Yesterday I had some fun. I went to visit a friend of mine and watch the games. We ate pizza and drank beer. That was it. No exciting stories, no drag queens, just pizza, beer and baseball. You have no idea how much I enjoyed that moment. Simply put, there are times it’s nice to be able to pretend you’re normal.
After the games were over we went and shot some pool.
And drank more beer.
There were a couple of things that we agreed on during the course of the day; (1), Gordon Beckham’s mom is hot; (2), Hawk was right in saying that pitching is the first line of defense and; (3), Len and Bob drift so far off course by the 6th or 7th inning that it’s worth listening.
Hawk and Stoney were talking about players they faced in their rookie seasons. Stone’s story about getting rocked his first three pitches ever was funny as hell. Len and Bob, by comparison, were trying to decide on a post game restaurant. Either I missed their final decision or they didn’t make one. I’m not sure it mattered.
Carrie Muskat was at the game and managed to not write about food.
The Cubs have been making a lot of starting pitchers look real good, and Sunday, it was Barry Zito’s turn.
Zito threw 8 1/3 shutout innings to lead the Giants to a 2-0 victory over the Cubs, who lost their 10th straight road game for the first time since Sept. 13-30, 2000.
The Cubs’ problems haven’t just been on the road. In 14 losses since May 16, they’ve scored 13 earned runs over 95 innings against starting pitchers, who have a combined 1.23 ERA. Zito (5-2) joins John Danks, Jake Peavy, Bud Norris, A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard as starters who did not allow a run in that stretch.
“It’s the same press conference every day, a broken record,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “I don’t know what to say to come up with something different. It’s just frustrating—I mean, golly.”
Travis Wood deserved better. Making his third start since stepping into the rotation for Chris Volstad, Wood (0-2) gave up three hits over seven innings and struck out seven, one shy of his career high of eight, done twice.
“He matched Zito pitch for pitch,” Cubs catcher Koyie Hill said. “He did a good job with a lineup that’s been feeling pretty good. They’ve been playing good baseball. He kept it under control and gave us a chance. He really did well and executed really well.”
“We didn’t hit too many balls hard today—their guy was great, too,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “[Wood] was on top of his game.”
It was the left-hander’s longest and best outing with the Cubs.
“Woody was awesome,” Sveum said. “That’s as good as I’ve seen him pitch, even when he was in Cincinnati. He basically threw the ball wherever he wanted. Even [Joaquin] Arias’ ball was close to a foot off the plate away and that was just a nice piece of hitting.”
Arias’ hit came in the fifth. Wood faced the minimum through the first four innings and did not allow a baserunner until he hit Ryan Theriot with a pitch with one out in the fourth.
The lefty struck out Buster Posey to open the fifth but Angel Pagan doubled over Alfonso Soriano in left for the Giants’ first hit. One out later, Pagan scored on Arias’ single despite a good throw from right fielder Reed Johnson. Hill never had the ball.
“He went for the tag too early and took his eye off it—I don’t think it was ever in his glove,” Sveum said. “I think he’ll tell you he should’ve caught that 99 out of 100 times.”
“I looked at it and it was pretty textbook, to be honest with you,” Hill said of the play. “I don’t know if I would’ve done anything different. I went to cover up the ball with my bare hand like you’re taught to do, and the ball just popped out. It’s one of those things. Priority No. 1 is to catch the ball and it didn’t happen.”
It wasn’t the only defensive lapse. In the Giants’ eighth, Gregor Blanco was at first but able to score on Melky Cabrera’s single to left with two outs as Soriano threw to the infield and not home.
“That’s another brain fart that we’ve got to be smart [about],” Sveum said. “That’s a pretty fast runner taking off stealing, and a ball like that, you’ve got to get that ball in. We don’t care if the ball goes to second. That guy will score easy if you throw that ball to second base.”
Which Blanco did. In the clubhouse postgame, outfield coach Dave McKay talked to Soriano, who has been playing despite a sore left knee. Sveum said they’ll use Soriano as the designated hitter in upcoming Interleague games in American League ballparks.
“Hopefully, he’ll hit some home runs,” Sveum said.
The Cubs need some kind of offense. The best chance they had Sunday came in the fifth when they had runners at first and second with one out but Zito struck out Hill, and Ian Stewart, who was on second, was thrown out at third trying to advance. The Giants left-hander finished with five K’s. Johnson made good contact against Zito, as did Starlin Castro, even though he went 0-for-4.
“Other than that, there weren’t a lot of good at-bats,” Sveum said.
The Cubs have scored three runs in three games against the Giants’ starting trio of Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Zito.
“If we knew the answer—give credit to them,” Hill said of the sputtering offense. “They’ve run three pretty good pitchers out there. We know Zito has had his issues in the past but he doesn’t look like the same guy. He’s competitive with all his pitches and it makes it tough on us, especially in a ballpark that’s not very hitter friendly to begin with.”
The Cubs now have lost 15 of their last 18 games, and nine of those games have been decided by two runs or less. Wood remained optimistic.
“We’re right there,” Wood said. “We’re going to win some ballgames.”
Believe it or not Cubs fans, Mr. Wood is right. If pitching and defense can hold opponents to a run or two every game then they are right in there. A bat here or there and this team could quickly turn things around.
Speaking of stellar starting pitching, last night Chris sale took the mound for the Southsiders and tried to give the beleaguered pen (which used every single reliever and two starters the night before) a breather. As Scott Merkin notes, mission accomplished.
The complete-game victory during the White Sox’s 4-2 win over the Mariners Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field went to Chris Sale.
Sale (7-2) also deserved a save for his efforts.
After manager Robin Ventura employed all seven of his relievers and Jose Quintana during Saturday’s 12-inning loss to Seattle, Sale put Sunday’s game upon his thin, but sturdy, shoulders.
It took him 119 pitches, of which 81 went for strikes. But when Sale fanned Miguel Olivo on a 1-2 slider in the ninth pitch of the final at-bat, his work was done for the day with eight strikeouts and five hits allowed.
“Everybody knows he’s nasty,” said Olivo of Sale, who threw the White Sox’s fourth complete game this season and first of his career.
“He was great,” said Ventura of Sale. “He’s jumping ahead and making guys swing and miss. He keeps getting better if there’s any way to do that after 15 strikeouts. He’s a talented kid with a lot of guts and everything else.”
Thanks to a six-pitch seventh and a seven-pitch eighth, Ventura decided to let Sale finish what he started. There was results-based reasoning to support the 23-year-old, who had not allowed a hit since Michael Saunders’ leadoff double in the fifth.
Pitch counts, innings counts and every other count certainly are monitored in Sale’s first year as a starter, but Ventura and pitching coach Don Cooper act just as much by how Sale feels while he’s on the mound. Sale had asked Ventura about going back for the ninth, with Nate Jones warming in the bullpen, and that permission was granted with one caveat.
“I asked him, ‘Can you let me go back out?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, you got to be efficient, though,’” said Sale of his talk with Ventura. “I wasn’t quite as efficient as I needed to be, but I was very thankful for him to give the opportunity to go back out there and finish the game.”
Jesus Montero singled to open the ninth, but Justin Smoak hit into a double play started by third baseman Orlando Hudson two pitches later. Dustin Ackley singled to left, bringing Olivo to the plate as the potential game-tying run.
Olivo launched a mammoth homer to center to give the Mariners a 2-0 lead in the second, connecting on a fastball. In the ninth, Sale threw two fastballs, one changeup and six sliders to get Olivo swinging and secure the White Sox’s 10th win in 11 games and 14th in their last 16.
“Obviously, last hitter of the game and you are bearing down right there. It was tough,” said Sale of facing Olivo. “He got me early, so just really try to keep the ball down to him and Flow [Tyler Flowers] did a heck of a job, just keep pounding, keep pounding, keep pounding and we eventually got him.”
“His numbers aren’t there right now, but he’s not a joke when he’s up at the plate,” said Flowers of Olivo. “We tried everything in the book to try to get him out. Finally, a little backdoor slider worked.”
Kevin Millwood (3-5) lasted only four innings for the Mariners, walking five and allowing seven hits, as the White Sox (31-23) chipped away and eventually grabbed the lead by scoring one in the second, one in the third and two in the fourth. Gordon Beckham and Alex Rios delivered run-scoring singles in that tie-breaking inning.
Beckham and Rios represented a couple of the everyday White Sox players in Sunday’s lineup. The flu and Saturday’s 12-inning contest earned reserves such as Brent Lillibridge, Eduardo Escobar, Kosuke Fukudome and Flowers a start against Millwood.
Escobar even moved from third base to left field when Fukudome left due to back stiffness after the second inning.
“When you consider yourself a utility player, you’ll play wherever they play you,” said Escobar through translator and White Sox director of cultural development Jackson Miranda. “That’s fine with me.”
This reserve quartet combined for five hits and three runs scored in increasing the White Sox’s AL Central lead to 2 1/2 games over the Indians (28-25) and six over the Tigers (25-29). But Sale was the primary story in the White Sox’s fifth victory in six games against the Mariners.
Topping Monday’s 15-strikeout performance at Tropicana Field stood as a major challenge for Sale. Throwing the complete game, in the context of the weekend, just might have been even more impressive.
“They have been working real hard for us back there,” said Sale of helping the bullpen. “Any time you can give them a day off, it’s awesome. I had the mindset of being efficient and getting late into the game.
“I’m trying to take it day by day and inning by inning and really just trying to exclude every other thought other than executing pitches and whatever they throw down, that’s what I’m throwing. That’s where I’m trying to stay now.”
A 4-0 record and 1.26 ERA over his last four starts, not to mention allowing three runs or fewer in each of his first 10 starts, has the White Sox also hoping Sale stays right where he is now. The scary thing for the opposition is this young southpaw has a chance to get even better.
“Physically, I feel better and better every time out,” Sale said. “Pitching is so much about finding grooves.
“I’ve been fortunate to be able to find that groove and let it go. The way that the hitters are hitting and putting runs on the board, and you know you have an unbelievable defense behind you, it makes it easier to go out there and do my job.”
Assuming Danks returns healthy and Floyd is either traded or turns it around, this rotation will be in the top 5 all year.
As to those who load message boards with dire warnings about Sales’ pitch count, I ask them to take a deep breath and not procreate. ever since his elbow flared up he’s changed his delivery. It’s not the violent thing of before. In fact it’s almost the same as a soft toss the way he slots his arm now. Same speed, same accuracy, no stress. Say what you will about the back stabbing S.O.B. who the Sox have as a pitching coach, but he does know his job.
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