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Six to Go
by Derek Smart
Part one of "Operation Putrify" was at least a partial success (although, the Cubs were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention over the weekend, non-news that it was), as the Cubs took two of three from the Astros and helped the Phillies pull to within one game of Houston in the Wild Card race.
In fact, it was so successful on Sunday that the poor Spacemen looked like they were infected with the same alien retrovirus that's been swimming around in the collective bloodstreams of the Cubs this season, as they made mental mistakes, blew golden chances to score, and served up yummy bullpen flavored gopherballs with the same aplomb that our incompetent little cuddle bears have done for most of 2005.
Wouldn't it be nice of the infection lasted for another week? You sure wouldn't see me crying. And now, for old time's sake, a couple bullets.
I'll admit, I found it curious yesterday that Pettitte was yanked after six innings when he was so clearly dominating, and had only racked up 61 pitches during his time on the bump.
I understand that he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the top of the seventh - Pettitte's a lousy with the stick when he's not bunting, and there was a man on second with one out - but while the result of the move was that the Astros took a 2-1 lead, the way the inning was played by manager Phil Garner, he was pretty clearly shooting for a tie with anything else being gravy.
The frame started with a walk to Adam Everett, and next up was the offensively appalling Brad Ausmus, to be followed by Pettitte's spot in the order. I suppose I can see the reason for a sacrifice, as not only is Ausmus not likely to contribute anything of value, he's also a fine candidate for a twin killing.
Still, I have strategic issues with attempting to tie the contest in the seventh and sacrificing a man having a lights out game on the hill in order to do it. True, I think most days the Astros win a battle of the bullpens with the Cubs, but I know that the stuff Pettitte had was going to be better than anything the Cub bullpen could toss out there, so I would have played it differently.
To me, letting Ausmus, bad as he is, go ahead and hit in the hopes that something good happens - maybe even go with a hit and run, since Everett can move a bit - then allow Pettitte to hit or sacrifice depending on the situation, giving the top of the order at least one shot to drive in the run, makes a lot more sense.
Of course, the counter-argument goes something like, "What do you have a bullpen for if you can't use them the way Houston did?" There's a point to that, but I just don't see Adam Everett getting a leadoff walk as the offensive opportunity you pinch hit for a man throwing an easy two-hitter over.
Not that I'm complaining.
There was a lot of praise being tossed Corey Patterson's way over the snow-cone catch he made in the eighth that turned what would have, at the very least, been a second and third, one out situation into a man on first with two outs. I can't begrudge Corey the plaudits - it's not like they've come his way freely and easily this year - as it was a lovely feat of athleticism. However, this play seems to wrap up Patterson's problems in a neat little package.
At this point in his career, all he's got going for him is that athleticism, and it's come to be the thing he relies on to get him out of trouble - something he has desperate issues avoiding. In this case, the trouble came because, not only did he seem to misjudge the ball with his initial jump, but he failed to recognize until very late in his run that the wind was going to move the ball back toward left field.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it was an easy play, and I think many outfielders would have had problems with it. However, that doesn't mean Corey didn't make the play more difficult than it had to be. If he was better at reading flies, if he was better at understanding the affect the given environment can have on balls in the air, he wouldn't have had to rely on his athleticism to bail him out.
He did, though, and when he makes those plays, it might even do him a sort of disservice - reinforcing bad habits because he was able to make something positive happen in spite of his game's flaws. Having that great physical ability should be a safety valve, not the core of your play. If Patterson ever turns it around, it will be because he understands and implements that idea.
Speaking of Patterson and disservices, it was widelyreported over the weekend that the Cubs are exploring the idea of sending Corey to a sports psychologist. Of course, there's a little catch:
Patterson...hasn't been approached by the Cubs on the subject. Baker stressed that so far it's nothing except talk as the Cubs seek a solution to Patterson's seasonlong travails.
"Everybody is looking for answers and clues," Baker said. "I got to talk to him first. I can't comment on that."
I'm not trying to come down on Dusty for this, because from everything I've read it looks like he was approached by reporters and asked directly about it. In fact, I'd say it sounds like he's not terribly comfortable discussing it since he hasn't actually had the conversation with Patterson yet.
Still, someone within the Cubs' organization is letting this information get out, and to me, that this sort of thing gets into the papers before the player in question is even consulted speaks to a spectacular lack of class. The Cubs pretty consistently use the press like a political organization, leaking information to gauge public opinion before making a move, or dropping hints of possibly unpopular moves in the works so that people get used to it beforehand.
That's all well and good, and I can see little harm in using reporters that way, but when you decide to launch a concerted campaign to a) strongarm an employee into "voluntarily" undergoing what amounts to a form of psychological treatment, and b) to cover your collective asses if he doesn't "volunteer" and continues to struggle ("We asked Corey to seek some help, but he refused. We've done all we can."), well, I don't know if calling it craven and tawdry goes far enough.
If the Cubs really want to help Patterson reach his potential, they sure as hell have a funny way of showing it.
It's an off day today, with the Pirates coming to town for two starting tomorrow. Although they would need to go 5-1 to secure the "winning season" they appear to be chasing, I can't think of a better way to start the march than a quick set against Pittsburgh. Let's hope the second time they see Zach Duke goes better than the first.