Tonight I’m watching the Cubs game, and Cole Hamels of the Phillies is just mowing them down. This guy is really good; he pitched seven innings, gave up only four hits, just one run, and even though he was facing Ryan Dempster, who has been just about lights out at Wrigley this year, he was ahead 4-1.
So finally, in the top of the 8th, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel removes Hamels for a pinch hitter.
Which is just exactly what the Cubs needed. In the bottom of the 8th, Mike Fontenot leads off with a pinch-hit homer to make it 4-2. Now the top of the order is up; Soriano hits a double to center, Theriot hits a single to right, and suddenly it’s first and third with nobody out. Derrek Lee draws a walk. Bases loaded. Up next? Aramis Ramirez.
Now, if you’re Charlie Manuel, this is the absolute last guy you want to see come to bat with the bases loaded, nobody out, in the 8th inning of a close game, especially when you just took out your ace, and have to rely on your overworked bullpen.
Ramirez is money in late innings of close games, and lately has been on f’ing fire. He hit TWO three-run homers the other day, a total of three in the last week or so. Nearly half of his home runs this year have come in the seventh inning or later.
The first pitch is inside. And the second pitch is right down the middle, so Ramirez hits it about 420 feet into the left center field bleachers for a grand slam, and a 6-4 lead. Shane Victoriano, the Phillies center fielder, hardly moved.
The fans exploded.
So catch the momentum shift here. The whole game was Hamels dominating Cubs hitters, and suddenly, when the bullpen guys come in, the Cubs just pounce on them, and score five runs — before recording a single out.
For those who question whether pitching is the most important aspect of baseball, this is instructive.
And I’m not sure what this means, but I had a pretty good feeling about that bottom of the 8th, with getting Hamels out of the game and bringing that bullpen in, even though I know nothing about the Phillies bullpen. And as it turns out, they lead the league in ERA, at 3.13 entering the game.
The Cubs have become such an offensive juggernaut — what does that mean, anyway? — that they know they can beat up most bullpens, and even most starters, in the league.
Frankly, they have run roughshod over the National League, and are playing the best baseball in the league over the last month or more, and if they stay healthy and don’t win the NLCS, I’ll be shocked.
Yes, the Cubs in the 2008 World Series. Dare to dream.