Imagine this scenario: You are a Chicago Cubs fan enjoying a game in which the Cubs have just taken a 4-1 lead after five innings, when you are called away on personal business and have to miss the last four innings. Normally, this would be considered a drag, a good night out spoiled.
On Wednesday night, this would have been considered fortunate.
The visiting Detroit Tigers (cheered on my thousands of their supporters who have packed Wrigley Field the past two nights) scored seven runs over the next three innings en route to a 8-4 win that dropped the Cubs' season record to 21-41. A decisive four-run rally in the top of the 6th pinned the loss on Cubs starter Matt Garza, whose season record dropped to 2-5.
(Garza pitching early in Wednesday's game against Detroit.)
Garza began his second year with the Cubs (who obtained him from Tampa Bay) as the team's putative pitching ace, and he got off to a strong start that included a gem against the Philadelphia Phillies on April 29 in which he gave up no runs, one hit and one walk over seven innings while striking out 10. But he has struggled mightily over the past three weeks. He is 0-4 in his past five starts, with one no-decision, as his season earned run average ballooned to 4.04.
To be fair, Garza was victimized by a fielding botch during that 6th inning Detroit rally. After Tigers rightfielder Brennan Boesch hit a leadoff single, Garza induced slugger Miguel Cabrera to hit a routine grounder to third baseman Joe Mather. But Mather, in his haste to try to turn a double play, fumbled the ball and then literally booted it, accidentally kicking it in the direction of shortstop Starlin Castro.
That said, the situation might have been manageable had Garza returned to his early-game form, in which he yielded just one run, three hits and retired the Detroit side in order in three innings. But he didn't. After retiring cleanup hitter Prince Fielder on a fly to left, Garza gave up a run-scoring single to Delmon Young and a two-run double to Jhonny Peralta. After Tigers backup catcher Gerald Laird earned a hit with a perfect bunt up the third base line, Ramon Santiago smashed a ball back to mound, which Garza knocked down, getting the out at first (despite bouncing the throw in a continuation of his own fielding problems) as Peralta scored the go-ahead run.
(Delmon Young of the Tigers about to score the tying run in the 6th on a two-run double by Jhonny Peralta.)
The Tigers then padded the lead with a 7th inning home run by Boesch off reliever Manuel Corpas and two runs on three hits off Jairo Asencio in the 8th. Meanwhile, Tigers' fireballing reliever Brayan Villareal retired all three Cubs he faced, three on strikeouts, and Joaquin Benoit pitched a 1-2-3 in the 8th.
The game briefly got interesting with two outs in the 9th, as Tigers closer Jose Valverde -- who was lights out in a brilliant 2011 season but wildly inconsistent so far this year -- gave up singles to pinch-hitter Reed Johnson and Tony Campana. Castro then hit a blast to left-center that looked like it might go out to bring the Cubs back with a run, but it barely stayed in the park and Detroit centerfielder Austin Jackson made a fine running catch against the ivy-covered bricks to close it out.
It was kind of a redemption night for the Tigers, who looked much more like the club expected in pre-season to dominate the American League Central than the 29-33 team that currently trails the first-place Chicago White Sox by five games. Peralta, whose throwing errors on two consecutive plays Tuesday allowed the Cubs to score the winning run in a 4-3 victory, had a single, double and triple Wednesday; he would have hit for the "cycle" had he homered batting in the 9th inning, but he drew a walk instead. Boesch, who recently was booed by home fans in Detroit for his hitting and fielding struggles, went four for five at the plate (including his 6th home run of the season) and made a great diving catch on a drive to right by David DeJesus to end the Cubs' 7th inning.
(Tigers' Brennan Boesch, who hit his 6th home run of the season, is greeted by teammate Miguel Cabrera.)
The most positive note for the Cubs was from another player trying to reclaim his season, reliever Carlos Marmol, who lost his job as closer during an egregious April in which he lost the Opening Day game and blew two of his three save opportunities. Marmol pitched well for the second straight night, striking out the side and avoiding damage from a leadoff single and a two-out walk.
(Marmol pitching during the 9th inning of Wednesday's game.)
Rick Porcello, the Tigers' starter, improved his season record to 4-4 despite giving up four runs on nine hits in five innings, a performance that boosted his ERA to 5.18. That kind of line won't often get you a win, but it's not every day that you get to play the 2012 Cubs.
On a side note, I was back in the cheap seats for Wednesday's game, sitting with a group of fellow Michigan State University folks on an alumni club outing. There actually are some advantages to sitting up high at Wrigley, such as the panaromic view with glimpses of Lake Michigan in the far background.
But then there is the obstructed view created by the metal posts holding the nearly century-old ballpark together.
I'd propose that the Ricketts family that owns the Cubs -- and which has had some serious PR problems of late relating to their efforts to persuade the city of Chicago to put public money into renovating the iconic ballpark -- would earn some serious goodwill if they promised to replace the metal pillars with transparent ones.