Business Trips, Bar Exams and Baseball
Johanna's Barbri books and 1-L notes are spread all over the couch and even though I leave for Chicago for a brief business trip first thing tomorrow morning, I managed to get a dinner heated up and on the table that my Mom prepared (God bless her). My wife sits for the bar exam tomorrow, and I am on a 7 o'clock flight in the morning. Things are hectic around here, but there's always time for baseball.
There are two teams of great concern in this household. My wife is a lifelong Cubs devotee, and I am a Boston Red Sox fan. Since we are MLB Extra Innings subscribers, both teams' Tuesday night contests made it into our television rotation. What follows are recaps of the Boston-Cleveland and Chicago-St.Louis games, with some peripheral thoughts mixed in.
With Daisuke Matsuzaka and C.C. Sabathia hooking up, this tilt figured to be fast-paced and low scoring. The game went just as you might have guessed. Matsuzaka threw seven scoreless, and Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon each worked a perfect inning to close out the contest.
In a losing effort, Sabathia and Rafael Betancourt combined to pitch every bit as well as Boston's hurlers did. Sabathia struck out seven in seven innings pitched, did not walk a batter and allowed just five singles. Betancourt completed the final two innings of the game, allowing just a double off the bat of Julio Lugo with one out in the eighth.
Two things stuck out. First, J.D. Drew was nothing short of an embarassment tonight. Second, baseball (like most other sports) is indeed a game of inches.
Drew has hit lefties at a .259/.361/.430 clip over the course of his career, considerably worse than his line against right handers but not so bad that you need to hold him out against the likes of Sabathia. Or so you would not have thought.
Sabathia owned him all night. After starting Drew off with two balls during his first plate appearance in the third, Sabathia threw ten consecutive strikes, three of which Drew managed to get a piece of (foul). Drew struck out three times in three PA's. It was as big a mismatch as I can remember watching, and something Terry Francona had best remember should these teams meet in October.
The two most critical singles of the game missed being put-outs by a combined 4 inches. Both came in the Red Sox half of the fourth inning. With one out, a soft liner to right off of the bat of Kevin Youkilis landed mere inches in front of a diving Trot Nixon's glove. Two batters later, after Manny Ramirez had singled cleanly and Coco Crisp struck out, Mike Lowell hit a flare off the end of his bat that Ben Francisco started back on. He should have come right in, as those two steps he took backwards accounted for the difference and then some between where the ball landed and Francisco's glove. Like Nixon, he had barely trapped the ball, missing the putout by the slimmest of margins.
Youkilis scored, Dice-K remained in command, the bullpen hung on and Boston continued its recent resurgence. They have now won five consecutive games.
The Cubs and Cardinals constitute one of baseball's best rivalries, and with the surging Carlos Zambrano on the hill for the Chicago, this figured to be a fun one to watch.
I am not sure anyone has pitched better than Zambrano since June 1. During that time "Z" has yielded just over a baserunner per inning, while striking out about one batter per frame in the process. He has also been working deep into games. In other words, instead of pitching like, well, Kip Wells as he was for the first two months of the season, he has once again pitched like we all know he can.
Speaking of Wells, he took the hill for St. Louis tonight. Coming into the game sporting a 73 ERA+, Wells was in the midst of a brutal campaign but a very good month. In four July starts coming into the Cubs game, Wells had a 2.81 ERA. Even though the game figured to be very much in Chicago's favor, a closer look at Wells's recent work might have portended how the game played out.
To the extent that the game was a low-scoring affair, both starters were pretty good. Neither Zambrano nor Wells were at their best, but to their credit, both cruised at times and when they got into trouble, managed to work out of a couple of jams. The outcome of the game hinged largely on a Scott Rolen error, appropriate in that so much of St. Louis's mediocrity in 2007 is attributable to the simultaneous slip from three Cardinals position player mainstays: Rolen, Jim Edmonds and Albert Pujols.
Rolen 92 128
Edmonds 81 135
Pujols 163 170
OK, so Albert is not too far off of his career clip but he is .100 slugging points off of his 2006 numbers and on this 0-5 night in which he made the last out of the game, his diminshed stature was palpable. In his final two at bats, with an opportunity to knot the game up or take the lead both times, Pujols made the final out of the inning twice (including the game-ender) and left four men on base. Rolen and Edmonds combined for one hit and two walks. With Chris Carpenter
now on the shelf for the rest of the season, this has all been too much for the club to bear.
The Cubs rode the bat of one of baseball's steadiest commodities, Aramis Ramirez, to victory. He collected four hits, including the go-ahead single in the seventh (an RBI he collected thanks to the aforementioned Rolen error with 2 outs and nobody on). Since he joined the Cubs, Ramirez has more or less sat at .350/.550 for an OBP/SLG line and this year is no different.
The Cubs closed it out thanks to 2 and 2/3rds from their pen, and a couple slept soundly in Boston. Gotta love baseball. Those partial to the NFL and other baseball detractors lament the long season and near-daily play. Not baseball lovers, though. For those of us that cherish the game, the long season offers a nightly respite from our day-to-day affairs. Things have never been busier or more stressful for either of us, but you wouldn't have known that if you saw how intently we took in games 100 and 98 for the Sox and Cubs, respectively, tonight.