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Smackdown in Chi-Town
by Derek Smart
A lot of the baseball this weekend wasn't pretty, but it didn't have to be. The Cubs flat-out bludgeoned the Pirates in three of the four games, and when a warrior bludgeons his foe, it matters little if his axe cuts his leg a couple of times - after all, what difference will a few flesh wounds make when your opponent is hacked to pieces.
But enough of these ancient and brutal tools of warfare - bring me bullets!
It says a lot about my opinion of Dusty Baker, and my mind-set in general, that as I was following Friday's contest via an internet gamecast, the removal of Kerry Wood after six innings and seventy-five pitches nearly got me hyperventilating.
Why did Wood come out? Did he hurt his arm? Did he throw up in the dugout? Was he pierced through the heart by a quiver of arrows falling from a rich city-dweller's helicopter while en route to a Wisconsin archery range?
That these outcomes all seemed more plausible than the truth - Dusty Baker removed Wood from the game because he had a huge lead and it was an excellent chance to rest him - means that a) my pessimism runs deep, and b) I'd sooner believe that weapons would fall randomly and murderously from the sky than buy into the idea that Dusty exercised good judgment with a member of his rotation.
As a further illustration of how I'm thinking of late, I was going to go on about how this enlightened usage would never have happened if most of the bullpen hadn't spent nearly a week sitting on their duffs, but that seems like such a buzzkill, I'll just skip it.
The loss on Saturday was a great example of what happens when a team isn't playing terribly sharp baseball, but runs into a pitcher who demands you be on top of your game to beat him.
The Cubs had two separate opportunities to score a runner from third with less than two outs, and had they been successful in cashing in those two chances, and had Todd Walker not made his seventh inning error that gave Matt Lawton the opportunity to drive in another run, the Cubs would have been in a tie game once Zach Duke had left, rather than being three in the hole.
Not to take anything from Duke, who threw a very solid game, but the chances to keep the contest tight were there for the Cubs on Saturday and they blew them. Yes, they were able to win the other three games by simply overpowering the Bucs at the plate and on the mound, but it's those tight games that will make the difference between playing and watching in October, and if this weekend is any indication, the Cubs need to tighten things up to really have a shot.
It's not often that watching a baseball game makes me think of 1980s tennis, but that was where my head was at after Carlos Zambrano's much talked about attempt to throw out Matt Lawton through that pair of Sequoia trunks attached to his torso.
My memory is fuzzy on this, but I think the first tennis player I ever saw make shot between his legs was Yannick Noah, his dreadlocks bouncing around so wildly you wondered if his head might bruise.
It was an amazing play at the time, and one I don't think most people had seen before. Of course, it's almost commonplace now - one of those things that people didn't realize they could do until they saw someone else do it first. Which means pretty soon we'll be witnessing guys like Prince Fielder lumbering in on bunt attempts, only to get his man at first with a gorgeous long snap.
Since the break, Cub pitchers have gone 5-12 with two doubles, five RBI, and a run scored. In each of the three victories over the Pirates, a Cub pitcher came up with men on base early in the game, and in each case they came through, driving in runs and putting one of the final nails in the opposing pitcher's coffin. It's one of those things that won't last, but goodness it's fun while it's happening.
This is only peripherally Cubs related, and I know he's having a pretty nice year, but after yesterday, I'm willing to bet that Jeremy Affeldt would join Paul Wilson in saying that Kyle Farnsworth has missed his calling.
On to Cincinnati tonight, where Jerome Williams will square off with the man who currently holds the title of, "The Reds Best Pitcher," Brandon Claussen. Games against the Reds have been entertaining affairs the last few years, so don't let their record fool you - expect a tough battle.