MESA, Arizona -- This was going to be a happy little recap of a nicely-played win and trust me on this one, I'm going to get to the happy good stuff, but first I need to tell you about the way the Cubs nearly blew this game.
Francisley Bueno, a former Royals lefthander looking to squeeze into the bullpen mix, had retired the first two hitters in the top of the ninth with a 4-2 lead. Terrance Gore, the speedy outfielder who had a nice little run as a pinch-runner with Kansas City in the playoffs last year after barely playing above A ball, hit a comebacker to Bueno. I had already started writing "1-3" on my scorecard when the groan came up from the crowd -- Bueno, having apparently attended the Matt Garza School of Fielding, threw the ball away.
Then he got Ryan Roberts, who you might recall from Cubs spring training last year, to hit a grounder to shortstop Jonathan Herrera, who is another guy trying to impress the brass so he can stick around. Herrera booted the ball and the tying run was on base.
The next hitter was someone named Bonifacio. No, not Emilio -- this was Jorge Bonifacio, who is Emilio's younger brother (and who was a Top-100 prospect last year). He singled, cutting the lead to 4-3.
That brought out Joe Maddon, who did not look happy to have to remove Bueno and bring in someone from the minor-league camp. That was Steve Perakslis, a 21st-round pick in 2012 who pitched last year at Daytona.
Perakslis faced Lane Adams and struck him out to end a 4-3 Cubs win over the Royals, and now I'll get back to the good stuff.
Jason Hammel threw four very good innings, allowing just two hits and striking out three. He was quite efficient and, had this been a regular-season game, probably could have gone longer. Phil Coke threw a scoreless fifth and seems to be solidifying his claim on a bullpen spot. Zac Rosscup also threw a scoreless frame.
Meanwhile, the Cubs had a couple of nice rallies, highlighted by two singles by Anthony Rizzo, who had been 1-for-17 this spring before today. Spring-training numbers might be (mostly) meaningless, but it's still nice to see a very good hitter start to hit. The Cubs also got an RBI walk from Starlin Castro and an RBI single from Junior Lake, and some fine defense in left field from Matt Szczur, who ran into the fence trying to run down what wound up as a sixth-inning double by Alcides Escobar and then made a nice running catch on a ball hit to almost the identical spot by Alex Rios.
The crowd of 15,181 on a very hot afternoon when the temperature touched 90 again was yet another sellout at Sloan Park. It made the season total for eight dates 117,333 and the average 14,667. Both games this weekend are already sold out and there's an added attraction on Saturday when Jon Lester faces Felix Hernandez (with no TV broadcast scheduled, unfortunately).
Wednesday, the Cubs head to the west Valley to face the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch. I'm skipping this one due to the distance and the fact that I don't really like the ballpark. Jake Arrieta takes the mound for the Cubs.