"I think I need to throw more strikes. The balls are killing me."--Carlos Marmol, in today's Chicago Tribune.
Carlos Marmol's balls may be killing him, but Randy Wells is the one in real pain.
Things were going all too well for Wells, even after he lost his no-hit bid in the 7th inning and gave up a solo homer to start the 8th. The Cubs were still ahead 5-1, and Wells was only around the 80-pitch mark. It was his game to win, it seemed.
Then, however, a Cubbie moment: Derrek Lee blew an easy catch at first base, allowing a runner aboard on an error. True Cubs fans had to know this uncharacteristic sort of blunder means things are about to go very, very wrong. The next thing to go wrong was ou Piniella yanking Wells after just 83 pitches right after the error.
This, of course, seems like a safe thing to do with a four-run lead in the 8th inning, but I'm still baffled, if only because Wells had made only one real mistake the whole game with the solo homer. The hit he gave up in the 7th was to Chipper Jones, one of the best in the business. He did not record an out after facing two batters in the 8th, but that wasn't his fault. Besides, Wells has done a great job in at least two recent starts pitching himself out of big jams with men on base, most recently against the Dodgers last week. And, he was really on last night. At least give him one more batter after Lee's botched play, to give him the chance to show whether or not he's had enough.
The only thing worse than yanking Wells too early is putting Carlos Marmol in with a man already on base. See, when, given his own inning to start, the wild, jittery Marmol likes to load the bases before settling down and working out it. If he starts with a man on base--well, you do the math. Marmol was a mess, walking in a run, hitting a guy--the usual. He left with the Cubs up 5-3 and less margin for error by cloer Kevin Gregg the following inning.
The next Cubbie moment was a dropped third strike. With one out in the bottom of the 9th and Gregg looking aggressive and effective, Garrett Anderson swung and missed a ball in the dirt. Geovany Soto missed it, too, and Anderson was on. One out later, Gregg faced hometown Atlanta boy Jeff Francouer, the Braves guy I would least like to see in that situation. I would have even rather seen Chipper, who is less likely to hurt you with a homerun. The hometown boy made good, leaving it 5-5 for three innings, during which the Cubs mostly waited for the Braves to figure out how to win.
In the end, it was Chipper driving a man home from second with one out and first base open. I believe the manager's handbook says to walk the career .311 hitter in that situation. That would have brought up another good hitter, catcher Brian McCann, but it also would have set up an easy inning-ended double play on almost any ground ball. Lou would have none of it, and that was that.
This game did have other bright spots besides Wells; swell and ultimately wasted effort. Alfonso Soriano ledd off the game with a homerun, and is now in second place for career homers leading off a game. D-Lee hit a rare homer, and had an all-around good day except for the untimely error.
Just another game at the beginning of June, I know and nothing to fret too much about. Just another lost opportunity, and hopefully, the Cubs won't finish one lost opportunity out of the postseason.