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Injury to Insult
by Derek Smart
So, apparently, it wasn't enough for Rafael Furcal to spurn the Cubs contract offer this winter, he had to start a play that took down both the team's best lefty reliever, and the club's MVP. Of course, it wasn't his intent to directly or indirectly cause injury to Derrek Lee and Scott Eyre, but it's difficult to refrain from mentioning the connection after all the angst spilled over his signing with the Dodgers.
From the moment of that play, the outcome of the game became irrelevant, because a win or loss of this single contest pales in comparison to the impact a serious injury to Derrek Lee would have on the Cubs' chances for even a semblance of competitiveness in 2006 (the broadcast team announced in the bottom of the ninth that they were calling Lee's wrist injury a sprain, but that x-rays were inconclusive and he'd be flying to Chicago for further tests, which cannot possibly be a good thing. It could be neutral, but I see no way to positively spin it), and while losing Eyre for a long period wouldn't be nearly as bad, it would still be a strong negative that would weaken what has been a good bullpen thus far.
Perhaps it's all some sort of karmic payback for the tremendous good luck the Cubs had offensively last night, with bloops, blunders, and bobbles having a part in all of their five runs, and if that's the case, then let me be the first to say the price exacted was too high, even if the payment method turns out to involve little more than hair loss and agita (or perhaps the runs were reimbursement for the injuries, in which case, we'd better be on an installment plan).
Still, although the injuries effectively ruined what was an otherwise exciting game, the Cubs did win the thing, and since it doesn't do any good to mope, particularly with so little information to go on, we may as well comment on the proceedings. It is, after all, what we do here.
During the first two innings, the time between Sean Marshall's pitches passed as quickly and pleasantly as hours spent in line at an unairconditioned Chicago DMV office in mid-July. The pitches themselves weren't much more better for a while, and when Jason Repko took Marshall deep in the second, it looked like we might be in for a night that was longer than it already seemed.
But then, in the third, something remarkable happened. Marshall, who had looked terribly uncomfortable up until then, throwing 46 pitches to get 6 outs, settled down and started taking care of business. His last three innings of work were perfect, taking only 40 pitches to complete, and featured four groundouts and two strikeouts.
It was, in many ways, more encouraging than if he had gone out and had stellar stuff the whole time. It's one thing to come out of the gate with your A-game and own the place, and it's quite another to have serious issues at the start and work your way back from the abyss. Any pitcher can do the former, but not as many can do the latter, and the fact that it appears Marshall is fully capable of rescuing himself from himself is a huge positive.
How can Sandy Alomar Jr. still be playing? He's been one of the most injury-plagued players I can recall in recent years, yet he's forty years old and still at the most demanding position on the diamond. Think of it this way: In 2001, Sandy hit an abysmal .245/.288/.345 in only 220 at bats for the White Sox, while his younger brother, Roberto, had an MVP-type season for the Indians. Really, now, at the end of that year, who did you think would retire first?
In the bottom of the sixth, while David Aardsma (did you know that when listed alphabetically words that start with a-a-r-d get listed before words that begin with a-a-r-o? Shocking!) was busy scaring the crap out of me before he coughed up the lead, the Cubs' broadcast kept showing shots of the conversation that was taking place between Sean Marshall and Greg Maddux, and it was utterly fascinating.
I couldn't tell what was being said exactly, although I could pick up occasional words like "fastball" from reading Maddux's lips, but the interest in watching the exchange wasn't so much in what was said, as in how it was said. It was abundantly clear from his manner that The Professor was really teaching Marshall something, that it wasn't just a casual conversation, or a youngster quickly picking a veteran's brain, it was a full-fledged lesson in the art of pitching, and attendance was mandatory.
We all know this, but it bears repeating: the Cubs are extremely lucky to have Greg Maddux on their roster, regardless of his performance on the field. His knowledge of pitching and the game in general is an invaluable tool, and if what I saw last night is any indication, he's busy helping other Cubs use it.
Speaking of Aardsma, a lot was made as he entered the game of his not having walked a batter in his 7 AAA innings this season and the 11 whiffs that were part of the mix, but in watching him work last night, I have to wonder how much of those good results in the minors were because of how well he threw, and how much was because of the quality of hitter he faced.
On at least two of the at bats that resulted in walks, I think it's reasonable to believe that minor league batters would have swung and missed at some two-strike offerings that the Dodger hitters were able to take for balls. In Iowa, it's a K, in L.A., it's a walk. We'll see going forward if this is the case, or if he was simply a little off his game, but either way it bears watching.
Someone who wasn't off his game, and seemingly hasn't been for months, is Ryan Dempster, who broke the relatively modest club record for consecutive successful save opportunities last night, with his 23rd in a row. To be honest, that doesn't impress me, but what is impressive is the number of consecutive scoreless innings he's thrown (31.1), and how good he's looked doing it thus far in 2006.
I haven't been screaming about Dempster's contract being a terrible signing because I never thought it was all that bad, but I was certainly lukewarm on it. Giving big money to a man for the best 60 or so innings of his life is never a good business decision, and his performance doesn't change that.
However, I'm beginning to believe that, despite the somewhat faulty reasoning that went into the deal, it has a good chance of ending up a tremendous bargain. It may be a very small sample size, but Dempster's been flat-out excellent in the early going, and for me, his presence is turning into a tremendous source of comfort at the end of ballgames.
Back to the Lofton vs. Maddux thing from a couple of days ago: I had a suspicion that the error wasn't necessarily on the part of the Cubs' broadcast team, but it took me a couple of days to locate the information I needed to back myself up. Finally, I was able to find the Dodger Press Notes from that game (if you have an MLB.com login, you should be able to view the link), and sure enough, right in the middle of the very first page is this ditty:
NO, IT'S NOT A TYPO - Believe it or not, Kenny Lofton has never faced Cub right-hander Greg Maddux at any point in his big league career. Lofton came into the league in 1991 and Maddux first appeared in the bigs in 1986. Though much of their careers have been in opposite leagues, Lofton has played five years in the NL, where Maddux has spent his entire career.
I'm not trying to belittle the folks who put these press notes together - they obviously work hard to make them, as there's a ton of information there, and really, I wish I remembered to peruse them more often - I just wanted to be sure in the interest of total accuracy that the origin of the error was clear.
A day of rest and worry lies before us, as the Cubs will spend the day preparing for their weekend series in St. Louis, and we shall sit and wait for further word on our fallen hero. Think good thoughts, everyone.