Cubs Close 2009 Cactus League Season with 9th Inning Win
Andres Blanco looped a single over the third-baseman's head to score Reed Johnson from second with one out in the bottom of the 9th, as the Cubs squandered an early 7-1 lead only to come back and defeat the Cleveland Indians 9-8 before a sparse crowd on Spring Training "getaway day" at Ho Ho Kam Park this afternoon in Mesa.
Ryan Dempster got the start for the Cubs, his last one in preparation for his first scheduled start of the "Championship Season" Tuesday night in Houston. Demp worked four innings (63 pitches - 43 strikes, 4/1 GO/FO), and had a good outing. He did allow two home runs (a solo shot to Korean slugger Shin-Soo Choo after striking out the first two hitters in the top of the 1st, and a two-run blast to PH Andy Marte with no outs in the top of the 3rd) and three doubles (one a "hustle" double by Trevor Crowe, who caught CF Kosuke Fukudome napping), but otherwise he didn't walk anybody, while racking up seven strikeouts.
The Cubs made the most of a poor outing by ex-STL RHP Anthony Reyes (one-time college teammate of Mark Prior at USC), who was just plain lousy today.
Alfonso Soriano got up on his tiptoes and lined a high fastball over the RF fence to lead off the bottom of the 1st, and then the roof really caved-in on Reyes in the bottom of the 2nd, thanks to poor control by the pitcher, and a couple of inopportune miscues by Tribe middle-infielders. .
Mike Fontenot and Bobby Scales led-off the 2nd with walks, as Reyes could not find home plate, and then Andres Blanco rolled an opposite-field single to LF to load the bases. Koyie Hill just as quickly unloaded the bases, driving in all three runners with a ringing triple powered into the right-centerfield alley (Hill had two hits and threw out a potential base-stealer today). Ryan Dempster just stuck out his bat and blooped an RBI single over the first-baseman's head to score K. Hill, and then Soriano went deep into the count and worked a walk on a 3-2 pitch. Joey Gathright (who had two hits, a walk, and a stolen base today) blooped a single to left to re-load the bases, and then Fukudome lined a shot that was caught by Indians second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera (Kosuke also hit a blistering line drive in the bottom of the 1st right at the SS). Cabera made a spectacular diving, sprawling catch that looked like it might possibly end up in a triple play, except Cabrera threw the ball away in his haste to double-up Soriano at 2nd, allowing Dempster to score from 3rd. Micah Hoffpauir then grounded into what looked to be a possible inning-ending 3-6-1 DP, but SS Jhonny Peralta pumped the relay past 1st base (Anthony Reyes was late covering the bag anyway), allowing Soriano to score, and Hoffpauir to reach base safely.
So it was Cubs on top after two, 7-1.
After the Indians made it 7-3 on the Marte PH HR in the 3rd, the Cubs scored a run in the bottom of the 4th off reliever Scott Roehl, when Gathright walked with one out, stole 2nd, and scored on a two-out Mike Fontenot RBI single bounced sharply into CF.
Chad Gaudin entered the game in the top of the 5th, and after striking out the pitcher on three pitches, allowed seven of the next ten men to reach base on two singles, a walk, a Ryan Garko two-run HR, and consecutive singles by Trevor Crowe, Damaso Espino, and Wilson Valdez (Crowe scored just before Espino made the third out of the inning at 3rd base, getting thrown out by second-baseman Matt Camp while trying advance from 1st to 3rd).
For the day, Gaudin worked two innings (35 pitches - 26 strikes), allowing three earned runs on five hits and a walk, while striking out two. If the Cubs were showcasing Gaudin for a possible trade, his market value probably dropped even lower today.
Carlos Marmol pitched the 7th (25 pitches - 15 strikes), and allowed a run. Marmol struck out Jamey Carroll to lead off the inning, but then he walked Choo, who advanced to third on a superb textbook hit & run play pulled off by Josh Barfield, who rolled a grounder ever so softly into the very spot just vacated by second-baseman Camp (who was moving in the opposite direction to cover 2nd base), putting runners at 1st & 3rd with one out. Barfield swiped second, and then Garko hit an F-8 SF to score Choo, making the score 8-7 Cubs.
Chad Fox worked an easy 1-2-3 nine pitch 8th (two bunt outs and an F-9), before Rule 5 RHP David Patton came on to start the 9th to try and get the save and send the Cubs off to New York as winners in their 2009 Cactus League finale. .
Unfortunately, Patton looked every bit the youngster who has yet to pitch above "A" ball prior to this season, giving up a lead-off single to Wilson Valdez, and then moving the tying run to 3rd with no outs on an errant attempted pick-off toss over Doug Deeds' head at 1st base. Jamey Carroll made Patton pay immediately, lining a game-tying RBI single to LF, and the normally placid Lou Piniella looked none to happy while squirming in his chair next to the Cubs dugout, knowing that the trip to the airport would be delayed.
After getting the dangerous Choo to roll into a 4-6-3 DP to clear the bases, Patton gave up a two-out single to Barfield and walked Garko, before inducing PH Tony Graffanino to bounce out to short to end the inning. (Thankfully Mark DeRosa wasn't the pinch-hitter!).
Patton needed 28 pitches to get through the inning, and may have moved the kernel of doubt in the back of Lou Piniella's mind about whether the youngster is truly ready for "Prime Time" up toward the front of Lou's brain.
With the game tied 8-8, Uncle Lou apparently pulled Reed Johnson off the team bus that was waiting to leave for the airport to PH for Patton, and Johnson came through nicely, lining a lead-off single. Veteran AAA utility man Bobby Scales did what he was supposed to do, laying down a picture-perfect 3-4 sacrifice bunt, giving "Whitey" (AKA Andres Blanco) the chance to be the hero. And Whitey was indeed up to the challenge, driving in Reed Johnson from 2nd in what turned out to be a close play at the plate (strong throw by Choo almost nailed him).
Leaving Ho Ho Kam Park for the last time this Spring, This Old Cub Fan observed the Rites of Breaking Camp, including a team of brain-dead flunkies in a crew-cab pick-up truck driving out onto the warning truck immediately after the game ended (actually I think they might have driven onto the field while Johnson was sliding across the plate) to take down the advertisements on the fence, two charted buses idling outside the Cubs clubhouse waiting to speed the team to Sky Harbor Airport for the four hour-plus flight to the Big Apple, a gaggle of "roadies" loading a rental truck with the players' gear bags, and two tractor-trailer car-haulers loaded-down with 13 high-priced personal rides destined for Chicago.