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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Nightmare On El Street: Astros 9, Cubs 7

Ignore — for they had no effect on the game — the three errors by third baseman Aramis Ramirez. Ignore for the moment the fact that the Cubs lost this game, not because of a Kerry Wood implosion in the 11th inning, though the walk to Hunter Pence and the subsequent two-run shot into the right field bleachers by Geoff Blum was the proximate reason for the loss, and the pitcher to whom it was charged. No, this game was in fact lost in the sixth, when Bob Howry allowed five consecutive baserunners to reach, starting with a triple to leadoff man Pence, four of them scoring.

Howry has been uncharacteristically terrible this year, his first season of craptitude since 2003. So steep has the dropoff been that one wonders whether he's been injured this whole time. Certainly, that now may be the prognosis for starter Carlos Zambrano, who only lasted five innings and gave up three runs in a weak start that marked his second running. If the problem is merely psychological, the team clearly no longer believes it. A Cubs team minus Big Z would be that much less formidable; single-handedly, he accounts for 13 of Chicago's wins this year.

If you read WPA and believe it the tales it tells, the real loser for the Cubs was Derek Lee, whose bases-loaded, one-out GIDP to end the eighth crushed the Cubs' chances, and indeed they never got another baserunner past first. Not only was this a dispiriting loss for a team that has entire seasons and decades full of them, but coming as it does as part of a four game losing streak, it's causing a lot of the Wrigley faithful to get itchy in their seats. The stands started to thin after Lee's stumble, and after Ramirez's leadoff strikeout, they let him have it on the way to the exits in even greater numbers. Best record in the league or no, the Cubs found a way to lose that reminded you of all those godawful teams you'd like to forget.

Some evidence of the usually solid Lou Piniella being outmanaged emerged; in the ninth, with a man on first and one out, Sweet Lou called for ... rookie Casey McGehee to make his first major league appearance. True to the doggerel, McGehee struck out, and Geovany Soto flied out to right to end the frame. (Incidentally, Soto was one of two players to miss the cycle in this game, Soto by a triple, and Hunter Pence by a homer.) And then there was the usual double-switch foolishness that resulted in Jim Edmonds, who had homered in his last at-bat of the game in the seventh, getting yanked in a double-switch in the eighth. Perhaps that's just the detritus of the idiotic National League insistence on the hitting pitcher, but it struck me as yet another instance when the rules serve no purpose, and interfere with the game.

Update: Al Yellon adds to the list of Piniella miscues: why wasn't Jon Lieber used in place of Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood, both of whom went two innings and are now unavailable? That could be read as post-hoc reasoning, but it seems a much more reasonable approach to the game than burning your two best pitchers in a tie game. And then there was the early sacrifice attempt (later rescinded) by hot-hitting Mark DeRosa. Gah.

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