So, did anything interesting or controversial happen in Friday's game?
Everyone was focused pregame on the debut game for prized prospect Kris Bryant, and Bryant's performance is worth discussing, but it's only about 10th on the list of key things that happened in the Cubs' 5-4 loss to the Padres.
The Padres scored all five of their runs on home runs, a two-run shot by Will Middlebrooks in the fourth off Jason Hammel, and then a three-run homer by Wil Myers in the seventh off Brian Schlitter. Both homers came immediately after pitches that likely were "strike three" were called balls by plate umpire Sam Holbrook, who had a horrendous game calling balls and strikes. Here's a screencap of the Schlitter pitch to Myers, the third pitch of the at-bat (the circled "3" in the pitch-trax box):
Granted that the TV pitch-trax doesn't always show the accurate location of a pitch, both Schlitter and Welington Castillo thought they had Myers struck out, and so did I. The pitch to Middlebrooks was in almost the precise location. It wouldn't have been so bad if Holbrook had at least been consistent, but he wasn't. Pitches in that location were called both balls and strikes at various times during this game, and as I have written before, I would have no problem with automated ball-and-strike calls. No more "interpreting" the zone, no more calling pitches differently depending on the situation. Call 'em by the book. When Joe Maddon came out after Myers' homer and got tossed (his first ejection as a Cub), Len & JD noted that at one point it was real easy to read his lips. He said, "All five runs," and he was right. Cubs pitching threw well enough to shut out the Padres, but were foiled by bad umpiring.
At the very least, umpires need to be held accountable for egregriously bad calls like these two.
The other somewhat controversial call happened in the bottom of the seventh, when Dexter Fowler hit a ball that lodged in the still-leafless vines in left-center field. Both Myers and Justin Upton at first appeared to go for the ball, then remembered the rule that says that any ball caught in the vines is a ground-rule double and held up their arms, as player are taught to do at Wrigley. Meanwhile, Fowler circled the bases. After the umpires conferred and then discussed it with the replay folks in New York, the call of double was upheld.
Now. The point of the rule is so that players don't have to go searching for a baseball hidden in the ivy. But in April, there's no ivy and the ball was visible. The rule, unfortunately, is written so that any ball caught is a ground-rule double. I got into a discussion with Len on Twitter about this and he's right -- the correct call was made by rule. I would say that the rule needs to be rewritten to account for balls like that one that are clearly visible and thus playable.
That said, had Myers or Upton actually played the ball, it probably would have wound up as... a double. So there likely wasn't any harm done to the Cubs by that play.
One more thought about this -- usually, balls that disappear into the ivy are left there, because it would take too long to search for them. In this case, with the ball visible, there really wasn't any reason to leave it there. What if another ball had been hit to that precise location and hit the ball stuck in the vines and both balls dropped to the ground? Then which ball gets played? That's another thing that could and likely should be written into the rule, that if a ball gets stuck like that and is visible, it should be removed after the play is over.
I'm 600-plus words into this recap and have only described three plays!
The Cubs started off well, scoring two runs on just one hit in the third by playing small ball. Small ball, that is, after Hammel hit a ringing double off the left-center field wall. Jonathan Herrera laid down a nice bunt that James Shields threw away. Hammel scored and Herrera took second, where he advanced to third on an infield out and scored on a wild pitch. Nice way of taking advantage of every opportunity.
The Cubs scored another pair of runs in the fifth on four straight hits by Herrera, Fowler, Anthony Rizzo and Jorge Soler, a nice long-sequence offense.
But you can't fight the umpires when they are making bad call after bad call that favors your opponent. It's easy, I suppose, to complain about those calls; after all, the pitchers involved still had a chance to retire the hitters after that. But on both occasions, the Cubs' pitcher did, in fact, at least as shown by pitch-trax, did strike out the hitter. They shouldn't be required to do that a second time.
800-plus words in, let's talk about the earlier big story of the day, Kris Bryant's big-league debut. I thought he might have a tough time against Shields, who, after all, is very good. Shields struck Bryant out three times, mixing up his pitches well and showing him a repertoire he likely never saw in the minor leagues. Bryant grounded out his fourth time at bat.
What was most impressive about Bryant's debut was his defense, something that wasn't supposed to be his strong suit. He made several strong throws to first base and started two double plays, one on a 5-4-3 around-the-horn grounder, the other by snaring a sharp line drive off the bat of Alexi Amarista and doubling Jedd Gyorko off first.
Bryant will be fine going forward, I'm sure. He struck out several times in his pro debut at Boise two years ago and then hit .354/.416/.692 with four home runs in 65 at-bats before he got promoted to Daytona. Heck, he could come out tomorrow and smash a home run or two -- maybe after the Cubs get the benefit of some of that bad ball-and-strike umpiring.
Not at Wrigley today -- and thanks for your kind words in the game preview thread -- I watched an ABC-7 broadcast for the first time. The "whooshing" logo that accompanies replays -- eh, don't really care. That's what a lot of channels do these days, it kind of comes with the territory. Remember that the actual game coverage is provided by the same crew that does the other channels' games, so it was pretty much the same. The only thing that separates ABC-7 coverage from other games is the graphics, and one thing I definitely missed in the scorebox that's provided both by CSN Chicago and WGN-TV is a pitch count. Perhaps ABC-7 could add that going forward.
I watched this game with my dad, who was just as appalled with the ball-and-strike calls as I was. The "Umpires 5, Cubs 4" headline, incidentally, was his idea.
Russ La Croix is, as you know if you read Cub Tracks, away at a basketball officiating camp this weekend. He promises to have Heroes & Goats ready by morning. (And if I could give "goat" to Sam Holbrook, I would.)
Saturday, the Cubs will look to even the series with Kyle Hendricks taking the mound against Tyson Ross. I trust the umpiring will improve. It could hardly get worse.