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.

Raise the Jolly Roger

Wednesday, August 24, 2011–Pirates 2, Brewers 0

Allegedly, the train gets to Pittsburgh right around midnight most of the time. I guess the occasional earthquake plays havoc with train schedules just like everything else. I did not get settled in until 5 a.m. yesterday for a game with a 12:30 first pitch.

When I made the plans for this trip, the Pirates were right in the middle of the race, and I was very excited to be a part—no matter how small—of a season that might see the Bucks’ playoff drought come to an end. Since then, the Pirates have taken a nosedive and now need a miracle to get back into the race. Nonetheless, it is still an attainable goal for the team to be the first Pittsburgh squad to finish a season with a winning record in 19 years. They’d need to go 9 games over .500 for the final 5 weeks of the season, which would be quite a feat, but doable for a team that plays well. Especially if they can put together a few more games like the one they played yesterday.

Aaron Thompson got his first Major League start, and—after giving up a leadoff single to Cory Hart, the first batter he faced—effectively cooled off the white-hot Brewers, (who had been knocking the ball all around the park the past two days) allowing only four hits in 4⅓ innings. Thompson was on a pitch count and did not qualify for the win, but still got a very nice hand for his efforts. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh scored a run in the 1st and another in the 4th, both scoring on sacrifice flies. That score held to the 9th. When the Pirates’ outstanding closer Joel Hanrahan—who has his own scoreboard entrance video, “Hammer Time”—allowed the first two Milwaukee batters to reach in the 9th, there was some unrest in the stands. Hanrahan then slammed the door, striking out the next three batters.

Something the Pirates do that I haven’t seen anywhere else is the “Kids Starting Lineup.” Before the game, nine members of the Pirates’ kids club are brought out onto the field and introduced and then take the field as if they were the home team. The “catcher” stole the show, he was 4 or 5 and needed a little help finding his way to the plate—help which was provided by the Green Parrot mascot picking him up and flying him over. The other noteworthy event: I nearly got brained by a hot dog. One of the between-inning promotions is the hot dog cannon. There are two of them, and I was watching the flights of the dogs on the right field line when I became aware that fans in my vicinity were bracing for impact from an edible missile from the left flank. I looked up but couldn’t see anything, so then I ducked. It landed two feet behind me.

Here’s the scorecard.