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Bleary-Eyed and Bushy Tailed
by Derek Smart
If there's a sign of old age, impending or firmly planted, it's when a Cub fan generously described as "moderately obsessed" goes to bed well before the Witching Hour while a game's outcome is still in question. While I am not terrifically old (there is still a respectable percentage of ballplayers at or above me on the post-fetal day count), I'm no longer young enough to last through two consecutive après minuit contests without horrific side-effects, including the mis-operation of heavy machinery I'm not even near.
Luckily, I regretted nothing, as I woke to the sixth Cub victory in a row, and their first three-game series sweep of the season. Now, before I start falling asleep again, let's get to the good stuff. You may fire when ready, Gridley!
Congratulations to John Koronka on his first Major League victory, although in the interest of full disclosure, I found his outing less than inspiring. His early success looked to have more to do with the Dodgers' lack of familiarity than with any great show of competence on Koronka's part, and it showed the second time through the order as the Dodgers started to get after him more consistently.
His fastball was sans giddyap, and his breaking pitches didn't have the sharp bite of effectiveness. The change-up was his most effective pitch, although it wasn't the sort of ball that gives hitters fits. It was a solid turn, good enough to keep the team in the game, which is the most anyone could hope for, but it wasn't the type of work that would give me confidence enough to request a return visit.
Koronka's is the sort of stuff that is destined to be overmatched with prolonged Major League exposure, and barring abject need, it's a game that he and the Cubs should refrain from questioning, put in their pocket, and walk away from post-haste.
I feel for Jeromy Burnitz. It's hard enough to hit Major League pitching without having to pick up a ball coming out of the concession stands beyond first base, and then when you do see it, reasonably fearing that it will burrow fiercely into your posterior, but that must be exactly what he's felt the last two nights when going up against Kelly Wunsch.
Really, those two at bats are an excellent case for allowing hitters to simply take the out and have a seat. It would save time on pitching changes, save pitcher's arms, and most importantly, save the hitter's egos. Tracy points to Wunsch, Burnitz points to the bench, inning over, let's get a beer.
The top of the sixth - my last half-inning of consciousness - saw one of my worst nightmares come to life: an inning where the scheduled hitters consisted of the Murderless Row of Jose Macias, Neifi!, and Enrique Wilson. To be fair, Neifi! has really ceased to be in the same category of ineptitude as Macias and Wilson, so it wasn't the perfect storm of incompetence that I would have considered it to be before The Groinening, but it was awfully close (in this post-sarcastic Neifi! era, Our Boy would be replaced in that mix by Mr. White).
Of course, my horror at the impending offensive doom was unfounded, as Our Boy Neifi! hit a solid double to right field, and eventually scored on one of The Saviour's 18,000 hits on the night (Lee is truly getting ridiculous, folks, and if I'd been awake when he hit his eighth inning bomb, I mightn't have believed my own consciousness). It was a pleasant surprise, like the victory, and while I'm not always a fan of surprises, a fella could get used to this variety.
It didn't mean anything in the end, but boy was I steamed when that fan interfered with Todd Walker's double in the fifth. While far from certain to score Burnitz from first, it sure looked like it had a chance, and missing a run like that is one of those things I tend to subconsciously focus on for the rest of a game.
Again, it's the overactive sense of irony kicking in, except instead of thinking that lightning will strike my airplane because I'm on my honeymoon, I become certain that no matter how large a lead the Cubs manage that the game will be decided in the end by a skinny run, and it'll be the one that got away that spells doom for the Snugglies. It didn't play out that way last night, and I choose to take that as another sign that things have turned to the better here in Cub Town.
It's the red-hot Padres tonight, and a shot at the first winning streak of more than six games during the Dusty Baker era. Break down that wall, and I'll be believing for the rest of the year. Or, until I stop.