Sunday, July 01, 2007

No swoon this june

Not this year kiddies. It would be easy to say the Cubs month of June 2007 will be remembered for the play on the field. Let's face it, the Cubs haven't won 17 games in a month recently (as a matter of fact you have to go back to September of 2003 to find the last time the Cubs won 17 games in a month, actually they won 19 that month). Still most of us will remember the month for many more things than the play on the field. There were fights, suspensions, a trade, a middle infield callup, history and an exciting winning streak. Regardless of the outcome in 2007, the month of June was one to remember for Cub fans.

The month of June started with the Cubs in a free fall. The team lost 8 of their last 10 in the month of May. The Cubs found themselves in a three way tie for second place in the NL Central, 6-1/2 games behind the Brewers in the division. Here were the standings on May 31, 2007:

Central W L PCT GB
Milwaukee 30 24 .556 -
Pittsburgh 23 30 .434 6.5
CUBS 22 29 .431 6.5
St. Louis 22 29 .431 6.5
Houston 22 31 .415 7.5
Cincinnati 21 34 .382 9.5

The month began with fisticuffs in the Cub dugout and clubhouse. On June 1st the Cubs became the talk of the sports nation. Amidst one of the worst starts in his major league career Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett got into a scuffle in the dugout. The dugout altercation was captured on video and beamed around to every sports outlet in the country. The problem was the altercation didn't stop in the dugout. Barrett went into the clubhouse to talk with Z. Next thing you know Michael Barrett was heading to the hospital for stiches and the Cub season looked to be in downward spiral.

"It was about the pitch that Barrett missed," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said about why tempers flared. "We broke it up. I walked Zambrano up [into the clubhouse] with a couple players. I was back on the bench watching the ballgame, and they got into it again in the clubhouse. It's something that shouldn't happen, but it did. We'll address it [Saturday]."

And the next day the sports world had more bad behavior by the Cubs. This time skipper Lou Piniella lost it on a play at third where Angel Pagan was called out. It was the much anticipated eruption of Piniella. gm on this very page questioned Piniella's act:

the public anticipation for the "insert-spectacular-geologic-volatility-reference-here" has been building since piniella was hired months ago. perhaps anything he could have done would have, in such a context, reeked of stage management. but when angel pagan (standing on second down one run with no outs in the eighth) took off for third on a dropped pitch that never got more than four feet from atlanta catcher jarrod saltalamacchia, he committed the kind of earnest, dimwitted and grievous error that has helped the cubs lose ballgames from times immemorial. pagan should have stayed his ground short of anything that didn't reach the bricks; but he didn't, and his being thrown out at third was justice served. so when piniella emerged not to bury a hatchet in pagan but to theatrically dispute the plainly correct (both physically and karmically) call, the shabbiness of the opportunity made transparent the depth of piniella's disingenuity, desperation and indeed powerlessness.

Whatever the motive, Piniella found himself suspended for 4 games. Under interim skipper Alan Trammell the Cubs went 3-1 vs Atlanta and Milwaukee. The final win in Milwaukee would prove costly for the Cubs as third sacker Aramis Ramirez tweaked his knee. With Ramirez hurting the Cubs moved DeRosa to third and recalled a middle infielder--who we would all soon know--on June 9th. That night, in Atlanta, Alfonso Soriano showed all of us Cub fans how explosive he could be. Soriano belted three homeruns in his first three AB's that night. He would go 4-5 and become only the 37th Cubs player to hit three dingers in a ballgame. Needless to say, his manager was happy:

"This is what we're looking for," said Cubs manager Lou Piniella. " We knew that he'd get going. It was just a question of when and how soon. When he's swinging the bat well, it's fun to watch him hit."
Soriano's great night on Friday would make for real interesting games on Saturday and Sunday in Hotlanta. On Saturday night Tim Hudson would plunk Soriano during his first AB. Plate Umpire Tim Tschida would warn both teams, and have a face-to-face meeting with every pitcher that entered the ballgame the remainder of the night. Despite an early 4-0 lead, the Cubs would lose the ballgame 9-5. The next night, there would be repurcussions for what Hudson did. Ted Lilly would hit Edgar Renteria in the first inning. Plate Umpire Jim Wolf had seen enough and he tossed Lilly without any warning. Piniella was surprised by the ejection:

"There was no warning before the game," said Piniella. "The umpire decided after the warning were given that it was intentional. I argued my case to no avail and that's the end of it."
Renteria showed what little class he had when he tried to take the new second baseman's head off on a dirty slide into second. Nothing happened to the Braves shortstop. The Cubs bullpen pitched well and kept the ballclub in the game but they would lose in the 8th on a blown save by Ryan Dempster.

Following a weekend filled with dramatics in Atlanta, the Cubs returned to Wrigley Field to beat the Astros in a makeup game and take 2 of 3 from Seattle. They beat San Diego to open their weekend series on Friday the 15th. The second baseman who the Cubs had called up a week earlier, Mike Fontenot, was the star of the game hitting his second dinger and driving in three in the Cubs 4-1 win over the Padres. The Cubs were on a mini roll winning three in a row. Then more drama on Saturday 16th. Carlos Zambrano would oppose Chris Young in what looked to be a great pitchers duel. In the fourth inning Derrek Lee was hit by a pitch thrown up and in by Young. Lee took exception to some words from Young and a fight followed. Much speculation surrounded the fight and the pitch by Young. That speculation was fueled by comments made by Padre hurler Jake Peavy about Alfonso Soriano showboating after he hit a homerun on Friday:

"I didn't appreciate that. Just play the game," Peavy told The San Diego Union-Tribune on Friday. "They pay him $136 million to hit home runs. They don't pay him to be a circus act on the field. If I think a player shows me up like that, I like the next guy to take one in the stinkin' ribs. That way, his teammate will let him know about it, [he] will tell him, 'Hey, you better run the bases."

Boomer Wells didn't like it either:

"I don't like people to show me up," Wells told the Union-Tribune. "Respect the game. I take offense when people stare at [their home run]. I don't show [hitters] up. I respect the game and the players."

Regardless of whether or not any of this mattered, the Cubs lost Lee for the rest of the game. They sure missed his bat in the middle of the lineup. Big Z would no-hit the Padres for 7-1/3 but he would lose the ballgame on a bomb by Russ Branyan in the top of the ninth. The Lee/Young fracas would end up costing the Cubs. Lee was suspended 5 games by MLB. He is still in the appeals process. Greg Maddux would end the series by beating his former mates on Sunday for the 339th win of his HOF career. As the Cubs ended the homestand, another former teammate was waiting for the club and history in Arlington, TX.

When the Cubs arrived in Texas, for a three game set with the Rangers, the Cubs all time homerun leader Sammy Sosa was sitting on 599 career homeruns. Sosa would go 0-4 and strikeout 3 times in the Cubs 5-4 win on Tuesday night. Before Sosa would make history, Jim Hendry would make a deal. Michael Barrett, who started the month in a fight with Big Z and later had a dispute with Rich Hill, was shipped to San Diego for Rob Bowen and minor leaguer Kyler Burke. Cub fans like myself had quickly come to blame Barrett for almost everything.

With Barrett gone the focus went back on the field. Specifically to the former Cub slugger Sammy Sosa. Sammy has always had flair. Number 600 would be no exception. Against the team that he starred for for so many seasons Sammy Sosa hit career homerun number 600. It was a drive into the RF bullpen at the Ballpark (or whatever they call it these days). Sammy hit it off of Jason Marquis, who coincidently wears the number Sammy made famous on the northside 21. While some may question Sosa's HOF qualifications, I don't. Santos Sorrow had a great post over at ACB on the matter. A letter that he wrote to the 4-letter network on the double standard that exists in the media between sluggers and pitchers when it comes to the steroid issue:

For the life of me I cannot understand why people won’t look at the facts of the so-called steroid era. Since steroid testing went into effect the overwhelming majority of those suspended have been pitchers. One pitcher that hasn’t been suspended, but has always been surrounded in steroid rumor and innuendo (I’d argue that the circumstantial evidence is more profound than in Sosa’s case) is a certain new member of the New York Yankee staff.

Of course the person I speak of his Roger Clemens. While ESPN (and other outlets) have gone out of their ways to discuss the Bondses, Sosas, Palmeiros, and the like the most obvious (sans Bonds) user of PEDs gets a complete free pass! Look it up, Roger Clemens was a COMPLETELY average pitcher in the mid 90’s prompting Dan Duquette to believe his career was coming to an end. Duquette wasn’t wrong. It just so happened that, that time period completely corresponded with the rise of the steroid era.

You all can go on believing in the Roger Clemens fairy tale, but you don’t get stronger, thicker, and perform better in your mid-40s simply by dragging your arm through a thrash barrel of rice in the off season.

Is Sammy Sosa a Hall-of-Famer? Well, is Clemens?
I second all of that. Now back to the countdown.

So the Cubs lost two of three to the Rangers, the worst team in the AL. All seemed to be heading south for the Northsiders. Luckily the Cubs were heading into a series with the struggling White Sox. Ozzie Guillen's team is not even a shadow of the 2005 team these days. The Cubs probably caught the Sox at their low point this season and took advantage. With Aramis Ramirez back in the cleanup spot, the Cubs won three close games 5-1, 2-1, and 3-0. The series at US Cellular was highlighted by an Alfonso Soriano homerun in each game, a Ryan Theriot squeeze bunt to win the game Saturday, and a great pitching effort by Sean Marshall and the bullpen on Sunday. If nothing else, Cub fans have bragging rights this year as the team took 5 of 6 from the Southsiders. The sweep of the Sox propelled the Cubs on a nice roll.

This past Monday the Colorado Rockies stumbled into Wrigley Field. With Jason Marquis starting and Mike Fontenot going 5 for 5 the Cubs built up an 8-3 lead. With an 8-3 lead all seemed safe. The Cubs were heading toward their fourth win in a row. Not so fast. One of the most improbable ninth innings I have ever watched was about to take place. In the top of the ninth all hell broke loose on Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry. In the blink of an eye the Rockies had scored six runs and taken a 9-8 lead. In the bottom of the inning the Cubs battled back and Soriano delivered a clutch two out game winning single that had us all buzzing, especially me:

Yeah it was much better than the normal obligatory ninth inning rally, that generally falls a little short. They actually pulled off one of the most memorable wins of the season. Ladies and gents, something is happening with Lou Piniella's Cubs. They are starting to win the ballgames they were losing earlier this season. While the gap with Milwaukee is still very big, it is great to see this ballclub put together some fun wins and play entertaining ball.
The excitement was just starting. On Tuesday afternoon Wrigley Field flooded. The grounds crew cleaned it all up and by gametime everything was good. The Cubs won their fifth in a row. Wednesday afternoon, behind Big Z the Cubs swept the Rockies out of town. Setting up a showdown with the first place Milwaukee Brewers.

On Friday afternoon the Cubs started the most anticipated series at Wrigley Field in a few years. The first place Brewers came to town and the Cubs were riding high with the 6 game winning streak. The series prompted 1060w guru gaius marius to chime in:

but on the eve of a three-game matchup at wrigley with the division leaders, this is perhaps one of those times where a sweep really could animate the chances of this team -- and getting swept end all doubt. i tried to point up yesterday just how truly improbable it is to outperform for a long time clubs that have, over some previous significant amount of time, outperformed you. but if it's going to happen, it has to start with getting lucky over some very small amount of time over which even mild randomness can play a very big role.
The Cubs fell behind the Brewers 5-0 in the first. Slowly they clawed their way back into the game. In the bottom of the ninth with Brewers closer Francisco Cordero on the hill the Cubs mounted their most exciting rally of the 2007 season to date. Lee's sac fly scored Soriano making it 5-4, but the Cubs were down to their final out. Aramis Ramirez delivered one of the most dramatic homeruns the Cubs have had in the past two or three seasons winning the game. The win extended the Cub win streak to a season high 7 games and moved the Cubs to the .500 mark and within 6-1/2 games of the Brew Crew.

On Saturday the Cubs pitching couldn't stop the Milwaukee hitters. The Brewers pummelled the Cubs 13-4. The loss ends the 7 game winning streak and ends a very entertaining month of play for the Cubs.

When I look back at all of this, I realize that it has been just a crazy month for this team. So many incidents. Alot of shit went down this June. Hopefully the crazy month woke this team up.

At the end of June here is where the Cubs stand in the NL Central:

Central W L PCT GB
Milwaukee 47 33 .588 -
Chicago 39 40 .494 7.5
St. Louis 35 42 .455 10.5
Pittsburgh 35 45 .438 12.0
Houston 34 47 .420 13.5
Cincinnati 31 50 .383 16.5

So the Cubs went 17-11 this month and actually lost a game in the standings to Milwaukee. Whoa. Anyways, they have started to put St. Louis and Pittsburgh in their rearview mirror. That's a good thing. If the NL Central looks too tough, there is good news. They have actually played their way into the NL WildCard race:

Arizona 46 36 .561 -
Los Angeles 45 36 .556 0.5
Atlanta 43 38 .531 2.5
Philadelphia 41 40 .506 4.5
Chicago 39 40 .494 5.5

I have no idea what July will bring. Happily the Cubs enter the month playing good ball. Can they keep it up? They're gonna have to, to be in any form of contention come September. It's gonna be hard to live up to the dramatics that took place in June. The dramatics are fun and all. Dramatics give pages like this a bunch of fodder. Of course given the choice of the two I'll just take another 17 win month.

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