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Shoulda Woulda Coulda
by Derek Smart
Another contest the Cubs should have won that ends with a blue flag flying over Chicago. It's a crying shame, particularly since Jerome Williams threw such a solid game, but it's just another data point in the argument that this club is getting what it deserves. Well, you know, if "ifs" and "buts" were candies and nuts....
Say what you like about the bullpen's inability to hold the Reds down late in the game - and truly, I couldn't feel worse for Rich Hill, forced to enter a game that late and that tight after not having pitched for over two weeks is unfair to any pitcher, let alone someone as young and inexperienced with relief work as Hill is - but the game was lost in the bottom of the eighth.
Once again, the theme of the club's inability to get runners home from third with less than two out came up in that fateful frame, and while I wasn't listening to the game on the radio, I can only imagine the heights of apoplexy reached by one Ronald Edward Santo.
It's a maddening issue, and one I'm entirely at a loss as to how to plan the fixing. I just know it needs to change, because while there are certainly deeper issues that require addressing in the offseason, there aren't many other problems this club has had where you can point directly to specific plays in specific games throughout the year where the lack of execution has led directly to a loss.
What is it with warning the benches these days? I know I'm going to sound like the grumpiest of grumpy old men when I pontificate on this issue, but last night made two games in a row where the home plate umpire warned both benches after a hit batsman that I can't even begin to imagine as intentional.
Sure, last night you had Ryan Dempster hit a man with two outs in the inning directly after Michael Barrett got hit in the head, but it was also a tie game in the top of the ninth. Dempster's a little insane, but I doubt he's so crazy as to drill someone who represented the winning run. Of course that pales in comparison to Tuesday night's warning issued to Eric Milton.
In both cases, there seemed to be a rote response to a situation where one batter from each club got hit during a game: once the second plunking occurred, the finger got pointed, and no use of logic was going to stop anyone.
I wouldn't go so far as to align myself with all of Ye Olde Tyme Base Ball Men who would rather see a sort of frontier justice out on the field, but there has to be a happier medium where the men can play the game and the umpires can keep the peace without having to infringe so deeply on what can and cannot happen between the lines. I'm not saying the balance isn't difficult to achieve, just that it's a long way from being there.
If one can be a fan of a Supreme Court Justice, then I was one of the venerable Justice John Paul Stevens even before last night. But after seeing him throw out the first pitch at Wrigley, then talk to the men in the TV booth about his baseball and Cub fandom, all while proudly wearing the Cub jersey he'd been given for the occasion, I'm a bigger fan than ever.
We rarely get a chance to see men like that as people, and what those of us watching the telecast were treated to was a lovely old Chicago gentleman with a good heart and warm sense of humor who still got a thrill from being at his favorite park watching his favorite team, just like he did as a boy during the 1932 World Series when he saw Babe Ruth "call his shot."
Knowing about Stevens' baseball leanings brings my personal Supreme Court connections to a nice finish, for not only do I share a favorite team with him, but the man he replaced - the even more venerable, William O. Douglas - is the most accomplished graduate of my alma mater, although perhaps not the mostfamous.
Without waxing too romantic, this is one of the special things that baseball does for so many of us. It connects us to the rest of the world and helps us see those who we may think of as objects or functions as the humans they are. So my thanks to Justice Stevens for allowing us to see a little more of who he is. It was a pleasure, sir.
The year's final series between the Cubs and Cardinals begins tonight with the unpleasant but likely prospect that the boys from St. Louis will be celebrating their division clinching at some point during the next couple of days. The only thing that could make the prospect easier to stomach would be a victory this evening which would clinch the season series with the Redbirds. The Cubs may not be the better team, but at least they have a chance to say they beat the Cards head to head.