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AZ 5, Cubs 4 - The Gospel According to BOB

Record: 1-1. Change from last season: 0

"And the visitors from the North came down to the Valley, and on Opening Day did swing their timber mightily and slew Javier of the family of Vazquez. And there was much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and the people did mutter, "Oh, no - not another 111-loss season?" And in the second game, the army of the bear did send out a 300-game winner to the mound, while we had only Russ Ortiz, and there were more discontented rumblings of "How about them Suns?"

Oh, ye of little faith! Put your trust in Russ Ortiz, for he has never missed a game in his life, and he did give us a Quality Start (and that's a damn sight more than we got from Vazquez). And verily, did Gonzo knock six kinds of tar out of the ball, while even Ortiz had an RBI, and Lyon held on, though it was pretty close for a bit. So there was much rejoicing in the Valley, as the people did look upon the face of the Arizona Republic sports section, and saw that it was good... Well, for one day, at least"

Yes, to some of us, baseball is about as close to a religion as we have. Ya gotta have faith, and if you do, eventually you will get your reward in heaven: just ask any Red Sox fan. At the risk of sounding blasphemous, you could draw some interesting parallels: we have a Commissioner who moves in mysterious ways (especially with regard to steroid testing), a devil - that'll be the Damn Yankees owner - and even an Antichrist, in the shape of Mr. B.Bonds.

The actual Messiah figure probably varies from team to team: Johnny Damon is a lock in Boston, for obvious reasons. Here, Gonzo probably gets my vote. His ninth-innings hit in the World Series completed the biggest comeback since Lazarus, and scoring two runs off Mariano Rivera beats the hell out of anything involving water and wine (though that would certainly come in handy for all the spring breakers at Lake Havasu). Gonzalez, Johnson, and Schilling = the Holy Trinity?

But I'd best stop there, before a sudden, unexpected bolt of lightning fries both me and my computer. So, back to last night's game, which was the equivalent of breathing into a paper bag for a couple of hours, after Monday's anxiety attack. At least relatively: still looked like there were a few nervous moments there, with rather too many Cubs on base to feel comfortable - not that any one-run lead is ever comfortable.

It was still a mix of good and bad. We took the lead on a two-run shot by Gonzo: Counsell got on, stole second (good!), and was then sacrificed to third (bad!) by Toyce Clayton, a waste of an out. If Clayton had got on, Gonzo would have had a three-run shot, though admittedly, Clayton getting on was a long shot. So far, he's 1-for-8 with no walks and a GIDP, unlike Counsell, who so far (in an admittedly small sample), has done everything you could want from your leadoff man, and has an OBP of .667. Though even I have to admit, Royce's play to end the game was a nice defensive grab.

Lyon did sterling work in his first appearance as our closer. With the tying run on second and one out in the first, he struck out Ramirez, then got Burnitz to ground out. He allowed a leadoff single in the ninth, but came back with two flyouts to Jose Cruz in centre, then with the game on the line, the Cubs sent up...Neifi Perez. When Lyon stopped sniggering, the groundout followed. Cubs lose! Cubs lose! More importantly, we can no longer be the first team to go 0-162 in a season. Unlike the Red Sox who, at 0-2, still might... :-)

But just as one loss doesn't make a season, one win doesn't either, though no longer seeing that big, fat zero in the wins column is a weight off my mind. Our pitching was definitely much better, that's for sure, and the team ERA is now down to single digits. Hooray. This pretty much puts me where I expected to be after two games, though my predictions would have flip-flopped the results - and perhaps even the scores - of the first two games. Credit to Ortiz for defying such pessimism: save what looked like one hanging curveball (clubbed by Hollandsworth into the new pool area), he pitched well, and it took until two outs in the sixth for any other Cub to get past second - Ortiz came back for 3-0 to get Derrek Lee to fly out.

One final optimistic note - albeit one likely way too early: attendance over the first two games is up 4% on last year. Admittedly, our opening series in 2004 was against the Rockies, while this year we have the Cubs, and the Opening Day figure was actually about 1,500 lower than last season. We'll keep monitoring this as things progress.

A PS to the first game: interestingly, the whole idea of Vazquez giving away his pitches seems to have been quietly put to bed. Said Melvin when asked about it again yesterday, "This is another very good pitcher that had a tough game...That's as far as I'm going with that. I don't see anything. We're in good shape there." This would seem to be a more measured and reasonable response, rather than performing a Chicken Little impression, and running around squawking in a paranoid fashion about pitch-tipping.

On other blogs, they have an "Open Music Thread", where people chat about whatever tunes they want to. Though I like music (see my Fab Forty last week), I want to do something slightly different, so at right, please find the "Open Movie Thread". Feel free to chip in about any films you've seen lately: good or bad, cinema or DVD (heck, even video, if you want, though I probably draw the line at TV movies!). I'll kick it off with some thoughts on Sin City.

Gameday thread to follow, while I hope you've forgotten about the bullpen preview, which two games in, already seems somewhat redundant. :-)