:: Saturday, September 20, 2003
A Few More Thoughts...
... about yesterday.
I'm home now, arrived about an hour ago. I wish I could have stayed for the rest of the weekend, but I have to be at work Sunday morning and this was a quick way of seeing a ballpark I hadn't seen before, plus see two games at once. That sets a new personal record for road games attended in one season -- 15 (one in Milwaukee, three each in Baltimore and Toronto, the three at the Ballmall, the three in San Juan and last night's DH).
I hope there will be a handful more to add to that total.
Today dawned gorgeous in Pittsburgh, so I walked around downtown. Pittsburgh has a reputation as being an ugly city, but it's really not -- the old steel days are gone, and they've gone a long way trying to beautify the riverfronts, and keep the downtown clean and have activity around.
I learned the Pennsylvania lottery jackpot for next Tuesday's drawing is $55 million, so I bought a few tickets. Why not?
Then I walked all around PNC, which I didn't have a chance to do last night; it's all covered in yellow limestone, which looks wonderful and is in keeping with the character of the region, and as I mentioned last night, the park really does look like the city grew up around it rather than the other way around. There's also a Hi-Tops across the street, just like at Wrigley Field. There were a few fans waiting around (this was at 2 pm, five hours till game time) for player arrivals, mostly Cub fans.
A couple more notes on last night: Jason Bay, the kid LF the Pirates got from the Padres in the Brian Giles trade, looks like the real deal. His 8 RBI were the most by a Pirate in one game since Ralph Kiner in 1950, and the most ever by a Canadian-born player. The Pirates play a host of silly scoreboard and trivia games, but the goofiest one is a trivia contest, where the contestant gets a $70 Pirate pullover if they guess right, and a Pirates cap if they guess wrong. Kicker: a la "Let's Make A Deal", they then get to trade it for something inside a "Pirate Treasure Box".
Contestant #1, who guessed right, traded his pullover for the box. In it was a CD of "Jim Nabors' Greatest Hits". Too funny!
Contestant #2 hit the jackpot. He got the question wrong, but traded his cap for the box and wound up with two round-trip tickets on ATA. Good deal!
I may have been a bit harsh on ATA on yesterday's airport problem, where they refused to endorse my ticket over to Northwest, although NWA took it anyway. Two different supervisors refused. You know, that's why Southwest has such a good reputation, because their employees are empowered to make decisions like this, rather than fall back on "policy".
Finally! Good news! Albert Pujols homered in the bottom of the 13th and the stupid Cardinals beat the Astros 3-2 despite leaving the bases loaded in both the 11th and 12th. So, if the Cubs win tonight, they'll be half a game out.
Hope lifts up its head and smiles.
:: posted by Al at 5:19 PM [+] ::
Al's Excellent Adventure :: Thursday, September 18, 2003
PITTSBURGH -- Yes, I'm in Pittsburgh, and on one of those awful in-room TV internet things, so no links today, and you'll have to forgive the formatting too, because this keyboard really sucks.
I was on an ATA flight that was supposed to leave at 7 am, but it was cancelled due to Hurricane Isabel. So I"m at Midway trying to figure out what other airline flies to Pittsburgh;finally found a seat on Northwest, only to find that ATA wouldn't endorse my ticket over to them. Then Northwest said they'd take it even without an endorsement, so I paid the $20 they now charge for a paper ticket and went there. Had to change planes in Detroit, and despite the fog and rain, landed on time.
It rained all day but finally stopped about an hour before game time, so I walked over to PNC Park (five minute walk from the hotel, I can see it out the room window), and got a seat down the 3B line.
First, a bit about the ballpark, which I had not been to before.One really nice thing about PNC is that the way it's built, it weaves into the fabric of the city so well, like it has always been there. The city closes a bridge over the Monongahela River (the one you can see on TV) and people walk over it to get to the park.
Around and inside there are the usual new-park amenities, shopping and restaurants; ballpark food is decent (I had a nice BBQ chicken sandwich) but a bit pricey. When you come in the main entrance in the LFcorner, you have to go up to the main concourse, then down to the seating bowl, and at first the directions were a bit hard to find. Overall, I love this park,and I think it's just behind Pac Bell in the way it fits into the fabric of the city.
Wound up sitting in a section filled with Cub fans, though by the 2nd game I wound up talking to some friendly and knowledgeable Pirate fans.
About the games themselves:neither starter, Carlos Zambrano nor Juan Cruz, threw well at all, though at least Zambrano had a couple of hits. He couldn't even finish 5 innings for the win, and then when Cruz blew up in the fifth in game 2, Dusty's makeshift lineup (really, Troy O'Leary MUST go) couldn't make up the deficit.
So, since the stupid Cardinals seem to be laying down for Houston, it's very simple. With eight games left, it's a great time for an 8-game winning streak. Dusty's Giants did exactly that last year to get into the postseason, and despite his occasionally bizarre moves, if there is a way to motivate these guys to win, Dusty will find it.
Hope still lives.
Apologies for the formatting of this post, but this hotel TV web keyboard really sucks. Will fix it when I return home later today.
:: posted by Al at 8:44 AM [+] ::
Movie Review: "thirteen"
In just a little over two years, I will have a thirteen-year-old daughter.
That said, this movie was pretty scary, as it shows what lifestyle choices can do to thirteen-year-olds who fall in with a fast or wrong crowd.
Evan Rachel Wood plays Tracy, a smart 7th-grader (and you don't really even think about the fact that she's only in 7th grade till very nearly the end of the film) who falls in with Evie, whose mother has abandoned her and whose father beat her and who lives with a dissipated older cousin. Evie, of course, has the body of an 18-year-old and knows how to use it, and soon shows Tracy the "ways of the world", and drags her into a world of piercings, cutting themselves, drugs and casual sex, with predictable results.
Holly Hunter, in what must have been a very tough role to prepare for, plays Tracy's mother, and even though it appears that she has no idea how Tracy fell into this trap, you get the sense that the Hunter character might have been very much the same at 13. She's divorced with her only job appearing to be some beauty salon work she does out of her home; the ex-husband appears only once in the film, and he's a very detached dad who has some unspecified pretty good job (everyone in Tracy's working-class neighborhood ooh's and aah's over his car), and in about two minutes is in and out of her life. Hunter has a boyfriend, but he's no role model either.
This movie definitely makes you think about what kind of world we are presenting to the next generation. I know those of us in our 40's had distractions as kids, but we had nothing like these kids here now, with girls that age dressing like cheap hookers, and stealing hundreds of dollars without blinking an eye.
Nikki Reed, who plays Evie, co-wrote the screenplay with the director, Catherine Hardwicke (who's also dating Reed's father), and it may be more than a little bit autobiographical. Reed and Wood are both 16 and so appear a bit older than most 13-year-olds would, but they are still totally believable in these roles.
The film is shot in a very stark light, with colors mostly washed out until the climactic ending scene between Tracy and her mom, when all color drains out of the movie and it becomes black and white; this alone makes a powerful statement.
This film isn't for any 13-year-olds to see; but if you have one or are about to, you ought to see it. It'll open your eyes to a world you probably don't want to admit is closer to you than you think.
AYRating: *** 1/2
(Stupid Astros won today; so the Cubs are one game out of first place with ten to go; however, with Philadelphia's win over Florida, the Cubs also picked up a game in the wild card race and trail by only two games there)
:: posted by Al at 8:20 PM [+] ::
Thank You Rockies! :: Wednesday, September 17, 2003
The Rockies beat the Astros 7-5 last night, so the division stands as follows:
Cubs 82-70 -.5
Houston plays again at Colorado this afternoon, where last night the temperature dropped into the 40's during the game, and where it might not get out of the 50's today.
The pitching matchup seems a mismatch: Wade Miller against Jose Jimenez. But you can often throw that out when playing in Coors Field.
We continue to hope. Go Rockies.
:: posted by Al at 7:40 AM [+] ::
Step Up! :: Tuesday, September 16, 2003
In our discussions in the bleachers this year, and for many years, we've often said that in the heat of pennant races, those players who can aspire to greatness need to "step up" when it counts the most.
I can't say enough about how Kerry Wood stepped up today, throwing his best overall game of the year, striking out 11, walking only one, and throwing a fairly efficient 125 pitches (well, fairly efficient for him, at least - he also hit his 21st batter of the season, one short of the Cubs club record that has stood since 1900, and the most in a single season by anyone since the Angels' Tom Murphy hit 21 in 1969) as the Cubs shut out Al Leiter and the Mets 2-0, for now, moving to within one game of the Astros pending their game tonight at Colorado, and accomplishing the following statistical feats on what was an absolutely tourist-guide-perfect weather day, 78 degrees, low humidity and bright sunshine:
* They swept their first series at home this year (yes, true, believe it or not);
* They swept the Mets for the first time in eleven seasons (since August 1992);
* They sold out the ballpark, drawing 38,482; I don't have exact figures but there must have been at least 6 or 7 thousand tickets sold today alone; that makes the season total 2,882,569, extending the record set yesterday, boosted the per-game average to 36,956, needing 117,431 or 39,143 per game to break the 3,000,000 mark;
* The entire bullpen got the day off, great news with tomorrow's off day and a doubleheader Friday in Pittsburgh;
* The 82nd win of the season clinched a winning season, the fifth in the last eleven years.
This happens almost every time one of my colleagues from ABC-7 joins me in the bleachers; today it was weekend meteorologist Phil Schwarz, who is a big baseball fan and very knowledgeable. He told us before the game that he was 5-1 in games attended in person (OK, so he watches a lot on TV), and that was good enough for us, record raised now to 6-1.
And just when we were all lamenting the fact that Doug Glanville got the start, righty against tough lefty Al Leiter, he led off the game with a home run. It was then that Dave told us that he'd heard on the pregame radio show that Glanville was something like 12-for-20 lifetime against Leiter. There are times that those things work and times they don't, and this was one of those great times that it did.
With only four hits and one walk for each team, the game was played in a snappy 2:09, and now the Cubs have just about caught up their home record to their excellent road record; 42-36 at home, 40-34 on the road.
Which is where they now go, to Pittsburgh, where they split two games (with the rainout that's going to be made up on Friday) in May, and Cincinnati, where they lost two out of three the first weekend of the season. Of course, neither one of those teams has nearly the same personnel that they did then (half the Pirates then are now Cubs, or so it seems), and both have losing records at home. Overall the Cubs are 8-6 against the Reds and 6-5 against the Pirates, and they'll have to... step up their game somewhat against both teams. Frankly, they can't afford more than one loss in each series.
The Cubs are 13-4 in September so far, one of their best September records ever (by comparison, the 1984 division champs were 16-11 in September, and the '89 squad was 17-11 -- this club will have to do better than that to make the postseason). I believe today, they made a statement that says they WILL step up.
Hope takes tomorrow off for a breather, but is smiling tonight.
:: posted by Al at 4:20 PM [+] ::
It's Gotta Be The Hat
Last Christmas Jeff got as a gift, a Cubs cap where the "C" lights up, with little red flashing lights.
So he wore it last night, and they won, and so he wore it again. I wore the same hat too, but we had to remind Jeff -- the lights only go on when the Cubs are batting, and off when the opponent is. "Hat off!" "Hat on!" Those were the commands.
They worked again -- as did the "Rally Oreos" that Carole, who felt sick and didn't come tonight, gave me to distribute to everyone. On my low-carb diet, I didn't have one last night or tonight.
Gosh, if we are this superstitious, what must it be like for the players?
After some nervous time in the ninth, Joe Borowski nailed down Mark Prior's 16th win and the Cubs beat the Mets 3-2.
It was about the sloppiest 13-strikeout game I've ever seen -- Prior was all over the place, going deep into counts and even though he seemed stronger as the game went on, he was obviously gassed in the 9th inning. Borowski didn't look that great, but he did strike out Roger Cedeno (who had homered earlier, despite the efforts of two people who went to great lengths to bring two large green signs, one that read "Cedeno", the other "You Suck") to end it, and with his 30th save became the first Cub pitcher since Rod Beck had 51 in 1998, to register 30 saves in a season.
That wasn't the only history tonight. The crowd of 39,534 broke the all-time Cub season attendance record; with four dates remaining the attendance is 2,844,087, or 155,913 short of 3 million. 38,979 per date will break the magic barrier which people said the Cubs could never draw in Wrigley Field. Most likely, unless they have a huge walkup sale tomorrow afternoon (come on out if you're in Chicago -- the weather's supposed to be spectacular!), they'll come out about 10,000 short of that milestone.
There were about 60 people wearing orange Mets t-shirts in the CF bleachers; turns out they are family and friends of Mets rookie CF Jeff Duncan, who is from the Frankfort/New Lenox area. Duncan did start in CF, but flied out and struck out, and wound up being removed from the game, as did half a dozen people who showered Roger Cedeno with beer after he made a nice running catch on an Aramis Ramirez drive in the 6th. Several of the people security took away protested their innocence, and we all thought, sure, we've heard this all before. Turns out they were right, as security finally found the real culprit and threw him out.
Howard gave me an interesting and funny book written by the rabbi at his congregation, "Is God (Still) A Cubs Fan?" I haven't finished it yet, but it's worth getting. It'll make you laugh, and we could all use a few of those these days.
The Astros and Cardinals are both winning at this writing, so the standings likely will not change before morning. Will update the top of the page later on.
Keep hope alive. There's still lots of time.
:: posted by Al at 10:05 PM [+] ::
Ron Santo :: Monday, September 15, 2003
Over the PA last night, in the middle of the game, quite unexpectedly, the Cubs announced that they will retire Ron Santo's #10 on Sunday, September 28, the last regular season home game.
This is long overdue, and I only wish it had coincided with the year that Ron was inducted into the Hall of Fame -- we have uninformed voters on the HoF's Veterans Committee to blame for that.
The timing is interesting too, coming in the middle of this tough pennant race. I worry that it's timed because Ron is having health problems that haven't been revealed. I sure hope that's not the case.
Since the end of the 1973 season, when Santo was traded to the White Sox, the following Cubs have worn #10:
Billy Grabarkewitz, Mike Sember, Dave Kingman, Leon Durham, Lloyd McClendon, Luis Salazar, Steve Lake, Scott Bullett, Terrell Lowery, and last year's interim manager, Bruce Kimm, who actually asked Santo his permission to wear the number.
Credit where credit is due: the information above comes from Kasey Ignarski's all-time Cub uniform number page, a fascinating list that's worth perusing if only to remember some of the really bad players who have been Cubs over the years.
Fergie Jenkins, who went into the HoF as a Cub, ought to have his #31 retired next. I would imagine Ryne Sandberg's #23 will be retired once he is inducted.
:: posted by Al at 7:35 AM [+] ::
Superstition :: Sunday, September 14, 2003
But before I tell you about those, let me tell you what I was thinking Art Howe, the Mets manager must be saying to himself... "What was I thinking? At least Lou Piniella gets to live at home. Plus, I have to sit next to Don Baylor every day."
We thought we were seeing the Reds again, as the 63-85 Mets have retooled their team in just about the same way, except unlike the Cincinnati series, there was only one player with a number higher than 60.
Oh, superstitions, right. Well, I changed caps. Shirts. Shoes. (Yes, underwear too.) New spigot at the 7-11 for my Super Big Gulp. And after using the same two #3 pencils all season, I put it to a vote of our group. Early on, just Jeff and Jon were there and they were split as to whether I should keep using those two pencils or switch to a new, never-before-sharpened one.
Howard was next to arrive so he cast the tiebreaking vote, in favor of the new pencil. And so, you now know what's responsible for tonight's efficient 4-1 win over the Mets, although it wasn't very efficient for the first three innings, which took over an hour.
Matt Clement threw very well again, only this time he remembered how to throw strikes. Only five balls were hit by Mets out of the infield, and only one of their four hits reached the outfield. Clement was pulled after 102 pitches and 7 innings, which might have been about his limit given his leg problem anyway, and Mike Remlinger and Joe Borowski made quick work out of the 8th and 9th innings. Borowski registered his 29th save, which is now sixth in the league (only Gagne, Smoltz, Worrell, Biddle and Wagner have more, and Biddle lost his closer's spot, so Joe will probably wind up fifth, and it'll be the Cubs' first 30-save season since 1998).
What's gotten into Randall Simon? Suddenly, he's a divin' fool, making stabs left and right. Mike said he reminded him of a young George Scott. If he could hit half as well as Scott in his better years, we'd take it.
And today we got treated to a two-extra-base-hit day from Paul Bako, who tallied one-twelfth of his season RBI total (1 out of 12, if you're not counting). The only discordant note was sounded by Sammy Sosa's performance. He really looks flat. He hates to take days off, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Cubs win tomorrow, that Dusty will push him to sit out Wednesday's game. Baker used to do this with Barry Bonds from time to time and it seemed to really help him.
So, the Cubs gain half a game on the idle Astros, and the stupid Cardinals picked today to score 11 runs (OK, so it was just the Brewers), so they are now five games out, and the Cubs trail by 1.5 games, and with Prior and Wood scheduled to throw the next two games of the series, hope is once again perking up.
Oh, and just for grins read Bernie Miklasz' column from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch yesterday in which he absolutely rips the Cardinals for their lack of heart in their effort against the Astros. Good for you, Bernie. I especially liked when he termed them "Deadbirds".
:: posted by Al at 10:06 PM [+] ::
Stupid Umpire Tricks
I guess just making bad calls against the Cubs wasn't enough for MLB umpires, so they spent the entire weekend trying to figure out how they could mess them up.
It took until the last inning, but Steve Rippley did it. He had been knocked in the head by a foul ball earlier, and left before the ninth "with a headache". Excuse me? A HEADACHE? Geez, take a couple of Aleves and get back out there!
And if it's that bad, why did it take Jerry Meals thirteen minutes to get the plate umpire gear on? Catchers put on that much equipment in a two-minute between-inning break several times a game.
I don't want to make excuses, but the delay clearly unnerved Carlos Zambrano, who had thrown eight really exquisite innings, allowing three hits and walking no one. He warmed up a couple of times, but his rhythm was thrown off and it was clear when he was all over the place to Ray Olmedo, who had drawn only eight walks in 180 at-bats previously, and walked him.
I don't want to blame Dusty Baker either, but frankly, at that point he probably should have pulled Zambrano for Mike Remlinger, who was ready to go. In fact, Remlinger should have started the inning after the long delay.
Anyway, as you probably already know, the Cubs lost to the Reds 1-0 and with Houston completing their sweep of the Cardinals, the Cubs are now two games back with 13 left to play.
I've almost never heard the ballpark as quiet as it was when Eric Karros struck out to end the game. It felt almost funereal, and the weather was appropriate. It rained hard for about half an hour before the game started, and about the third inning the temperature started to drop. Game time temp was reported as 73, and by game's end it felt like 60, though the current city report is 67. I didn't bother with shorts today, which was a really good call, but decided to show off my San Juan "Serie de los Expos de Montreal" T-shirt, without a jacket, which wasn't.
Dave said, and I agree, that you can't lose games like this, to teams like this, especially at home. The Cubs have to watch out for the Mets, who like the Reds have retooled their team since we last saw them for the opening series, though they won't be playing quite as many rookies as Cincinnati. Luckily, the Astros play their next series in Colorado, where the Rockies have the fourth-best home field record in the National League (the only teams better are the three top teams in the overall NL, the Braves, Giants and Marlins).
I spotted on the message board, when Moises Alou came up for his second at-bat, the note ".440 Last 7 Games". I asked Howard if that was his fielding percentage. Almost got smacked by a clipboard for that one.
And finally, my friends, our resident superstar, who I admit has had a tough season, was nearly invisible in this series. If the Cubs are going to make up this deficit, Sammy Sosa must step up and carry the club the way he has so many times. NOW is the time. Hitting from the rest of the club wouldn't hurt either; to leave nine men on base against a guy making his third major league start is pretty embarrassing.
I got to thinking about some recent races (not the legendary Phillie Phlop of 1964) where teams have made up deficits like this.
In 1987, the Blue Jays led the Tigers in the AL East by 3 1/2 games with 7 to go. They were playing each other, Toronto went into the 9th with a 1-0 lead, when Kirk Gibson tied the game with a homer, and the Tigers won. Had the Jays held on, they'd have led by 4 1/2 with six to go, a nearly insurmountable lead.
Toronto didn't win another game and on the last day of the season the two matched up again, and Frank Tanana shut them out 1-0.
And in the tight wild card race of 1998, the Mets led the Cubs by one game with five to go, with the Giants 3 1/2 back. The Mets were going into a series with the Expos, who were on their way to a 97-loss season, but they not only got swept by Montreal, they didn't win another game, and the Giants swept their way into a tie, losing on the last day to force the exciting tie-breaker game that the Cubs won.
Today felt awful. If I feel horrible, imagine how the players feel. But there are two weeks to go. Hope is reeling tonight, but still alive.
:: posted by Al at 5:01 PM [+] ::