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Won't Get Fooled Again
by Derek Smart
I don't often find myself achieving a sense of peace after the first inning of a Cubs game, particularly after finding my boys down a run at frame's end. Yet there I was last night, not worried a bit - in fact, confident that there was something very enjoyable waiting for me if I could only be patient. So serene was I that this state of bliss continued even after Ryan Dempster gave up two more runs in the bottom of the third, following the premises laid out in The Professor's new book, "Fowl Play: Your Guide to Death by Duck Pecks".
My emotional worm began to turn when Troy Glaus took a fastball to the left field wall to score Arizona's fourth run with two outs in the fourth, and my mood turned downright despondent after Shawn Green's groundball single scored Glaus and Luis Gonzalez to put the D-Backs up 6-0 - a deficit that only increased when Glendon Rusch came in and served up a meatball that Jose Cruz Jr. sent to the center field wall to plate the synchronistic fourth run of the fourth inning.
The mood had changed so thoroughly that even Michael Barrett's three-run homer elicited little more than a shrug and a, "Well, that's nice for him." The game was lost, the Cubs are 1-2, and needless to say, I'll never be so foolish as to allow tranquility to interfere with my team's baseball again. And now, on to the bullets points:
One of the reasons for my now ridiculous seeming bout of spiritual comfort was the way the Cub hitters were approaching a man who pretty obviously has their number, Brandon Webb. Despite any evidence his history of easy dominance over the Cubs might present, Webb had profound control issues last season, and the Cubs did a nice job last night of making him throw strikes, and running his pitch count up early.
While the team failed to capitalize on the opportunities their discipline presented, the fact that they exhibited such a thing at all is still very encouraging. Granted, single instances do not a trend make, but after a night like last night, I think we can be forgiven if we work a bit to find something to smile about.
Another of my reasons for hope, albeit for a specific player and based on a single plate appearance, was the at bat had by Derrek Lee leading off the top of the second. Lee took four straight pitches from Webb, putting himself at a 3-1 advantage, fouled off a pitch to go 3-2, then went on to foul off the next seven offerings - all of them possible strikes, but none of them balls you'd want to put in play - before letting ball four go by.
It was a great display of bat control and patience, fighting off all the borderline pitches that Webb sent his way, while waiting for one he could drive or let sail by for the free pass. This was made all the more impressive because there were several of those sinkers I'm certain he would have swung over the top of in April and May of last year.
I'm not going to say Lee's in line to finally have a good start based on three solid games at the beginning of the year, but I sure like his chances better than I did in March.
Ryan Dempster may not have completely pitched his way out of a starting job, but he sure made me wish he had. Oddly, he seemed to be in pretty good shape with his offspeed stuff, getting nice movement on his splitter and slider resulting in seven strikeouts. The issue was with his fastball, which was very hittable all night long.
Never really keeping it down, always seeming very straight, it was the pitch that got him in trouble time and again. He absolutely has to get it to work for him - move more, locate it better - or hitters are going to simply ignore his other offerings to wait for a serving of hot, steaming, meatball.
The Diamondbacks have the Cubs figured out of late - even last year when they only won 51 games, four of them came against our boys in blue - and in a way it's good to get the trip to the BOB over with early, along with a hearty helping of early season angst. Of course, that means that I already feel like I need today's off day, so do like me and take advantage of this opportunity to regain some faith and get ready for the opener at Wrigley on Friday.