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Turning The Table
by Derek Smart
After notching wins in his first three starts of the year, Mark Prior has become the team's hard luck case of late, throwing very well in his last three contests only to be deprived of the necessary run support to call the victory his.
Lucky for the Cubs, the team still got the win because Derrek Lee refused once again to let his mates go down. It was both satisfying and frustrating to see the Cubs pull it out the way other teams have done against them, but a win's a win, and you won't see me complaining about it, so on to the lead-based idea markers:
I feel lucky that I was unable to focus on the game until Jason Bay's sixth inning at bat (although, that sequence and the one that followed to Rob Mackowiack were certainly unpalatable), because the Cubs' consistent ability to get two-out rallies started married with their consistent inability to have anything come of them might have given me an aneurism.
However, the fact that wasted opportunities littered the field like hot dog wrappers on a windy day somehow made the eventual victory sweeter. These are the games you're supposed to lose, and with the Cubs spending the better part of this season dropping ones they were supposed to win like they were bread crumbs for pigeons, it felt great to be the recipient of the freebie for a change.
I was trying to imagine what Spin Williams was saying to Mike Gonzalez when Jose Macias stepped to the dish as a pinch-hitter in the eighth. You always hear the broadcasters say that the coach is going over the scouting report on a rarely-used player with his pitcher in that sort of situation, but what's to be said about Macias? Aim for the plate? Aim for his bat? Stifle your laughter?
The sad part was, the state of the bench is such that with Gonzalez in the game, Macias was unquestionably the best option the Cubs had available to them, as the only men on the pine that could hit were Hollandsworth and Grieve, both of whom would have been in lefty hell had they the misfortune to face Mighty Mike. When Jose Macias is your best available right-handed reserve option...ugh, I've run out of different ways to say how bad that is.
Even when he's not inhabited by aliens, there is one discernible offensive skill Neifi! possesses: the ability to lay down the sacrifice bunt, and he laid down a beut in the top of the ninth. I talked a bit about my irrational fear of bunting men over to third the other day, but that's only in situations where first is also occupied, thus not allowing the man at second a chance to decide if it's safe to proceed. I just hate that trapped feeling (you should see me in a crowd surging toward a moving escalator).
It's odd, even in this post-sarcastic-exclamation-point era (an era quickly ending, by the way, if one notices his .167/.211/.259 line in May), to feel good when Neifi! strides to the plate at any point, let alone late in a game. But with a man at second, no one out, down by one in the top of the ninth, there's not another player on the team I'd rather see taking their turn, ready to sacrifice himself for the greater good.
Of course, Neifi!'s bunting was rendered entirely moot when Derrek Lee stepped up and absolutely launched some scraps from The Table to the deepest part of the park. I've simply run out of adjectives or phrases of praise for this man and his work thus far, and all I can say at this point is that I have no idea where this team would be without Derrek Lee, but I do know that this club sans Rodan would be a sad sight indeed.
What a relief (no pun intended) to witness the other team's closer blow the job, while seeing someone come out of the Cub bullpen and get three easy outs in the ninth. Ryan Dempster looked solid, and the Pirate hitters impatient, which is exactly the sort of thing a walk-prone pitcher like Dempster likes to see.
Still, despite Dempster's success last night, I'm very pleased to see that one Mr. Joe Borowski had another nice outing in Iowa yesterday, going two innings, giving up no hits, with one walk and one strikeout. He may not be a savior, but I think getting a healthy, effective JoBo back is the first step toward solidifying the Cubs' bullpen, and I couldn't be looking forward to it more.
It's an daytime tilt today, with Glendon Rusch facing Kip Wells. I'll be scoreboard watching, as my afternoon will be spent witnessing Mark Buehrle ply his trade at The Cell in the company of some of my bestest internet buddies. Here's to live baseball, and here's to two in a row for our boys.