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Doin' Pappa Proud
by Derek Smart
What a night for Jerome Williams. Not only did he pitch his finest game as a Cub - not allowing a hit until the fifth, which also accounted for the lone run he allowed - but he had his first career multi-hit game and his first extra-base hit as a Cub. All while performing in front of his father, for whom he had missed most of Spring Training, caring for him after kidney and liver transplants.
It was a storybook night for a kid who's had a lousy year - not so much as a player, but as a human being - and I couldn't have been happier for him, or happier for the Cubs, who finally broke through against the Braves. A lovely time was had by all, and so in celebration, I think I'll fire a few shots in the air.
There I was, reveling in the warm glowing warming glow of Jeromy Burnitz' fourth inning grand slam, enjoying the offensive outburst even more than usual since it's seemed to be such a rare occurrence of late, and then they had to go and mention that the pitcher who'd thrown the gopher ball, Joey Devine, had just become one of the few pitchers, if not the only pitcher in the history of the game to give up a salami in each of his first two Major League appearances.
Now I feel bad. I mean, you want to win, and it's always fun to win big, but you don't want to hang that kind of thing on some kid just getting his career started. I suppose that's just baseball, and I'm still glad Burnitz hit the bomb, but I hope Devine is able to do some good things on the field to get beyond the ignominy. In fact, I'm going to assume that he will, because otherwise I'm such a softie that this is going to be a massive buzzkill.
One of my earliest baseball memories is of watching Reggie Jackson hitting his three homers in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series. If he wasn't my favorite player already, he was by the time that Series was through. There's something utterly captivating, especially to a six year-old, about the total abandon in Jackson's swing - the way he would go so hard that he nearly screwed himself into the ground, even when making contact.
We got a look at Andruw Jones doing his impression of Reggie last night, though something got lost in the translation. Reggie went to one knee sometimes, but he wouldn't nearly fall down as Andruw nearly did. The Great Stirrer of Drinks might have been letting it all hang out, but he knew how to look cool doing it.
The funny thing was, up to that point Jones was 0 for 7 versus Williams in his career, so not only did Jones break up what was to that point a no-hitter for Williams, but he ended a personal no-hit string against Jerome as well, sending the ball onto Waveland Avenue, all while barely keeping his balance. On the post-homer closeup of Williams it was easy to lipread the word, "Wow." It may not have been pretty, but it was awfully impressive.
I was all ready to write about how it was not only nice to see the Cubs win in convincing fashion, but lovely to see a crisply played game for once from our boys in blue. Then Matt Lawton kicked the ball Marcus Giles hit toward the gap in the sixth, and suddenly I had to reconsider.
Of course, two innings later, Lawton got on his horse and made a fine catch on Kelly Johnson's liner to deep left, stretching tall for the ball running full tilt toward the wall. I decided to call Lawton's contribution for the night even, and having done that, I think I can get back to what I wanted to say in the first place, which is that it was not only nice to see the Cubs win in convincing fashion, but lovely to see a crisply played game for once.
Speaking of Lawton, one of the things being repeatedly mentioned during the last few broadcasts has been the fact that, despite a reputation as a patient hitter, Lawton only has one free pass in his 75 PA's as a Cub. When asked about it, Lawton said he's been seeing more strikes lately, so he's been swinging more.
Here's the problem: if Lawton's seeing more good pitches to hit, which is how I'm choosing to interpret "seeing more strikes," then how come he's gone from hitting .273/.380/.433 during his stay in Pittsburgh to putting up a .247/.267/.315
line as a Cub?
This is the man who's been hitting leadoff while the club has been scoring exactly four runs per game in August, and while others have certainly had their issues this month, it's impossible to escape the assertion that one of the bigger reasons for the club's recent offensive downturn is Lawton's lack of production. That they would have been better off with Jose Macias at the top is damning evidence, indeed.
It looks like Derrek Lee's struggles might finally be over. Over his last five games Lee has hit a robust .471/.625/1.000 with three doubles, two homers, and seven walks - none intentional.
For a while it seemed as if Lee was pressing tremendously, particularly so with pitches inside, swinging at balls off the plate that he should have been letting go in hopes of driving them as in days of yore. Lee has seemed to relax, to back off and let the game come to him a little more, adjusting to what he's given instead of trying to impose his will. This will be an important skill for him, not just in the remaining season, but for the rest of his career.
Mark Prior goes this afternoon, and it would nice to win this series because....well, it's just nice to win. There's little else to play for the rest of the year but pride and the future, and since I think Mr. Prior has an abundance of each, let's hope we can see some of it come into play.