Game Seventy-One – Cubs 2 Rays 3
WP – Grant Balfour (1-0) LP – Neal Cotts (0-1) Save – Troy Percival (16)
Lou Piniella’s offense was very quiet in the first game at his old stomping grounds….until the 9th inning. Geovany Soto led off the 9th with the hardest hit ball of the game for the Cubs and was robbed of at least a double by left fielder Justin Ruggiano. Joe Maddon’s defense replacement caught the liner off Soto’s bat and ran directly into the wall. Mark DeRosa followed with a single. Piniella went to his bench and replaced Matt Murton with Kosuke Fukudome. With the Cubs down 3-1, Fukudome doubled down the left field line to put the tying runs in scoring position.
Micah Hoffpauir pinch hit for Henry Blanco and on a 2-1 pitch from Troy Percival, Dioner Navarro allowed a high fastball to get through his glove….DeRosa scored from 3rd to cut the Rays lead to 3-2. Percival struck out Hoffpauir for the second out. With Jim Edmonds at the plate, Percival uncorked a wild pitch. Fukudome broke from 3rd but stopped as the ball bounced directly back to Navarro. Edmonds worked a walk and brought up Reed Johnson with 2 outs and the tying run on 3rd.
Johnson bunted on the first pitch from Percival….but it was just a little too hard. Evan Langoria made a barehanded pickup and threw to 1st just in time to get Johnson to end the game.
Ryan Dempster made only one mistake and made several big pitches to get out of trouble before departing after 5 innings. Cliff Floyd gave the Rays a 1-0 lead in the 2nd inning with his 6th home run of the season. Neal Cotts replaced Dempster in the 6th with the game tied at 1 and gave up the lead on his first pitch. Evan Langoria hit his 11th of the year over the wall in right center.
The Rays third run and the difference in the game came in the 7th inning. Akinori Iwamura lined an infield single off of Cotts’ leg to start the inning and advanced to 3rd on Cotts’ throwing error. Eric Hinske drove him in two batters later on a single to right off of Michael Wuertz.
The Cubs dropped their second game of the road trip and are 2-2 with two left before heading back to Chicago. The Cubs could simply not find a rhythm against Scott Kazmir. The Rays’ ace did not allow a hit until the 5th inning but the Cubs did manage to score only the second earned run of the season at home off of Kazmir.
Henry Blanco broke up the no hitter with a single to center off the glove of Iwamura with 1-out in the 5th. Reed Johnson reached on an infield single with 2 outs and Ryan Theriot tied the game with a single to right. Theriot’s bouncer went of the glove of Willy Aybar at first base and bounced past Iwamura into right field. Derrek Lee walked to load the bases and Kazmir was lifted in favor of Grant Balfour. Aramis Ramirez worked the count to 2-2 before looking at strike three to end the inning.
The Cubs had another scoring chance in the 7th after Reed Johnson reached on a hustle double to left center with 2 outs. Ryan Theriot worked the count to 3-1 and on the next pitch, Johnson took off for 3rd….with the Cubs down 2-1. Navarro threw out Johnson to end the inning.
Ryan Dempster pitched rather well and kept his team in a game in which he did not have his best stuff. Dempster lasted just 5 innings and threw 107 pitches. The Rays worked the count on Dempster but he still struck out 6 and walked only 2. Dempster did his job once again on the road, and one of these days (soon) he will notch his first win of the season away from Wrigley.
Scott Kazmir just outpitched Dempster. The offense, like the rest of the league, could not figure him out.
The Cubs did not quit, even on a night they clearly did not have “it“. They kept battling and almost pulled one out. Lou Piniella’s lineup was missing a couple of key ingredients and Tuesday night was one of those games a team loses during a long season….with that said, a couple of players do need to step up their performance. It is one thing to lose, but it is another to not learn from mistakes and make adjustments.
Carlos Zambrano is scheduled to face Andy Sonnanstine on Wednesday night.