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Tag: Chicago Cubs


Russell Martin, Carlos Pena

Russell Martin absorbed heavy contact and kept the Yankees ahead. (Photo Credit / Getty Images)

Former Marlins teammates AJ Burnett and Ryan Dempster squared off in the middle game of the marquee interleague series of the weekend, at Wrigley Field. There was potential for a pitchers’ duel, if the “Good AJ” showed up, and if Dempster maintained the good control he’s shown at home thus far (almost a 4-to-1 K/BB ratio in 52 1/3 innings pitched at Wrigley this season).

That wasn’t to be, though. The game was tight and low-scoring, but more because both teams missed opportunities, rather than Burnett and Dempster dominating. Both pitchers followed the “bend but don’t break” M.O. Burnett allowed two runs, struck out eight and walked three in 5 1/3 innings pitched, while Dempster allowed only three runs while walking a season-high six batters, and struck out six.

The Yankees had their chances. They had base runners every inning, but were only able to push runners across in the third and sixth innings. In the third, Curtis Granderson led off with a single — doesn’t it seem like when the Yankees score, he’s in the middle of the rally? — and later scored on Robinson Canó’s double. Nick Swisher followed with a sacrifice fly to bring in Alex Rodriguez, who singled and advanced to third on the Canó double.

The Cubs tied the game in the fourth, making Burnett pay for issuing a leadoff walk to Blake DeWitt. Two batters later, Carlos Peña hit a laser into the right-field seats.

Sometimes, the most important moment in a game isn’t a timely hit, it’s a baserunning mistake. Following a one-out walk to Kosuke Fukudome, Starlin Castro lined a single to center. On that hit, Fukudome was running on the pitch but did not advance to third. On the FOX broadcast, Tim McCarver said there was “no excuse for Fukudome to not be on third base with one out, or at least get thrown out trying.” The next batter, DeWitt, who figured in the Cubs’ first rally, bounced into a 4-6-3, inning-ending double play.

Eduardo Nuñez carried the positive vibes from the solid turn of the double play into the top of the sixth, lining a single up the middle on an 0-2 count and later scoring on a Granderson sac fly to give the Yankees the lead. (The Granderson RBI was off lefty James Russell. Granderson, versus lefties this season: .277/.341/.651, 20 RBI.) In the ninth, Nuñez drove in what would be the go-ahead run with a double.

Mariano Rivera made things interesting, yielding a leadoff home run to Reed Johnson and a single to Alfonso Soriano. But he needed just four more pitches to record three outs, inducing Geovany Soto to ground into a double play and striking out Jeff Baker.

That would be the high-level overview of the game. Two plays in particular preserved this victory for the Yankees: the first was the double play that ended the fifth. The second came in the sixth inning. Canó missed an easy catch on a force attempt that turned a potential first-and-third, two-out situation into a bases-loaded, one-out scenario. On a full count, Soto lined to left. Brett Gardner made up for his base running gaffe in the top of the sixth by making a nice catch on the liner and firing a one-hop strike to home. A huge collision ensued between Peña and catcher Russell Martin. Martin hung onto the ball, showed it to both Peña and home plate umpire Sam Holbrook.

Sometimes over the course of a season, winning teams win games despite an odd boxscore. Saturday, the Yankees walked 10 times and only scored four runs. They got 11 hits and went 4-for-13 with runners in scoring position yet left 13 men stranded. They committed two errors and ran themselves out of an inning.

Yet in the end, the formula that usually leads to a victory — timely hitting, a few key defensive plays, above average starting pitching and a capable bullpen effort — put a W up for the Yankees. By all accounts, they should have beaten the Cubs about 11-3 in this game. But as the better team, being able to hang on and win the close game is encouraging and should serve them well as the season wears on.

Calfination, the Cubs, and History

Derek Jeter’s calf injury and ensuing DL trip definitely threw a wrench into his reaching the 3,000-hit milestone in the near future. Given Jeter’s flair for the dramatic and the way the Yankees hit Rangers pitching during the first two games, it would have been fun to see what could have been, especially at home.

Jeter’s two most recent milestones occurred at home. he benefited from home scoring when got his 2,000th on May 26, 2006 against the Kansas City Royals, and he broke Lou Gehrig’s franchise record for hits at home on September 11, 2009 against the Orioles.

Another thing that would have been cool: watching Jeter vie for history against the Cubs. Jeter has the most hits of anyone in interleague play, so in a way, it would have been fitting for him to reach 3K over the next batch of games. In addition, Saturday will mark six years to the day that Jeter launched the first and only grand slam of his career to date, a sixth inning shot off of Joe Borowski.

And there is precedent for the Yankees making history during interleague play. A banner year for this was 2003, when first, the Yankees were no-hit by six Houston Astros pitchers in the Bronx. Two nights later, Roger Clemens registered his 4,000th strikeout and 300th win against the Cardinals.

Clemens’ previous start, however, took place in Chicago, against Kerry Wood. It was Clemens’ third chance at 300. It was the marquee game in a series that marked the Yankees’ first visit to Wrigley Field since the 1932 World Series and Babe Ruth’s “called shot”. The Yankees beat Carlos Zambrano in the Friday afternoon opener, and the stage was set for the power matchup on Saturday. Clemens had an upper respiratory infection and there was doubt as to whether he would even start. He did, and he left the game in the seventh inning with a lead and two men on base, giving way to the immortal Juan Acevedo. Acevedo is immortal for what happened next. He delivered a first-pitch fastball to Eric Karros that was promptly returned to Waveland Avenue, and a 2-1 lead was suddenly a 4-2 deficit. That was the final. The following night, the Cubs chased Andy Pettitte after 1 2/3 innings and despite a valiant comeback effort against Mark Prior, it wasn’t enough.

Fast forward to today, where the Yankees head to Chicago coming off a three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers. They’re currently riding their sixth three-game win streak of the season. Only once, though, have they carried that streak past three. They’re not facing Big Z, Wood and Prior in succession; rather, it’s Doug Davis, Ryan Dempster, and Randy “Please don’t call me Boomer or Kip” Wells. With the Cubs struggling as badly as they are, this could be a weekend where the Yankees add to their winning percentage.

Sadly, no history to watch out for in this series. Only the moments to reflect upon. While the feeling of the games might be empty, at least the stands at Wrigley will be full.

Everything’s Coming Up Roses

In grading the Yankees first-half performances this morning, I was struck by the fact that every question mark the Yankees had on offense coming into the season has been answered positively. Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, Nick Swisher, and Melky Cabrera have all returned to their pre-2008 levels of production. Posada’s shoulder, Matsui’s knees, and Alex Rodriguez’s hip have all held up to regular play. Age hasn’t been much of an issue for the 35-year-old Captain, and has been only a minor hindrance to Posada, Matsui, and Johnny Damon. Brett Gardner has translated his minor league production to the majors, and Mark Teixeira has hit like Mark Teixeira.

Lest we take any of that for granted, consider how things have turned the opposite way for the Chicago Cubs. I take a look at the Cubs disappointing first half and offensive collapse over at SI.com. It looks a lot like what the Yankees went through last year with injuries and poor performance combining to sabatoge a would-be playoff team. The key question now is whether the respective good and bad luck of these two teams continue in the second half. Only time will tell.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver