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by Derek Smart
If we're being honest with ourselves, we'll trace the origin of Glendon Rusch's troubles, not to his move to the bullpen, but to the three starts before the transfer in which he posted a 6.62 ERA, while giving up 27 hits over 17.2 innings. In my mind, it was this initial stretch of trouble that made it acceptable to essentially demote him once Kerry Wood made his first ill-fated return from the DL, and leave him where he was when Wood was disabled again.
Since necessity moved Rusch back into the rotation in mid-August he's been just awful, posting an 8.84 ERA over four starts, the worst of which was his latest one where he threw a mere two innings but gave up seven runs on seven hits and two walks. He hadn't looked good for nearly three months, and his appearances in ballgames, whether as reliever or starter, were cause for nervous stomachs for Cub fans everywhere.
It was in this spirit - that of a man determined to right a season gone horribly wrong - that Rusch took the mound last night, and for the majority of his time out there he was thankfully, gleefully at his absolute best, spotting his fastball beautifully and using his off-speed stuff masterfully to keep the Cardinal hitters thoroughly off balance.
I don't know if his work last night brought him a sense of redemption - certainly, in those first six innings he was on his way to earning it - but at the very least I hope it gave him the idea that he can, indeed, still be successful. Rusch is one of the guys I've developed a soft spot for during his time in blue, so when he takes the hill I end up rooting just a little bit harder. Nice job, Glendon. Let's see some more.
Perhaps the most amazing part of Glendon's outing to me was that Mr. Rusch - a man who welcomes contact, who wants groundballs - got as deep as he did without giving up a hit despite having Nomar at third (normally, I would mention Todd Walker in that expression of wonder, but Rusch throws so few balls that get hit to the right side, Walker was hardly a factor while the Perfecto was intact).
Actually, Nomar's looking more and more comfortable at the hot corner, and that could be a big deal for him as he looks for work this winter. I'd anticipate his biggest problem being on balls hit deep in the corner to his right, when he'll be forced to plant and throw to first. He made one play like that last night and looked good doing it, but Nomar's always been more comfortable and more accurate when throwing on the move, and those type of opportunities are harder to come by at third than at short. With his skills as a shortstop slipping, making that adjustment could add significant time and cash to the end of his career.
The broadcast team already made plenty out of it, but cheers and jeers to Jeromy Burnitz and Matt Morris respectively on Burnitz' infield single in the third. It should have been an easy out at first, but thanks to the hustle of Burnitz and the odd nonchalance of Morris, what should have been a routine defensive play became a safety for the Cubs' right fielder.
The mistake didn't cost much - another batter or two, a few more pitches, but no runs - yet I have to admit, not only was it nice to see a Cub player hustle on a play like that (although, to Burnitz' credit I don't think I've ever seen him not bust it), its nice to see another team, particularly the usually sharp Cardinals, make one of the mental errors that the Cubs appear to manufacture like they were printing funny money in the basement of 1060 W. Addison.
However, the error that Hector Luna made in the fourth wasn't so harmless, as his failure to catch Neifi!'s typical first pitch foul pop-up - which, more than anything else appeared to be a breakdown in communication between him and Mark Grudzeilanek - allowed His Neifi!ness to stay alive and eventually line a double up the right field line to score Jerry Hairston.
It's difficult enough for a team to overcome these type of problems when there's a pitcher on the hill who's dealing, but with Morris struggling mightily, throwing a lot of pitches and having to go deep in counts in a ton of at bats, even the mistakes that don't result in tallies can be another nail in the coffin.
During an evening full of good moments, perhaps my favorite was in the bottom of the sixth, when Corey Patterson collided with Jerry Hairston as he was making the catch to end the inning and preserve what was still at the time a perfect game. As they both jogged toward the dugout, Hairston ran over and gave Patterson a hard but playful shove, and both men shared a laugh at their fielding folly averted.
It's something I've rarely seen during a baseball game, this sense of humor and tension release after narrowly avoiding a potentially disastrous situation, and while I can only imagine that much more of that mode of expression exists outside of our view, it's just a lot of fun to see the sentiment so overtly displayed on the field. As they say, these are men playing a boy's game, and I guess I like knowing that they're having fun.
I'm currently on vacation, and although I'm spending it at home (traveling with a seventeen month old is about as far from a vacation as one can likely get without violating the Geneva Convention), it's still been the cause of a dearth in posting of late. I'm going to try to pick up the pace over the next couple of days, but if posting is still sporadic the rest of this week, know that it's because I'm playing with my little girl at the park.