One frame brings unwanted memories
Five-run second inning entertains legitimacy of Cubs' curse
CHICAGO -- If the Cubs take this record drought of World Series championships into a second century, then what happened in the second inning on Thursday night at Wrigley Field will be added to their list of frustrations.
Or it could just make that long-awaited breakthrough all the more joyous.
This particular chapter in Cubbies history was a five-run inning by the Dodgers, built on uncanny incidents that reminded you of Game 6 in the 2003 National League Championship Series and made you look at others around you and wonder if the Curse of the Billy Goat is really just a myth.
Los Angeles sent nine men to the plate in the second against ace Carlos Zambrano during its 10-3 romp in Game 2 of the NL Division Series on Thursday.
Here is an anatomy of a breakdown:
|With four errors in Game 2 of the NLDS, the Chicago Cubs tied the Division Series record for most errors in a game. In addition, it was the second time in postseason play that each of a team's infielders made at least one error in game. The Detroit Tigers did it in Game 1 of the 1934 World Series (1B Hank Greenberg, 2B Charlie Gehringer, SS Billy Rogell and 3B Marv Owen) against the Cardinals.|
Andre Ethier slapped a 96-mph fastball to right for a single to start the inning. It was the cleanest hit you would see for a while, and what happened next started the series of freak occurrences. James Loney, who doomed the home team a night earlier with a grand slam, hit a bouncer to the hole at shortstop, as Dodgers manager Joe Torre had called for a hit-and-run. Ryan Theriot was out of position because he had to be on the bag for a possible throw, and when he saw Loney's bouncer to his right, Theriot tried to reverse himself and attempted to barehand it. The ball trickled off his hand -- maybe he could have gotten it with his glove -- and Ethier wound up at third base.
With men at the corners and no outs, Zambrano struck out Matt Kemp looking. But there was no escaping the bizarre. Blake DeWitt hit a routine double-play grounder to normally sure-handed Mark DeRosa -- the same way Alex Gonzalez had a tailor-made double-play grounder hit to him in that 2003 inning. DeRosa booted it, and then in his attempt to rush the recovery flip to second, his toss pulled Theriot off the base. The error allowed Ethier to score the game's first run, and now there were men on first and second with one out.
Casey Blake grounded to first, and the ball took a tricky hop, but it still should have been smothered and handled by Gold Glove first baseman Derrek Lee. It was back-to-back errors by the right side of the Cubs' infield. Loney moved to third, DeWitt to second. The bases were loaded with one out. Zambrano's emotions were starting to show.
"It was tough, there were some tough hops right there, and some of the balls were hit pretty good," Theriot explained. "I thought honestly, both of them, they did a good job to keep the ball in front of them because they took some tough hops. Those things happened, and they capitalized on them."
Said Lee: "We just booted the ball all over the place and put him in a bad situation. [Zambrano] kept throwing strikes and battling, but we just didn't give him much to work with."
After a coaching visit to the mound, Zambrano faced opposing pitcher Chad Billingsley. That brought up an interesting scenario. If you're a Dodgers fan, do you hope your pitcher actually strikes out so he can't hit into a double play given this momentum? Indeed, that's what happened: strike three on a foul tip. Two outs, still men on first and second.
Cubs fans were imagining that their team might escape a harrowing inning with only a run's worth of damage.
That was not to be. Not the Cubs.
"In the playoffs," Lee said, "you preach giving the other team 27 outs. Mistakes always seem to come back to haunt you in the playoffs, and that's what happened tonight."
Rafael Furcal -- whose presence now means so much to the Dodgers' lineup, according to Torre -- haunted the Cubs by dragging one of the prettiest bunts you'll see. It plopped right into no-man's-land in front of DeRosa, scoring Loney to make it 2-0. DeWitt advanced to third, with Blake to second and Furcal on first. Still with two outs.
"When you give extra outs, chances are they're going to be capitalized on, and that's what we were able to do tonight," Torre said. "I thought Furcal was a huge at-bat with the bunt, and that was strictly on his own."
At that point, you only get to survive so many mistakes. Russell Martin lashed a double to the wall in left-center, and it cleared the bases. It was a 5-0 Dodgers lead, a hushed Wrigley Field crowd again and never mind that Manny Ramirez surprisingly whiffed with the bases loaded to end the inning. Major damage had been done by the visitors.
"I think Russell has been swinging the bat really well," Torre said, "and I think that was basically the back breaker, the three-run double."
To make it even more interesting, Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez booted a grounder by Billingsley two innings later for an error. It was only the second time in postseason history that all of a team's infielders had made at least one error in a game. The Detroit Tigers did it in the 1934 World Series.
"Cubs field for the cycle," deadpanned a writer in the Wrigley press box. Ramirez's error would not come back to haunt them, as Zambrano escaped the jam. But it was that kind of night.
"It wasn't fun to watch," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.
Not for that hopeful crowd at the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field. In the ninth inning, Theriot was charged with an error on a low throw to first. That tied an NLDS record for four errors by one team, but what made this remarkable was that all four infield positions were scored with the errors.
"Listen, you play the way we played, it doesn't matter who your opposition is," Piniella said. "You've got to improve that effort. I mean, that second inning actually, Zambrano threw the ball well, but we talked about being a good defensive team, and certainly tonight, we weren't."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.