Thursday, April 5, 2012

4/5/12 Washington Nationals 2, Chicago Cubs 1

Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL
Game 1 of 3
Cubs Home Opener (on Opening Day Number 3)

Ah, yes…the sun is out, the grass is green, and BASEBALL SEASON has arrived! It was cool and the wind was blowing in at Wrigley, but you just couldn’t wipe off the smiles of the Chicago faithful as the Cubs host the Nationals to start the 2012 regular season. Not unless a pitching change out of “left field” comes along…

Fans were hopeful for a pitcher’s duel, with Ryan Dempster starting for the Cubs and the phenom Stephen Strasburg on the mound for the Nationals…and we got to see a pitcher’s duel! But we ultimately ended up seeing a pitcher’s fool instead.

Each starter’s lines didn’t look anything like what I had expected, actually quite the inverse. Strasburg didn’t record a K until the 5th inning, throwing heat and throwing it well but throwing it to contact today. Dempster, on the other hand, was ballistic, recording 10 Ks in 7.2 IP. He topped 9 Ks in a game only once in 2011, against the San Francisco Giants in Chicago on May 13th.

The Nationals were shockingly handcuffed by Dempster, who allowed one hit in the first inning and no more until the 8th. Strasburg was nearly as effective, yet had allowed 5 hits and 1 earned run through the 7th. The first of those hits was an amazing infield pop-up single by Starlin Castro in his first at bat, on a ball that Strasburg quickly identified with his index finger in the air, then inexplicably ran out of the way, allowing it to drop and Castro to reach first on his tippy toes.

Dempster and the Cubs had that one-run lead sharply penciled in through the 7th. In the 8th inning, Dempster struck out former Cub PH Chad Tracy, allowed a single from Ian Desmond, and then struck out Danny Espinosa. 2 out, 1 on, 105 pitches so far (71 for strikes), and with only one out left to escape the inning…uh oh. Sveumus heads to the mound, at first I thought to talk to Dempster on how to pitch to Ryan Zimmerman, and then…then he took the ball!!! Huh???!???

”Sveumus” is new Cubs manager Dale Sveum; for non-Cubs fans the “Sveumus” is a play on something else you probably don’t care about…

I can’t seem to figure out why this happened. Dempster was still cruising, and 105-plus pitches isn’t an unusual chore from this guy. Dempster threw 105 or more pitches 19 times in 2011, the Cubs were 9-7 when he did if that matters to you. I don’t like to pass myself off as an armchair GM, but at this moment, when Kerry Wood comes charging onto the field, I am literally pulling my own ears off, one ear at a time.

Why did this happen? Was it Sveum’s plan to have Wood walk Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche (who had struck out swinging against Dempster in all 3 of his plate appearances, he LOVES to swing at the 84 mph split-finger FB!!) to pitch to Jayson Werth (who is 0-for-7 in his career AB against Dempster)??? That must have been the plan, and well-executed too. With only one strike left to retire Zimmerman, Wood walks him as well as the agitated LaRoche and the bags are full of Nats. With the count full, Wood’s fastball rises too late, and Werth walks in a run. The game is tied, and God help me, I can’t stop the bleeding from my ear-holes.

I feel all the love a Cubs fan can feel for Kerry Wood, but I feel extreme pain in the spots where my ears were over his entrance into this game. I asked my friends on twitter if they had any ideas as to why this move was made, and I didn’t get a response.

In the top of the 9th but the Nationals do something more…Tracy doubles off of Carlos Marmol with 2 outs and the pesky Nat Ian Desmond scratches his 3rd base hit of the day in 5 at-bats. Tracy scores, and even a timely triple from Ian Stewart (who could only dribble a ground ball 2 feet in front of him in 2 of his 3 at-bats against Strasburg) wasn’t enough of a rally.

I laughed dismissively at first, but after Byrd struck out looking against Brad Lidge to end the game, my only consolation was to replay the pre-game excitement, featuring Bill Murray’s ceremonial first pitch, which in turn was preceded by a fearless huff around the bases. Watching the second time around, I felt that I loved this.

Murray sang the 7th inning stretch (along with Big Head Todd, WTF?!?), and talked to Len and Bob for the bottom of the 7th as well as the top of the 8th, while Wood was working his magic. Len commented on how much of a “true fan” Murray was for keeping score during the interview segment.


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