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View from the Box – Abhor, Adore and Ignore

Monday, April 7th, 2008

The Bourn Ultimatum

Dave Raymond and Brett Dolan call the game for Houston flagship KTRH and on Saturday openly challenged manager Cecil Cooper’s decision to leave in Roy Oswalt to face the Cubs in the 7th and especially Derrek Lee, who tied the game with his fourth hit of the afternoon. Overall, I found the pair mostly even-handed, tho they did question a couple pitches called strikes by home plate umpire Kerwin Danley when Kosuke Fukudome doubled two runs in.

This was tame, however, compared to Sunday’s game when Danley called the plays at 3rd. Eighth inning, one out, the game on the line and up comes Michael Bourn. On a full count Bourn attempts to check his swing. Assuming it was a ball, he sprints to first. Henry Blanco assumes it to be a strike (or a swing) and throws the ball around the horn. But no call from Brian Runge, home plate umpire.

At this point no one knows what’s going on. Lou Piniella comes screaming out the dugout and then Runge appeals to Danley who rules that Bourn didn’t check his swing enough. Carlos Marmol gets credit for another strike out. Back to the Astros booth. “That’s atrocious!” “Not even close.” “That’s terrible.” “If you’re gonna appeal, then do it right away.” “That’s crazy.” “a bad sequence for Danley and Runge.” “He did not swing.” “My goodness.” “I’m officially annoyed.”

So what was the view from the WGN side of the booth? What do you think, Pat Hughes? “It looked like a swing by Bourn. The delayed appeal was why there was confusion.” And now, Mr. Santo, did Bourne swing? “He went, he went, (adding, moments later) I couldn’t tell. I thought he did check and thought it was a called strike.” Hmmm, that muddles it up a wee more.

OK, let’s go to the video and Len and Bob’s view. One slight replay of the swing and a whole lot of discussion on the umpire and Lou. No help there.

Well there you have it, folks, another inconclusive situation, made even more so by the biased views of the respective teams’ announcers. Why is this relevant? Again, we fans form our opinions partly based on the information we receive from the announcers, especially the radio announcers. We trust them to bring us the game as is because many of us cannot see the game on television. As I watched Bourn, one angle seemed to suggest he held up while another angle suggests he didn’t. Close call.

Next up: On the road in Pittsburgh

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View from the Box – Fukudome’s Error

Friday, April 4th, 2008

After starting the season 0-2, it was imperative for the Cubs to salvage the third game against the Brewers. But the game started ominously as Rickie Weeks walked on a full count and Tony Gwynn Jr. doubled to left, sending, Weeks to third. Prince Fielder hits a sacrifice fly to right. But Kosuke Fukudome was conceding nothing, so he fires home in the hopes of cutting down Weeks. As Soto waited for the ball, Weeks barreled over the Cubs catcher, as both he and Gwynn scored on the play. Fukudome was charged with an error, his first in the young season.

After listening to both the Brewers and Cubs radio announcers, however, one wonders if they witnessed the same play. “Not a bad throw” says Pat and Ron, via WGN. And Ron Santo revealed that Soto wasn’t really on the plate, but just in front of it. Thus, they believe it was a tough error to charge to Fukudome.

Listening to Bob Uecker you’d get a different picture altogether. He had Soto on top of the plate, giving Weeks “a fair shot” at Soto. And he had Kosuke “overthrowing everybody.” “bad play, Soto, bad play Fukudome,” said Uecker. Not seeing the play myself, I have no idea whose call was more accurate.

I am going to evaluate the radio announcers for all of the Cub opponents this season and I am very unimpressed by the Brewers. And that surprised me because for years I have thought Bob Uecker was quite entertaining on television in commercials and other appearances. But calling a ball game, he is stiff and unnatural, herky jerky fashion not unlike Captain James T. Kirk. The other complaint I have is that there is no interplay between the announcers. No banter, no give and take. In fact, I found the Brewers’ announcers boring.

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View from the Box – Ron and Kerry

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

With the tacit encouragement from Mr. Aiello, I purchased Gameday Audio from For just $14.95 a year I can listen to every ballgame and here’s the kicker, I can get either the home or visitor’s feed. I’m probably the last one to realize this but this has given me an idea. While Joe and his crackerjack staff competently bring you the recap of the game itself, I thought it might be interesting to explore occasionally the View From the Press Box, both the Cubs and their opponent’s. Different perspectives of the same game or play contribute to a more honest interpretation of the events themselves.

Ron Santo is the consummate “homer” and no one expects him to be anything else. Nevertheless, I thought it would be interesting to hear what he had to say about the debut of new Cubs closer Kerry Wood. Santo never hid his fondness for Wood and I awoke this morning wondering if Ron was going to make excuses for his good friend giving up three earned runs in the ninth to break up a scoreless tie or if he’d be more objective with his listeners. In pre-game comments, Santo pointed out how Wood received standing ovations throughout spring training and that he looked like the old Kerry Wood who struck out 20 Houston Astros in his first year as a major leaguer.

As the ninth opened, Wood drills Rickie Weeks on the first pitch. “Ohhhhh,” came the famous cry of the Cubs color man. Later he attributes it to the fact that Kerry is “pumped up” over it being Opening Day. “It’s going to be hard for Gwynn to bunt against (Wood’s) fastball going 97-98 mph.”But Gwynn indeed sacrifices with two strikes, Santo reacts “I was hoping it would be a high fast ball so he couldn’t get it down.” Intentional walk to Prince Fielder. “I agree with that.”

But then Braun steps up and instead of hitting into a a double play, he slaps it through to score the game’s first run. “He got jammed but hit it hard enough to get through the infield. Oh man.” After Pat Hughes notes that Eric Gagne was warming up; Ron says “Gagne’s not the same pitcher he was with the Dodgers.” [But Kerry is the same guy who struck out 20 Astros?]

Corey Hart’s two run double comes seconds after Ron’s statement how good Kerry’s stuff was. Then after Hart’s shot, all we hear is Hughes. It’s as if Ron leaves the Box altogether.

After the game, Ron blamed Zambrano’s cramping. “He’s got to do something about that. He could have gone nine innings. Something like that turns the momentum around.”

Not to mention your closer giving up 3 in the ninth.

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Big Z and the Four Seasons

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

winter spring summer autumn

Been quite a year for Carlos Zambrano. No single individual player on the Cubs roster elicited more debate in 2007 than Big Z. While Ted Lilly, Rich Hill, Jason Marquis and Sean Marshall quietly went about their job of turning in consistent quality starts (more or less), Carlos inexplicably ran hot and cold, and we’re not just talking on the field here. As streaky as anyone in baseball, it seemed the club more or less went with him on the roller coaster. When he thrived, they thrived. When he tanked, so did the club. Which makes Game One tomorrow absolutely pivotal.

On June 6 Carlos publicly declared that he was starting over, that his second season had just begun. It was a bold statement indeed but one he delivered on.

But the case could be made (or else I wouldn’t have written this) that Carlos Zambrano didn’t stop at just two seasons in 2007, but in reality went through the entire calendar and has given us all four seasons in order: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall.

Winter of Our Discontent
April 2 – June 2 (Z 5-5) (Cubs 22-31)

Cold, miserable, all you want to do is sit with a good book by the fire. Who wants to be outside playing baseball when it’s so frigid out there? The first 53 games of 2007 left many of us wondering if Z and the team got the memo that the season had indeed started. Carlos didn’t even look like the 4 of clubs, let alone the ace of the staff.

In winter, all I feel is frustration; the ice, the cold, the snow. I hate winter. Frustration also dogged Zambrano, as evidenced in the infamous dugout brawl between him and soon-to-be ex-teammate Michael Barrett. Cub fans didn’t know it then, but that altercation, coupled with Lou Piniella’s carefully orchestrated ejection the day after would catapult the team right through the vernal equinox and into Spring!

Spring Forward
June 3 – August 4 (Z 9-2) (Cubs 36-20)

Everything comes to life in Spring; flowers, fields, gardens, the trees and Carlos Zambrano and his Chicago Cubs. Easter celebrates resurrection in Spring. Days grow warmer & brighter, smiles broaden and everyone seems to have an extra skip in their step as we jettison the Winter’s blahs. That is precisely what happened to Carlos and the team as a whole. The Ace reestablished himself as the Number 1 starter on this squad. Even the two losses suffered during his Spring season were quality starts, including a stellar complete game 2-hit performance against San Diego on June 16th. Zambrano’s masterful outing resulted in a 1-0 defeat, a game no one remembers other than the Derrek Lee/Chris Young fight. At 14-7, some were even speculating that Big Z might attract some consideration for a Cy Young Award.

Dog Days of Summer
August 5 – September 7 (Z 0-5) (Cubs 13-18)

Timing, as the clichÈ goes, is everything and Carlos could not have chosen a worse time personally to be entrenched in his worst stretch of the season. On August 17th he signed a well publicized $91 million contract extension making him the highest paid Cub in the clubhouse. The stress and strain began to show. Five starts, five losses, five horrific losses where he tossed 28 2/3 innings, allowing 30 earned runs. As the temperature soars in Summertime, the fans and Zambrano each seemed to suffer from a bad case of prickly heat. They booed, he reacted.

What goes better with Summer than a nice dip in the pool or the ocean? But during Carlos’ Summer Season, all the Cubs could manage was treading water as they hoped their ace would break out of the dogged days so many players and teams endure in the hottest time of the year. On Labor Day he suffered his worst defeat of the year, giving up 8 earned runs and falling to 14-12. No one was whispering possible Cy Young honors any more.

Autumn Breeze
September 8-30 (Z 4-1) (Cubs 14-8)

As the sweat and toil of Summer yields to the crisp and cool tidings of Autumn, once again I often feel reinvigorated by the smells, sights and sounds around me. The Playoffs draweth nigh and my team is within reach of the brass ring, a reality occurring but a scant 5 times in my 49 years of existence. Not a minute too son, either, as Zambrano enters his fourth and hopefully, final season of the highly unpredictable and occasionally tumultuous campaign. The Labor Day debacle behind him, Carlos is reborn yet again as he is touched for a total of just six runs over his last five starts, including no runs at all the last two times he took the mound.

Cub fans are thus encouraged, with every right to be. Carlos Zambrano has a 3.06 ERA on the road and his night splits are better than his day. But if remains locked in as he has over his last 13 innings, it will not matter when or where he pitches. He will march to the task set before him without fear or trepidation.

After all, Carlos Zambrano is well seasoned.

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Checking In

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

Been so long since I did anything but comment I forgot how to add my insights to an existing post so I will just use this new post to comment on Sunday’s game against the Houston Astros.

D LEE – hero or not, he’s hurting and deserves a day off to rest those ribs. We need him strong down the stretch.

ARAMIS – So lucky his ejection didn’t come back and cost the Cubs the game. No excuse to act like that and risk losing your bat the last three innings. Lee picked you up big time, buddy.

THE CARDINALS – How can any true baseball fan or human being find any pleasure whatsoever in Encarnacion’s life-threatening accidnet? I want to win the division as much as anybody but not at the expense of a man’s career or vision. ** In the interest of full disclosure, I am legally blind myself.

With all of their problems, the Brewers and Cards still managed to gain on the Cubs this weekend, both sweeping their series – the way the Cubs should have done as they were facing the Astros at home without Oswalt pitching.

BIGGIO – Now that he’s retiring, I like the guy. He’s killed the Cubs so much I couldn’t stand him for years but as Joe stated, he really is a good guy and wish him well in the future.

BULLPEN – Not only Dempster but the rest of the pen did their jobs yesterday. Now brace yourselves everyone, even Kerry Wood is starting to show me something. No one has been tougher on KW than me. I’m man enough to say I could have been mistaken. He’s helping us and I’m glad he’s with the team.

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