Greetings and good afternoon, White Sox and Cubs fans. I believe you've met. It's this time of year again, when our fair city is split down the middle between north and south, winners and losers.
This year's crosstown series takes on a whole new spin. For years this matchup between perennial also-ran, loser franchises has devolved into a contest between which teams' fans could hurl better insults.
This year, however, is different. You see, one team is the defending World Series champion. I'll give you a hint. It ain't the one owned by the Tribune Company, which, by the way, owns the basement in which I'm currently sitting, the keyboard on which I'm typing, the monitor I'm reading, the TV to the right, and the post-its, pencils and pens scattered over the desk. All theirs. Sneedless to say, I better watch what I say now that Andy MacPhail is doing Kent Mercker's dirty work. I assume this picture of my late dog is mine, as is the bottle of generic ibuprofen I keep within reach. But you never can be too sure.
As if the Cubs and their fans haven't suffered enough this season, those brave souls have to travel south, beyond Madison Street -- "Omigod, there's like a South Side to the city? This isn't Lincoln Park anymore, Kristi. A man in a Sox hat! Lock the Jetta!" -- into that dark, netherworld of a neighborhood called Bridgeport. (At any point here you can cue the creepy, tinkling piano theme from "Halloween.") Townhomes and families. Help me! Elderly women sitting outside their houses. Mommy! Italian ice stands. The horror! . Well, I admit, that's a little frightening.
In the series opener we're treated to what potentially could be a real dandy of a pitching duel between Mark Buehrle and Greg Maddux. We've been spared, at least for a day, the Glendon Rusches and the Rich Hills of the world. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on where you stand, there is always bunting Neifi Perez. OK, we get the point. Sox good; Cubs not good; me cynical.
So on that note, let's have some fun. The message board to the right, usually a paragon of civil discourse, is open for business. And as always, feel free to drop me a line, a comment, a dress-down at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm here for you, your humble typist.
Pre-game I love televised batting-practice! What's wrong with the people who complained about it? What is Comcast supposed to show, reruns of the Tim McCarver show? Right now, an hour and a half before the first pitch, Ross Gload is taking some cuts in the cage.
Also, can TV reporters stop using the word "obviously"? If you're just pointing out the obvious with your question, what's the point of the entire exercise?
The lineups reveal Oak Lawn guy Rob Mackowiak in center in favor of Brian Anderson and Alex Cintron at short for Juan Uribe. For the Cubs, Dusty Baker does his usual -- throw a bunch of names up in the air and see where they land. Neifi Perez is not hitting leadoff, as I suggested, but rather ninth. Michael Barrett is the DH and Jerry Hairston plays right, sparing Jacque Jones the distinction of being booed by both Cubs and Sox fans.
In my best Cliff Levingston, "Game time, whoo!"
The guy with the serious set of pipes from the civic opera sings the anthem and a bald eagle soars around The Cell. This has all the trappings of a big event. As someone on the message board suggests, good thing for that eagle the Cubs demoted Jae Kuk Ryu. Buehrle starts Juan Pierre off with a strike. Pierre tries to drag a bunt down the first-base line but it goes foul. He then squibs one towards Crede, who bare-hands it on the grass and can't get Pierre at first on a close play. Jerry Hairston bunts--that's now three straight bunt attempts by the Cubs dating to yesterday--and Pierzynski throws it in the dirt and by Paul Konerko. Pierre takes third; Hairston second. Pierzynski had gone 150 games without an error before that, nine away from the AL record, Len and Bob report. Todd Walker drives in Pierre with a sac fly to center. Hairston bluffs but stays put. Barrett grounds out to the ever-smooth Crede. Buehrle walks Aramis Ramirez. From the angles on TV, it looks like there are a lot more Sox fans than Cubs fans there today. Matt Murton fans and those Sox fans like it. Only one unearned run this time in the first off Buehrle, so no biggie.
Cubs 1, Sox 0
Ramirez robs Scott Podsednik of a hit with a leaping grab. Tadahito Iguchi, henceforth The Gooch, lines a single to center. As in, The Gooch steals second with Jim Thome at the plate. Maddux goes full to Thome and then gets him looking with a curve down the middle that Thome, I believe, felt was high because he started down to first before Larry Vanover rung him up. Konerko does what Thome couldn't do: drive in The Gooch with a single. So much for the Cubs' lead. And for those of you interested in this fascinating detail, I'm watching Comcast when the Sox bat and 'GN when the Cubs are up. Dye rips one down the left-field line that is just foul. "Mercy," quoth the Hawk. Maddux, who already has thrown a ton of pitches, walks Dye. Here's Pierzynski looking to make amends for that rare error. He lines one but it's right at Ramirez. "Hang with 'em."
Sox 1, Cubs 1/Cubs 1, Sox 1
Crede lifts the first pitch to the Big Murt in left for the first out. Mackowiak swings at the first pitch and grounds it to Neifi, who makes a nice back-handed pick. Two pitches, two outs. Alex Cintron takes a strike. He grounds the third pitch to Neifi for the third out. Maddux threw 27 pitches in the first and five in the second.
Sox 1, Cubs 1/Cubs 1, Sox 1
Pierre lines one to the left side and Cintron makes a nice leaping catch of it. Hairston grounds out. Walker walks. Barrett flies out to Dye in right.
Podsednik walks. And with the hit and run on The Gooch nearly hurts something just getting the bat on the ball. His back foot gave out and he went down in a heap. But he's on his feet. As always, The Gooch is tough. He then pokes a single to right. Podsednik stops at second. Maddux has spun around three times as if to make a throw to second. Maddux falls behind Thome, 3-0. One of those balls was questionable. Ball four was not and it loads the bases for Konerko. Confab time. Blanco trots out there. Larry Rothschild awakes from his nap and joins them on the mound. Konerko drives the first pitch down the left-field line, scoring Podsednik and the Gooch. Thome chugs into third; Konerko into second. Dye bounces to Cednedo, who looks home, double clutches and then inexplicably throws to first. He had Thome by a mile at home and didn't bring it. Thome scores. Pierzynski pops out to Cedeno, who manages not to lob the ball into the dugout. Crede lines the first pitch to left to score Konerko. Crede is thrown out at second and he throws a minor hissy fit about the call. End of the inning, but the Sox get four.
Sox 5, Cubs 1
Ozzie came out to argue but both channels sadly went to commercial. I hate to report this, Cubs fans, Glendon Rusch is up and throwing in the pen. The replay shows Crede over-slid, but Neifi pushed his hand off the base, which is a Bozo no-no. Ramirez grounds out to Cintron. More replay and Len and Bob refuse to acknowledge what is pretty obvious: that Neifi pushed Crede's hand off the bag. Meanwhile, Hawk was going nuts on Comcast. This is pretty interesting with these two persectives. Murton is retired and Cedeno flies out.
It's also interesting to note how much louder the commercials are on Comcast. I hate that. Mackowiak grounds out to Cedeno. Cintron squibs one back to Maddux, who makes easy work of it. Podsednik sends one deep to right that's just foul--maybe three feet outside of the foul pole. He then flies out to Juan Pierre.
Sox 5, Cubs 1
Blanco sends one deep to left, but not deep enough as Podsednik handles it on the track. Perez grounds out as does Pierre. Buehrle is rather cruising at this point.
I like how Comcast breaks into the game we're watching with an update on the game we're watching. Nice touch. Where's my Cheez Whiz?* Gooch grounds out to short. Thome, who has been quiet today, takes a couple of balls before sending one deep the other way for his 17th home run of the somewhat young season. Konerko scalds it to left but Murton grabs it on the run. Dye singles to left. Pierzynski hits it off Walker's glove. Perez hustles over to get the ball and then throws it behind Maddux who was covering first, allowing Dye to take third. Error on Neifi. Rusch is up again. Crede flies out to Murton.
*--I'm supposed to mention this per Paul Sullivan's request. I'm not sure what it means and it could be a coded message to someone, perhaps setting in motion some nefarious plan to take over the world. (Also, please, everyone, don't e-mail to tell me the actual line from "The Blue Brothers" is "You got my Cheez Whiz, boy?")
Sox 6, Cubs 1
Hairston grounds out. Walker does the same. Barrett changes things up a bit with a fly ball to right.
Now Cubs fans on the board are getting on me for lack of description when the Cubs are at bat. Trust me, there isn't much happening. They go up and down in about 30 seconds. But I'll try harder next inning because I realize the Sox 'graphs are a lot longer than the Cubs'. Mackowiak reached and then Cintron bounced into a double play. Podsednik walks and jogs down to first like he's on hot coals. He doesn't put his feet down for very long when he runs. Podsednik steals second without drawing a throw from Blanco. Maddux is jawing with home plate umpire Larry Vanover. He's not been happy with his strike zone all day. Rothschild comes out to talk to Maddux and Vanover marches out there in a huff and sticks his nose in the huddle. Peace is restored and Vanover signals a called strike on The Gooch to make the count full. Maddux walks him and here comes Dusty. Exit Maddux; enter Rusch. Nancy Faust plays that Steam song on the organ as Sox fans--one guy in particular--give it Maddux as he leaves the field. And I imagine he's thinking, "Buddy, I'm Greg Freakin' Maddux. Save it." He definitely didn't have his best stuff today but, at the same time, Vanover's strike zone wasn't too kind. Rusch comes in and Thome grounds right into the shift.
Sox 6, Cubs 1
OK, here we go, Cubs up. Buehrle starts Ramirez off with a ball that just misses outside before coming back with two straight strikes, the second swinging. Ramirez fouls the next pitch off to the right side, making some fan of either team feel good. He then flies out to Mackowiak in center. Big Red, the Big Murt, Matt For Certain Murton...chops one to the left side and Crede on the run makes a play on the short hop that was nearly behind him. He then throws out Murton. Cedeno grounds a single up the middle just out of the reach of Cintron. Is that the Cubs' second hit of the game? Blanco lines out to Crede.
Rusch remains for the Cubs and strikes out Konerko looking. Konerko barks a bit at Vanover on his way back to the bench. He thought it was low. But even DJ acknowledges it wasn't, which really tells you something. Dye walks. Pierzynski bounces to Neifi in front of second and he makes an acrobatic flip to Cedeno to get Dye. Crede pops out to Walker.
Sox 6, Cubs 1
Neifi lines one to the left side and Joe Crede makes a diving catch. The guy is turning into Brooks Robinson. Though, Hawk's nickname for him, "Suck 'em up, Joe" is lame on many levels. Crede then makes charging play on a jammed chopper by Pierre. And all of a sudden it's the Joe Crede show as he handles Hairston's grounder. Honestly it looks like the Cubs have given up. That might have been the quickest inning yet. At least Neifi's ball was hit hard.
Mackowiak takes a called third strike. Cintron dumps a flare into center right in front of a charging Pierre. Rusch gets Podsednik looking, as well. The Gooch lines out to Cedeno. And we move to the ninth.
Sox 6, Cubs 1
Podsednik leaves the game and Mackowiak moves to left, while Brian Anderson will play center. Walker tests Mackowiak's reflexes with a liner right him. Barrett sends one deep to left that somehow stays in the yard. Mackowiak gloves it with his back to the wall. Ramirez pops out to Konerko and this one's over.
Final: Sox 6, Cubs 1
Buehrle tosses a complete-game gem, Maddux struggles and the Sox take the first of this three-game series. Thank you Cubs and Sox fans for joining us. We'll be back tomorrow with a rare weekend version of FTC. Hope you can join us. Enjoy your Friday night. Me gone.