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Rays 4, Cubs 3: Remember, It's Not Always That Easy

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There are likely going to be a lot of Javier Baez games like this.

Brian Kersey

I heard that when the Cubs Store across from the Wrigley Field main entrance opened for business Friday morning, there were at least 40 people in line... and virtually all of them were there to snag a Javier Baez T-shirt or jersey. Those clothing items were frequently spotted in the bleachers during the game Friday.

There's no truth to the rumor that those people were forming a line after the Cubs' 4-3, 10-inning loss to the Rays to return them.

We are going to see a lot of games from Baez just like this one: a solid hit, followed by three or four strikeouts. Baez came up twice with a chance to put the Cubs even or ahead in the game in the late innings, and he struck out swinging both times, after a pair of K's earlier in the game. That followed a solid, first-inning single, after which he scored the Cubs' first run of the game on an Anthony Rizzo double and Starlin Castro single. That's all good -- we are, I think, going to see a lot of that combination of hits over the next few years, too. It wasn't all bad for Baez. He was flawless in the field including a couple of nice picks of tough ground balls and showed he should be able to handle second base after playing just 16 games there at Triple-A Iowa.

Baez, of course, wasn't the only story of the game. Tsuyoshi Wada threw six strong innings, retiring 12 in a row after Desmond Jennings tied the game 1-1 with a leadoff homer in the third. Wada still doesn't have much velocity, but if he throws like this -- keeping the ball down and mixing up his pitches -- he could be a factor for the 2015 rotation.

The Cubs took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth on a walk to Arismendy Alcantara, a throwing error and a single by John Baker. Unfortunately, Ryan Sweeney, who had taken second base on Baker's single, got himself picked off while Wada was attempting to bunt both runners along. This is really bad form, especially since Wada doesn't appear as if he'll ever get a big-league hit. Bunting? Sure, but after the pickoff made the second out of the inning, Wada struck out to end it.

This could have been key -- had Wada successfully bunted, there would have been runners on second and third with two out, but with the top of the order up. The Cubs then had just two baserunners from the fifth through the eighth, as Chris Archer and the strong Rays bullpen held the Cubs in check while the Rays scored a run to tie the game and take the lead off the Cubs pen. Rick Renteria went through his usual platoon-advantage machinations, and though it got him out of the seventh inning, the multi-reliever usage left him short had the game gone farther than it did. Having the platoon advantage is useful, but that doesn't mean you have to manage every single game as if it's the seventh game of the World Series. Sometimes -- and Wesley Wright was doing all right -- maybe you just leave him in.

Anyway, the Cubs tied the game on a single by pinch-hitter Justin Ruggiano, a sacrifice bunt from Alcantara and another single by Sweeney, but they couldn't get the winning run home and Hector Rondon was touched up for three singles, producing the eventual winning run, in the 10th inning. Kyuji Fujikawa would have been the next pitcher, had the Cubs managed to tie it; he was warming up when Rizzo hit a weak comebacker to end it.

The Rays are a good team. They showed why, even though they're still three games under .500, they are very much in the midst of the American League wild-card race.

Their fans showed up at Wrigley Field in surprisingly large numbers, likely because it had been so long (11 years) since their team had been to the north side of Chicago. A group of them stopped by the VIP line before the game and in talking with them, I asked whether it was easier for them to get to Wrigley than to their home park in St. Petersburg. They laughed.

Seriously, Baez is going to be just fine. Though I thought he might have launched some batting-practice homers in my direction, most of the balls he hit into the seats during BP were toward center field, not left. He's going to have games like this. Tomorrow, he could hit one onto Waveland. It's going to be fun watching him, but maybe you might want to wait until you buy a shirsey or jersey.

Game 2 of this three-game series will be Saturday afternoon at 3:05, with former Ray Edwin Jackson facing Jake Odorizzi. Friday, which might have been the nicest weather day of the entire coolish summer of 2014, the wind was blowing in -- it held Rizzo's first-inning double in the park, though it looked ogne off the bat -- and it might do the same Saturday, according to this forecast. That might be the only thing that'll save Jackson.