July 24, 2011
There was some unusual intrigue surrounding Sunday's matchup of the two worst teams in the National League. The reason? The Chicago Cubs, winners of the first two games in their weekend series with the Houston Astros, were looking for their first three-game winning streak of the 2011 season.
In case you haven't looked at the calendar lately, we're one week shy of August. That would be nearly four months (101 games) without achieving something the Astros, who have a MLB-low 33 wins, have done twice. Heck, even the Seattle Mariners, now losers of 15 straight, have won three straight games. In fact, they won the three games directly preceding their franchise-worst losing streak.
It's almost unfathomable that the Cubs hadn't accomplished it at least once going into Sunday. And to say that wasn't weighing on the minds of Cubs players and especially the fans would be completely inaccurate. That was evidenced as the game wore on and the atmosphere at Wrigley Field was ratcheted up a few notches. You could sense the 40,406 in attendance were doing all they could to will their team to the elusive victory.
Despite their efforts, there was some resistance from the Cubs bullpen. Jeff Samardzjia allowed a two-run eighth inning home run to Carlos Lee(notes), giving Houston a 4-3 lead. That marked the third time on the home stand Cubs relievers had blown a late inning lead for starter Matt Garza(notes). The lead change wouldn't last long though, as Alfonso Soriano(notes) retied the score with a bloop RBI single in the bottom half.
It came in the bottom of the 10th. Marlon Byrd(notes) led-off the inning hitting a flyball to deep right-center. Houston's All-Star outfielder Hunter Pence(notes), who had made a terrific diving grab a few innings earlier, appeared to be positioned to make the routine catch, but had actually the ball in the sun, allowing it to fall safely about ten feet to his right.
"I never even saw the ball. I saw the ball off the bat. I was running, but it never came out of the sun. I was looking, looking, looking, and I heard it hit the ground. I was trying to get there. I really don't know what I could have done better on that play because of the sun in my face, but there's no excuse. It's a Major League ballgame," said Pence. "It's not the first time I've made a horrendous play in this outfield. No fly ball is easy here. It's the toughest one I've ever played in."
Byrd would end up with a triple on the misplay, giving him four hits in his milestone 1,000th career game.
After a Geovany Soto(notes) strikeout and two intentional walks, it was up to pinch-hitter Jeff Baker(notes) to be the hero. He came through, lining David Carpenter's(notes) 3-2 pitch into left field to secure the 5-4 win and set off the most enthusiastic rendition of "Go, Cubs, Go" all season.
"We were joking around today, trying to loosen guys up, saying there is no way we can win three," said Baker. "It was big, obviously it's frustrating the year hasn't gone the way we want. To finally to get three together, it's in our division, hopefully we get rolling. Why not four?"
Why not four? I'll let the Milwaukee Brewers answer that one when the Cubs visit Miller Park on Monday night. In the meantime, just savor the long, arduous journey to three. Oh, and maybe give Matt Garza a hug, too. If there's been an unluckier pitcher in the last five years, I'd like to see the evidence to prove it.