Monday, September 21, 2009

9/20/09 Chicago Cubs 6, St. Louis Cardinals 3

Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO
Game 3 of 3

Probably one of the most exciting games I’ve seen all year, in many different ways. Now that the game is over, my head is filled with so many thoughts and comments about the game all around, I feel like I could write a book.

The media gods tried to do a number on me and prevent me from enjoying this game…my Gameday Audio subscription had run afoul due to technical issues, so my plans to listen on WGN radio were temporarily averted. Realizing I would be forced to watch the game on ESPN, I reviewed the situation and inventoried my beer on hand – 3 hours of Joe Morgan and Jon Miller, there’s only one way to handle it and beer sure does help.

I’ll save my ESPN diatribe for a future post – for now, I will say once and for all I am more than completely fed up with this network and their no-account ‘analysts.’ Saving all of that vomit for later.

As the game started and my first beer was opened, a wicked storm started to move through the area. As our satellite signal started to drop intermittently 60 minutes into the game, the good folks at jump-started by Gameday account and I was able to then listen to the WGN broadcast while watching the events on ESPN (when the satellite wasn’t out). In retrospect, I was immensely glad the satellite was hot during the 9th inning, as I would have had issues even trying to interpret that dramatic frame without the visual effect.

As it was, the folks on ESPN were quick to herald the demise of the Cubs’ 2009 season and the many ways they would take a beating in this 3rd game of the series. They did this by spewing forth all the stats and accolades that announced that the Cardinals were just too impressive; they also rounded this effort by literally mispronouncing and/or misstating players’ names and positions as if it was of no consequence by doing so. Joe Morgan can get Rick Ankiel’s name right, but announcing ‘Jeremy Reed’ in the lineup, then correcting by reminding himself that he’s out for the rest of the season, then correcting again by innocently chirping in “oh, well, I mean Reed…Reed JOHNSON” – well, I’m going to save some of this for later but it does go to show that brains are not required to get into the Hall of Fame by any means. All I need to share is that Miller and Morgan (and Phillips, only by association: he never spoke up otherwise) concerned themselves with their reckless armchair determination and analysis of what the Cubs need to do for next year while the Cubs were at bat, and then gush over St. Louis during their at bats.

Naturally, the Bradley-DeRosa trade was discussed ad infinitum in the wake of Hendry’s announcement of Bradley’s suspension a few hours earlier.

As far as pitchers are concerned, great performances by both Wainwright and Zambrano. ESPN was quick to count Wainwright’s milestones (6th strikeout!) while ignoring Zambrano when he reached that mark, but by the time each pitcher had left the game, the score was Cubs 3, Cardinals 2 – so who was the better arm last night? Hmm?

CUBS 6 10 1

Brendan Ryan was HBP by Zambrano in the 2nd, which prompted Jon Miller to predict retaliation by the Cardinals. Well, it certainly didn’t look intentional, and for crying out loud…this isn’t an AL game, moron. Of course, there was no ‘retaliation.’

The Cubs opened up the carpet bombing in the 5th when Andres Blanco’s double brought in Mike Fontenot (who was classified as a ‘loser’ by the analysts at ESPN – he would go 2 for 3 by the 7th inning). The Cardinals responded with back-to-back run scoring base hits by Mark DeRosa and Albert Pujols. In the next inning, Bobby Scales was walked, brought in to score by Micah Hoffpauir’s single, then Aramis Ramirez scored as Geovany Soto reached on Brendan Ryan’s throwing error.

In the 7th inning, Bobby Scales earned a ‘gem’ on my scoresheet; he completely vindicated himself from his ‘foul play’ on the night before…unfortunately, nobody seems to care. The ESPN folks (and others) continued to mumble on about Scales’ inexperience, and the Saturday night flubbed catch as a testimonial. I don’t care what others think, even if his 10-plus years were non-MLB play, how can one pass him off as inexperienced? At any rate, after his beautiful catch, the topic no longer came up – you’d think at least Steve Phillips could have commented ‘well, I guess we were wrong about him.’

The Cardinals tied the game in the 8th on Yadier Molina’s RBI single. Along with Santo, I was moaning a-plenty. It started to look like Friday and Saturday all over again…

By this time, Lou and Tony were up to their old tricks, flip-flopping pitchers and making one-at-bat-at-a-time substitutions, switches, and movements. It was humorous and awe-inspiring at the same time to witness each others’ moves in this great chess match; when one would bring out a pitcher, the other would respond with an alternate pinch-hitter…and vice-versa. My scoresheet starts to look interesting…

The 9th begins and the Cubs strand 2 walked batters on base. Then the Cubs face the strongest part of the Cardinals’ order in Schumaker, DeRosa, and Pujols. Sean Marshall opens up, Schumaker gets a base hit. Lou brings in Heilman for DeRosa, a SAC bunt moves Schumaker to 2nd. Pujols is intentionally walked, then Heilman is out and Caridad is in. On a 1-2 pitch with one fouled back, Caridad hits Matt Holliday, loading the darn bases with only 1 down. What happens next will never be forgotten…

On the very first pitch, Ryan Ludwick grounds sharply to Blanco at second base. Seeking a DP, Blanco flips easily to Theriot, who is charging through the bag, forcing Holliday out. Holliday slides late and wild at least 3 feet away from the bag, nearly bowling Theriot over. Theriot makes a short, blind leap up, and dispatches the ball wildly to Derrek Lee. Lee reaches all of his height in front of first, trying to tag Ludwick, when his foot comes off the bag and it appears that Ludwick is ‘safe’ – therefore, Schumaker’s journey to home would be the walk-off winning run. The Cards charge out of the dugout to greet Schumaker, everybody is on the field, celebrating…the fireworks come alive at Busch, and during all of this…the ump at 2nd is waving his arms violently and shouting at the top of his lungs.

When I saw Lee’s foot come off of the bag, I broke a pencil.

First base ump Danley’s ‘safe’ call on Ludwick was overruled by Foster’s call – he cited Holliday’s late and wild slide as interference, penalty was the Double Play – 2 outs to end the inning, with the score tied. LaRussa wasted no time at all hustling out there; the image on TV was memorable. He walked the boss right over to the ‘scene of the crime’ (ESPN even ‘circled’ the area on the freeze frame where Foster showed LaRussa Holliday’s slide, still in the dirt…it looked just like a chalk outline).

Equally astonishing was the Cubs’ reaction (delayed by an inning) in the 11th. Seems like every time this situation existed throughout the season was vindicated all at once, with the only risk on the table being this game and this game ONLY…I felt the frustration of dozens of games lost at the end by a run or so avenged mercilessly with strategy, talent, and well-fortified offensive support; the defensive end came in the bottom of the 11th when the same applications came in a 3-up, 3-down frame with no quarter afforded to the Cardinals. Jake Fox’ 2-run homer was better than brilliant, it was all of the ‘could haves’ and ‘should haves’ all season long flying as far away from regret as spiritually possible.

Postseason chances this season seem to be as far from reach as they really are, and we still lost this otherwise significant series…but this game, this moment, this belonged to the CUBS from start-to-finish. As fans we can elaborate all we want on the multiple skids, turning points, faults, and failures of the season, but keep this in mind: after ESPN’s anti-Cubs gushing ceased by the 9th inning, they suddenly replaced their banter with Cubs stats and less-than-negative analysis and at the end of the game, it was Jake Fox who was the ‘Chevy player of the game.’ I’m no longer squinting at the rest of the season. We were contenders throughout the season, up to this point, and beyond. A World Series victory would have been magnificent, but this single victory brought as much joy to me as a fan as any other could have.

ESPN can go scoot on a donut!!

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