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Cubs' long night turns into happy ending
Trying to save Juan Mateo's life, Dusty Baker almost cost the Cubs a win on Tuesday night. Instead his decision not to expose Mateo to retaliation from a seemingly angry Roger Clemens merely set up one of the longest, craziest nights in Cubs history.
A game the Cubs were winning 5-2 turned into a roller-coaster ride that included a four-run sixth inning by the Houston Astros off the bullpen, Matt Murton's game-tying homer in the ninth inning and clutch relief pitching from an unlikely corps of Cubs, including Angel Guzman, who earlier in the day was officially banished from the starting rotation.
In the end, with only a few thousand fans remaining from the sellout crowd of 41,531, Murton grounded a two-run single through the right side to lift the Cubs to an 8-6 victory. The game-winning hit came after Astros manager Phil Garner intentionally walked Michael Barrett to get to Murton, who has 22 runs batted in over his last 26 games.
The Cubs record for an extra-inning game is 22, set in 1927 against the Boston Braves.
Baker wound up running through his entire roster. Pitchers Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Marmol pinch-hit, and Rich Hill, scheduled to start Wednesday afternoon's series finale, was Baker's 10th pitcher after Ryan Dempster worked three innings. Hill worked two.
That's right. Baker used all 25 players, at the very least tying the major-league record for most players in a game before rosters expand. Eleven wound up playing in the No. 3 spot in the lineup, where Angel Pagan played the first 6½ innings before being lifted in a double switch.
You wonder if this would have been this crazy if Baker had allowed Mateo to take his medicine.
In the bottom of the fifth, with the Cubs leading 5-2 after a three-run homer by Jacque Jones, Mateo plunked Roger Clemens in the left shoulder with a fastball only the second time in Clemens' career he has been hit with a pitch. Mateo, as fate would have it, was due up to bat in the top of the sixth.
Though Baker denied pinch-hitting for Mateo to spare the 23-year-old rookie a date with an inside fastball, that's just what happened.
"The kid gave us what we wanted five [innings], then we go to the bullpen," Baker said. "Things were working out pretty good, as scripted, [and] as usual, something got off script.''
Pinch-hitter Ryan Theriot instead received the brunt of Clemens' wrath. Clemens missed Theriot with his first inside pitch, then nailed him in the back with the next one.
"I'm not going to save Mateo and then send Theriot up there to get hit," Baker said. "Theriot's not up there as a sacrificial lamb.''
Smelling blood, and happy to have Mateo gone, the Astros turned a three-run deficit into a lead with four runs off relievers Will Ohman and Michael Wuertz immediately after Mateo was pulled.
That appeared likely to stand up for a victory for Houston but Murton led off the ninth with a line-drive homer off Brad Lidge, who was charged with his fifth blown save.
Murton, who has 20 runs batted in over his last 26 games, had entered the game as part of a double-switch in the seventh inning.
Reliever Roberto Novoa got out of a bases-loaded mess in the 10th inning to extend the game. First baseman John Mabry made a nice play on Aubrey Huff's hard grounder, getting a force at the plate, and Adam Everett popped up the first pitch.
"Novoa got us out of a big mess in the 10th inning. That was huge," Baker said. "Guzman came in and did a great job. Larry [Rothschild] has been working with him to get his mechanics back and tonight he was [much better].''
Mateo, who was making only his second big-league start, was in line to raise his record to 2-0 before Baker pulled him after throwing only 78 pitches. He had lasted 88 pitches over five innings in beating Arizona in the second game of an Aug. 3 doubleheader. But Baker didn't have to worry about maintaining peace that time around.
That was a concern this time, as the Mateo pitch that struck Clemens was the fourth hit batter of the series. Clemens drilled Jones in the first inning and Baker felt the Rocket would retaliate against Mateo. The pitch that bounced off Theriot's back suggests that the Cubs manager was probably right.
The Astros didn't seem to mind having Mateo out of the game. Singles by Luke Scott and Aubrey Huff started a two-out rally in the sixth. Baker replaced Ohman with right-hander Michael Wuertz but Adam Everett jerked a triple into the left-field corner, tying the score 4-4. Wuertz then walked .226-hitting catcher Brad Ausmus and fell behind pinch hitter Orlando Palmeiro (hitting in Clemens' spot) 2-0.
The dugout camera caught Baker swearing, and it was obvious why when Wuertz's get-me-over fastball was pulled past first baseman John Mabry for a two-run double.
Could it get any worse? Of course it could.
Left-hander Scott Eyre injured himself coming off the mound on an infield hit by Huff in the eighth inning. He left the game limping badly, was diagnosed with a strained right hamstring, and will be re-evaluated tomorrow.