Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Best Part Was the Bison Dog

Once again this year, as summer turns to fall, there are few moments that might be called baseball "highlights" on the North Side of Chicago. Losing four in a row to the Padres isn't the humiliation it might have been in other years, but it's been clear for a number of weeks that the towel has been thrown in on the Cubs' season—and, while we're about it, on Lou Piniella's managerial career. Rod Blagojevich's hair is doing better in this heat than the Cubs are.

Today's series finale was no exception to the torpor and mediocrity that has covered Wrigley 's denizens like a damp and itchy blanket since before the All-Star break. The humidity was rising throughout the day, and there was a restlessness in the stands. Taking the mound for the Cubs was this year's Milton Bradley Award winner for senseless implosion, Milton Bradley. Sorry, no, make that Carlos Zambrano, who continued to build the case for his irrelevance with six innings of work that was uninspired but not actually damaging. He allowed only one run on four hits, but he struck out only one and walked a tedious six. That's great if you have three or four better pitchers hanging around, but on the day after the Cubs sent a record six rookies to the mound in a single afternoon, it's not really a cause for celebration.

An even lesser source of joy was the Cubs offense, which hacked and flailed to little good end in the face of Mat Latos, who whiffed 10 in seven innings to improve to 13-5 overall. A couple of doubles and whatnot in the sixth led to two Cubs runs, giving them their first lead since Sunday, when they somehow beat the Cardinals—though it was short-lived, as the Padres whanged away on Sean Marshall in the seventh until he coughed up three runs and put them up 4–2 with one out, runners on second and third, and Justin Berg relieving Marshall.

Let's see now, mediocre pitching, weak offense, what does that leave? Oh, yes, humiliatingly bad defense. Perennial quadruple-A outfielder Chris Denorfia comes to bat and trickles something down the third-base line. Koyie Hill alertly snags the ball and runs the Padres' Chase Headley back toward third. He doesn't even need to start the rundown because for not entirely clear reasons Will Venable has already advanced from second to third, leaving Headley nowhere to go. So Hill tags him out and tosses the ball to Berg, and they all have a good laugh as they walk toward the mound.

Except that Venable then takes off from third, because the play is not actually over and no one's guarding the plate. Despite a valiant dash from first by Xavier Nady, Venable slides in, putting the Padres up 5–2. Piniella made remarkable time coming out to discuss the matter with the umps, but he didn't have much to lean on—his team had just stopped playing before the play was over. I suppose it's only fitting that this echoes another Milton Bradley moment from about 11 months ago.

I just learned, incidentally, from an obituary of Bobby Thomson, that Yogi Berra attended the famous Shot Heard Round the World game but left early. That traffic on the Major Deegan was always a bitch, even five years before it opened.

After the shock of Venable's Charge wore off, the boos rose. The roster teardown has already begun, of course, with Ted Lilly, the Francophilic keystoners, and Derrek Lee all getting shipped out for a loaf of bread, a quart of milk, and a stick of butter. And the youth movement is arguably already under way—it's actually a little hard to believe that Starlin Castro was at Double-A in April. But there's a lot of rot on the roster still, and more sad, sleepy moments to come. Happy retirement, Lou.

Photo: Jauerback

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