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A Nearly Lost Weekend
by Derek Smart
It was a long weekend, but it's over now, and thankfully it ended on a positive note. I haven't got a long intro in me this morning, so let's just head right to the lead pointed tidbits.
I was at Saturday's game, due to a friend of mine who happens to be a White Sox fan thinking to call me when he stumbled across two tickets. I mention this because I had an excellent view of the play that, for all intents and purposes, determined the outcome of the game - Paul Konerko's eighth inning single off the glove of Corey Patterson.
Were I a dispassionate observer, I would have been intrigued by the see-saw nature of the crowd's reaction, as there was a moment when it looked as if the play was made and the inning saved for the Cubs. But just as quickly as the Cub fans' shouts of glee went up, they were stifled and replaced by the shouts of their opposites, as the White Sox took the lead.
I felt bad for Patterson, as the effort was there, but he just couldn't make the play. It was, in a way, a microcosm of the season thus far. A difficult but makable play presented itself, a moment on which the fate of the game turned, and try as they might, the Cubs couldn't get it done, despite trying as hard as they could. I won't say the ball was fated to drop - I don't believe in such things - but it's sure beginning to seem like Destiny has it out for the North Side.
Speaking of Saturday's tilt, let me say that I am not someone who is going to question the removal of Carlos Zambrano after the seventh. Managers, and Dusty Baker in particular, always seem to use the "damned if I do damned if I don't" excuse when it comes to their bullpen usage, claiming that the press and fans would crucify them no matter what, especially if the game goes badly.
I am not one of those people. I believe in consistent philosophies consistently applied, and in the case of Saturday's game, Dusty made all the right moves with respect to the use of Z and the relief corps. It was time for Carlos to go, and I think Dusty turned to the appropriate people, they just didn't get the job done.
It happens sometimes, and I think it's nearly as important to acknowledge cases like this where the right moves were made but didn't work, as it is to point out instances of poor strategy. Saturday, Dusty pushed all the right buttons, the machine just blew up in his face.
Anyone wondering how badly Michael Barrett's shoulder is bothering him need only look at the ninth inning on Saturday, when with two out and two on, Henry Blanco hit for himself. A healthy, or even moderately healthy Barrett is up and swinging in that situation. That he wasn't speaks volumes, so say your prayers for the man, because seeing Blanco at the plate for any extended period just might sear my corneas.
Derrek Lee had himself a rough weekend. Not only was he a mortal 2 for 8 at the plate without either hit being for extra bases, but he committed an error in the first game that led directly to a White Sox run, and made two extremely bad and potentially costly baserunning errors over the next two contests.
Both gaffes on the paths were uncharacteristically thoughtless, the first being one of somnambulance, as Damaso Marte caught Lee navel-gazing off of first base with two out in the eighth, Jeromy Burnitz at the plate, and the Cubs down a skinny run. Certainly, it may have cost the Cubs nothing but opportunity, but the lovely beast raised it's head so little on Saturday that squandering an appearance was shoddy work, indeed.
The second mistake, occurring on Sunday, was worse for two reasons: first, it actually cost the Cubs a run, and second, rather than simply being unconscious, Lee actually believed something the opposition told him. Really, the issue was less with Derrek buying the stuff that Juan Uribe was selling about foul balls, bad as that was, and more about the sin of not picking up his third base coach as he approached second.
Every little leaguer has this drummed into his head, and by the time you're up with the big boys you'd think that it would be reflex. Fortunately, despite the mistake, the Cubs didn't need the extra run (although, I'd have sold my soul for it after Paul Konerko found the street in the ninth), and the fact is, everyone's due to have a bad stretch - especially when you've been as special as Lee has been thus far. So there you go, Derrek, that was your run of foolishness for the year. See that it doesn't happen again.
As for Mark Prior's very good, but long, effort on Sunday, it's an excellent example of how the results of previous contests affect today's managerial decisions. I guarantee you, had the Cubs won the first two games of the series, Prior comes out after eight and Ryan Dempster is allowed the chance to do his dirty work.
That wasn't the case, however, and as is the wont of many a Major League skipper, Dusty hung onto his best pitcher and prayed he could take him home. Prior did, and that's good, and as far as abusive outings go, 126 pitches isn't assault with intent. However, I'd feel so much better if the Cubs had a bullpen that inspired confidence. That could have as much to do with any damage the Cubbie troika of young hurlers have and will experience as Dusty's proclivity for horses, and that fault for that falls squarely on Jim Hendry's shoulders.
Out from the clutches of one rival, directly to another, as the Astros are coming to town tonight. The very good news is that Houston is thus far 2-19 on the road. The bad news is that trend has to reverse itself at some point, even if the Astros don't get much better. Here's to hoping it doesn't do so for at least the next three days.