There was a true highlight for longtime Chicago Cubs fans today during their team’s series-ending game with the crosstown rival White Sox. Unfortunately, it occurred during the 7th inning stretch, when 69-year-old Ferguson Jenkins — a Hall of Fame pitcher who starred for the Cubs from 1966 to 1972 and played for the team again 1982-83 — led the crowd in the ritual singing of Take Me Out to the Ballgame. The struggling 2012 version of the Cubs did not have nearly as good a day as Fergie did. The Cubs lost 6-0, squandering the few chances they had to score while the Sox jumped on their opportunities — which included home runs by Gordon Beckham, Adam Dunn and Tyler Flowers, the first two hit back to back starting the 4th inning to break what had been a scoreless tie.
The Cubs’ loss enabled the White Sox to sweep the three-game series at Wrigley (the teams meets again for three games at U.S. Cellular Field, aka Sox Park, June 18-20) and scratch their way back to a .500 record at 21-21. Nothing much to write home about, but mediocrity looks pretty awesome here on the North Side of town.
The Cubs have now lost five in a row, all at home. And after seeming for a few weeks to move in the right direction toward reversing their atrocious 4-12 season start, they have backslid to a record of 15-26, the worst in the National League.
It has gotten so bad that the Cubs can’t even get respect from the local seagulls. These scavengers like to invade the ballpark in search of scraps of leftover food, but they usually wait until the game is over and the players and the crowds have cleared. Not so today, when center field was invaded in the bottom of the 9th inning by a flock of seagulls. No, not the 1980s rock group who sang, “I Ran So Far Away.” A real flock of seagulls…
The Cubs have certainly had plenty of bad weeks over the years, and this was one of them. I’m sure Tom Ricketts, seen here mingling with fans today as he has been wont to do since he and his super-wealthy family bought the team prior to the 2010 season, thought it would be cool to run a major league baseball team, and it probably is most of the time. But this was not one of those weeks.
First, the Cubs came home for their short five-game stand, and lost the first game to the Philadelphia Phillies (another game that I attended). The Cubs actually took a 2-1 lead with one out in the 4th on a two-run homer by Alfonso Soriano… then did not get another base runner for the entire remainder of the game: 17 up, 17 down. A good starting performance by Matt Garza kept the game close through seven, but the Phils took a 3-2 lead in the 8th, and then blew the game open against the bullpen with six runs in the 9th for a 9-2 win.
The Cubs then got splashed with the controversy that broke out with publication in the New York Times of a leaked proposal, produced for a “Super PAC” founded by Joe Ricketts, Tom Ricketts’ father, who established the family’s fortune as founder of the Ameritrade investment firm. The proposal involved running inflammatory negative ads against President Obama during this year’s election campaign.
Joe Ricketts quickly disowned the plan and Tom Ricketts said he and his team have nothing to do with politics. But the flap put at serious risk any hopes the ownership had of persuading the city of Chicago to kick in nine figures worth of taxpayers’ dollars to help renovate Wrigley Field, an iconic ballpark that is nearly a century old and badly in need of an overhaul.
This is in part because the city is run by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat and former White House chief of staff to Obama, who was said by the local press to be livid about the reported ad proposal, and in part because the ball team the Rickettses bought happens to be located in a heavily Democratic section of one of the nation’s most heavily Democratic-voting city, which also happens to be Obama’s hometown. Can you say faux pas?
The Cubs then lost again to the Phillies, 8-7, with a four-run 9th inning rally falling one run short, amid reports that star-crossed Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood, off to a terrible start this season, planned to retire after pitching in one last game at Wrigley. That occurred at the opening of the Sox series Friday when Wood came in as a reliever, struck out the only batter he faced, then called it a career.
Wood’s last hurrah was one of those moments of pure baseball magic. He walked off to a standing ovation from the crowd, with the White Sox players applauding along with his Cubs teammates. Wood’s little son ran onto the field from the Cubs dugout to embrace him. Wood went into the dugout, then re-emerged to tip his hat to the crowd.
But it also was a bittersweet moment, a reminder of great athletic promise derailed by injuries. Wood came up with the Cubs at age 20 in 1998 and set the baseball world on fire in his fifth start, at Wrigley against the Houston Astros, in which he struck out a record-tying 20 batters while pitching a one-hit shutout — regarded by some experts as the greatest one-game pitching performance in major league baseball’s history. But after going 13-6 with 233 strikeouts in 166 innings, Wood turned up injured during spring training the next year and needed the elbow ligament replacement known as Tommy John surgery.
Wood came back and had a few more good years, especially in 2003, the year the Cubs almost got to the World Series, in which he had a modest record of 14-11 but led the major leagues in strikeouts with 266. But more injuries and more trips to the disabled list led to a sharp decline. By 2007, he was a full-time reliever. He had some success as a closer for the Cubs in 2008 and for the Cleveland Indians in 2009, and pitched very well during an end-of-season stint with the New York Yankees in 2010.
He was just okay, though, in his return to the Cubs last year, and he got off to such a poor start this year — 0-2 record, 8.31 earned run average, 11 walks to just six strikeouts in 8 and two-thirds innings — that he uncharacteristically lost his temper, threw his glove and hat into the stands after a brief rough outing on May 8, and cursed at a reporter who brought it up after the game.
And as you already have figured out, the Cubs lost Wood’s last game to the White Sox, 3-2, then lost on Saturday 7-4 (scoring all of their runs on a pair of two-run homers in the bottom of the 9th), and then got blanked Sunday with the win going to Jake Peavy, a former ace for the San Diego Padres who is making a strong comeback after a couple of injury-plagued seasons with the Sox.
The Cubs now go on the road for three games each against Houston and the Pittsburgh Pirates, both sub-.500 NL Central teams who they must be better than if they are going to escape last place this season.
Here are some additional photos from Sunday’s game.