The Arch-rivalry

Monday, May 14, 2012–Cardinals 4, Cubs 6

Ten minutes before first pitch, and I wasnt so sure if this rivalry was all it was cracked up to be. I mean, where were all the fans? Still in line getting a beer? I’d expect that sort of thing in Philly, and saw it first-hand in Milwaukee, but this was the Cardinals and Cubbies. I literally scheduled this entire trip around this game because I wanted to see a real rivalry game, and the place is half-empty for the national anthem? What gives? I was feeling pretty down on fans of both teams, the entire city of St. Louis, and the rivalry in general. That was until I met Taylor.

Taylor—who was seated right next to me—was certainly the loudest Cub fan in my section, and quite possibly the whole ballpark. And as the seats did eventually fill up (this time with the hometown loyalists as a clear majority), she probably became the most hated girl down the right-field line. I’m sure she couldn’t care less. Seeing how she’d get swept up in every play (and for some at-bats, every pitch) was very entertaining in the early innings as both teams squandered good scoring chances. But as the night went on, getting to see it through her eyes became a transformative experience for me. First the Cubs scored four in the 5th, and she was on top of the world. She so enjoyed seeing David Freese being thrown out at the plate in the 6th she nearly dislocated my shoulder pounding me on the back.

Despite the runner thrown out, the Cards did tie it in the 6th, and that’s when I became more aware of the Cardinal fans around me as well. Though certainly not as vocal as my neighbor, they were just as much into the game. The couple to the other side would lean in—simultaneously—for every pitch, and hold hands whenever the Cubs were threatening. Their relationship was him, her, and the Cardinals. And there were many others who were just as deeply invested. So, were there fans who were tardy to their seats? Yes. What’s more, they were probably the same ones who left after the eighth even though it was a one-run game. They’re there, but don’t really matter.  It’s the sheer number of fans of both teams who were there on time, did stay ’till the end, and truly do care that make this rivalry special.

The Cardinals let it get sloppy (or, as I was saying to Taylor, “they’re playing like the Cubs”) and gave up single runs in the 8th and 9th for the 6-4 final. Cubs starter Ryan Demptser got yet another tough-luck no-decision, his counterpart Jake Westbrook was lucky to escape with the same. Mitchell Boggs was pegged with the loss, Shawn Camp picked up the win, and Rafael Dolis caught two birds looking to get the save.

Here’s the scorecard.

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Trouble brewing

Saturday, May 12, 2012–Brewers 8, Cubs 2

I always think of the Cubs and Cardinals as the great midwest rivalry, and I’ll get to experience that firsthand in just a few days. However, since the Brewers have pulled themselves out of the cellar, it does follow that Cubs-Brewers could also be an intense rivalry. After all, the two cities are less than a hundred miles apart and the teams are division rivals. After arriving in Milwaukee, I caught the last seven innings of yesterday’s series opener on television. That game had all the makings of a playoff preview: multiple lead changes, sensational plays to save runs and on more than one occasion a pitcher would wiggle his way out of a jam. It was finally decided in the 13th with Travis Ishikawa’s bases-loaded single to give the Brew Crew an 8-7 win.

So, in some ways, this afternoon’s game also had that real rivalry feeling to it. Yesterday, a number of batters were hit by pitches, so when Ryan Braun and Alfonso Soriano were both plunked in the early innings, warnings were issued and there was quite a bit of jawing, just like a real rivalry. Well… except for one little thing: the fans. The crowd was listed—near capacity—at over 42 thousand. My estimate is the split of Brew boosters to Cubbie loyalists was about 60/40. But something about those fans was just not quite right for a real rivalry. It’s a ballpark with a retractable roof, but there are large windows in the outfield to give the stadium some more natural lighting. And through the third inning, out the window beyond right field, I could see a pedestrian bridge with large numbers of people crossing to the park. Somehow, in a rivalry, I’d expect those people to have made that trip over that bridge and into the stadium about an hour earlier than they did. For the middle innings, the place was completely packed, but it took a while to get that way.

It seems odd to call a game with an 8-2 final a pitcher’s duel, but that was what it felt like for most of the game. The Cubs scored first on, of all things, a double play with a runner at third. The Brewers answered with an even odder play: the run scoring pickoff. Nyjer Morgan was at third with Braun at first. Braun took off for second way too early and was picked off. But he stayed in a rundown long enough for Morgan to score—it appeared the Cubs simply forgot he was there. After that and through the top of the 6th, both Shaun Marcum for the Brewers and Chris Volstad of the Cubs were in complete control.

Volstad blinked first. After giving up a run in the bottom of the 6th, he gave up a single and a double to put runners at 2nd and 3rd. He then intentionally walked Ishikawa to load up the bases for the kid just up from Triple-A, Edwin Maysonet. Maysonet proceeded to crush the ball down the leftfield line for a grand slam and his first 4 RBI for the season. From there, the game wasn’t close again.

Check out the scorecard.

Blue flag day at Wrigley

Tuesday, August 9, 2005–Cubs 3, Reds 8

This day started with us meeting a friend for the Architectural Foundation’s boat tour of the Chicago River. If you’re ever in Chicago and only have time to do one thing… That’s it. (Don’t hold your breath about getting Cubs tickets at the last minute.) The whole tour was fascinating, but what I really remember was when the pilot was telling us about how Chicagoans changed the course of the river (which was where they had been dumping all their sewage) to flow to the Mississippi rather than Lake Michigan. “And so,” the driver was telling us, “contrary to popular belief, the first Taste of Chicago was not in 1980, it was in 1900… in Saint Louis.” That got a lot of groans. “And Saint Louis has gotten their revenge, they host a baseball team that plays in the National League.” That got louder groans from all the Cub fans on the boat. “I know, that’s cold, right?”

It was August in Chicago, so it was actually quite hot. I knew we had to get a day game at Wrigley or else things just wouldn’t be right. To get Cubs tickets without a markup, you have to be online first thing in the morning some day in February, wait online for nearly an hour and find that the game you really wanted to see (against the Cardinals, of course) has already sold out. Once we’d scheduled our vacation around which Cubs game we could get tickets to, I ordered my one White Sox ticket three weeks before we left.

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I must point out that while the Sox were on their way to a 99 win season and World Series title, the Cubs were coming off game 6 of a losing streak and were already in “wait till next year” mode.  I mention this in case it makes any difference for the following statement: I really enjoyed the White Sox game more. Don’t get me wrong, the whole Wrigleyville experience is amazing–the hole-in-the-wall souvenir stands, the street performers who dance to drumming on plastic pails and the ambiance of the club scene there. (I’m not much of a clubber, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the ambiance, right?) The stadium is beautiful and the character of the place, and the rooftop stands across the street are exactly as advertised. The fans, on the other hand… well, maybe I shouldn’t talk–after all, it was a long losing streak.

The Reds beat the Cubbies 8-3 to make it a seven game skid (the streak would end at eight two nights later when the Cardinals arrived in town, but nobody knew this at the time). Mark Prior and Aaron Harang had almost identical lines: 7 innings, 8 hits, 3 earned runs and no walks. The only difference was the strikeouts: Prior held the edge 11-3. So, it goes without saying that the Cubs bullpen dropped the ball on this one. What’s most notable about this game is that Nomar Garciaparra (in a down year) hit his first homer of the season for the Cubbies. 

Cubs fans put out a fantastic parody newspaper, The Heckler, in which they lambast players from the teams that the Cubs will be playing, as well as Cubs players who are seen as underperforming. The Heckler as well as the hecklers were being especially unkind to Cory Patterson, who had just (that very day) been recalled from Triple-A Iowa. It was deemed that Patterson was the sort who would swing at a pickoff attempt, and that’s why he was sent down (and also why he apparently deserved to be booed as soon as he was announced and subjected to a large number of catcalls and personal epithets). In this game, he had a bunt single, two flyouts and he was struck out once… looking.

Just the nature of the scorecard is that good pitching shows up as nice, clean rows, while big offensive outbursts lead to messy scribbling and traffic jams on the page. My own personal convention is to chart the starting pitcher’s performance in black, and then alternate between red and blue for each reliever. Perhaps because we took the train to Chicago, the best way to describe this scorecard would be a nice set of tracks going straight down the page for 7 innings with only a few turns, and then a derailment in the eighth, with red and blue boxcars strewn about every way you look.

Here is that derailment, if you wanna see for yourself.