In Which B3 Gets Schooled

Yesterday I met up with some friends at their new, local, watering hole to watch both baseball games.  They’d just moved into the neighborhood but liked the joint. Somewhere during the Cubs game I noted that, while Tony Campana may be the fastest player in baseball, he really needs to work on his hitting. A kid like him could hit a blooper into right and end up on 3rd. But, as of right now, his swing is awful and teams are playing the bunt.

That led an elderly gentleman near me to stand up and put his cane about an inch from my left eye and issue the following proclamation;

“We, sir, are Cubs fans. We do not need you, or your facts, ruining anything for us. We know what we know and we need know no more. If you and your fact spouting friends can’t appreciate that then I suggest you take that stuff to another bar.”

And then he sat down and continued muttering to his beer. But what happened next was what made the day complete. Two more people wearing Cubs hats brushed past me like I’d farted in church to go and console the old man. My friends and I still had no idea what we’d done wrong. Finally a local took pity on us and explained. She said that I had used logic and reason when discussing the Cubs and that kind of stuff upsets the regulars who, religiously, believe that this is the year ..... every year. The fact, there’s that ugly word again, that I was right and had said nothing derogatory mattered not the slightest. It was the same reason they refused to watch any sporting news in the bar.

Sure enough, as soon as the Cubs game ended they switched to the military channel and watched the history of tanks. We, on the other hand, watched the Sox on a different TV. No one cared if we used facts to discuss the Sox.

Paul Hagen, of MLB.com, was at the Cubs game and does his best to avoid using facts.

Oh, who am I kidding? This article is festooned with the damn things.

Cubs right-hander Ryan Dempster, a proud Canadian and hockey fan, had tickets for the Philadelphia Flyers’ playoff game across the street from Citizens Bank Park on Sunday. The only problem was that it started an hour-and-a-half after the scheduled first pitch of his team’s game against the Phillies.

No problem. After allowing a soft leadoff single to Jimmy Rollins in the bottom of the first, Cubs starter Matt Garza reeled off 18 straight outs. He struck out 10, but also got the Phillies to pop up or ground out early in counts, moving the game along.

Two hours and 33 minutes after it started, the Cubs had an efficient 5-1 win and Dempster was out the door.

Garza went seven innings and allowed just that single and a one-out walk to Juan Pierre in the seventh.

“When he’s right he can compete with [the top pitchers in baseball],” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “He has four pitches as well as velocity. He can go from 91 with his sinker, then four-seam it up in the zone to get popups and swing-and-misses. He’s got a very good knack for what he is doing.”

Garza was asked if he thinks he can be even more dominating than he was against the Phillies. “If I don’t get in my own way. If I don’t try to think too much,” he said with a smile.

While Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has been trying to get his hitters to be more patient at the plate, Garza prevailed with an approach that was exactly the opposite.

“My game plan was to keep them off-balance and try to induce weak ground balls or weak popups. And it worked,” Garza said.

The Phillies have scored two or fewer runs a dozen times already this year, so Pierre was asked if Sunday’s outcome had more to do with Garza being so good or the Phillies’ hitters continuing to struggle.

“I guess a mixture of the two,” he said. “He threw strikes. He had control over three of his pitches. He’s always a tough guy to face. We couldn’t put any pressure on him. It’s a little easier when you have a guy in scoring position, but we didn’t have one against him.”

With Garza and Dempster, who is scheduled to return from the disabled list to start at Cincinnati on Thursday, Sveum thinks he has the makings of a competitive rotation. He talked before the game about how it would still be up to the offense to score enough runs, then watched in satisfaction as his hitters executed sound fundamentals and took advantage when they got a couple of breaks.

In the second inning, Jeff Baker faced Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick with Bryan LaHair on second and none out. He ripped a line drive to right that was misjudged by Hunter Pence and it sailed over his head for a double. LaHair had to stop at third, but scored when Ian Stewart played small ball by grounding out to second.

“Baker crushed that ball, so sometimes those are some of the tougher balls, especially for opposite outfielders,” Sveum said. “But we ended up taking advantage of it and took the lead there, which is huge.

“We did some great situational hitting. Got guys over, got them in, did a nice job there. The timely hitting and the situational hitting was great.”

In the third, Tony Campana led off with a single and went to second when first baseman Ty Wigginton couldn’t handle a pickoff attempt. Campana reached third on an infield out and scored on a sacrifice fly by Starlin Castro. The play at the plate was so close that Manuel briefly argued the call.

Campana also reached on an infield single in the eighth. He stole second and was sacrificed to third, and scored on a grounder even though the Phillies had the infield in. The speed of the outfielder, who was called up from Triple-A Iowa on April 21, has had a significant impact on this series. On Friday night, he had two infield hits and scored both times.

“He’s done a great job,” Sveum said. “If he’s able to hit and get on base, it opens up a lot. Go on contract when he’s on third and it’s going to be very, very difficult to ever throw him out on any ground ball. You’ve got to be perfect with the throw. We scored two runs on just flat out speed, that’s all it was. Anybody else you don’t even think about sending him on that [shallow] a fly ball, but a guy like that you send him on just about anything that’s not on the infield dirt.”

Said Garza: “He’s just too quick. If I was facing him, it would be a pain in the butt. You want him to hit the ball hard. He’s one of the few where you want him to hit the ball hard. You want him to get it up in the air. Because if he hits it on the ground, nine out of 10 times he’s going to be safe. It’s awesome for us, for the other guys it’s a pain.”

Memo to Sox 3rd base coach; if you have a Campana on your team you can send him from first to home. This does not work with Dunn or Konerko.

You’re welcome.

Here’s the deal with the Cubs. They have holes but they also have talent. If they truly buy into what Sveum’s selling they may keep me from busting out my wallet this October. It will also make it easier for them to keep Garza. Which they have to do if they are serious about contending in the next couple of years.

On the Southside, where they are comfortable with facts and know not to pervert a hot dog with ketchup (something you can do at Wrigley), Scott Merkin was at the game and he watched as Gavin Floyd teased us until we were ready to blow our loads and then left us unfulfilled and aching for more.

There seemed to be a slight difference of opinion as to how much thought was given to Gavin Floyd’s no-hit bid during the course of a 4-1 White Sox victory over the Red Sox on Sunday.

White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said that sort of special stuff doesn’t come up in conversation until the seventh or eighth inning. Manager Robin Ventura wasn’t sure if a no-hitter or perfect game could be visualized, but he admitted that people were probably doing just that in the finale of this four-game series.

As for Floyd and his on-field victims, who were hitless for 6 1/3 innings? Well, a history-making performance certainly did cross their minds in the formative stages of this two-hour, 58-minute affair.

“Absolutely. Especially since Phil [Humber] did it recently, so it was natural,” said Floyd, referring to Humber’s perfect game in Seattle on April 21. “But, obviously, you’ve got to put it behind you. Your object is to get in there as late as you can and if it happens, it happens. You’ve just got to keep your focus and keep attacking.”

“For me, it started after the third inning,” said Boston left fielder Cody Ross of Floyd’s zip job. “He’d gone through the lineup once around and we didn’t get a hit or a walk. I was thinking to myself, ‘He’s got the stuff today to make something happen.’ Fortunately, we weren’t on the receiving end of that.”

Ross became the first baserunner against Floyd (2-3) in the fifth inning, when he drew a two-out walk. Prior to that free pass, Floyd had gone to three-ball counts on three other hitters and hadn’t given up anything resembling a hit.

No spectacular plays or lucky breaks were needed.

Floyd carried his no-hitter into the seventh, with Ryan Sweeney striking out to open the frame. Dustin Pedroia got ahead in the count at 2-1 and then grounded a single up the middle that was just out of the diving attempt by second baseman Eduardo Escobar.

That Pedroia hit brought an end to Floyd’s fourth career start in which he threw at least six hitless innings.

“Just pitching like he normally does,” said Ross of Floyd, who fanned nine and walked one in improving to 7-0 lifetime against the Red Sox. “He was spotting with his fastball, getting his breaking ball over for strikes and then burying it late, working both sides of the plate. He kept us off-balance. He was throwing curveballs in hitters’ counts. It was just a great job on his part.”

“Gavin pitched well and deserves a ton of credit for the way he held down a lineup that has been hot,” Pierzynski said. “There was never a thought of perfect game or no-hitter or any of that stuff. You are trying to get through because you know at any moment they could strike for a bloop and then a home run and they are right back in the game.”

The Red Sox (10-11) didn’t get that bloop and a blast. But David Ortiz got to Floyd for a two-out double after Pedroia’s hit, and Ross singled home Pedroia to break the shutout. That hit also brought in Addison Reed from the bullpen after Floyd’s 111 pitches, with the right-hander retiring Nick Punto on a grounder to first baseman Adam Dunn.

Matt Thornton followed up Reed after a two-out walk in the eighth issued to Mike Aviles and retired the final four hitters to record his first save since July 2, 2011, at Wrigley Field. The talk on this afternoon was about Floyd, who, according to Pierzynski, changed his pitching style against the red-hot Red Sox.

“He had a good curveball, but the thing he did best was he used his fastball more than he has in a long time,” Pierzynski said. “He threw it in big situations, where as the last few years, that’s been a slider. Today, he threw some fastballs and I think he surprised them. He just had such a good fastball and kept throwing them by guys that we kept going to it.”

“What Gavin and Jake [Peavy] did the last two games, after seeing what their offense could do in the first two games, it was amazing,” Thornton said. “I thought we were going to see something really special again. Instead, it was just an unbelievable outing, and a great, great start for him.”

Dunn supplied the difference on offense, giving the White Sox an 11-11 record as the month of April comes to a close and putting an end to Boston’s season-best six-game winning streak. Dunn’s two-run blast off Josh Beckett (2-3), a titanic clout covering 419 feet down the right-field line, completed a three-run first inning.

Alejandro De Aza opened the frame with a single, was sacrificed to second by Brent Lillibridge and scored on Alex Rios’ single to left. Dunn connected on a 3-1, 92-mph fastball for his fifth homer and 15th and 16th RBIs.

“Whenever you get a guy like him, you gotta score early,” said Dunn of getting to Beckett. “He’s a workhorse, man. Those guys only get better. Usually your best chance to get runs is early and we were able to do that.”

This early outburst gave Floyd room to work in pursuit of the franchise’s 19th no-hitter. He didn’t hit that goal but ended the club’s season-worst five-game losing streak.

“It’s always good to end a five-game losing streak,” said a smiling Ventura, leaving no room for debate on that topic.

Beckham would have caught that ball that Escobar tried to turn into a highlight reel moment. Dear Mr. Escobar, knock off the drama and just catch the damn ball.

Still, it was a great game to watch.

Sox pitching has been a joy to behold all year (for the most part) and the team has shown that it can hit. If it learns to do that consistently this could be a fun year.

Also, to the gentleman from Sports Illustrated who emailed me; I can certainly understand Conflict of Interest rules. That being said, you are more than welcome to join our members in October and claim a drink from me if I’m wrong. However, I fully expect you to buy the first round if I’m proved right.

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