MESA, Arizona -- The name Kirk Nieuwenhuis probably sounds familiar to you, but you're not sure from where. (Plus, it's hard to type.)
Here's where that name got burned into Cubs history:
Yes, that's Carlos Marmol, and yes, that was a three-run walkoff homer hit by Nieuwenhuis off him June 16, 2013, the game that finally, finally got Dale Sveum to remove Marmol from the closer role.
The Cubs have come a long way since then, perhaps one of the lowest points of the three bad years before 2015. But Friday afternoon in Mesa they re-met up with Nieuwenhuis, now a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. Clayton Richard had him down 0-2 in the ninth with a 4-3 lead, but Nieuwenhuis hit a two-run double off Richard and the Brewers beat the Cubs 5-4 in a game that entering the ninth inning, looked like an easy, breezy win for the Cubs.
Before I get to the good stuff that happened Friday, Richard was really bad. He gave up a bouncy single to lead off the ninth, then struck out Will Middlebrooks. Two more hits and a walk later, the Brewers had cut the lead to 4-2. Richard then got a grounder to short. If Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist and Anthony Rizzo had still been in the game, it would have been over. But the play set up slowly and Eric Young Jr., who is still pretty fast, beat the relay, or so said first-base umpire Doug Eddings. In a regular-season game, Joe Maddon might have challenged the play, or it might have gone to an umpire review. But there are no reviews in spring training, even on televised games.
So that made the score 4-3 and set up Nieuwenhuis' two-run double. Richard finally got out of the inning on a groundout, and the Cubs went down 1-2-3 in the last of the ninth, ending a nice game on a very sour note.
There were a lot of good things that happened before that, so let's go through them.
Jon Lester threw five very good innings. He allowed two hits, a single and a triple, walked one and struck out two. Two other runners reached on errors. Lester really made no effort to keep any runner close, and one, Brewers right fielder Domingo Santana, tried to steal second after reaching on Munenori Kawasaki's throwing error in the fourth. David Ross threw him out easily. Let us stipulate, though, that Santana is not really a base stealer. In seven minor-league seasons he stole 44 bases and was caught 27 times.
But, Lester did a nice job of keeping hitters off the bases, and he also laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt in the third inning, though no one scored. In the fifth, Ross was caught stealing after a single. That had to be a missed sign or a blown hit-and-run, because Ross is about the last guy who's going to steal on his own.
The Cubs broke through with three in the sixth, highlighted by an RBI double by Kris Bryant and a two-run double from Rizzo with one out. Kyle Schwarber followed Rizzo's double with another one, but the ball looked like it might be caught so Rizzo had to hold up and wound up stranded at third.
The Cubs had another shot at scoring in the seventh when they loaded the bases with one out, but Bryant was called out on strikes and Rizzo hit a sinking liner to left, which was caught on a diving grab by Young. That turned out to be a key play; if Young misses the ball and it gets past him, that probably scores all three baserunners.
Minor leaguer Kelly Dugan accounted for the Cubs' final run with a homer in the eighth. Because Dugan isn't likely to be remembered in Cubs history, have a look at his long homer to center:
At the time, the 4-0 lead looked insurmountable, until Richard's bad inning. I hope this was just a one-off, and Richard will be fine to start the season. Up to today, Richard had thrown six innings in four appearances without allowing a run and striking out seven.
The other Cubs relievers all had good innings. Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon dispatched the Brewers 1-2-3 in the sixth and seventh, and Justin Grimm walked one batter but threw a scoreless eighth, striking out two. That's all good, and the Cubs need all those guys to be good when the season begins.
There was a Tommy La Stella sighting Friday afternoon. He pinch-hit and played the last four innings at third base, handling a couple of chances without incident. Whether that means he's ready for the 25-man roster is still uncertain. The Cubs apparently haven't yet decided on keeping Neil Ramirez as an eighth reliever, so that could mean a decision between La Stella and Matt Szczur (who singled in two trips in this one) for the 25th-man role.
Attendance watch: It was another sellout of 15,509, and this time the berm felt quite crowded. That makes the season total 165,745 for 11 dates, or 14,977 per date. If that pace is kept up for the four remaining games, both the total and average will set new all-time spring-training records. Friday's and Saturday's games are sold out; some tickets remain for Tuesday and Wednesday.
Finally, a quick report on the Cubs Wives sale of the Kyle Schwarber autographed broken windshield. It's heading to Chicago where you'll be able to see it on public display. It sold for $900 to the folks who run Harry Caray's. They'll be putting it on display at the Chicago Sports Museum at Water Tower Place at some point in the future.
Saturday, the Cubs host the Giants at Sloan Park in a game televised by WGN. John Lackey takes the mound for the Cubs against our old friend Jeff Samardzija.