Last I left you, Gentle Cub fans, I was bashing the little league play of Soriano and the ineptitude of the umpires. Well, tonight I sing all their praises, as Fonsie, relieved of having to deal with left field bleacher hecklers, showed why he gets the big bucks by staying on a nasty slider and blooping it down the left field line to score Mike Fontenot and firing up the Steve Goodman. Go, Cubs, Go!
For 8+ innings it was a rather hard game to watch. The offense could do nothing against Derek Lowe, Zambrano was stingy but seemed to often be in trouble, and we had to listen to ESPNs Rick Sutcliffe and Chris Berman fill the air-spaces. Not too fun. But then Takashi Saito couldn’t find the plate and allowed the Cubs to manufacture a run to tie it up in the ninth. One inning later, Fontenot, the 76th man to come to the plate in this game, earned the first and only extra-base hit of the contest. Soriano was the next up, and I didn’t know what to think when he took two fastballs down the middle (don’t hold your breath to see that one again); however, he came through off of Chan Ho Park and our Cubbies completed a sweep of a good Dodger team.
Let’s go to the notes:
- Before I bash him, I do want to say that I was always a big Sutcliffe fan, and he seems like a genuinely nice guy. He was a very good pitcher, of course, and it was touching to hear him come back from his time off for treatment for colon cancer. He sounded like a man truly appreciating what was in front of him, and it was great to see him get a warm ovation while singing the seventh inning stretch.
- That out of the way, I really don’t like him as an announcer (don’t get me started on Berman, who is awful beyond words). I was specifically worried when Steve Stone left that we were going to be stuck with either Sutcliffe or Joe Carter as the color commentator. I’m not the biggest Bob Brenly fan in the world, but he’s light years ahead of those two guys.
- At the beginning of the game, he stated the Cubs “really aren’t a good defensive team” with a derisive tone that suggested they were really bad. This is demonstrably false. Going into tonight’s game, the Cubs ranked 6th in MLB in Defensive Efficiency, which is simply a measure of what percentage of balls in play they convert to outs; and they are closer to 1st place than 7th. This is the best measure of team defense, and they are clearly near the head of the class. If you like more traditional stats, they rank right smack in the middle of the pack in MLB in errors and fielding percentage, hardly bad. And if nothing else, Sutcliffe should believe his eyes and what he saw the previous night (which he called as well) when the Cubs made numerous solid and spectacular defensive plays. Tonight they responded by turning several double plays behind big Z.
- For two straight nights he has proclaimed how the league has now figured out Dodger centerfielder Matt Kemp, a prospect who has gotten significant at bats each of the past three seasons. In his first at bat tonight, exactly the time Sutcliffe was saying this, the graphics crew threw up his line for the year – he’s batting .310 with a .358 OBP (and is slugging .450). Boy, if that is “figured out”, whenever he makes any adjustments he’s going straight to the Hall of Fame.
- Speaking of Hall of Fame, when Jeff Kent’s name came up, Sutcliffe quickly dismissed him as worthy of the Hall. I’m not saying he should be a shoe-in, but he is clearly one of the 10 best offensive second baseman of all time, and probably in the top 15 all around. He has a career OPS+ of 123 while playing a demanding defensive position, won an MVP award in 2000, is the all time lead for home runs from his position, and he does very well on some tests for HOF worthiness. He’s in, or, at least, should be.
- The dramatic comeback was necessary only because Big Z seemed to lose it momentarily in the top of the 4th. After getting the first two men up in the inning, two hits and a HBP were followed by a Blake DeWitt 3-2 walk. Zambrano would pull a similar stunt in the 8th except that he escaped without giving up a run (but did run his pitch count up to 130! – what was he doing still in there?) Berman and Sutcliffe kept talking like he didn’t have anything tonight; he clearly did not have his best stuff, but he was far from bad, obviously, going 8 innings and giving up only the one run. He did give up eleven baserunners and did benefit from three double plays – but there are few guys who do as well with their so-so stuff than Carlos.
- I love ESPNs dead-center camera and K-Zone. I remember when they experimented several years ago with doing the whole game with those features. If I remember correctly, they quickly did away with that as I seemed to be the only one who liked it. I just enjoy seeing an undistorted view, and I like knowing how the umps are doing on every pitch. Am I alone here?
- Speaking of the umps, great call by the first base umpire on Fukudome’s single in the ninth that loaded the bases. I was sure he was out in real time, but it was revealed the ump got it right only after several angles. The reason I think it was so good is that the ump seemed to be in the worst position to make that particular call correctly, and yet he still got it right. It really is amazing how often those guys get the call at first base right.
- ESPN broke into the Red Sox-Mariners tilt while Cubs were batting in the 8th. Manny Ramirez was going for his 500th home run, and proceeded to be at bat for over six minutes! I was annoyed at the time, but no worse for the wear as Jonathan Broxton struck out the side on 13 pitches. But still, 6+ minutes?
- Finally, in other baseball news, Bret Boone announced his retirement today. Which is good to know, since he hasn’t played baseball since, you know, 2005. Thanks for letting us all in on the secret, Bret. (Actually, Boone attempted a short comeback this spring.)