Thursday, April 21, 2011

We Don't Need Another Hero

After two attempts to go to Wrigley during the Diamondbacks series in early April—foiled by sickness and sickness, respectively—and a rainout against the Padres on Tuesday, I finally made it there. The Tuesday game was made up on Wednesday evening, as the back half of a separate-ticket doubleheader, which meant when I got there 10 minutes before the first pitch that the stands were both lightly populated and filled with a game's worth of debris. Usually you get the pleasure of dropping your own peanut shells before crunching your way across someone else's. While the crowd did fill in to about one-third capacity by the third inning, at game time I thought maybe I had accidentally gone to a Mets game.

The Cubs had won the front half of the doubleheader 2-1, with an 11th-inning home run from Reed Johnson, the fourth or fifth outfielder this year, who was rewarded with a follow-up start in the night game. Johnson's on his second tour as a Cub, and fans seem to love him for his "heart" or his "gut" or some other sweetbread-like quality, and I get that—he plays the game hard, and you can see the effort he puts out there. He's kind of like the onetime cartwheeling Yankees outfielder Chad Curtis that way.

The rest of the lineup was a bit of a mishmosh—James Russell on the mound, in particular. Russell's a Quadruple-A reliever (at best) who got the start due to injuries to better options and the vagaries of the schedule. It was Tyler Colvin bobblehead night, but the young man spent it on the bench (I assume). The Padres had a similar array of somebodies on the field, but I'm under the impression that that's often the case.

Russell did not impress at all, in part because of how semi-somebody Ryan Ludwick tattooed him for a two-run home run way out onto Waveland Avenue plus a pair of doubles in his first three at-bats. Ludwick, mind you, came into the game hitting .161. Russell also gave up shots to journeyman outfielders Cameron Maybin and Chris Denorfia.

With the Cubs down 4–0 after four and a half, there was plenty of time to reflect on the fact that my seat was as bad as it could be, for as good as it was. By which I mean that for $13, it was surprisingly close in and maybe 30 rows off the field, but it still stank: because of pillar placement, second base was more of an idea than a reality, and because of aisle placement, I got to study a number of vendors (including the one who seemed genuinely enraged to be selling hot chocolate) and an array of antsy-pantsed broheims who just couldn't sit down and watch the game for more than an out or two at a time. There's always another hot dog, I suppose. In the bottom of the fifth, I finally used the sense God tried to give me to move over and down a row or two, with dramatically better results.

Having just been to Fenway, I was newly conscious of how undermarketed and underdeveloped Wrigley is. It's got far less advertising, hardly any electronic signs, and a much better view of the surrounding neighborhood. I'm not sure if this means that Chicago has stronger preservation laws or that the Cubs are just lazy.

But as much as I was reveling in the lack of distracting pyrotechnics on a center-field scoreboard, it would have been nice to know who the hell was pitching for San Diego. I figured it out in the bottom of the third, when Aaron Harang came to bat—though to judge from the long double to the wall that he smoked off Russell, he could have been a pinch-hitter. Alfonso Soriano did his usual spectacular job of bobbling the ball, leading to the inevitable and oft-repeated question, "How the hell did that guy ever play second base?"

The Cubs' bats came alive the second time through the order—one of those moments when a person can actually believe they might be a .520 or .530 team. Soriano doubled to start things off, and afternoon hero Reed Johnson smacked him home before his hustle got the better of him as he stretched a double to left into an out at third. This hurt all the worse in the remainder of the inning, as the Cubs got three more hits yet scored only one more run. Johnson's "guttiness" cost the Cubs at least one run, and quite possibly two. On the flip side, over the course of the game Geovany Soto nailed three out of four Padres who tried to steal second, and most of the calls weren't even close.

By the bottom of the eighth it was 5–2 Padres, but Soriano's bat came through again with a two-run bomb to make it seem like a game. But it wasn't really. Heath Bell toyed with the side in the ninth, then got Darwin Barney—whose parents obviously got the spots on his birth certificate mixed up—to watch a third strike go by. Better make that a .500 team.

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