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Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair
by Derek Smart
I love baseball. It is the great passion in my life, outside of my wife and daughter, and like so many of you, I've been anxiously awaiting its return, almost from the moment of last year's final out. The winter can be cruel enough with its dreary chill, but with baseball removed from the equation, it is a truly painful time.
So, I find it ironic that now the time has come to enjoy this thing I adore so deeply, it greets me with an excruciating experience like yesterday's game. Yes, the Cubs won, and yes, that's good, but there was nothing entertaining about this contest beyond the top of the first, when there was at least some excitement from a Chicago fan's perspective.
It was an incredibly poorly played game by all involved, with errors in the field, and the inability to throw strikes ruling the day - which has the effect of not only being aesthetically displeasing, but of extending the agony of it all, making the proceedings ugly, dull, and looooong. Like I said, I love baseball, just not when it looks like that.
The President of the United States was at Great American Ballpark to throw out the first pitch, and as such there was a tremendous amount of security in place, and at one point before the game, we saw a shot of what I believe was the high plateau above the batting eye in center, where there were several men, dressed in black, all toting rifles with what looked like very powerful scopes attached. Like I always say, there's nothing that says baseball as loudly and clearly as snipers stationed on the stadium roof.
A baseball game can turn on a dime. The top of the first was looking like an abject disaster for the Reds, especially after Adam Dunn made a lazy play on the ball Jacque Jones hit toward him with the bases loaded and nobody out. What should have been, at worst, a sacrifice fly that resulted in two men on and one out with the score 2-0, was instead the same score with no one gone and the bags juiced.
That's when Michael Barrett came up and smacked what was, to that point, the hardest hit ball of the day - harder than Pierre's triple, harder than Walker's double - which instead of worsening the Reds' plight, made it considerably sunnier, as the pill went right to Edwin Encarnacion who caught it on the fly and doubled Aramis Ramirez off second. The Reds needed but one more out to escape the inning relatively unscathed.
Of course, it didn't turn out that way, as Aaron Harang had Matt Murton at a 2-2 count, when he made a mistake that The Red Baron launched out to center. Dunn's error came back to haunt them after all, and things looked dark for the Reds. But that was before the Cubs' starter, Carlos Zambrano, took the hill.
We saw two varieties of "Bad Z" yesterday. First, it was the version that overthrows and consistently misses up. This iteration doesn't give up a lot of hits, but he does walk a ton, and his downfall usually comes after he's allowed a lot of men to freely stroll the bags, the final culmination being either a mistake by Carlos, or a bad break in the field. In this case, that he escaped the first with only one run allowed was a near miracle, curtesy of Matt Murton's glove.
The second edition showed up in the third, featuring the ability to get good movement on his pitches, coupled with further wildness - except this species of Zambanoscis Horribilious is less wild out of the zone than he's wild in it, the result being events like the no-doubt three-run bomb by Scott Hatteberg in the third, and the even more doubt-free blast by Adam Dunn in the fifth.
In the end, it took 105 pitches - only 58 being strikes - for Zambrano to limp through a mere 4.2 innings of work. In a way, it was a good workout for the team, since there's an off day tomorrow, and the entire bullpen saw time in this game, except for Michael Wuertz (he was warming up in the fifth, but the fact that using Scott Eyre for two innings was preferable to putting Wuertz in with a six run lead speaks volumes about his standing at the moment). Besides, it's not these sort of bad performances that give me pause - everyone has them - it's the looming possibility that even the good days will end after 120 pitches and six frames in the books.
In the top of the first, the broadcast crew made a big deal of the fact that the scoreboard graphic had Derrek Lee's first name spelled incorrectly (or from my perspective, seeing as it was missing the extra 'r', the way it should be). But pointing out other's foibles in this fashion can come back to bite you, as the Cubs' defensive half featured a television graphic introducing the Cub fielders that, instead of showing a double-play combo of Walker and Cedeno, implied that Hairston and Neifi! were up the middle.
Look guys, we Cub fans went through a lot of angst this offseason about the horrific possibilities for the Cubs' middle infield, and it looks for the moment like the right decision has finally been made, so don't go messing it up with a graphical faux paux. We're fragile enough as it is.
Before some other deals were consummated that made the possibility extremely remote, there were at least some rumblings among Cub fans about it being a good idea for the club to attempt to acquire Adam Dunn from the Reds. He'd still look positively yummy in the middle of the Cub lineup, but if you were an advocate of such a deal and got a chance to see much of this game, you might be thinking he'd be much more attractive as a DH.
It was butchery of the highest degree all day long. Even the good play he made during Jacque Jones second at bat looked like something he stumbled into. It was as if someone imbued Dunn with the defensive ability of Jason Dubois, then gave him a bottle of absinthe and an arm full of smack. It got so bad that he was booed when he came to the plate in the sixth. On opening day. Naturally, he struck out.
As an aside, if you didn't see the BBTN Opening Day crew, count yourself lucky. The worst of it was poor Tino Martinez, who didn't just look nervous, he looked like his family was tied up off-camera and being physically menaced while he spoke. I hope he can relax and be more natural, because I always liked him, even when he was a Cardinal, and watching him be so twitchy and anxious was extraordinarily painful.
Teams are going to be much more cautious with Derrek Lee this year. The Savior didn't look right at all, seeming just a little behind everything, but in spite of that he was being worked extremely carefully, and managed to coax three walks to go with his "double" (Adam Dunn Strikes Again!). I mention this as a means to temper expectations, as I think we're likely to see Lee need that first week or so to make up for the turns he missed this spring. His timing's simply not there yet.
Because the baseball gods are cruel, and that which they giveth they can also taketh away, we'll be forced to wait another day for the resumption of hostilities. Nevertheless, it's impossible to deny that baseball has, indeed, begun. Hopefully, we'll be treated to many similar results, but with far more engaging contests.