Redbirds Put Cork in I-Cubs' Party Plans
What a strange day at the ballpark. I arrived about 11:30 A.M. in time to see the Iowa Cubs' GM unloading champagne out of the back of his SUV. Special shampoo for the clubhouse showers. I had to leave five hours later for a wedding reception with the potential pennant-clincher still unresolved after 10 innings. Turns out I'd only seen two thirds of the game.
On my way into the ballpark a team official in a championship frame of mind mentioned to me that 18 of the players had been to the clubhouse chapel service that morning. It wasn't clear if he thought that somehow boded well for the game ahead. I asked him if Jeff Samardzija, the appointed starting pitcher, had been there. No, apparently he has neither a prayer nor a clue. What would Touchdown Jesus think?
I watched him closely while he warmed up, something I've not done before so who knows if this time was different than others. But his body language didn't seem to fit the occasion. Granted, pitching for a division title in the PCL pales compared to shaking down the thunder in South Bend, but still. He never worked his way up to throwing hard. A good portion of his pitches were thrown from the stretch. He even took a break for several minutes in the middle before he started throwing from a full windup. He appeared almost indifferent. Then the bell rang and he came undone, as if he were suddenly nervous about what was at stake.
The first pitch of the game was an out. The second batter homered. The third lined a single to left and the fourth blooped one there. The fifth scorched a two-run double down the line whereupon Iowa's false starter uncorked a wild pitch and Memphis had a stunningly quick 4-0 lead. In five or so minutes the Redbirds got as many hits as they would manage in the next few hours. Let's see; on the heels of a five inning, 11 run start earlier in the week in Albuquerque, Samardzija had now been bludgeoned for 15 runs in six innings of work during his team's drive to the finish line.
The unexpected start got even stranger in the bottom of the 1st after Jim Adduci led off with a walk. The wind was blowing briskly toward left but not enough to get Adduci to second safely on his attempted steal. His manager hustled right over to disagree with the umpire's assessment of the situation, but things seemed to quickly defuse and everyone returned to their posts. But Triple A has three man umpiring crews and the managers man the 3rd base coaching box when their team hits. These facts combined to put Sandberg and his new friend in close proximity; too close. After Marquez Smith struck out on the game's next pitch, the two resumed their conversation about Adduci's arrest and the newly crowned manager of the year was excused from further participation. He was accorded a kind of nervous and tepid ovation as he made his way down the leftfield line to the doorway in the wall that leads to the clubhouse.
After his teammates cut their deficit in half thanks to the generosity of Oneli Perez's ill-advised walks and Matt Camp's bases loaded double, Samardzija re-dug their hole even deeper by giving up three more runs in the 3rd. Full disclosure dictates that it be noted his last three innings of work were scoreless ones enabling the I-Cubs to eventually catch up.
Jason Dubois had run-scoring singles in the 3rd and 5th. Bryan LaHair cracked a two-run homer, his 25th, and Brad Snyder's single scored Adduci, who'd stolen 2nd, to finally tie the game in the bottom of the 6th. It was in the midst of this sequence that Memphis skipper Chris Maloney was also tossed by the other base ump for arguing an appeal of a checked swing by Smith. Whereas Sandberg looks like he's still in playing trim, Maloney waddles about as though afflicted with George Brett's disease.
With no managers involved the game settled into a bullpen stalemate until Memphis broke through against Jeff Gray in the 15th. By then Iowa had been reduced to using two pitchers, Mitch Atkins and Jay Jackson, as pinch hitters in the extra innings. Jackson will start today and try to clean up Samradzija's mess. By late afternoon that champagne should be well-iced and ready for popping. Hopefully it won't have to be re-gifted to the Memphis clubhouse.