Justin Grimm put the game out of reach with a three-walk, two hit, one sac fly, three-run abomination of an outing.
Even Jeff Francoeur, just recalled by the Padres, who is one of the most difficult hitters to walk in modern baseball, drew a walk. (On four pitches, no less.)
The Padres scoring eight runs is rare enough. They had eight runs combined in their three previous games and had scored at least eight runs in a game only four times all year before Wednesday night (comparison point: the Cubs, not a good offensive team, have scored eight or more runs nine times this year). The Padres got the leadoff man on base in seven of the nine innings, and four times Cubs pitchers issued a leadoff walk.
You're simply not going to win games that way.
Tsuyoshi Wada was the primary culprit, issuing four walks in four innings plus three hitters in the fifth (as well as five hits). Two of the three fifth-inning hitters walked, followed by a double into the ivy, and at that point even Rick Renteria had had enough, replacing Wada with Brian Schlitter, who walked two of the four hitters he faced. It was what happened with the other two hitters that inning that kept the game close at 5-3: Schlitter made a nifty acrobatic dive and flip for a force at the plate on an attempted squeeze (nicely done!) and then got out of the inning with a double play.
The only reason the score was even that close: Luis Valbuena had smacked a three-run homer in the last of the fourth, which had tied the game at three. If you didn't see this game and haven't yet looked at the play-by-play, you can almost certainly guess how the two runners he drove in got on base. (Yep. Walks.) The home run was hit into a gale blasting off Lake Michigan, in at 16 miles per hour, the weather having turned from July stickiness Tuesday night to October-like chill Wednesday. It was Valbuena's first home run since June 28 and (hopefully) broke him out of a 7-for-52 slump. Besides Valbuena's blast, the Cubs had just three other hits and had only one other real chance to score, when they loaded the bases in the fifth with one out -- two walks, of course, after a double by Welington Castillo -- but Anthony Rizzo struck out and Starlin Castro bounced into a force play.
Those kinds of things are going to happen, even to your two best hitters, from time to time. But man, the walks. The walks. Awful. 335 pitches were thrown in this game, 142 by Padres hurlers and an astonishing total of 193 by Cubs pitchers (114 strikes, 79 balls).
I don't get it about Wada. One of the things he did best at Triple-A Iowa this year was not walk hitters -- just 28 walks in 113⅔ innings, 2.2 per nine innings. He's thrown nine innings in the major leagues now, with five walks issued. Small sample size and all, but that's not a good thing. He'll have to do better if he wants to stick in this rotation.
I'll repeat: I hated this game. Hated hated hated hated hated this game. Hated it. It lasted one hour and one minute longer than Tuesday night's and the result was worse.
This isn't related at all to Wednesday's game, but I wanted to note this Theo Epstein comment on the demotion of Mike Olt to Iowa:
"He acknowledges he has gotten into a few bad habits at the plate and a few bad habits he couldn't break out of at the big league level, especially playing sporadically," Epstein said. "So playing every day down there will be good for him. And we think he has a chance to right himself just by playing every day and being relaxed."
I'm not sure if Olt will "right himself," but he will get his chance -- and Epstein specifically stated that one of the reasons for Olt's struggle was "playing sporadically."
Back to the series at hand: the Cubs will try to win it Thursday night when Edwin Jackson takes on the Padres' Tyson Ross. I certainly won't be going to Wrigley Field expecting fewer walks, with Jackson on the mound. Wednesday, I actually saw someone in the bleachers wearing a Jackson shirsey. Didn't even know they sold those.