It was a beautiful day as we walked into Ho Ho Kam park today for our first Cub spring training game of the year. We had a clear, high sky with the sun baking down on us in the high 80’s.
Randy Wells was the Cub starter and we were anxious to see him pitch as he is battling with several others for the final two starting spots. If one looks at the box score you will find the Cubs lost 4-2 and Wells pitched 5 innings giving up three runs, two earned on three hits. But oh my there is no spot on the official box score for “Cubby Occurrences” as former manager Lou Pinella used to call them. Following is some of the events long time Cub fans have come to understand.
Newly acquired first baseman Carlos Pena got the first Cub hit. We were sitting low, behind home plate and I was pleased to see him take an outside pitch and hit a slicing line drive to left field. On the other hand, seeing him try to stretch it into a double and being easily thrown out by more than ten feet even riled up my normally congenial wife a good bit. Hope his base running does not become an issue this season and it was an isolated incident.
Randy Wells pitched well going through the Rockies order the first time. He was keeping the ball on the ground and seemed to be in total command. In addition he made some good fielding plays. In the top of the fourth Colorado broke through for a run. First runner got on base by swinging away and hitting a dribbler that was perfectly placed in front of the plate and he beat the throw. Then the Rockies got their first true hit as the #2 hitter lined a single to RF and the runner scampered to third. That was followed by a Todd Helton sacrifice fly. Just part of baseball and no shame in giving up a run on a sacrifice fly to Helton.
In the top of the fifth however things got a bit rough. Two hitters got hits then the pitcher came to the plate with one out. The pitcher squared away to bunt and missed the pitch. The Cub catcher, Geovany Soto, seeing the runner, Iribarren, well off of second base immediately fired the ball down to second. The runner broke for third and Blake DeWitt fired the ball to Aramis Ramirez but the runner slid in under the tag. At the same time the runner on first base, Ianetta had broken for second base. Ramirez fires the ball back to second base and once again the runner beats the throw. Now the Rockies have runners on second and third with one out and the pitcher still at the plate.
Before I continue, I want to add one positive thing I noted. One of the Cub coaches grabbed Geovany Soto before he got in the dugout at the end of the inning and they stood there animatedly talking for a good minute or two. Were I to guess he was doing what he was paid to do, coaching, reminding Soto the proper play was to run at the runner and force him to commit to a base before making a throw. Good for the Cub coach.
To continue, the pitcher then hits a short flyball into left center field; probably no more than 100 feet behind the shortstop, if not even closer. It was high enough that Alphonso Soriano had plenty of time to camp under the ball and set himself up for the throw which indeed he did. Knowing that Soriano has had many assists in the Cub outfield I even commented to my wife that we may well see a double play with the runner thrown out at the plate. My mistake I guess. Soriano let loose with a rifle throw that proceeded to go into the third base dugout so not only was the runner from third safe at the plate, the runner on second, who was also advancing, was awarded the plate and the score was 3-0. Now for most baseball fans that is a very rare moment, seeing a pitcher actually knock in two runs with a sacrifice fly in short left center field.
The Cubs did manage to mount a small threat of their own in the bottom of the 7th inning when Aramis Ramirez and Aducci singled; however Carlos Pena ended the inning with a rocket down the first base line which was fielded by the Rockies first baseman, stepped on the bag, then fired to second as the runner was tagged trying to slide in.
At that point Jim Hendry, the Cubs General Manager got up and left the scorching sunny afternoon with the score 3-0 Rockies. We then took note that the Cubs put a new team on the field with very high numbers and players we did not know so we decided if the GM had seen enough, so had we as we headed out to beat the Phoenix rush hour traffic. The Rockies plated one more run and the Cubs scored two in the bottom of the 9th to make the final 4-2 Rockies.
In summary, I felt Randy Wells looked pretty good, certainly did not pitch poorly by any means and is likely in contention for one of the final two starting spots on the roster.
And finally, I have to report that “Mark the Beer Man” is already in mid-season form. In the 7th inning he bellowed, ”Last call, ladies get your beer, the more you drink the better your man looks after the game!” That got as loud a round of applause as we heard all day.