"He threw me a couple of fastballs and I didn't take advantage of those. Then 2-2 he threw me a slider in the dirt and I kind of laid off that and then came back with it 3-2 and just was out in front of it a little bit and got the barrel. I was pretty excited I'll tell you what."
-- Conor Jackson
Record: 51-55. Change on last season: +18
If - and I stress if - we go on to make the playoffs, I think we might look back at this game as the turning point of the season. It was an enormously gutsy performance, ugly in many ways (three errors - including Conor Jackson's first in the majors), nervewracking in others (is there any fan who didn't wince at the thought of Bruney pitching the ninth?), but ultimately triumphant.
There was never more than one run in it; first the Cubs took the lead, then we tied it on Hill's RBI double. Then the Cubs again, but Glaus ended his homerless streak in the sixth to knot it up again. That was the pivotal innings: in the bottom, the Cubs lead off with a man on second, thanks to an error by Clayton. But he was caught stealing third, meaning that the subsequent single, double and walk did nothing by leave the bases loaded.
And then, in the eighth, Shawn Green was intentionally walked to get to our rookie, putting men on first and second with one out. Conor Jackson worked the count full without taking the bat off his shoulder, before driving one to deep left to score the game-winning run. Is it too much to say that a legend was born today? :-) I mean, driving in the go-ahead run during your first start in the majors, at Wrigley Field? Could you script it any better?
But let's spread around some of the glory. Our pitchers: heroes to a man. Gosling: one earned run over 5.1 innings. Cormier: snuffing out the sixth innings threat, coming in with men on 2nd + 3rd and one out. And Aquino: two perfect innings, with three K's, to get his ERA down to single figures. It says something, I feel, that with a one-run lead in the ninth, we don't turn to Bruney, but rather a man who entered the game with an ERA of 10.67...
Koyie Hill was impressed by Aquino: "He looked like a guy on the mound with the ball in his hand that had a million percent confidence in what he was doing. He was locating. He was throwing hard. Throwing all his pitches. The confidence he had out there was incredible." Even Bob Melvin admitted the closer's role was up in the air. "I really don't know right now. I'm just going to digest this and see where we're at."
However, added Melvin, "Bruney's done a nice job for us." Hello? Surely not Brian Bruney? Are we discussing the same pitcher who has shown a disturbing inability to get outs recently? I know loyalty to one's players is nice, but a discreet, diplomatic silence might have been better in this case.
Two hits for Clayton, Glaus and - of course - Jackson, though the first and last also committed errors, along with Alex Cintron. But for once, I'm happy to gloss over the unfinished edges of this and bask in the glow of a star being born. Okay, a little too early to reserve a spot in Cooperstown quite yet, perhaps, but Jackson has lived up to the hype so far, and then some. Otacon and Devin, on the commentary team for the game (for which we thank them), seemed equally impressed.
G-Force Homer Watch
[At-bats by the G-Force since their last home run]
- Collectively: 5 at-bats [since Glaus, 6th innings, 30th July]
- Troy Glaus: 1 [6th innings, 30th July]
- Shawn Green: 51 [6th innings, 15th July]
- Luis Gonzalez: 8 [7th innings, 28th July]
Jose Cruz Jr. was traded to Boston, for a couple of prospects [SS Kenny Perez and RHP Kyle Bono]. Even Joe Jr admitted this was little better than a bag o' balls: "I'm not going to say that they're two best prospects, but they've had some good numbers, and we'll add them to the system."
And Russ Ortiz made his first rehab start back, though the results were rather less spectacular than those managed by Villarreal and Lyon earlier in the week: 3 IP, 7 H, 7 R. He's clearly back to showing the form he did in the big leagues.
It's Chris's birthday today, so I don't expect to be around much. I'll get the preview up very shortly, but I suspect I shall be pampering my better half, rather than sneaking off to comment on the season finale against the Cubs. And what adoring husband could possibly do otherwise? :-)