This was a "value day" at Wrigley, so last month I nabbed a sweet seat--4th row of the upper deck right behind home plate, just below the pressbox. There isn't a better place to watch a game, particularly at Wrigley with the great overhang. If someone ever tries to give you "infield terrace" seats, trade them in for the upper deck. It's the best UD in baseball. There was a threat of storms, but they thankfully never arrived, and the sky was mostly cloudy with a gametime temperature around 70.
It was all too predictable that Narron would bench EdE after the 3-error game, although the plus side was that it got Brandon Phillips his first start as a Red. Griffey expectedly sat out as a precaution, pushing Freel into center. The Cubs lineup was even more banged up, with Jacques Jones and Aramis Ramirez out, and Angel Pagan and Neifi Perez in. The Hardball Times ran an article this week about how Perez may become the worst hitter of all time this season. The rest of the Cub lineup wasn't much better, and even though Uncle Miltie was on the mound, I felt confident of a victory. Here are my observations...
Aside from the whole 1908 thing and the Wood/Prior injuries, Zambrano's temperament has to be right up there on the frustration-o-meter for Cubs fans. The guy had dominant stuff for the most part, making the Reds look silly. Zambrano's slider was especially wicked today. His undoing, as usual, was his lack of focus--the bizarre attempts to pick off Milton, the Freel HBP, the grooved fastball that Lopez took deep--other than those gaffes he was dominant. The Dunn homer came on a great pitch--all credit goes to Donkey for an excellent piece of hitting.
Milton had the best of both worlds: both lucky and good. The good was his consistent command of the strikezone throughout the day. He kept the Cubs off balance by throwing his curve early in the count, and his only walks were to Derrek Lee, one of them being the "unintentional intentional" variety. The lucky was that a couple of long flyballs he gave up probably would have been homers at the Small Park. Though he had 5 strikeouts, I got the sense that he doesn't have a real out pitch. Or perhaps he just doesn't use it. He was throwing high fastballs in 1-2 situations that would seem to call for a curve. Since his curve seemed to be on today, I have no idea why he wouldn't use it more often. Murton's homer and 2 RBI single came on high fastballs. Murton's a young hitter; make him prove he can hit the curve before serving him up some fastballs! I can't argue with the results though. His velocity was 88-91 through most of the game, and he had enough juice left to throw 92-93 in the 7th inning. Milton isn't going to be an ace this year, but I highly doubt we'll see a 7+ ERA again (knock on wood).
Despite the two errors, the defense looked sharp overall. Freel, Aurilia, Lopez, and Phillips all made nice plays, and Hatteberg dug a few tough throws out of the dirt. For those of us who want Dunn at first base, keep in mind that he might have trouble snagging the tough throws like Hatteberg did. Of course, Dunn made an error anyway--my original stance was that it seemed harsh, but once I got home and saw the highlights I changed my mind. Of course, Jim Edmonds did the exact same thing today, which goes to show you that baseball is sometimes a fickle bitch goddess.
Shows you how much confidence Narron has in the bullpen when he sends his starter up to bat for himself in the 7th inning of a 2-run game. It probably would have been a different story if the Cubs didn't have two lefties due up in the next inning. Credit Narron with a somewhat-gutsy move that ended up paying off. Or maybe he figured that Milton could leg out another triple.
Speaking of, that triple was really ridiculous. Milton was lucky (there's that word again) to have Juan Pierre in center, who has the worst throwing arm this side of Bernie Williams. Milton hit the wall about halfway between 2nd and 3rd, and I thought he was dead meat. After he made it I was perplexed until I realized that it was Pierre. Thanks to his hustle he ended up scoring, although I don't think it was a coincidence that the inning after he hit the triple also happened to be his worst on the mound.
Opposite field homers are beautiful to watch. Kearns' homer was especially great, as it was the first pitch that Bobby Howry threw. Dead red and Austin jumped on it. It's smart hitting--a pitcher who inherits runners is going to want to get ahead in the count. And once guys are on base, your job is to get them in, not draw a walk, especially when there are 2 outs. Kearns got the high heat he wanted and gave it a tomahawking.
Some people might construe the above comment as a subtle dig at Dunn. It's not, because I realized today that when Dunn is up with men on, he doesn't get ANYTHING good to hit. The "Dunn isn't clutch" camp should keep that in mind. Dunn can mash anything in the strikezone. With men on, obviously pitchers are going to avoid the zone. Sometimes Dunn is patient enough to draw the walk, sometimes he presses and strikes out. With no one on base, that's the time to throw him strikes and hope he pops out, and that's why he gets so many solo homers. Obviously Dunn has room to improve his RISP batting, but he's really a victim of his own success.
Finally, the bullpen. I'd give Coffey a B and Mercker a B-. Both were a bit wild, but made strikeouts when they had to. Yeah, Mercker struck out the side, but he also walked Henry "No Stick" Blanco and gave up a single to Juan "Slap Daddy" Pierre. I would like to say I wasn't nervous with 2 men on and Derrek Lee on deck, but that would be a lie. Thankfully it was Jerry Hairston at the plate. At this point I feel like we can trust Coffey and Weathers, and Mercker is a reluctant "half trust". The most important part of that equation is Coffey, as he's the guy who is going to be on our team for a while. Still, I hope Krivsky peddles one of our extra infielders (cough cough, Aurilia, cough cough) for a decent arm.
Overall, a very fun game to watch on a perfect day for baseball at a great ballpark. The Reds look like a bonafide major league team this year. It's not sounding to crazy to think that this stellar offense will finally get the league average pitching it needs to get us over .500. It's early yet, but a 2-0-1 series record is a nice start.