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I Am, I Am, I Am The Ram
by Derek Smart
BORN TO BE BOLD I'M THE SIGN OF THE BRAVE
ONE HERO ALONE WITH A WHOLE WORLD TO SAVE
I AM THE STORY OF HONOR AND GLORY
I'LL STAND UP AND FIGHT WHEN I KNOW I AM RIGHT
I WILL NOT BE AFRAID
I WILL LEAD THE PARADE
I AM I AM I AM THE RAM
I AM I AM I AM THE RAM
That's right, folks, it was the Aramis Ramirez show last night, as the Cubs' third baseman took the team on his shoulders and carried them through a wilderness of missed opportunities to a 7-3 victory over the Reds that, thanks to a late Giants victory, brought the club within four games of the wildcard leading Braves. Yes, I'm scoreboard watching. It's an illness.
If you felt your ear hairs singeing at around 7:58 PM CDT, that was the acid fallout from the invective I was hurling at the television.
See, it was the top of the sixth, and in the previous half inning Mark Prior had a battle on his hands, throwing approximately 872 pitches while giving up a run on a couple of two-out doubles and a hit batsman, and to top it all off, with two out he had the tying runs on base with the now healthy and very dangerous Ken Griffey Jr. at the plate.
He got out of the inning by striking out Griffey on a wicked, full-count breaking ball, but it was a strenuous frame, and there's no doubt The Franchise could use as much rest as he could get before he had to take the ball again.
So leave it to Neifi! to ground out to third on the first pitch he sees, and Mr. White to make his out after a mere two pitches. That's a grand total of three pitches of rest Prior got before he had to come to the plate himself, and you could see that his bat was practically glued to his shoulder during the first part of his turn as he tried to squeeze a little bit more down time out of the inning.
I'm not saying that a player should completely alter his approach at the dish in order to get his pitcher a breather in every inning, but when your moundsman has a particularly difficult time of it in his previous turn, there's no reason in the world why you shouldn't watch a ball or two to stretch things out a bit - especially when that pitcher is due up.
While it didn't seem to do any harm, as Prior was able to get out of the following inning unscathed, it's stuff like this that can really get me riled up, because more than anything else, it makes me wonder if the guys on the field are even paying attention to the game.
I damn near had a heart attack when Todd Walker fielded the potential seventh-inning-ending grounder, coaxed from the bat of Griffey by Will Ohman, and proceeded to loft the weakest, backhand flip, shovel-pass, winged-duck toss I've ever seen. It got the job done, and judging from the reactions of his teammates, earned Todd a bucket of good-natured guff, but it also took a half-year off my life.
Jody Gerut got his first at bat as a Cub last night, hitting into a fielder's choice to Joe Randa that resulted in an error. It was the first time I'd seen Gerut at the plate while I was inclined to pay close attention, and the thing I noticed on the ball he put in play was that he had a distinct downward chop on it, as if he were trying to keep the ball on the ground.
The Cubs were awful all night with men on third and less than two out, and it's been a problem all during this recent run of good play, despite the increase in scoring. Five such opportunities came their way last night, and the only time it was capitalized on was when Lee doubled with men on second and third and nobody out in the fifth. The rest of the time it was strikeouts, pop-ups and double plays ending threats to tack on runs.
Because the Cubs have been hitting the ball so well, and doing a bang-up job of run-prevention, failing to cash in on these chances hasn't been hurtful, as the games they've come in haven't generally been close enough to matter - Saturday's contest against Zach Duke being the exception. But when the Cubs have to face some better pitchers, or just play some better teams, they'll need to start making those opportunities count, because those extra one or two runs could be the difference makers.
I realize in looking over what I've written that I seem displeased. Far from it. Winning is a glorious elixir, and I am drinking deeply. However, there are some things going on in these games that strike me as potential problems when the contests get tighter, as they inevitably will, and no matter how much this team beats up on its weaker sisters, these little issues are going to take some of the shine off for me. I'm enjoying myself, to be sure, but I'd enjoy myself a lot more if the Cubs were just a little sharper.
It's the New-And-Improved-In-Some-Way-That-None-Of-Us-Can-Really-Discern-But-Gosh-He's-Looked-Good-In-His-Last-Couple-Of-Starts Kerry Wood, against the I-Really-Don't-Have-A-Long-Winded-Hyphenated-Statement-To-Put-In-Front-Of-His-Name-But-I'll-Give-It-A-Go-Anyway Aaron Harang this evening.
This one is particularly important, because a victory tonight clinches the series in front of tomorrow's start by Greg Maddux, which I fear could turn into a bloodbath considering Mad Dog's homerific tendencies in recent years. Going at least 6-2 during this eight game stretch against some weaker competition is vital in order to stay in the playoff hunt, and a 'W' tonight will achieve that goal.