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August 2008 Archives

Not our idea of fun

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The White Sox again looked flat when they most needed to play with a sense of urgency. Buehrle seemed to be throwing batting practice balls the first two innings, and though the Sox came up with more hits than the paltry 2 they managed the night before, the did nothing with them. Again, it was the Missile and JeDye did their jobs for the most part, but Swisher left 3 men on base and CQ seems to be sliding at a park where he should be hitting the Citgo sign.

The Sox have only the stunningly poor fielding of Piranhas closer Joe Nathan to thank for having a hold on 1st place today. Nathan let 2 runs score when he threw wild to 3rd in the bottom of the 9th at Oakland. The A's won 3-2, and the Piranhas seem to be having indigestion on their long road trips after being booted out of their dome for the RNC.

Gavin Floyd goes today, and let's hope he can stop the bleeding and the Sox can find their sense of urgency.

The Cubs lost 5-2 Saturday. They have to lose sometimes, right? The Brewers won, of course, and have CC going against the Lowly Pirates today, so a win for them looks automatic. The Cubs need to win today to win yet another series, but the Phils finally looked like a play-off-caliber team yesterday, and the Cubs couldn't solve Brett Myers in potential scoring situations. The piled up hits--11 to the phils' 10--but could not convert. A disturbing trend has seen the Cubs score no more than 3 runs in 3 of their last 4 games. That they are 3-1 in those games speaks to exactly how good this team is, but let's get the line moving again.

Mrs. SBW and I will be heading out to The Commish's house for a BBQ today, and then to Wrigley tomorrow for Cubs vs. Astros. Hope you have a great Labor Day Weekend, and that will be analyzing a pair of wins tomorrow...

Playing timid against big bats

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I think Orlando Cabrera sometimes makes more mistakes in the field than his reputation suggests, and he has not delivered entirely on his promise as a hitter this year either, but one thing that's indisputable is his intensity. Earlier this week, he said the White Sox need to move up to a new level of intensity for the play-off push, and though the team has been tough and resilient this year, I couldn't have agreed more. Unfortunately, the Sox showed absolutely zero of that intensity when the started off a key series in Boston last night being shut out 8-0.

O.C. needs to take some of his own advice after going 0 for 4, but so does the rest of the line-up. Only JeDye and the Missile seemed to get the message, coming up with the Sox only two hits in this one. Javier Vazquez, who has alternated good and bad outings his whole career, was true to form, letting runs in early after being tough against the Rays last weekend.

The Piranhas gave the Sox some hope earlier this week when they had trouble out west. They beat Oakland late last night and appear to have found their pulse again. The Sox, meanwhile, flat-lined, and really need to come out of the gate aggressively the next 2 games in Boston. Not much is going to change for them in the coming weeks, but they will get Linebrink back. They just need to make sure they can stay in games and get him the ball when he returns.

The Cubs also didn't do much Friday, but got more out of less by winning 3-2. Harden was not great, in fact all over the place earlier on, but kept things close. The bats were silent against Harden's former A's mate Joe Blanton, with the first Cubs hit coming in the 4th. Later, the first Cubs run scored on what should have been a routine, inning-ending double play, by Jimmy Rollins air-mailed the throw to 1st base. That allowed DeRo to score from third. An inning later, in the 6th, the Cubs had no hits at all, but tied the game 2-2 on four walks sandwiched between outs. that shows how far plate patience can get you, and its something the Sox could have used more of later Friday evening.

The turning point for the game was a blown call at 1st base, when big Ryan Howard appeared to beat out a sharp grounder that banged of D-Lee, who had to chase it down and throw to Samardzija at 1st. Argue about it being a bang-bang play if you want, but in the replay, it is pretty clear Howard beat the throw. Too bad for the Phils the new replay policy only applies to HRs. Had Howard been safe, a runner on 3rd would have scored, but the out got Sammy 2.0 out of the inning.

The next inning, Soriano homered to put the Cubs up 3-2 and the bullpen shut 'em down from there. The Phils may say they were robbed of a win on a blown call, and that call certainly change the conditions of the game at that time, but when you send Rollins, the Flyin Hawaiian and Utley up to the plate in the 9th you've still got a heck of a chance to at least tie things up. They didn't. The Cubs are now 85-50.

Believe what you just saw

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I said in a previous post that a whole generation of Cubs fans are now growing up who know their team only as a frequent contender and a winner, one that is likely about to make the play-offs for the second year in a row, the third time in five years, the fourth time in 10 years. I envy them, because games like Thursday night's stunning 6-4 victory, for someone of my generation (I'm 40), are often simply too hard to believe. An hour after the game is over, you're struggling to sleep because your mind is spinning at what you just witnessed and what still may be to come in the near future. The reality of it is almost scary, in part because you feel you have been led down this road before, in part because you have never seen anything like it.

If the Cubs would have lost last night, no one would have been too concerned. They were going up against Cole Hamels, for cryin' out loud. If you see them winning a four-game series against the Phils, this is the one game they would probably lose. And Hamels was pretty fantastic, the Cubs only run against him in 7 IP coming on a two-strike triple by DeRosa after Fukie's infield hit. Dempster started for the Cubs, and was decent, but only barely staying ahead of the Phils until giving up 3 runs in the 6th to leave the Cubs behind 4-1.

But again, the Cubs pulled an 8th inning comeback out of their rally caps after Hamels exited. Mighty Mite hit a PH HR, and the Cubs loaded the bases for A-Ram who, before you even had a chance to consider the possibilities, clubbed a grand slam to left--positively disintegrating the ball and leaving no doubt from the moment of impact in anyone's mind, especially Phils CF Shane "The Flyin' Hawaiian" Victorino and A-Ram himself.

The thing that some of us might have thought impossible an inning before, so impossible that even when it happened, it still seemed impossible, actually happened. It happened to a team that through my years growing up and really through my whole life until now only seemed to have one misfortune heaped upon another, given a taste of dreamy victory one time after another only to have it snatched by fate. It was the kind of misfortune that eventually made me not want to be a Cubs fan anymore--I just couldn't handle the combination of disappointment and organizational ineptitude, a seeming aversion to even wanting to create a winning team at times. It was the kind of misfortune that makes one believe that some things just can't happen.

But it did happen last night, and more than anything I wanted to call my father and share the excitement with him, and talk to him--a true die-hard Cubs fan--about the possibilities of where this Cubs team will go. But, I couldn't. The 2007 season was his last. So, I was left myself to celebrate and ponder the possibilities, just as I was earlier this year when the Cubs mounted a 9-run comeback against the Rockies. That afternoon I was driving down Irving Park Road as the amazing comeback unfolded on the radio, wanting to call my dad and yell into the phone, but instead I just pounded the roof of my car with my fist, thinking, can he see this where he is? Can he enjoy it? Or was he a loyal Cubs fan through the years only to just barely miss the best part? I want to believe he was watching. I want to believe anyone who is no longer among the living and would have loved it is somehow enjoying it as much as we are now. I want to believe.

Danks tanks, play-off push begins

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Not long after I identified John Danks as my pick as a big-game pitcher for this year's White Sox staff, Danks betrayed me Wednesday, as the Sox got crushed by the Orioles 11-3. Though it was Lance Broadway who allowed it to become a route, Danks gave up 4 runs early and threw a lot of pitches on the way to 3 BBs and just 1 K. Not much to like in this one at all, except JeDye's 32nd HR, Konerko hitting a rare round-tripper.

With just about a month to go in the season, this weekend begins our teams' play-off push against two tough possible play-off opponents. The Sox next take on the defending champ Red Sox, as the Cubs start a four-game series against the Phils, who fell out of 1st place last night, but still look like a play-off team.

By the way, The Trib's Phil Rogers had a column today on why the Cubs should fear the Sox come October...

The Cub that ate Pittsburgh

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Tuesday night's 14-9 Cubs victory against Pittsburgh showed again just how tough and patient this year's team is, coming back after being placed in a hole more than once by poor pitching and fielding. A 7-run 8th inning put the Bucs to bed for good, and two of the initial runs that inning came on walks to big boppers D-lee and A-Ram, both of whom patiently waited for Bucs pitcher Hansen to find the strike zone (he never did), rather than feeling the need to air out big swings with the bases jammed.

But the real hero was Geo, with an HR, 2 doubles and 7 RBI (in the crazy 8th, he later cleared the bases with a double for the second time in the game, making soto fan and the rest of us very happy). Great team all around this year, but I think Geo and Reed Johnson are maybe my favorites this season.

The bad part of the amazing comeback victory is that part of the reason the Cubs had to mount multiple comebacks was Zambrano's inability to shut down the Lowly Pirates. Being Zammy, he did well at the plate, but his hitting is becoming the best part of his game (6 ER, 4 BB, 3 Ks in 4.2 IP in this one-ick). Somebody straighten him out or get him to watch some video or something before he actually breaks a hand taking his frustration out on inanimate objects in the dugout.

Another victory today, 2-0 over the Lowly Pirates in the getaway day matinee. Marquis was due for one of his good outings, and the Cubs got it. The bats were tired from last night, but Reed started a two-run inning with a bunt single and DeRo later scored on a squeeze bunt by Blanco. Nice. Now, it's back to Chicago to take on the Phillies. Giddyup...

The Sox looked strong Tuesday night, too, scoring 8 runs to show the offense was still alive after a string low-scoring games. Dirty 30 homered and is maybe finally earning his keep, CQ was 3-5, Junior drove in a run and Gavin Floyd settled in to a Floyd-like 8 IP. Again good news out of the Great Northwest: The Piranhas lost to Lowly Seattle, so the Sox are 2 games up in 1st. Just another agme or two is all I ask for now... Another game in Baltimore tonight.

81 reasons to have hope

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The Cubs won their 81st game Monday night to go 31 games above .500 for the first time in 24 years. Though, many droll Cubs fans might have also noted that at the time that it also became mathematically impossible for the Cubs to have a losing season. I know there aren't many of those types of Cubs fans left--my father was one, and he's already gone to his ivy-covered burial ground. It warms the heart to know that there's a whole generation of Cubs fans growing up right now who know the Cubs as a team that has made the play-offs three time in the last decade and is about to make it four times in a decade.

My friend "The Commish," who, obviously, runs one of the fantasy leagues I'm in, is the biggest Sox fan around, and is having trouble hanging onto hope this year with the Piranhas being so good. A Cubs fan in our league told him he could never make it as Cubs fan, a sentiment to which he readily agreed.

Yes, the Cubs are winners, and they beat the Pirates 12-3 Monday to get that 81st win. Fukie seems to have his timing back at the plate, as he drove in four runs, A-Ram bagged another 3-run HR and Jim Edmonds came out his own slump with a triple and two doubles.

The Sox continued a suspended game from earlier this year in Baltimore, and lost 4-3, but then came bacl and won the regularly-scheduled match-up by the same score. thome hit No. 535, the Missile had another four hits to continue his torrid pace and Clayton Richard again was good enough for a Sox win. The best part of the evening, though, was that the Piranhas lost to Lowly Seattle. Both our teams are in 1st again. Enjoy, and don't let any dark thoughts enter your mind.

Rays get A.J.'d; Harden gets boring

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I'm trying to keep it short today, though there is plenty to talk about. The Sox were down 5-4 in the 9th Sunday with the 3rd out running toward home plate trying to score on a short single when Rays' All-Star catcher Navarro botched the catch and the tying run scored. An inning later, A.J. was on second and got caught in a run down on a poor base-running move. Just when he was about to be tagged, he made contact with one of the Rays' fielders involved in the play. The call by Umpire Doug Eddings (yes, that Doug Eddings) was interference on the Rays and A.J. was awarded third base. Then, wouldn't you know it, he scored the winning run on a single by the Missile. Sox win 6-5 after being moments from getting swept. Instead they are alone in first place today because the Piranhas lost. Wow.

Is A.J. a cheater? If cheating is taking advantage of the chaos of a situation and making it more chaotic and confusing, then yes. But, he is more in tune with the subtext of a game situation than any player I have ever seen. Just earlier this month, I saw him purposely get caught in an inning-ending rundown that allowed a lead run to score that otherwise wouldn't have scored. Call it--and him--what you want, but either way, it's a win.

Meanwhile, on the Northside, Rich Harden is so freakin' good, he's starting to put me to sleep. Another great 7 IP, double-digit K (11 this time) performance by Harden, and the Cubs won the series against the Nats 6-1. DeRosa homered in his 4th straight game, nearing the record of 5 held by Ryno, Sammy and Hack Wilson. Fukie had a homer, too, and reportedly got some advice from the coaching staff on his bad swing habits, so hopefully we'll see a resurgence.

When you're playing the Nats, you've gotta hope for a series sweep. Instead the Cubs took two out of three the way the have been doing it to a bunch of teams all year. Just stay in that groove, boys...

Toughening up, falling down

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Ryan Dempster's assignment Saturday was not a tough one: Beat a team with a 46-83 record. Yet, the Cubs couldn't get it done Friday and needed a win Saturday to give them a chance to win the series and stay in a strong pace-setting position. Dempster was as stingy as he's been all year, with 1 ER and 1 BB being the key stats in 7.1 innings. He's had only one truly bad outing all year (8 ER in 2.1 IP against our White Sox down at The Cell on June 27), and though he often puts himself in trouble with walks, he has been very good about avoiding getting shelled.

Much has been made of Demp's WS prediction in spring training, but what matters most, is that he came into the year fit and has stayed fit and amazingly consistent. He's 15-5, and you don't see any reason why he can't keep winning, unlike the hugely talented but topsy-turvy Zambrano. A-Ram helped Demp with 2 3-run HRs. DeRosa had another HR, and is in a groove.

I had a strange dream last night in which I met Mark DeRosa at a bar, and he came off in person as the fun-loving guy he seems to be on field and in interviews. Then I went to introduce him to Mrs. SBW, saying to her, "This is Mark De----,"and I suddenly couldn't remember the rest of his name. He got kind of annoyed and walked away. I ran after him, saying I always liked him even before he was on the Cubs, putting him on a couple of my fantasy teams because of his multi-position eligibility. How embarrassing...

Speaking of which, Javier Vazquez had a much tougher assignment than Dempster Saturday, facing the extremely resourceful Rays. He was fantastic through 7 innings and seemed a distant cousin of the Vazquez who often falls apart after 6 IP (By the way, when did we all start noting perfect games after 5 IP? Isn't the unwritten rule to wait until after the 6th?) With the Sox ahead 3-1 in the 8th, Vaz loaded the bases with no outs. Matt Thornton, who had struck out the side the day before, came in and things fell apart from there.

Though Vazquez doesn't do well in the late innings, you can't really blame Ozzie for staying with him. He could have gone to Thornton or D.J. Carrasco to start the inning (The first man up, Dioner Navarro, swings both ways, literally, but is worse vs. southpaws.) But, Vaz was under 90 pitches at the time. The bullpen got a very tough assignment, but that's what the job is all about (Ask Carlos Marmol, who came in with 2 on and 1 out Saturday and shut down the Nats, but also knows what it's like to unravel.)

Ultimately, the Sox, with the exception of JeDye, did almost nothing against the talented, but very beatable (especially if you're patient) Scott Kazmir. The power output on the Southside has been absolutely amazing, but it's not enough if guys aren't on base for those jacks, or if the infantry can't be counted on to keep inching the Sox forward between the heavy artillery hits (I'd like to dedicate that sentence to Sox fan G.B., who loves a good military metaphor.)

The Angels helped keep things tight in the A.L. Central by beating the Piranhas, but I think a lot of Sox fans today are feeling vulnerable. But, it ain't over yet, not nearly.
Willie Harris? Really? Actually, Harris, who has bounced around a bit since likely having his career moment with 2005 World Champion Chicago White Sox, is having a decent year for the Nats. No one will crown him the next King of Pop, but on a muggy Friday afternoon, Little Willie invoked the Ex-Sox Rule, and excercised his right to have a big day at Wrigley, hitting 2 HRs (including a grand slam against Illinois State's own Neal Cotts) as the Nats shocked the Cubs 13-5.

Ugh. The Cubs are 1-3 against the Nats this year, and it's true that you can't win 'em all, but that isn't supposed to apply vs. league doormats (especially when you get off to an early 4-0 lead). The Brewers and Cards beat their doormat opponents (Pirates and Braves) Friday, and each gained a game on the Cubs. Friday's loss got me wondering about the Cubs record on Fridays this year (the sort of stat my old man loved to look up). It turns out they're 10-11, better than I thought. For some reason, it has seemed to me they often start a weekend series by losing the Friday game.

I don't know about you, but I didn't like the Cotts-Harris match-up from the start. I'm generally not superstitious about the Cubs, but I am about former teamates facing one another. I'll tilt the odds toward the hitter in most cases. Of course, things were already going bad in that inning as Marquis went from solid to horrible in less than five pitches. How unfortunately typical of him.

The Sox Friday had a tougher assignment against the TB Rays, though I liked the pitching match of Danks and Edwin Jackson. Danks, as I've noted, is my pick as a big-game pitcher on this team. Jackson has been shaky, and was again Friday night, giving the Sox chances that they didn't do much with in losing 9-4. Danks was disappointing, though not bad (He made a crazy good play sprinting toward home and tagging out Rocco Baldelli trying to score on a bunt.) It was Dotel and the Sox' newest Ramirez, Horacio, who let this one get away. By the way, the other Ramirez, the Missile, had his 4th HR in 5 games, and Dirty 30 made it 4 HRs in 4 games, so the Sox are still packing some power.

More about Rocco: OK, I didn't want him to have too good of a night, but how can you not root for a guy sidelined most of the last three years who has fought his way back from numerous injuries, including something called "mitochondrial abnormalities"? He's a good, tough hitter and field with a great arm. He a HR Friday night and went 2-4. I have thought before and still wouldn't mind seeing him in a Sox or Cubs jersey, and the Rays earlier this year declined an option on him for next year. We'll see...

What I like/don't like about Wrigley

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At long last, here's what I enjoy about seeing games at Wrigley Field, followed by a list of things I would give a thumbs-down. To folks who love the Friendly Confines--or to those who find it unfriendly--it may not my totally originally, but consider it just a start...

What I like:

1) The neighborhood: Ok, no fun and pretty expensive to find decent parking, but it's still the best 'hood in all of baseball, the only thing that would make it better is a game-day closing of Clark and Addison around the ballpark, It would create an even better festival environment.

2) The smell: Not to get too goofy, but Wrigley still smells the same way it did when I was a kid, with the exception of cigarette smoke (which to be honest, as a kid, I found kind of intoxicating). I don't know if it's the over-used grills, the peanuts, the cotton candy, the beer or all of the above, but it's a great smell that can't quite be matched on the Southside (Maybe The Cell has better ventilation.)

3) Old Style: I made fun of my brother, the King of Consumption (Have I mentioned his nickname before?) a few years back for waiting to buy from the occasional Old Style vendor rather than the numerous Bud boys. But, it's won me over and now I consider an important part of the whole Wrigley experience, far better than Bud or anything else from Miller.

4) Beef-sausage combo and frosty chocolate malt: These are the two best concession foods sold at Wrigley--you can have the rest of it, none of which I think is as good or as interesting as some of what can be found on the Southside. The combo is for real men (ok-and real hungry women) only, and you won't need anything else. It's out on the veranda (?) on the upper deck directly under the press box, though maybe they have them elsewhere, too. As for the malts, I shared one with my nephew (the Prince of Consumption?) last month at the minor league game after no having one in years. It was fantastic--smooth, rich, and with the little wooden spoon, a quaint old ballpark treat. I think it's called "chocolate malt cup" on the menu, but Steve Goodman would have said it was a "frosty malt."

5) Lack of overwhemling sound effects: When listening to games on the radio, I like when WGN comes back froma commercial break sometimes and Pat Hughes (I presume intentionally) doesn't speak for about 30 seconds. All you can hear are ballpark sounds--real ballpark sounds, like vendors hawking, people chattering, even occasionally a ball popping in a glove. No big audio dynamite experience necessary at Wrigley. Having very little musical interlude and sound effects (and when there are, the volume is far lower than the stereophonic blast you get at The Cell) allows you to really feel where you are, enjoy conversations between batters and innings and just generally hear yourself think.

There's more, but we'll leave the list open for now and revisit it later. And now, five things about Wrigley I don't like so much:

1) The Holy Cow Mafia: I don't hate Harry Caray, and enjoyed him on both sides of town. His antics on the Southside were among the things that sparked my interest in the Sox back in the 1970s, when I'd occasionally catch a game. But, the Wrigley Field experience has become in some ways a daily immersion in the Cult of Harry. The glasses and numerous other symbols are ubiquitous, and I'm sorry, but Harry Caray doesn't encompass the whole of Cubs fandom or Cubs/Wrigley Field history. To believe so is to ignore a rich and wonderful tradition that isn't shoved in our faces everyday via a bunch of marketing and branding tactics that take advantage of a famous old man's death.

2) 7th Inning Stretch Guest Singers: OK, this is maybe an extension of the first one, but let's give it a rest with the celebrity singers. Doing so may end Jeff Garlin's post-"Curb Your Enthusiasm" career output, but it would also spare us the embarrassment of out-of-tune athletes and clueless other celebs leading us in song. If you take it away, people will still sing, and will still think of Harry when they do it. If there has to be a lead singer, make it a random fan picked out of the seats every game.

3) The remodeling, or lack thereof: It's obvious a number of things at Wrigley need updating, and the overall experience would be enhanced if you kid somehow dig a lower level concourse under the main concourse, or perhaps add some kind of outer concourse wrapping around the park. But, so far, the changes made at Wrigley have all been about more money--more seats where you don't need them, a revamped bleacher entrance to honor the Budweiser brand and a covered group box in the bleachers (don't count on getting much sun with that pricey ticket). Meanwhile, you got a lot of seat in "reserved" section with bad sightlines that would at least by helped by deployment of a few more TVs of higher quality. And, what if they destroyed that bleacher luxury suite and turned the centerfield green into a kids area of some kind?

4) The scoreboard: I know, it's a great old school symbol and part of what makes Wrigley a baseball cathedral, but it is woefully uninformative for this day and age. The King of Consumption recently suggested to me that maybe they could add some kind of retractable smaller version of a jumbotron (though that wouldn't even help some of the people in the cheap seats who can't see the scoreboad anyway). It's nice, but it needs more.

5) Fan behavior: Again, a qualification: The average Wrigley fan must pay so much more attention to the game than just five years ago, but I swear, so many people stand up or move down rows in the middle of pitches. A lot of people still yell on the cellphones or text while Woody is trying to close out a tight game in the 9th, trying to figure out which bar is first on the list. People leave after the 7th Inning Stretch, even during close games. A lot of fans sit in others' seats and act put-out when someone shows up with the right ticket. I know, this happens at other parks, though it seems to me, not as much. I will admit to being an old man about this particular thing.

That's all for now. Look for my list on The Cell soon...

In the Red

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The Sox were off and preparing for battle with the young, studly Rays, but the Cubs played Thursday afternoon, and were under pressure to win a series against the Reds. Dusty's Crusties pulled out a 2-1 squeaker Wednesday night that started as Lilly's best game of the season, but turned into an offensive lapse reminiscent of last weekend's 2-1 loss in Miami. You kept expecting the Cubs bats to show, but they just didn't.

Thursday was time for redemption and the hope Zammy (sorry, I can't bring myself to use Dusty's "Big Z") would find the correct arm slot and would not get too steamed about the numerous things that seem to set him off. The Venezuelan Babe Ruth homored, of course, and the Cubs needed it, as they edged out a 3-2 win. Zammy was solid--good enough, as they say, though it still seems like something's missing when he ends up with 4 Ks and 4 BBs in 7 IP. Today's problem, according to the post game reports, was a bad molar (Would anyone be surprised if he was grinding his teeth out there?)

Marmol came in with the score 3-1 and gave up a HR, but still registered the all-important "hold" to keep his league-lead for that ridiculous stat. That made Zammy's HR, the last run the Cubs scored, the difference. I'm telling you, No. 38's is the first lefty bat I'm turning to in a pinch during the play-offs--well, unless he's the starter that game...

I lied about elaborating on my Wrigley/Cell likes/dislikes in the particular post--I had some actual work to do today, so I'm saving that one for the weekend. Stay tuned...

Harden, harder, hardest

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You know how some people are social smokers? Well, I'm something of a social Catholic, which meant I wasn't about to miss the Boys' Night Out event at Wrigley Field Tuesday night for the lcoal mens' church group I've latched onto through my brother. The evening started as I noted in a previous post, with a visit to Tai's on Ashland, where we stretched out livers and stomachs in preparation for the big game. We chatted about the Farns' reputed 2003 visits to Tai's, and recent neighborhood sitings of Ryan Theriot's Escalade (Do you think he ever lets Fontenot drive it?). In any case, once we got to the game, our boys were on their best behavior, and so were the boys in royal blue pinstripes.

Rich Harden was Harden-like (7 IP, 10 Ks, 1 ER, 0 BBs). There was some talk after the game that maybe he's better than that fella CC up north, but without discounting Harden's massive talent, CC--or is it CG?--is a much stronger finisher. This one was still just a one-run game when Harden left, and that single run came on an unlikely sac-bunt down the 3rd base line by Harden himself. Geo, on 3rd at the time, crept toward home, but didn't seem to build a full head of steam until the ball was in the glove of Joey Votto at 1st base. Harden got credit for the RBI, but Votto's wild throw may have been the difference. The Cubs had two baserunning blunders earlier and for a moment, this play looked dicey. Of course, none of that mattered after the Cubs went up 5-0 in the 8th.

Meanwhile, 9.92 miles south (according to MapQuest) the White Sox did their part to bring us closer to an all-Windy City World Series, beating Lowly Seattle 5-0. The Sub-Mariners can now say they are so bad they got beat by Clayton Richard... We're kidding--Richard looked great in lowering his ERA out of the double-digit territory and getting his 1st MLB win during the same week he was supposed to be pitching in the Olympics. (Oh, well, maybe that Phelps kid can hold down the open bullpen spot in Beijing.)

What's harder than facing Rich Harden? Overcoming a 15-run attack, which is what the Sox bought down on the Sub-Mariners in the Wednesday matinee today (Final 15-3). The Missile again fired one into the seats as the Sox hit 4 HRs in a game for the 4th time in a week. Even that Griffey kid is starting to hit. Junior hit his 609th career HR to tie him with Sammy (You remember Sammy, don't ya?)

Both our teams are cruising right now, but remember who they are playing. The hardest tests still remain: The Sox have road trips to Tampa and Boston coming up, and a whole bunch of division games next month, including three the final week against the Piranhas. The Cubs have 12 next month against the Cards and Beermakers, 6 against Houston and 4 against the Mets. Yikes...
Consecutive visits to the Friendly Confines and The Cell this week got me thinking about what I like and dislike about both stadiums. In my next post, I'll elaborate...

Lucky 13 and The Wave

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The Sox put up another 13, after spotting Lowly Seattle three runs in the 1st, and later allowing the Sub-Mariners to get ahead 4-3. The 1st inning showed the Sox' weaknesses--rickety innings from otherwise solid starters, and poor decisions in the field by otherwise stellar fielders. After allowing two men on base, Buehrle was about to get out of the 1st with no damage done on a tailor-made DP ball hit to him, but Cabrera and Ramirez seemed not to have discussed who would cover 2nd. Ramirez ended up catching the ball, trying to swipe his foot across the base, which was a good foot in front of him, and throwing out Adrian Beltre at first base. Buehrle, shaken, gave up a two-run-scoring single and later another run on a double.

Despite great hitting, fielding and pitching, on-field decision-making often haunts this team, whether its Ramirez trying to look to smooth, outfielders misjudging balls or Uribe winging ill-advised throws after good glovework. Yet, the early mistakes didn't hant the Sox Monday night, as Buehrle was serviceable and the offense exploded for the second straight game, adding 4 HRs to their league-leading total and stringing the hits together in between. As Ozzie put it to reporters after the game: "When the peoples on base, we getting good at bats, when the peoples on base."

The Missile (otherwise known as A-Ram, the Southside version) bolstered Rookie-of-the-Year numbers with another HR, and C.Q. added to his league-leading tally, hitting his 35th. O.C. and Dirty 30 also had swats. This is the sort of team that doesn't fear falling behind 3-0, and shows toughness in coming back that will help them in an inevitable stand-off with the Piranhas. Early on, they hammered the ball, but directlty into Mariner gloves. Still, instead of feeling like frustration, it only seemed a matter of time...

And then there's The Wave: Used to be you would never see such a thing on the Southside, with the fans to cool to attempt it and too into the game to even thing about it. You don't even see it at Wrigley, mostly because everyone's too drunk or occupied with phone conversations. But will the game well in hand Monday night, The Wave rippled its way from left field on, and almsot immediately pulled in everyone in the park (but not me, of course). Mrs. SBW was so excited about The Wave, she literally fell out of her chair (see, it's dangerous).

Winning a World Series brings respect and pride and also mainstream popularity. The average baseball I.Q. on the Southside, always so much higher than on the Northside, has dipped a bit, and the broadening of the fan base also has brought out some fans who shows extraordinarily little pateience (calling for Buerhrle to be yanked in the 1st), and others who allow their self-absorbed chats to be disturbed only by the occasional HR or antics like The Wave. It makes me miss the hyper-knowledgable Sox fan of old, who would comment on how fielders were positioned, and would wait until between innings to stand up and hit the concession stand, rather than upset an entire row and block views while the Sox are at bat.

But, what can you do? Winning the World Series is worth losing a little bit of what made the Southside experience so cool.

Tonight, it's onto Wrigley for the Cubs vs. Reds, starting with a trip to the Kyle Farnsworth Hall of Fame at Tai's Til 4. See, the object at Wrigley, despite a team that now expects to win, is still drink first, and hope a game breaks out later...

A Tale of Two 2-1 Outcomes

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On Saturday night, one evening after a stunningly improbable 6-5 victory on a stunningly improbable 3-run homer by Daryle Ward, the Cubs remembered where they were and who they were playing. In losing 2-1, they wasted a pretty terrific outing by the increasingly reliable Sean Marshall, who tied a career high with 8 Ks. You know your offense isn't producing much when the only producer is Henry "Tatts" Blanco...

But, what more can you ask when the Cubs had not lost a road game in more than three weeks? They also stole Game 1 of a series in Miami right after posting their first series sweep in Atlanta in years. If they finish an Atlanta-Miami road swing 4-2, I'll be happy--though of course we all would be immensely happier with 5-1.

The Sox, meanwhile, again displayed the toughness that will serve them well the rest of the way, beating Oakland and the East Bay Curse 2-1. The Twin City Piranhas pulled out a 7-6 victory against woeful Seattle, so the Sox stay tied for 1st place, but the bullpen's lock-down in this game (ok, I know it's just the A's) after a somewhat shaky outing from John Danks (only 1 run, but 5 BBs to go w/his 5 Ks in 6 IP) has me feeling good about tight games to come. The Piranhas are achingly consistent, but the Sox have shown an ability to come back and to hold tight leads when they are really needing a win.

Danks was handing out walks in this game after shutting down powerfully patient Boston for seven innings (before losing his grip) in his last outing. For having 10 Ws and a 3.11 ERA, he's still underrated. His pitching pace is Buehrle-like and seems to knock some batters off kilter. I don't know about you, but I like Danks in a big game over Gavin Floyd, who occasionally seems prone to single-inning collapses despite being stellar overall.

I feel the need... the need for Reed

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Reed Johnson continues to come up big for the Cubs when they most need to break a bad pattern and score some runs. His biggest hit on a 4-5 day that helped the Cubs to a 9-2 victory Sunday wasn't his bases-loaded double that made it 8-2; it was the no-outs single that pushed Fontenot to third and chased Marlins starter Volstad from the game. Every thing broke loose from there...

Meanwhile, the Sox obliterated the hex by obliterating Oakland 13-1 and winning the series 2-1. They need it to stay on par with the dreaded Piranhas, who gobbled up Seattle. Three pieces of good news: Lowly Seattle is headed toward the Southside as we speak, so hopefully the Sox can build some momentum with their chance to hack at the Mariners; Javier Vazquez finally looked fantastic today, though he had a huge lead to work with--now, we need him to do it again and again into October; and Alexei Ramirez smacked a grand slam. C.Q. is obviously the biggest and most pleasant surprise for the Sox this year, but the Missile's combo of strong hitting, unexpected power and hotdog fielding is hard to beat.

SBW will start the week by exercising its right to root for both the Sox and the Cubs. Monday night, the wife and I will be ensconced in Scout Seat splendor (easy now, I only have those tickets about 4 games a year...) at The Cell as the Sox take on the Mariners, and Tuesday night, my brother and I will hit Wrigley with a local mens' church group (I am not kidding). Looks like great weather for baseball both nights...

Do you Swing Both Ways? I sure do

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There are about 40 games left in the baseball season, and I'm just trying to keep it together. I have been a Cubs fan for as many baseball seasons as I can remember (about 34 of my 40 years). I have been a Sox fan since 1983 (though I felt a certain interest building during the 1977 90-72 season of the unbelieveably cool Southside Hitmen). To those of you who don't believe such a thing is possible, that it's cop-out, let's just say you and I grew up in different worlds.

If you grew up on the Southside or the Northside of Chicago, surrounded by perhaps multiple generations of family and friends nearby all rooting for the same team, it was easy for you to choose your allegiance. Easy enough that maybe it wasn't a choice at all. Neighborhood allegiances may now be a thing of the past anyway, since there are no more real neighborhoods.

In any case, Chicagoland is a sprawling place, and for a lot of us, the choice wasn't that easy. If you had a grandfather who spent some formative time on the Southside and grew up a Sox fan, as mine did, but a father who grew up in a small town up near Wisconsin, as mine did, (call it the extreme Northside), things start to get complicated. Anyway, I'll say more about my evolution as fan in future posts...

Compartmentalizing my dual passions for many years was not an incredibly difficult challenge. There certainly were people who knew me more as a Cubs fan and others who knew me more as a Sox fan, but for most of my growing-up years, there were no crosstown classics (and even when that started, it was only exhibition). Interleague play raised the stakes, but these games are still more like rowdy fun than truly meaningful, occurring early in the season as they do.

Now, however, those of us who Swing Both Ways (and I know there are plenty of us), are being called to the mat. The Cubs and Sox are closer then they ever have been to a Subway Series, a Crosstown Classic to Beat All Classics, a Windy City World Series. Sure, there's a long way to go--the Sox are barely hanging in against the Piranhas, and the Cubs still have not only the Brewers to contend with but the unkillable Cards as well. Yet, this Cubs team is the best in my lifetime and would be the best in my father's, were he still alive (as a six-year-old in 1945, he remembered V.J. day, but not too much about the Cubs World Series appearance, except that the Cubs won the first game, and lost another on a homerun by Hank Greenberg.) My grandfather was five years old and oblivious when the Sox won in 1917 and didn't live to see the 2005 winners (he was annoyed about the 1983 playoff collapse, but not as much as he was by the 1959 WS loss to the Dodgers).

Everything feels different this year. Skill and luck and guts are pushing us toward a major event. I'm all in. We can root all year every year for both Chicago teams to win (and for each of them to win the interleague games that take place in their respective home fields), but now we have to make a choice. If you are a true Chicago baseball fan (not Sox, not Cubs, but Chicago, the home team they both play for), you want them both to make the play-offs and then the World Series. Despite what it will do to your heart, you want that World Series to go seven games. But, who do you want to win it all?

Someone else who Swings Both Ways said to me the other day that if the Cubs and Sox meet in the World Series, she would have an emotional conundrum. She seemed afraid that it might happen, not excited by the thought. I'm excited. I will finally make my choice. Now, we just need for this thing to happen. I'll be posting after every Cubs and Sox game the rest of the way. I'll talk about the things that happened in my life that made me Swing Both Ways, what I love and hate about both teams, why you must finally make a choice and how well they are doing toward fulfilling the SBW wish for a Red Line Rapture. Enjoy the next 40 games.


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