"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do, I stare out the window and wait for spring." - Rogers Hornsby

al yellon rants about the Cubs, the universe, and everything
:: welcome to 'and another thing!' - voted by readers as Best Cubs Blog 2004

:: Cubs' final 2004 record: 89-73, 3rd NL Central, -16. Last game: 10-8 win over Braves
:: Al's final 2004 record: 51-41, .554 (44-37 home, 7-4 road)
:: Cubs' 2004 record in all other games: 38-32, .543 (1-0 home, 37-32 road)
:: Next spring training game: Thursday, March 3, 2005, vs. A's at Phoenix, 2:05 pm CT
:: Next game: Monday, April 4, 2005, vs. Diamondbacks at Phoenix, 4:40 pm CT
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:: Saturday, July 17, 2004 ::

A Blast From The Past

Just a few days short of exactly seven years ago, on July 22, 1997, in the first game of a doubleheader at Wrigley Field, Greg Maddux threw a 78-pitch masterpiece against the Cubs, giving up four singles and a double and winning 4-1.

Greg seems to like mid-July for his renaissance -- today's sparkling, 103-pitch (71 strikes), 5-0 shutout of the Brewers was Maddux' first complete game in exactly one year and his first complete-game shutout in exactly three years, and the 297th victory of his career and 35th career shutout. It's been well-reported that before the All-Star break in 2003, Greg's numbers were just about the same as they were this year (2003: 7-8, 4.63 ERA, 126 IP; 2004: 7-7, 4.51 ERA, 111 IP). If he can repeat the 9-3, 3.03 mark he had last year after the ASB, he'll have been worth every dime of the $8 million he's making this season. Maddux even got a hit today; his hitting hasn't been that good this year, unlike other years, but this year he's apparently in a batting average contest with his personal catcher, Paul Bako (Bako's winning, .192 to .143, if you can call that 'winning').

Though Dusty had Kent Mercker and LaTroy Hawkins warming up in the 9th inning, they didn't get up till the inning had started, and though Maddux did allow his sixth hit of the game, a single by Brady Clark (after sitting through a long bottom of the 8th, during which I finally remembered to yell "Corey, you suck!" just before he smashed the 2-run homer), the game ended with a flourish, the line-drive unassisted double play featuring the glove of Derrek Lee.

That was the third Cub double play of the game, and it was indeed vintage Maddux today -- he induced 17 ground-ball outs, and hearing him on the postgame radio show, he said the first two of them were on "mistake" pitches that the hitters hit into the ground instead of into the air. Lee made a couple of nice stabs on other plays in the infield, and Rey Ordonez (credit where credit is due) made a diving, whirling throw on a sharp grounder hit by Chad Moeller in the third.

It really doesn't get much better than this. It was a cool day -- only 70 degrees at game time, something Maddux said on the radio show actually helped him -- and some low, fog-like clouds scudded around till the middle innings, then revealed a clear blue sky by game's end, a sky color you rarely see in this part of the country, and had the Cubs not extended the game with the three-run rally in the bottom of the eighth, it might have been over in less than two hours. As it was, Luis Vizcaino could barely find the strike zone (Howard said, "Every day has its dog"), and for a while we were wondering what Todd Walker was thinking when he failed to take third base, after having been sacrificed to second, when Sammy Sosa was retired on a VERY slow roller in front of the plate.

When Vizcaino threw a wild pitch, we were all groaning that Walker would have scored easily, but this became moot when Vizcaino threw a second wild pitch, on which Walker did score, then even mooter when Patterson homered.

Sosa also went yard, career #556 (now seven short of Reggie Jackson for eighth place on the all-time list), as did Moises Alou. Sosa's homer landed halfway up the LF bleachers just next to the juniper bushes, into the teeth of a 15-MPH north wind, and would have easily been on the street any other day.

Just after Alou's homer I looked over at Howard's scorecard and noticed that he had written "Ben Sheet" for the Brewers' starter, rather than "Ben Sheets". I said, "Don't change it yet! This must be working!" Mike chimed in and said, "He's pitching like sheet", for which I could have whacked him with the clipboard, but didn't.

Cub pitching has been absolutely outstanding, even during the recent losing streak (which I am blaming on George, who sits in the section over from us. Remember? He had his ticket wristband from February on his wrist all year. He cut it off on July 5 -- the Cubs are only 3-6 since then!), and has allowed the Brewers only three runs in the three games in this series. It was nice to see the offense break loose today, even if it did have to wait till the eighth -- yes, the Tomato Inning. The first tomato piece missed the scorecard entirely and landed on the ground, so I had to try a second piece. It landed on Derrek Lee's square in the 8th -- only one square too low. Do not think this is frivolous, my friends. Howard will not be at tomorrow's game so I'll either have to stop at Jimmy John's myself -- or, make do with a Wrigley Field tomato, which has worked in the past.

This morning didn't start so well for me -- I was out throwing a baseball around with my son Mark, and I guess his arm is a little better than I thought! One of his throws came up and hit me hard right below my right knee, and raised a little bump, and hurt like heck! It's fine now, but I have a new appreciation for what Todd Hollandsworth is going through, and it's still not certain when he'll return. If he can't, for any reason, I'd like to see the Cubs go out and reacquire Matt Stairs from Kansas City -- Stairs can do the same sorts of things that Hollandsworth can, could be acquired cheaply, his salary is not very large this year, and Stairs truly enjoyed playing here and would no doubt loosen up a clubhouse that seems a little tight.

The good news is that Aramis Ramirez is on target to start tomorrow's game, which -- could it be -- may finally mean the end for Rey Ordonez' Cub career. We can only hope.

Not long after the gates opened today, a couple of women (they appeared to be sisters) came up wheeling an older woman in a wheelchair, I suppose their mother. In talking to her we learned that she had been coming to Wrigley Field since 1929 and was 89 years old; she was wearing a Cubs cap and a 2003 division champions T-shirt -- and also carrying a, well -- I'm not sure how to describe this! -- a fabric baseball the size of a basketball, that you'd use as a cap in colder weather, but that she held in her hands, saying, "It's too hot to put this on my head!"

Anyway, the Cubs won, so we told her she's invited back any time.

Whatever it takes. Onward.

:: posted by Al at 5:54 PM [+] ::
:: Friday, July 16, 2004 ::
Who The Heck Are We Kidding?

This team simply is not going anywhere with its 3-4-5 hitters going 0-for-12. Or with a team that goes from the third inning to the ninth with only one hit.

Today's boring 3-2 loss to the Brewers, evening the series at a win each, was a perfect example of why people are screaming for Jim Hendry to do something, anything to improve the offense.

Seriously -- Matt Clement, who had zero RBI this year before today, had to take matters into his own hands in the second inning, flaring a pretty little single over first base to drive in the first run.

Jose Macias, who was driven by Tomato Power (today's tomato landed on his square in both the first and second innings), then drove in the second run with a sac fly. Incidentally, we all noticed that Brewers RF Brady Clark was playing Macias way off the line in the first, and Macias smacked a long drive foul down the line before his leadoff double -- which was then wasted. Dusty "Don Baylor" Baker made Mark Grudzielanek bunt him to third, where he was stranded.

Bunting? In the first inning? Is this a way to jump-start an offense that's been feeble for two weeks?

I mentioned the 3-4-5 hitters, today's culprits being Corey Patterson, Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou, all mired in terrible slumps -- not only were they 0-for-12 (Alou reached on what was called an error on Scott Podsednik, but it was a tough error on an attempted running catch), but struck out five of those twelve at-bats, and in the 8th, Sammy flailed at Luis Vizcaino's first pitch and meekly grounded out. Vizcaino could have phoned in his appearance today, throwing only seven pitches (one to Mark Grudzielanek, who popped to short RF, five to Corey, who struck out on a terrible pitch, and the one to Sosa).

It was another day of goofy little rainshowers. It rained for about fifteen minutes just before noon, then cleared out, then rained again during BP -- which I was surprised either team took, considering they had a long night game last night, and the forecast of rain. It started raining again just at game time, and I suppose the umpires must have known it wouldn't rain too long, because they allowed the game to start, and after one out and four pitches to Craig Counsell, the second hitter, they had to hold up play -- for a whole thirteen minutes. By the time the ground crew covered the field, the rain had nearly stopped.

That was it for rain for the day, and with the rain went the Cub offense. Again, Clement pitched well -- he's now allowed a total of eight runs in his last six starts, with an 0-5 record to show for it. The go-ahead Brewer rally was partly his fault, as he had Bill Hall picked off first base in the seventh, but no one alerted him and instead he threw a wild pitch, allowing Hall to go to third, where he scored on a Brooks Kieschnick pinch-single past one of my most hated strategies, the pulled-in infield.

Today, while Jeff and I were holding seats for our usual group to show up, my friend Ernie called me from the street below, asking for three seats. Sure, Ernie. Luckily there was space in the third row for him and a couple of his business associates, who decided they'd play home run derby. Brian got involved, and I spent two innings telling them I didn't think anyone would hit one out today, because after the rain, the wind started blowing in off the lake. Geoff Jenkins smashed one that would have been out on any day, landing about five rows below us and a little toward CF. Then, Ernie, who's a diehard Cleveland Indians fan, tried to get me to agree that I'd like to trade half the Cub team for outfielder Alex Escobar, who at one time was a top prospect, but hit .211 this year with no power and recently had foot surgery and is out for the year.

Um, Ernie? The Cubs are desperate for offense, but not that desperate.

Good news today about Mark Prior -- I listened to the post-game show on the radio driving home and Jim Hendry came into the room and said that all tests -- MRI, bone scan, etc. -- were negative on Prior, he is NOT going on the DL, and will apparently have his normal between-start throwing tomorrow (he felt good today) and if it goes well he will make his turn on Tuesday. Hendry likened what Prior feels in his elbow to "shin splints", and you can repair such things with rest. Thus, if missing one start would do it, then Glendon Rusch can take Prior's turn on Tuesday.

A couple things from yesterday's game: first, it was "Classic Rock Night", featuring Journey (minus their lead singer, Steve Perry, who's left the group, so why bother?). They botched the National Anthem -- I guess they were trying to emulate Jimi Hendrix' version from Woodstock, but it sounded out of tune, awful, and disrespectful, the worst version I've ever heard.

I got a couple of e-mails about Craig Counsell reaching base yesterday on catcher's interference, first from Mike Johnson:

During the telecast, [Steve] Stone said that it was the 3rd time this year Counsell has reached base on catcher interference. Coincidence? Probably not. Although looking at the replay, Barrett probably would have interfered with just about any left handed batter. His glove was letter-high, over the back-half of the plate when Counsell's bat hit the glove.

And, from John Aldrich, who as a Diamondbacks fan has seen Counsell play quite a bit over the years:

While it is true that Counsell's batting stance has him holding his bat high above his head, if you notice, as the pitch is being delivered, he brings the bat WAY back and then swings in a wide sweeping motion. With this exaggerated bringing of the bat back, he has always been prone to being involved in catcher's interference plays. He probably leads the majors in them. It is almost a part of his offensive arsenal.

In fact, if the catcher is not paying attention, he is liable to get hit in the back of the head with Counsell's bat! I actually saw this happen once a couple of years ago.

Today, Counsell was hit in the knee by a Clement pitch and had to leave the game. I hate to see players get hurt, but it wouldn't bother me a bit if Counsell had to miss the rest of this series.

Finally, here's the Greg Maddux Watch, as he goes tomorrow for win #297. Barring rainouts, injuries or other changes to the rotation, he'll start the following games:

Thursday, July 22 vs. Cincinnati
Tuesday, July 27 at Milwaukee
Sunday, August 1 vs. Philadelphia -- this would be his first shot at #300, IF he can win the other three
Saturday, August 7 at San Francisco

First priority -- win tomorrow.

Finally, head on over to Christian Ruzich's blog The Cub Reporter and add your comments to his well-written Open Letter to Randy Johnson.

:: posted by Al at 6:40 PM [+] ::
:: Thursday, July 15, 2004 ::

Yes, the Cubs can beat the Brewers in 2004.

Yes, the Cubs can score off the Brewers in 2004 -- I remarked to Howard that when Jose Macias scored the second run of the game to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead, that this was the first time they'd even led the Brewers in 2004.

Yes, we're all very nervous because Mark Prior left the game in the second inning with what is being termed a "sore elbow", though there were rumors flying around the ballpark that he'd hurt his hamstring, and, not an hour after he got hurt, that he was "out for the year", which, of course, is absurd.

I've said this before, but the ballpark is about the worst place to be if you want information about things like this. We had to rely on TV and radio updates, and my friend Craig called me from Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, where he was at the Royals game tonight, to ask me why they'd put Glendon Rusch's number on the out-of-town scoreboard there, and was anything wrong with Prior, and I had to give him the bad news.

Thank goodness for Glendon Rusch, because he has been a savior to the Cub pitching staff this year -- the staff that was intact for one game and two innings, thankyouverymuch -- and he threw 5 1/3 innings of three-hit, 95-pitch, shutout relief, for his fifth win, and the Cubs took advantage of Craig Counsell's error to start a three-run sixth and finish off the Brewers 4-1, their fifth home victory in a row.

Now that Prior may be out for an extended time, though we sure hope that's not true, I told everyone, "Forget about the Garciaparra part of the Randy Johnson deal, why not go after Johnson himself?"

Jessica, who is in town from New York, and who is on a "Get-Rid-of-Rey-Ordonez-At-All-Costs" kick, even if it means bringing Rich Aurilia here (and I think Aurilia's career is done), didn't like this idea, but I say -- why not? It was reported tonight that Johnson would indeed waive his no-trade clause for the right situation and why couldn't the Cubs be that situation? He'd be revered here, the team has a legitimate shot at postseason play, and most importantly, the Cubs may have exactly what Arizona is looking for in terms of pitching prospects, something the Yankees and Red Sox don't have.

Of course, if the injury to Prior isn't serious and he can return to his rotation slot for his next turn on Tuesday, then this is all just wild-ass speculation. But sometimes wild-ass speculation is fun, isn't it?

In the meantime, thank the shrewd Jim Hendry for grabbing Rusch off the scrap heap; he's been absolutely fabulous, apart from that horrible inning he threw in St. Louis on Saturday, and he could certainly be ready to start on Tuesday against the Cardinals if necessary.

It was an odd crowd tonight -- very late arriving, both in the bleachers and elsewhere; half an hour after game-time, there were still large clumps of empty seats, despite an announced attendance of 40,123, and a lot of those had left by the ninth inning (there had to be at least 10,000 empty seats then) even though the weather was absolutely gorgeous and so was the baseball.

The section to our left was composed of about 40 people celebrating "Bob Murray's 40th Birthday", which is what it said on the T-shirts left for his friends on each seat. Jeff and I agreed that neither of us have 40 friends that we could invite to something like this. Though for the most part the group didn't watch the game, they at least didn't disrupt anything.

Derrek Lee continued his hot hitting and in the absence of Aramis Ramirez, who is apparently not going to play till at least Saturday, he has been carrying the club, and drove in two runs today with a homer and a double, though Mike and I (and everyone else, eventually) were taking him to task for loafing from second to third when a ball appeared to be stuck in the ivy -- why not run around the bases? If the umpire says the ball was playable, then you've got an easy inside-the-park homer. If not, which was the case here, you just go back to second. I don't want to call Lee lazy, because he's played very well this year, but this was a lazy thing to do.

Even before Prior left you could tell he had no command of his pitches; he walked two and gave up two fly-ball outs in the first, one of which scored the only run of the game, and the rest of the staff wasn't much better -- yes, Rusch was great, but he also walked four, and the Brewers wound up with nine walks in addition to their five hits, but stranded twelve runners, and the only serious threat after the first was quashed by a nifty 3-6-1 double play initiated by Lee.

That was right after Craig Counsell suddenly appeared on first base after a leadoff single by Scott Podsednik. None of us could figure out what had happened, and eventually we realized it was catcher's interference, something you see maybe once a year. What I can't figure out is how Michael Barrett could have interfered with Counsell's bat, since in his batting stance he holds it up about three feet over his head.

Mike said to me, "Forget about the Cardinals," and apart from replying, "Except for Monday and Tuesday", he's probably right. Yes, it would be great to make up the seven-game deficit, which stayed at seven after St. Louis' 7-2 win over Cincinnati tonight, but the wild-card is right there for the taking, and if the Rockies hold their 4-3, 8th inning (at this writing) lead over the Giants tonight, the Cubs will be in a virtual tie with San Francisco for the wild-card lead.

As we learned last year, all you have to do is get into the playoffs. Then just about anything can happen, and often does.

Finally, tonight's tomato piece did some really odd things. It bounced off the player name lines, missing the inning boxes entirely, and left a stain next to Mark Prior's first inning -- a foreboding sign? Then I dropped it again and it landed squarely across Moises Alou's first, second and third innings, innings in which he did nothing -- but maybe foretelling the triple he had?

As long as it foretells victory, that's all that counts.

:: posted by Al at 10:20 PM [+] ::
And So, It Begins Again and Movie Review: "Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy"

There's not much to be said that hasn't already been discussed here, in the mainstream media, or by any of the rest of the Cubs Blog Army.

Apart from Alex Gonzalez and Todd Hollandsworth, the Cubs take the field tonight with the team they had envisioned on Opening Day. Granted, that leaves a fairly gaping hole at SS, and another with not having a good left-handed bat on the bench (and it appears Hollandsworth may not play through the weekend, at least), and those are things we hope Jim Hendry will address before the month is over.

This gives me the opportunity to briefly tell you about "Anchorman", which I knew beforehand had gotten mediocre reviews, but being in the TV news business, and having started in it in the early 1980's, just after the mid-to-late 1970's era depicted in the movie, I had to go see it.

The character of Ron Burgundy, a San Diego anchorman, is loosely based on several different local anchors of that era, and though it seems like a stereotype, it was true -- there were men like that, who assumed nearly deity-like status in their cities, since in most cities there were only a few broadcast stations, in the era B. C. (Before Cable), and these men read the news alone, or with other men only. There were such men here in Chicago and in many other places in that era, and there was great resistance when managers started putting women on the air, because, as the news director in the movie said, "times are changing".

OK, this is a serious subject, but Will Ferrell as Burgundy (the name itself is a play on the name "Harold Greene", a long-time anchorman who is still working in Los Angeles) plays it for laughs, and he gets some. He is so over-the-top that you think it's ridiculous when he winds up homeless, and yet, a man named Ron Hunter, who used to be an anchorman here in Chicago, fell so far that when he was a radio host in New Orleans, wound up being arrested for shoplifting about $4 worth of merchandise.

Burgundy's downfall begins when Veronica Corningstone (played absolutely straight by Christina Applegate) comes to work for the station and immediately sets out to become an anchor. Threatened, Burgundy woos (and wins) her, but there's more to it than this. Sometimes this seems real, other times forced, and maybe that's the way it was supposed to be, reflecting the times.

The plot is absolutely ridiculous, as are the clothes worn by the all-male news team (sports guy in a cowboy hat, and everyone wearing awful colors and even worse ties), and the weatherman is so dumb he doesn't have even one line that isn't a non sequitur -- you almost feel sorry for Steven Carell, the actor playing the appropriately named "Brick"). There are some even weirder scenes involving the competition between the local news teams, including a fight scene reminiscent of the gang fight in "West Side Story" -- and I won't ruin this for those of you who want to see it by revealing the names of the well-known actors who make cameos in this scene as competing anchormen.

I loved the way silly songs of the 70's were weaved into the plot, all so appropriate, reminding those of us who lived through the era how plastic it was. And the "walking anchor team" promo that was made for the Channel 4 San Diego news team -- was identical in format to one that was made for the news team at my station, ABC-7 Chicago, back in that era. Ferrell, who co-wrote the screenplay, did his homework well.

This movie isn't great, and at times it's really stupid, and I really can't recommend it unless you're in the media business, or are interested in its history, or you lived through the '70s. It's not a bad movie, just not a very good one.

AYRating: **

:: posted by Al at 1:08 PM [+] ::
:: Wednesday, July 14, 2004 ::
Even In Salsa...

... tomatoes have remarkable power.

This note from Dave Morrell from the Cubs newsgroup, who attended last night's game:

I couldn't find a sandwich with tomato slices or pieces, so I had to opt for the salsa that accompanied my fajita beef wrap. They're actually quite tasty and filling. Anyway, we performed the ceremony with proper decorum and got a decent-sized splotch on the lower third of the fifth inning, though the bottom third of the lineup in the fourth was also nearly completely covered. Perhaps salsa wasn't the ideal substitute, but we were desperate. In the final analysis, five actual at bats were touched by the tomato zone -- the 7, 8 and 9 spots in the 4th and the 7th and 8th spot in the 6th.

Interestingly, four of those five at bats were hits (3 singles - Alou, Kent and Loretta and a double by Beltran). Two of those hitters scored (Kent and Beltran). This seems to be an amazing method of divining offense. Maybe I should have used more salsa.

See the power of tomatoes on the scorecard even when in sauce.

I've already put in my sandwich order for tomorrow night.

Dave also said that he liked the two managers riding into the park in the old Lincoln limos (all I could think of is that the style of car was identical to the one that President Kennedy was riding in when he was assassinated), but Dave didn't see what we saw at home, the "Blues Brothers"-style video featuring Roger Clemens' family rushing into the car. Lame, and if you're wondering why Clemens had such a bad outing, maybe he got a little distracted by having to make this video -- it's hardly your normal pre-game preparation.

:: posted by Al at 1:30 PM [+] ::
And So, You'll Remember...

... WHEN the Cubs make the World Series this year...

Oh, come on, hope along with me, won't you?

... that the fact that they'll be playing only three possible home games instead of four, is due in large part to the fact that Roger Clemens had one of the worst outings of his career last night, in the National League's 9-4 loss to the American League in the All-Star Game, the AL's 7th straight win (if you don't count the 7-7 tie in Milwaukee in 2002).

Think Clemens might be having second thoughts about coming out of his 78-day retirement? Think maybe he's considering the wild rumors that he might want to go back to the Yankees, or even the Red Sox? Think Jimy Williams wishes Clemens had stayed retired? Williams is likely going to be fired as Astros manager today, and -- stifle a laugh, Cub fans -- one of the most likely replacements is ex-Cub manager Don Baylor.

Wonder how well Carlos Beltran likes laying down sacrifice bunts in the first inning?

I went to sleep with the score 9-4 in the sixth, and apparently, all I missed was the sight of the two managers then trying to get everyone in the game. All three Cubs participated, with both Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou going 1-for-2 (Sammy with an RBI), and Carlos Zambrano threw a 22-pitch inning, giving up one run, which shouldn't impact his ability to make his next start on Monday against the Cardinals. Most importantly, no one got hurt in the game. Back in 1977, Cub outfielder Jerry Morales, who was having a terrific first half, got hit on the knee by Sparky Lyle, and though he played six more seasons, was never the same.

There was the usual excess of promotional nonsense, though it was fun to see the guy who won $1 million by throwing five balls through a hole in a board they put at home plate. My son Mark said he could do that, and he probably could have.

And will someone please tell National Anthem singers that it is an anthem, not a gospel-fest? Sheesh.

In Cub news today, there are continuing, persistent rumors (free registration required for that NY Times article) that the Cubs, Red Sox and Diamondbacks are going to swing a three-way deal, with Randy Johnson going to Boston, Nomar Garciaparra coming to the Cubs, and various prospects going to Arizona.

I'd do this in a heartbeat. While Nomar has been off-and-on in the 26 games he's played since returning from injury this year, he's clearly an offensive upgrade over whoever the Cubs are playing at SS this week. While he would almost certainly be a rent-a-player... he'd be a pretty darn good rent-a-player, and even at the cost of a decent pitching prospect or two (I'd trade almost anyone except Angel Guzman), this might be the one player who could improve the Cub offense enough to match up with the Cardinals.

:: posted by Al at 8:53 AM [+] ::
:: Tuesday, July 13, 2004 ::

I almost don't know what to do without the daily dose of box scores, game stories, speculation, trade rumors...

At the same time, the All-Star break is supposed to be a break from all that, and I'll take it as such.

Watching the Home Run Derby last night was kind of odd, after having attended last year's event at the Cell, so it was interesting to compare.

It really is a made-for-TV event -- I wrote last year that it would have been nice to hear the ESPN commentary during the event, and they apparently fixed that problem in Houston, because you could tell that the interviews with the players, etc. were all being piped over the PA system at the Juice Box.

They shouldn't have bothered. The ESPN interviewers asked the most vapid, silly questions -- you could almost see Willie McCovey cringe when he was asked "Which of your 521 career homers was the most memorable" -- and I wound up with my attention drifting, leaving the room a couple of times, and I actually fell asleep before it was over.

Sure, there were impressive drives hit, particularly by Miguel Tejada, who wound up winning the whole thing. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal last week proposing that MLB scrap this event, or they could scrap the silly celebrity softball game, and replace it with a "pickup" game -- the concept being that all the living Hall of Famers who wanted to play, would simply show up and "choose sides", and then play maybe five or six innings. That would be fun, and considering the reception that the living members of the 500 HR club got last night, perhaps it's something that MLB ought to consider.

The only other thing I want to write about today is the talk that the Illinois Republican Party might tab former Bears coach Mike Ditka to replace the resigned Jack Ryan as their candidate for Senate.

Come on, people. Ditka wasn't that good a coach. One Super Bowl appearance with a team that talented? Sure, he's been a successful businessman and TV commentator, but he will be 65 years old in October, his wife doesn't want him to do it, and he has absolutely zero political experience.

This is simply a ploy to get some attention by the GOP for a race that they are destined to lose. Before this is turned into a Saturday Night Live parody of a Senate race, please -- pick someone else.

:: posted by Al at 9:33 AM [+] ::
:: Monday, July 12, 2004 ::
The Power Of The Tomato

About the third inning of last night's game, the doorbell rang. Insistently, several times.

Well, I thought it was just the kids fooling around, since they had been running in and out of the house the way kids do.

Instead, there was a guy from Jimmy John's delivering a sandwich -- but I hadn't ordered a sandwich.

Taking the bag, I figured it out. There was a note attached, and it read:

This has GOT to work! -- Howard

Then it all made sense. Just before the game started, Howard had called, presumably just to talk, but at one point he had asked me for my address. Now, Howard does know where I live, so I couldn't quite figure it out at the time...

Hey, we all have to take one for the team, right? Anyway, by the time the sandwich arrived, the Cubs were already up 4-0.

I called Howard back and thanked him and asked him if I had to eat the sandwich right then, considering it was nearly 8:00 and I'd already had dinner. He laughed and said no, so I put it in the fridge and I'll have a nice lunch waiting for me after work today.

You see how much power these tomatoes have? I didn't even have to eat one, and since I generally don't keep score when watching on TV, there was no scorecard to drop a tomato piece on, and the Cubs exploded out of their offensive slump and beat the Cardinals easily, 8-4, scoring more runs last night than they did in the previous six games (one of which was the 2-1 win last Sunday over the White Sox.

I'm going to take this one step farther, a bit later in the summer. About two months ago (in fact, just about the time Kerry Wood went on the DL) I planted one beefsteak tomato plant in a container on my deck. There are five little green tomatoes already, and I figure in a few weeks I'll be able to bring home-grown tomato slices to the ballpark. This is in fine baseball tradition, as several teams have had members of their coaching staffs grow tomato plants in their bullpens over the years, including the Orioles and Mets.

Since the game was last night, we spent the afternoon at Carole & Ernie's apartment building, hanging out at the pool. I read the Sunday papers leisurely, did two crossword puzzles (the Chicago Tribune and the NY Times one that appears in the Chicago Sun-Times), learned that Moises Alou lives in a nice three-story brick home right behind this building (no, I'm not saying exactly where this is!), and yes, I did actually go into the pool with the kids for a few minutes (normally, I'd rather just soak up the sun).

Do not underestimate the value of Kerry Wood's terrific comeback performance last night -- in many ways, this is Wood's team, as he has the second-longest tenure among the current Cubs, six years, behind Sammy Sosa. In making his first start in exactly two months (and remember? We all thought he'd be back in two weeks), his velocity was what it should be (consistently 94), he broke off several knee-bending curveballs, and though he was taken out after five innings, having reached the predetermined but unrevealed pitch count of 80, I think we can safely say that after 87 games, the starting rotation envisioned at the beginning of the season, is finally intact and healthy. Yes, Wood gave up a homer to Jim Edmonds (the only run he allowed), but Edmonds is hot right now, having now homered in five consecutive games.

Today's Sun-Times confirms that the rotation after the break will be as follows:

Thursday: Mark Prior
Friday: Matt Clement
Saturday: Greg Maddux
Sunday: Kerry Wood
Monday: Carlos Zambrano

This means that Zambrano and Prior will face the Cardinals in the final two games of the season between the two clubs at Wrigley Field next Monday and Tuesday.

The offense also woke up last night; in addition to Sammy's sixteenth homer (and five RBI, giving him a respectable total of 39 in 55 games played -- he'll have to have a monster second half to extend his streak of 100-RBI seasons to 10), Michael Barrett equalled his homer total from all of last season with his tenth, and the Cubs had fourteen other hits, including three from Jose Macias, who spelled Aramis Ramirez at third last night (yes, I still wish he'd walk more than two times every 100 plate appearances) and even Rey Ordonez chipped in with a couple of singles, raising his average to .172, above what we dubbed the "Hundley Line" a couple of years ago in dishonor of the former Cub catcher (that line being demarcated at .160).

The only discordant note last night was a somewhat shaky ninth inning thrown by LaTroy Hawkins -- again, this happens frequently to closers put in non-closing situations, though only one of the three runs off him was earned, due to Corey Patterson dropping a fly ball, and making the score appear closer than it really was.

And so, the Cubs enter the All-Star break seven games out of first place. Can the division be won? Here are just a few examples of leads this large or larger that have been blown:

August 9, 1969: The Cubs had an 8.5 game lead over the Mets (Cubs: 72-42, Mets: 61-48). Not only did the Cubs have a poor 20-28 record from that point, but the Mets went 39-14.

July 1, 1973: (Not quite the same point, but 81 games into the season, similar to this year) the Cubs had an 8 game lead over the 2nd-place Cardinals, with a 48-33 record and the Cardinals 37-38. The eventual champion Mets were last, 11 games out.

July 10, 1977: (one week prior to ASB, 83 games played, similar to this year again) the Cubs had a 5 game lead (52-31) over the eventual champion Phillies (47-36).

August 14, 1978: The Boston Red Sox had an 8 game lead over the New York Yankees (74-43 to 66-51). The Red Sox actually fell two games out with eight games left, forced a tie by winning on the last day of the season and then lost the famous (or infamous, depending on your allegiance) Bucky Dent tiebreaker game.

August 23, 1995: The Seattle Mariners lose, have a 54-55 record and are third, 11.5 games out. They go 25-11 the rest of the way, force a tie with the Angels and win a tiebreaker game and the division title.

And that doesn't even take into account the wild card, which is currently led by the Giants, one game ahead of the Cubs. In fact, the wild card race is currently so wild, there are no fewer than nine teams within 4.5 games of the lead.

Finally, the Cardinals have been 31-11 since May 26 -- that's a .738 percentage. It is simply not possible for any team to play like that for much longer than the six weeks the Cardinals have done so. Even the two best teams in recent years -- the 1998 Yankees who went 114-48 (.703) and the 2001 Mariners who were 116-46 (.716) couldn't sustain this for an entire season. It will turn around. As I wrote a couple of days ago, this has been a "streaky" season for many teams, including the Cubs, who have not only had two five-game losing streaks, but two separate six-game winning streaks.

Time to start another one, or longer. It can be done. It will be done. Don't you feel it?

:: posted by Al at 8:20 AM [+] ::
:: Sunday, July 11, 2004 ::
Some Encouragement...

comes via e-mail from Sam Gerros, who attended yesterday's game:

Sorry to report that I did not get your instructions in time - which still keeps the tomato piece theory somewhat, if not completely, intact. We were already at the "metro link" train station waiting for the ride. By the way, there is a Jimmy John's down here in "Hooterville", as my wife likes to call it.

Our seats were actually six rows behind the Cubs on-deck circle. It was brutally hot with little cloud cover and hardly any breeze. Clement had a tough first inning having to stay out a little longer than usual but so goes the luck of the team lately. I was encouraged that we were hanging in there until it fell apart in the eighth. We had some golden opportunities at various points in the game but failed to capitalize. Don't know if they showed this on the tube but after Alou's second or third at-bat, he came back to the dug-out and when he reached the steps, he took this bat and just wiped it to the back wall. I could hear the thing crash. He IS in a "funk" right now.

So, after the game ended, we were waiting around for some of the Cardinal fan "debris" to clear, and as I was sitting there, I suddenly got this feeling that everything was going to be OK. Believe me, I'm not one to psychoanalyze anything but something was telling me that the Cubs are not done - even if they lose tonight. Don't know what it means - don't know if it's some kind of defense mechanism the mind conjures up or what but I just had the feeling. There you have it, we shall see...

Indeed. Now let's go get 'em tonight.

:: posted by Al at 10:30 AM [+] ::

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