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AZ 5, Cubs 1 - Speaking with the Enemy...

Record: 15-13. Change on last season: -2

Mrs. Snakepit advises Dusty Baker on lineup construction:
"No, Perez should really be a late-inning defensive replacement; the sample size of his at-bats against Batista is too small to be a valid statistical tool."

At Mrs. Snakepit's suggestion, we got to the ballpark 90 minutes before first pitch, in time to see the Cubs taking batting practice. It's relaxing to wander around a sparsely-populated stadium; nice that they don't enforce ticketing at that stage: you can wander down, almost right up to the fence, and watch the visitors taking their swings. The aim was, as mentioned, to deliver a package to Dusty Baker. He was there, signing autographs right by the fence when we arrived, but Chris hung back, "not wanting to seem pushy". The moment evaporated, as Dusty went back to the batting cage.

So we waited, trying to catch his eye. And waited. Eventually, he looked over. We waved. He waved back. Success! No: wait a moment. Curses, foiled again. He's gone right back to chatting behind the cage. Finally, he looked over once more: this time, we waved the envelope and - Bingo! - he realised who it was. When that cycle of batting practice ended, he came across and chatted to Mrs. Snakepit, who gave him the DVD, and a Cubs bracelet made by one of our customers (it's very cute, with pennies on it dated from the momentous years in Cubs history: 1908, 1945, etc.).

Mission accomplished, we headed off to get dinner (Polish sausage for me, thank you very much), sit in our seats and enjoy the game. "Enjoy" is perhaps the wrong word though - this was probably much less entertaining than the Dodgers' series. Despite the fact the margin for most of last night was bigger than we enjoyed throughout those two games, this never ever felt "safe". Seven innings of one-run ball from Batista may sound good, but he was missing very few bats. He even broke all three of the cardinal rules:

  1. Thou shalt not walk the opposing pitcher...
  2. ...especially on four pitches...
  3. ...and particularly not with the bases loaded

The future is now...
Another multi-hit game for CoJack

If the defense hadn't turned a franchise-record tying four double plays (for what seems like the thirtieth time this year), it would have been very different. One heartening effect of all these was to shut the Cubs fans up. The "Let's go, Cubbies" chants were just getting started in the second inning, with men on the corners and one out. But Neifi Perez flied to Gonzo, who made a sliding catch, threw back to second to double off Jacque Jones, who hadn't hung round to see if it would be caught, and the chant stopped dead. It was hardly heard again until the ninth inning.

While Batista was living dangerously, Chad Tracy was supplying the offense with another 4-RBI night; after 313 games without one, he then goes and does it in back-to-back contests. Three came on a home-run off Maddux, who fell to 1-9 against Arizona, a remarkably poor record for a sure-fire Hall of Fame pitcher, and the fourth on a sacrifice fly. Counsell, Byrnes, Jackson and Shawn Green all had two-hit nights, and even Batista chipped in with a knock: his average is the same as Maddux's now (and both are not far behind Neifi Perez...).

A carefully-controlled swing by Byrnes
"It's head down, eyes on the ball, Eric - not eyes down, head on the ball."

I have to say, I was very surprised to see Batista bat for himself in the sixth and get sent out in the seventh. I definitely second-guessed Melvin there, given Batista's pitch-count was almost at 100, and the issues he'd already had. I understand our bullpen options were limited after Tuesday's heroics, but I figured Aquino was good for a couple, and Medders hadn't pitched either. Miggy looked no better, but with the aid of another double play, escaped, to our enormous relief. How often does a pitcher allow eight hits and four walks, but only one run? We dodged a bullet there, definitely.

We dodged another couple in the ninth, after Greg Aquino pitched a scoreless eighth. Daigle came in, faced two batters and didn't retire either of them, forcing Melvin to bring in Valverde for the third straight game. He got Mabry [whom we had seen smack the cover off the ball in batting practice] to strike out, walked Pierre to bring the tying run to the plate, but then fanned Cedeno and got Walker to ground out to Jackson for his eighth save. That was, I think, the first time I breathed since we took the lead in the second.

Your daily dose of yummy Fangraphs goodness
[Click pic to see full version in new window]
Today: Let's go, Cubb...(click)

Game notes.

  • While the D'backs abandoned the "easy listening at-bat music" for the opposition, it still gets played during their batting practice. Seemed to do the trick last night.

  • Baxter is now acting as "umpire" for the ceremonial first pitch, as in the pic below. While I never had any interest in that honour before, the idea of uncorking a maximum velocity pitch - aimed not at the strike zone, but at Baxter's furry, oversized head - definitely now appeals.

    "Sorry, ump. I just have this problem keeping my fastball down in the zone lately..."

  • Surprised to see the roof open, given the daytime temperature was teetering precariously near 100 degrees. However, it was very pleasant, especially when the odd breeze drifted through the stadium

  • As last time, dessert was at Coldstone Limited. This time, however, we learned and went before first pitch, to beat the long queue. I discovered what causes the queue: hiring wussy teenage girls with arms like toothpicks. Not good, when you're trying to get scoops of ice-cream from blocks fresh out of the freezer. They need...well, Tony Clark's not doing much these days, is he?

  • The prizes for the contests suck. The winning kid in one got...a Barry Manilow DVD. You could virtually read his lips on the Jumbotron: "Who the f___ is Barry Manilow?" Another "winner" got a Chicago CD. Wooo!

  • On the plus side, I am happy to report that unlike certain stadiums (hello, San Diego), the Guess the Attendance contest is not fixed. Well, not obviously, anyway, in that the largest figure is not always the right answer.

  • We were on Neifi Perez's case all night. "He looks like Tony Womack after he'd joined the Witness Protection program," opined Mrs. Snakepit. By the end, every time he came up to bat, we screamed "Hey, Neifi! Where are you going? Frickin' NOWHERE!"

  • Strange how, on the Jumbotron, some players came up in the 'Wanted poster' style, as noted last outing, while others were over a less confrontational pic of Wrigley Field.

  • We set a new personal best for closest distance from a foul ball, which clanged off someone's face three rows directly behind us. Luckily, their fist took most of the pace off it first. I've noticed everyone tries to one-hand the ball, which makes no sense. Maybe it's just because I played cricket, where you a) field with no gloves, and b) always use both hands.

  • Here's the score on last night's expectations.
    • DaVanon playing CF, and batting in the #2 spot STRIKEOUT
    • Quality start from Batista HIT
    • Another multi-hit game from Shawn Green HIT
    • ...but no RBIs for him HIT
    • Hudson back, and delivering a Web Gem moment WALK: back, solid defense, nothing special
    • Estrada gets an RBI HIT
    • Gonzo homer - he's .316 career vs. Maddux, with 10 HR STRIKEOUT
    • Shutout innings from Medders and Aquino WALK: Aquino yes, no Medders
    Overall tally: Four hits and two walks, for a 62% approval rating. That'll do.

"Cubs lose! Cubs lose!"