British-based Cubs fans have lots to look forward to over the next few days. Starting tonight, their team is playing five straight early games, all perfectly timed to be enjoyed live during the British evening. There are plenty of other day games taking place over that period as well (Angels-Giants at 20.45 BST tonight, for example), but there’s always something extra special about games played at Wrigley under glorious sunshine.
That setting added to the joy felt as I sat down with a few beverages last Friday evening to watch the Twins take on the Cubs. The antics of Milton Bradley made sure it was a game that will raise a smile whenever I look back over my completed scorecard in the future.
Twins taking over
One of the arguments in favour of Interleague play, continuing this week, is that the unique match-ups bring extra crowds out to ballparks. That’s not much of a factor at Wrigley Field because the Cubs’ home is full more often than not anyway. However, fans of American League teams that rarely play in the ‘friendly confines’ like to take full advantage of the Interleague games when they come around.
The Minnesota Twins last played at Wrigley in 2001, so a good number of their fans travelled to Chicago to watch the three-game series over the weekend just gone. It was strange to see the stands so heavily populated with people not wearing Cubs-related regalia. The Zambrano, Lee and Ramirez jerseys were replaced by ones bearing the names of Morneau, Mauer and even Bert Blyleven (the Dutch-born former Twins player, now co-commentator).
There would have been little bitterness from Cubs fans at seeing their home taken over though. It was the north-side fans who turned up and witnessed their team’s poor performance that had reason to feel annoyed.
Brenly and the basics
WGN co-commentator Bob Brenly could not contain his frustration at the poor decisions being made by the home team. Basic mistakes like infielders not getting in position to be the cut-off man are enough to make anyone mad, let alone a former Big League manager. The pitchers weren’t immune from criticism either. Sean Marshall hadn’t been on the mound long, coming into the game as relief for starter Randy Wells, before he drew Brenly’s ire.
Twins hitter Delmon Young is less likely to take a walk than John Prescott’s wife, so when Marshall got ahead 0-2 on the hack-happy hitter the next step was obvious: throw him a couple of pitches outside the zone and see if he chases them. Instead, the reliever hung a curveball which Young hit for a single. “Throw one hundred curves in the dirt, he’d swing at ninety of them”, said an exasperated Brenly. And the rest, Bob.
Bradley blunder #1
Sadly for Brenly’s blood pressure and Cubs fans around the world, the botch-fest had only just started. Milton Bradley hadn’t got going yet. He didn’t start off badly, beginning the game with a single in the first inning and then doubling in two runs in the bottom of the sixth. However his luck turned before he made it back to the dugout.
Bradley was tagged out between second and third when he tried to advance on a groundball hit by Derek Lee to the Twins’ third baseman, Joe Crede. I noted this on my scorecard by cutting Bradley’s line off between the two bases and putting the ‘T5’ note next to it. Mike Fontenot came home from third on the play and Bradley tried to claim after the game that the potential run would have been put out had he not tried to advance. His manager begged to differ: “That was a bad baserunning play,” Piniella said.
Maybe we’ll just about give Milton the benefit of the doubt on that one.
Bradley blunder #2
His next blunder could also be seen as plain bad luck, rather than a bad play. Jason Kubel’s square in the seventh inning shows that he reached base on a single, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. It should have been a fly out to the right-fielder, yet Bradley lost the ball in the sun and was left helpless as the ball harmlessly dropped ten feet or so away from where he was standing. This has to be scored as a single to Kubel, even though he would normally have made an out on the play and in general terms you would see it as an error against Bradley.
Losing the ball in the sun is any fielder’s nightmare because it leaves you looking foolish, but you always feel there are mitigating circumstances in that situation. ‘It was one of those things, could have happened to anyone’, is the standard response. In contrast, mental mistakes at the Major League level are unforgivable (not that they are accepted with a shrug of the shoulders at any level, in fairness).
Bradley blunder #3
If we could forgive Bradley for his out on the bases and the sun-assisted misjudgment, there’s no room for any leniency with his fielding turn in the eighth inning. He committed the cardinal sin: forgetting how many outs have been recorded in the inning.
Again, the scorecard sequence in the top of the eighth inning doesn’t fully capture what happened. It initially appears that a run was scored on a regulation sacrifice fly, with Mauer hitting the ball to Bradley and Punto tagging up and coming home. It wasn’t quite that simple and Brendan Harris’ square provides the clue. He was on first base ahead of Mauer’s at-bat, but then advanced to third on an ‘e9’ (with a ‘(2)’ alongside to show when the play happened: the plate appearance of the man hitting second in the batting lineup).
When Bradley caught the fly ball, Punto was always going to be able to come home, so that play was scored as normal. Harris was awarded two bases because Bradley chucked the ball into the crowd, thinking that he had just recorded the third out in the inning.
Giving the ball away like that is always bad news, but Bradley already had the Cubs fans on his back following his ‘where’s the ball gone, oh it’s ten feet over there’ trick the inning before. Len and Bob on commentary couldn’t offer any excuses, while Lou Piniella just scratched his head while remaining seated on the bench.
It was left to the fans to fill in the blanks. No one said it better than a guy picked out by the WGN cameras. “Booooooooooooo!” – pause for breath – “Booooooooooooo!”. Simple, but to the point. I followed a similar line on Twitter: “You F’ing Idiot!!!! Milton Bradley is a complete and utter clown”. Not exactly Shakespeare, but it summed up my feelings accurately enough.
Don’t forget Slowey
The Cubs ran out 4-7 losers and my scorecard neatly highlights which player deserved the headlines. The Twins’ starter Kevin Slowey pitched brilliantly, retiring fifteen of the first sixteen batters he faced and striking out ten over his six innings of work. He struck out the side twice, both times retiring Soto, Fukudome and Theriot in order in an eye-catching double that sent them on the way to a combined 0-for-12 showing.
Yet it was Bradley who dominated the day. Some people always find a way to become the centre of attention, even when they don’t want to be.