Game Recap: Rays 3, Cubs 2; close but empty
There's just something about the Rays that make me nervous. Actually, scratch that - I know exactly what it is about the Rays that scares me. They are proof that even the best team in baseball can be made to look like posers when playing a team that's practically invincible at home. They are a reminder that any short series is entirely unpredictable. You have a good team? Tough crap, if they can't score runs against the Subhuman-at-Home-ERA-God Scott Kazmir, then they will be made to look like the Royals. You have a good pitching staff? Doesn't matter - if they make a single mistake, like giving up a solo-shot to Recuperatin' Cliff Floyd, that will be the deciding factor of the game. Unsurprisingly, Floyd snapped his elbow while celebrating at home plate:
Thankfully, the Cubs play with the same kind of aura at Wrigley Field this year. Chicago has a strong pimp hand at Wrigley, and every team that rolls through there owes the Cubs money and favors. But imagine, if you will, the tragedy of a World Series with American League home field advantage because some jabrone decided that the All Star Game should count for something other than fun.
That said, October remains a long, long ways away, and as I've said about 26 times this year, even the best teams will be made to look ridiculosly bad every once in a while. Tonight was an example of that - the Cubs offense proved to be ineffective against the Rays ace, and while Dempster worked hard to keep up, his early exit due to pitch count issues ultimately led to the Cubs' defeat. Not that Kazmir didn't have his own problems - on this night of all nights, he was primed to be pumped for runs. Granted, Kazmir kept the Cubs bats honest, but he was as wild as Dempster and left in the 5th inning after having thrown 110 pitches and walked more Cubs than he'd allowed to get on base via the hit.
Unfortunately for the Cubs, the Rays have a great bullpen, and they proceeded to throw a Cub-like 4.1 innings of near-scoreless relief. The Cubs, meanwhile, were tied up when Dempster left but Neal Cotts went out and did what he does best - 2 runs off of 2 hits and 1 walk, with the latter (and deciding run) scored due to a defensive play straight from the tenure of Dusty Baker. With no outs in the top of the 7th, Cotts surrendered a single to Iwamura, who essentially turned it into a triple after a costly throwing mistake by Das Bonehead. Lou swooped in and he was signaling so hard for Wuertz to come out of the bullpen that he practically caught a nasty case of Tommy John Disease, but it was simply not enough and Theoretical Ex Cub Eric Hinske soon singled in the aforementioned Iwamura.
The Cubs came close to making it interesting a couple of times, although Reed Johnson ultimately foiled both opportunities. In the 7th, our goatee'd friend hit a 2-out double before being caught trying to steal third base. In the 9th, with one out, Mark DeRosa singled off of Rays closer Troy Percival*, Kosuke pinch-hit for Matt Murton and knocked a double, Hoffpauir stepped in for Hank White and promptly struck out, but not before DeRosa scored on a passed ball. Then, Jim Edmonds drew a 5-pitch walk, and with two runners on in a close game, Reed saw fit to terminate his opportunity to play the hero by making a surprise bunt to third that just didn't work out for anybody but the Rays. I suppose it was a gutsy attempt, but I probably would have settled on choking up and smacking a shallow single over the infield - not that that's easy, either.
(*When will this guy remember that he suffered a career-ending arm injury a few years back?)
Going back to what I said at the beginning of this article, this is a series that makes me unnecessarily nervous, maybe because the Rays are more than capable of making the Cubs look very, very bad. However, tomorrow will be a good chance for the Cubs to even the series. But should they lose again tomorrow?
It might be our first time swept this season. But, although that would detract from the bragging rights, it wouldn't exactly be the end of the world. After all, the Cardinals are hardly setting the world on fire right now.