The Cubs and A’s threw back to 1981 with colorful uniforms, and the teams played totally opposite of what they were back then -- the Cubs were awful, the A’s a playoff team.
The Cubs matched their season high at 27 games over .500 after this win at 68-41, meaning they’d played .500 since the 47-20 peak in mid-June (21-21). They led the N.L. Central by 10½ games.
In the early innings of Saturday's game, the Cubs hit quite a number of deep fly balls that stayed in the vast reaches of the Oakland Coliseum for outs.
And then they got a few bloop hits that scored a couple of runs and one RBI single that died in the grass in front of third base. That, plus another solid outing from Jake Arrieta, was enough for a 4-0 Cubs win over the Athletics, the team's sixth consecutive win and 10th by shutout this year.
The Cubs plated their first runs in the third inning when Willson Contreras and Dexter Fowler hit some soft singles, advanced on a groundout, and both scored on a single by Ben Zobrist. None of those balls hit off A's starter Sonny Gray seemed hit very hard, but the Cubs made the most of the opportunity.
Three innings later, Anthony Rizzo was on third base with one out after a double. He went to third on a grounder by Zobrist, and then Addison Russell hit this 70-foot ground ball down the third-base line:
As Len & JD mentioned on the telecast, Russell couldn't have rolled it out there any better; Rizzo scored to make it 3-0. Russell then stole second without drawing a throw, and Jorge Soler hit a ball that glanced off the glove of A's third baseman Ryon Healy for an RBI double.
All of this was off Liam Hendriks, who was a Cub for 10 days in the 2013-14 offseason, acquired on waivers from the the Twins, then claimed on waivers by the Orioles, and he never played for Baltimore either -- he was waived and claimed by the Blue Jays before the 2014 season began.
Meanwhile, Arrieta was dealing. He allowed just three hits and a walk in eight solid innings, throwing 66 strikes in 108 pitches. This, following his excellent outing against the Mariners last weekend, give some indication that perhaps Jake is back to being Jake!, and he can dominate the last two months of 2016 the same way he did in 2015. (Of course, I realize last year's dominance by Jake was almost unprecedented. I'd settle for maybe 85-90 percent of "unprecedented" this year.) Jake has now allowed just five hits and two runs over his last 15 innings. Jake's 13th win of the season was his first since June 27 against the Reds, hopefully beginning another winning streak for him.
The Cubs also won a challenge on this obvious bad call in the seventh, which helped Jake get an out:
It was good to see Soler again get a hit and drive in a run. He seems to be hitting with much more confidence than he was before he went on the disabled list back in June. Getting a hot-hitting Soler back would be a huge boost to this offense, not that they've had that much trouble scoring runs over the last week or so.
Travis Wood finished up with an uneventful ninth inning in which he allowed a single.
Now, some thoughts on the throwback uniforms worn by the teams Saturday afternoon, 1981-vintage togs. I never cared for this style when it was the Cubs' road uniform from 1978-81, but as a one-off throwback, it seemed pretty cool. They did a very good job on the style, too. Here's Dexter Fowler modeling the Saturday throwback:
Here's a photo of Bill Buckner, taken during the 1981 season:
They matched everything, even the size of the numbers, which was a bit larger on the 1981 version of the uniform than on the 1978-80 editions.
If you were watching the A's broadcast on CSN California, they got into the spirit of things with some 1980s-style graphics:
Len & JD mentioned this during the broadcast, but I thought I'd also note that only three current Cubs were alive in 1981: David Ross (born 1977), John Lackey (born 1979) and Zobrist (born 1981). In 1981 Joe Maddon was the 27-year-old manager of the Idaho Falls Angels in the short-season Pioneer League.
Tempus fugit, indeed. I remember the 1981 Cubs well; they were one of the worst teams in franchise history, the last gasp of the poor management style of the Wrigley ownership before Tribune Company took over. The Cubs finished 38-65 in that strike-shortened season, a pace for a 60-102 season, but were 15-37 before the strike and almost certainly would have set a franchise record for losses if not for the work stoppage. Only decent play for about six weeks after the season resumed saved them from that fate, and given that it's a weekend and the Cubs won the game easily, that brings me to a story about the 1981 Cubs that I've told before, but given today's throwback, is worth telling again.
Due to the wrongheaded decision to make the pre-strike standings the "first half," teams essentially started fresh when the season resumed. (In practice, this wound up meaning that the Cardinals and Reds, who had the best overall record in their respective divisions, didn't make the playoffs at all, because they didn't have the best record in either half. What they should have done is had the second-half "champion" meet the overall best record, and if that was the same team, then you substitute the first-half "winner.")
Anyway, the Cubs played near .500 ball for a few weeks, and after a 10-9 win over the Mets September 24, the "second-half" N.L. East standings looked like this:
Only 2,555 attended that September 24 game, in which the Cubs blew leads of 7-3 and 9-8 and eventually won on a home run hit by Bobby Bonds, his last in the big leagues. And WGN radio's Lou Boudreau blasted the fans on the air after the win, saying, "Where is everyone? We're in a pennant race!" He was further quoted in the Tribune:
"There should be at least 10- or 15,000 people here," Boudreau said. "The fans have been crying for a championship, and the Cubs have a chance to give them one. I don't understand why the crowds have been so small this week.
"If anyone had told them the Cubs would be three games out of first place on Sept. 24, they would all be out here. Now everybody in the division is playing each other, so all the games mean something. Getting a few more people in the park for the weekend series with Philadelphia would help the Cubs play better, I'm sure."
Well, of course that "race" was a joke. But there it was, the Cubs three games out of first place with 10 games to go. If they'd won, it would have been a real embarrassment to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn; the Cubs would have been in the postseason with a record more than 20 games under .500. But they lost seven of their last 10 to end any chance of that.
The 1981 throwback uniforms just reminded me of that story. I like this year's team, and its postseason chances, much better. Don't you?