If I didn’t hate them so much, I might be able to feel a smidgen of pity for those hapless Cubs.
After playing well enough to win with some timely hitting, good defense, and clutch pitching, their efforts fell victim to the World Champion South Sider’s penchant for pulling a rabbit out of their hat at the last possible moment to gain victory where defeat seemed a foregone conclusion.
Ten times this year the White Sox have come back to win a game in their last at bat which not only makes for exciting baseball but also necessitates my frequent use of a paper bag to purge the excess oxygen in my lungs due to hyperventilation. It worries me that at this rate, watching my beloved Pale Hose could become hazardous to my health – a prospect too horrible to contemplate. What with 24 on hiatus and my beloved Bears not set to start their run to the Super Bowl until September, I would be forced to do something useful with my life this summer like finding a cure for cancer or ordering up world peace.
Or I could write about politics which is becoming less and less enjoyable the more my Republican party insists on doing everything possible to lose the upcoming elections in November.
Regardless, the most recent feat of Chisox legerdemain was accomplished yesterday at Wrigley Field. Trailing 6-5 going into the top half of the ninth inning, Cubs closer Ryan Dempster (1-5) seemed to have regained his early season form as he retired the first two Sox hitters with ease. Dempster was a terror in April and early May, going 6 for 6 in closing opportunities with a minuscule 1.38 ERA only to lose his edge during the North Sider’s long losing streaks since. This is death for any closer who depends on frequent and regular work to stay sharp both physically and mentally. No opportunities to close out a victory meant a steady erosion in Dempster’s confidence and skills. It showed yesterday.
With light hitting Ross Gload at the plate, Dempster threw a pretty good slider that was hit straight back at him, right between his legs. The ball glanced off his glove as Dempster tried to field it and it caromed out to shortstop Ronny Cedeno who drifted behind second base in order to field it. Too late, Gload was able to beat the toss to first.
This seemed to cause Dempster to lose concentration as he then walked Sox clean-up hitter Jermaine Dye on 5 pitches. With runners at first and second, up to the plate stepped the man Cubs fans love to hate. A.J. Piersynski, who took a punch to the face delivered by Cubs catcher Michael Barrett during round one of the season series at US Cellular Park last month, paid the Cubbies back in spades when he got a hold of a hanging slider and sent the ball into orbit. Replays showed the pitch hovering like a ripe plum right in A.J.’s comfort zone – belt high and over the middle of the plate.
Piersynski’s blast made the score 8-6. All that was left in the bottom of the ninth was for Sox closer Bobby Jenks to come in and wipe the blood off the floor, which he did with his usual alacrity, setting the Cubs down with nary a peep. It was Jenk’s league leading 25th save and barring injury, the fireballer’s 100 MPH heater will make him as much of a sure thing when it comes to closing as anyone in baseball today. Simply awesome.
While both of the game’s starters Javier Vasquez and Greg Maddux had to deal with a 19 MPH gale blowing out at Wrigley, the game was not as much an offensive explosion as others have been in the history of wind-blown Wrigley. While there were 6 home runs hit by both sides, I can recall games where hitting a pop-fly behind second base ended up a souvenir for one of the bleacher bums in the right field stands. Suffice it to say that both pitchers fared better than others in that situation due to their both throwing an effective sinker. Vasquez especially was able to wriggle out of jams by sawing off Cubs hitters thanks to his moving, dipping fastball. In fact, if he had been able to contain Cubs slugger Aramis Ramirez, the score wouldn’t have been close. The third baseman had a double, triple, and home run, accounting for 5 of the six Cub runs (the other coming on a homer by Sox killer Jacque Jones).
Besieged manager Dusty Baker could only shake his head at his team’s creativity in finding one more way to lose a ballgame. It probably won’t matter to him too much longer as attendance starts to plummet on the North Side thanks to the Cubbies being out of the race earlier than usual. This will lead to the inevitable dismissal of a manager who has proven himself a winner everywhere he has been. And it will hide the incompetence and myopia of one of the richest corporations in the world, the Tribune Company, who fielded a team this year unworthy of a great city and a storied franchise.
The Cub’s troubles aren’t only on the field; they are also in the front office and on the top floors of the Tribune building. Until those issues are addressed, the North Siders’s famous adage of “Wait until next year” will be chanted earlier and earlier in the season until the saying itself becomes an anachronism, a quaint hope for the fans of a franchise that just doesn’t care enough about winning.