Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com
Write Phil at phil.bencomo @ gmail.com
by Derek Smart
It's always a pleasure defeating the Astros, but there was something less exhilarating about last night's victory. I think it's the feeling of kicking someone while they're down that made the experience less than I'd hope for. The joy in beating past Astro clubs was the feeling of accomplishment, that one had seen a bully go down in his prime.
Now the bully is in his forties with a paunch, and while he's still dangerous on occasion, more often than not you'll be catching him fresh from the bar when his eyes are as shot as his reflexes. Not that it completely takes the fun out of the exercise, but since the expectations have changed, so have the emotions of the moment - boxing a man is riskier than taking on his shadow. But enough maudlin remembrances, let's get the lead out!
Finally, we got to see the Glendon Rusch we were treated to for so much of last year. A great deal of 2005 has been a struggle to find the plate for Glendon, but last night he was spot on, putting his fastball right on the outside corner when he wanted to, and mixing in his offspeed stuff like a master.
Three of his six strikeouts were of the spectating variety, and there's no stronger indication that Rusch is sharp than when the opposition just stands and stares.
I called out Derrek Lee on his baserunning yesterday, so I'd be remiss if I didn't take a moment to issue a verbal spanking to Corey Patterson for his blunder in the second. In Patterson's case, the error was twofold: first, he misread Wandy Rodriguez and took off for second before he made his move to the plate; second, and worst, instead of keeping his head down and barrelling toward his destination, he pulled up short and opted for the rundown.
As was noted during the broadcast, had Patterson simply continued on to second he might have stolen the base, as Rodriguez took his time getting the ball to Berkman, and the throw from first to second can be awfully tough with a runner in the way, particularly if you haven't done it much, as Berkman has not.
In fact, this is a trend for Patterson, this pulling up when the throw goes behind him on a stolen base attempt, and it needs to stop. You're going, then go. Make the first baseman get the ball cleanly to second, and if he does, then congratulations, but don't make the job easier by volunteering for a rundown.
Since I've spent a little time noting the outfield play of Jason Dubois and the unspeakable brutality that lies therein - really, there was a period where I was afraid the Geneva Convention would be invoked - it's important that I mention that since his insertion into the starting lineup, Dubois has been very solid out there in the pasture.
We saw a sterling example of his recent turnaround in the fourth, when Morgan Ensberg hit a ball up the left field line that died in the grass about halfway between third base and the wall. Noting the positions of ball and fielder, Ensberg saw an opportunity to stretch his hit to a double, and hightailed it toward the keystone.
Dubois hustled all the way, and after reaching down with his bare hand to retrieve the ball - which had completely stopped by this point - quickly set himself, and among a blizzard of freshly ripped grass, threw perfectly to Jerry Hairston who turned and made the tag on Ensberg. How perfect was the throw?
Think about the mechanics of making the tag that Hairston made: he had set up on the third base side of the bag, crouched both so that he could move to get the ball, and move once he got the ball, yet stay low enough to shorten the distance his glove would have to travel once the ball was received.
Hairston is also right handed, which means his glove was on the infield side. An ideal throw would come in low and on the infield side of second, allowing Hairston to simply receive without moving and pivot to the tag, moving with the energy of the throw.
Not only was the throw from Dubois in that exact spot, but had Hairston's glove been attached to a second base scarecrow with a weathervane-style spinning action, the momentum from the throw's receipt would have carried the dumb-glove directly into Ensberg's path. That's how an infielder wants to get a ball from the outfield, and while I wouldn't expect such excellence on a regular basis, it's reassuring to see Dubois is at least capable of it on occasion.
The homer by Burnitz was one of those that I needed a second look at via replay. Initially, I'd thought he hit the ball off the thin part of the bat, as the pitch was in on his hands, the ball didn't appear to have much jump, and I heard little sound on contact.
However, on seeing it a second time, and much slower, it was apparent that Jeromy just did a fantastic job of getting his hands in so that the fat part of the bat could make contact with the ball, and stay fair in the process. I've seen him do something similar on lower inside balls, but this one was higher up, making the power more impressive since he couldn't get his arms out as far.
Not that the pitch wasn't a mistake - it was - but Jeromy did a nice job of capitalizing fully on a ball that could as easily have been a lesser hit, or even a popout.
This isn't really relevant to anything, but there was a moment I thought was hilarious in the bottom of the eighth, and one of those things you only get on TV. During Neifi!'s at bat, Brad Ausmus was signalling something to the dugout by extending his right arm and making some gesture with his fingers.
No one in the ballpark would think anything of it, but when viewed through the centerfield camera, it looked for all the world like Ausmus was tickling Neifi! in the bellybutton. It was funny enough on it's own, but I half expected Neifi! to giggle like the Pillsbury Doughboy, a sight which would have made my season, even if the resulting spit-take caused several thousand dollars worth of water damage in my living room.
During the commercial break between the bottom of the eighth and top of the ninth, I left the room for a quick conversation with my wife. I wasn't gone for long at all, but by the time I returned, the game was over and the Cubs had won, thanks to Ryan Dempster's four-pitch door slamming.
I'll admit a bit of disappointment that the Cubs didn't take the opportunity of a three-run lead to give Joe Borowski a quick induction into what could be his job in the near future, but then again, the only potent part of the Astro lineup was due, and I have an awfully hard time arguing with three consecutive ground balls. I'll need to see a lot more of that type of work from Dempster before I'm convinced that he's a useful man in this role, but if he's willing to show me, I'm willing to watch.
It's a tougher bill tonight, as the Cubs must face Roger Clemens while countering with Sergio Mitre. There will almost certainly be some deeper bullpen involvement for the Cubs this evening, so let's hope that they can scrape together a couple of runs against the Ancient Firework, while getting some better work from the relief corps.