Friday, July 22, 2016

Mike Piiiazza & The Night of September 21, 2001

I'm a lifelong Mets fan.  I spent my first forty six years of life on Long Island, New York before moving to Columbia, South Carolina in August 2012.  My family would join me in February, 2013.  But we have remained true to the Metropolitans.  Helps that the Mets South Atlantic League farm club, the Fireflies, are now in Columbia.

My allegiance to the orange and blue started in 1973 at the ripe old age of seven years old.  It's the first major league or minor league baseball game I ever went to, or certainly the first game I can ever remember.    That night, September 21, 1973, the Amazin Mets took on the Pittsburgh Pirates, known back then as The Lumber Company with Willie Stargell , Manny Sanguillen and Richie Zisk. Tom Seaver pitched a complete game that night. The Mets got three home runs from John Milner (who would eventually join the Pirates and be a part of their 1979 World Champion team), Wayne Garrett, and Rusty Staub to win the game 10-2 and take over first place from the Pirates.

I was hooked that night and became a huge Mets fan, especially of Tom Seaver.  Despite facing a legendary hitting team, Tom obviously had the stuff, but even more importantly, the will to shut them down.  I believe it's my admiration of Seaver that has always ingrained my philosophy that pitching and defense wins championships (and if you look at the '73 Mets, they were built on pitching with Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack and George Stone).

By the way, look at the box score in the link in the second paragraph and notice Seaver's ERA after the game was 1.88.  He'd finish the regular season with a 19-10 record and a 2.08 ERA.   The Amazin Mets would win the NL East that season with an 82-79 record and then upset the Big Red Machine, aka the Cincinnati Reds, to win the National League Pennant.   The Mets went up 3-2 in the World Series to the Oakland A's, only to lose the series in seven games.

It would be the last Mets playoff appearance for more than a decade until the '86 Mets won the World Series.  After the Mets made the playoffs again in 1988, winning the NL East and then losing to the eventual World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers, the Mets were not relevant again for another decade.

So if you are a Mets fan of a certain age, you went through decade long droughts to see your team make the playoffs.  I went through two of them. One that lasted from the single digits of age through my sophomore year of college.  The next went from my first steady girlfriend (of course now ex) to three years into marriage with my wife. 

Year two of my marriage, 1998, is where Mike Piiiazza, as legendary Mets broadcaster Bob Murphy used to call him, came into Mets lore.   Piazza was traded by the Marlins to the Mets for Ed Yarnall and Preston Wilson.  Only a few days prior, Piazza had been traded by the Dodgers to the Marlins.  If you want to get Piazza's take on those few days, read my friend Jerry Beach's wonderful new blog, Floppy Disk Files for an interview he had with Piazza during that time. 

Piazza would help the Mets become relevant again, as the Mets made the playoffs in 1999, advancing to the NLCS, losing to the Braves in six games.  In 2000, Piazza led the Mets to the World Series, losing to the Yankees in five games.  Outside of two World Series games, I went to every playoff game at Shea Stadium those two years. 

After 2000, Piazza would spend five more years with the Mets, his last being in 2005.  Piazza would play two more years with the Padres and the Athletics.  He would eventually set the record for most home runs by a catcher and hit 427 career home runs with a lifetime batting average of .308.

But it was one game and that one game in particular where Piazza will always have a place in my heart.  

From August 1993 to August 2012, I worked for Hofstra Law School,  overseeing their technology department.   I got the opportunity to work with a lot of great faculty, staff, administration and students/now alums, many of which are my friends.   In 2001, I did a lot of work with the Hofstra Labor Law Journal, a terrific group of students, many of whom I became friends with.   The night of the journal dinner back in April 2001, as a way of saying thank you and knowing how big a Mets fan I was, the journal gave me two tickets to a Mets/Braves game. 

The date of the game was September 21, 2001...twenty eight years to the day that I first became a Mets fan.

It was also be more importantly, ten days after September 11.  

I remember September 11, 2001 all too well.  Hofstra Law School had our bi-annual Legal Ethics Conference going on up at the time up in Room 308, our Moot Courtroom.  I was making sure that the conference was being recorded properly and making sure any technology needed,including wireless access (yes we had wifi back in 2001) was working well.    It was my friend Frank Quatela, who I believe emailed me and said a plane hit the World Trade Center.  I figured it was a Cessna at first when I saw the email.  Then I went down to the second floor student lounge and saw everyone gathered around as footage was shown of the smoke/fire and the hole made by the first hijacked airliner in the first tower.   We all then saw the second tower being hit by the second hijacked airliner.

The world has not been the same since.

As you all now know, access to New York City was shutdown.  Airports, bridges etc. were closed.  Up in Room 308, the conference was still going on and if you remember, this was back when people didn't get notifications of breaking news.   I had to go up there and tell the director of the conference, Professor Roy Simon, what was going on.  He stopped the conference and made the announcement to the stunned audience.   After careful deliberation and knowing that all the out of town conference attendees had nowhere to go with all the bridges and airports closed, we went on with the conference.

I was fortunate in that no family members and friends I knew were killed or hurt in the attacks. But I knew others that did.  

New York showed a lot of heart during that time.  I remember the large numbers of fellow Hofstra staff, faculty and students in the Hofstra Arena to give blood a couple of days after 9/11.   I knew a couple of students who were first responders who went into the city to help.   New York was at the brunt of the terrorist attacks and people were hurting. 

That's why September 21, 2001 is so important not to just Mets' fans, but to the people of New York as well.  It was the first public sports event to take place in New York since 9/11.

I remember Chelle and I getting to the game as early as we could.   But it was the first night of security measures and the lines were incredibly long.  By the time we finally got to our seats, the game was about to start.   

If you remember the Mets in 2001, they were a shell of the team of the previous two seasons.  They were actually thirteen games below .500 on July 13, 38-51, thirteen games back of the Braves.  Yet they had started making a run, going 36-22 during that span to get to within five games of the Braves at 74-73 the night of September 21, 2001.  

There was a feeling of anxiousness in the crowd.  At Shea Stadium,  there were police snipers on the roof, police everywhere. Heavy security and rightfully so, given what had happened.    The crowd was looking for anything to believe in.  The Braves had just taken a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth thanks to Brian Jordan's RBI double off Armando Benitez,    

Piazza came up in the bottom of the eighth with one out and Desi Relaford, pinch running for Edgardo Alfonzo, a terrific player but bereft of speed, on first base.    When Piazza belted that ball off the second level of the camera tower in center field, the crowd roared and the stadium rocked, even more than it did the year before when the Mets beat the Cards at Shea to win the NLCS.  I had been there that night as well when the fans jumped up and down as much as Timo Perez did before he caught that ball.

But as special as that night in October of 2000 was, this moment was even more special.  It had been as if the entire city of New York had let out this one huge roar, this was one true moment of jubiliation that was so sorely needed.    As Howie Rose so eloquently noted "What have the last 10 days been like for those guys? They lost friends, colleagues, God forbid other family members. And now they look like this. Baseball did that for them.  Mike did that for them."

The Mets would win the game 3-2 and win the next night to get within 3 1/2 games before Benitez melted that Sunday afternoon, giving up three runs and the Mets lost and never really got any closer, finishing third in the NL East. 

But that fateful September 21 evening, Piazza's home run gave many hope.  For me, it was another night of true amazement, eighteen years to the day of my first one.  This was more special though.  The stakes were much, much bigger than a National League Pennant.  It was a time for much need healing and Piazza delivered that.

This weekend Mike Piazza finally and rightfully enters the Hall of Fame.  As a Met.  Just like Seaver. Two players who share a common bond with me, exactly twenty eight years apart.

Congrats Mike and thank you.  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

If I Had a Hall of Fame Vote...

Yes, Ninety Feet from Home is back.  How long it will be back, I don't know.  But I thought this year's Hall of Fame Ballot was very important to write an article.

First, I am tired of those BBWWA members that have a vote who basically waste them, not voting on players who they "suspect" did PEDs.  Murray Chass said the following (and note that I didn't link to Chass' blog directly, though I could have, due to not wanting to give Chass' site any more hits) ;
"The boxes next to these 10 names will not get an X: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Eric Gagne, Paul Lo Duca, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa. These non-exes won’t get my vote because they were proved to have cheated, admitted they cheated or are strongly suspected of having cheated."
As a good friend said to me on Facebook, Biggio should "lawyer up" and sue Chass for slander.  To my knowledge and I am someone who has religiously followed baseball since I was seven years old and has coached Little League for the past three years (thus to show I have some knowledge of baseball), Biggio has never been "strongly suspected" of using performance enhancement drugs, nor was he mentioned in the Mitchell Report.

Murray Chass wouldn't matter to me, except for one thing.  He has a vote.

Then there's the brilliant Ken Gurnick of MLB.Com, who is only voting for Jack Morris and not anyone from "the steroid era", which includes guarantee first ballot Hall of Famers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.  Gurnick goes further to say "I just don't know who did and who didn't."

Really, Ken?  So based on your uncertainty, legitmate Hall of Fame candidates will not get a vote?  How about I just don't know if you deserve a vote or not.  I am sure the folks who run MLB.Com are thinking the same thing about your employment.

There needs to be a BBWAA review committee of those "writers" like Chass and Gurnick who have ballots.  If you cannot make reasoned judgments with evidence, whether statistical or not, you shouldn't have a Hall of Fame vote.

So what if I had a vote?  Well, to be considered on my 10 member list vote, a player had to at least fit one of the five criteria.  If you fit multiple criteria, you were in, three or more you were a lock;  Here are my criteria.

1) Did you reach magical number of hits (3000), HR (500) or wins (300) ?
2) Did you have a ten year dominant period, a long time Hall of Fame standard, and did that include at least one Cy Young or MVP?
3) Did you lead a statistical category, wins, ERA, Strikeouts, HRs, shutouts, SBs, BA, RBIs, runs multiple times (meaning at least three times)?
4) Did you have at least five all star appearances?  Multiple Silver Sluggers? (notes you were the best hitter at your position)
5) Do you favor comparably to other Hall of Famers based on categories like JAWS and WAR?

Other factors may include lifetime .300 hitter, top twenty in all time category and statistical analysis, JAWS and WAR to be specific.

And you ideally had to not be in the following category, though exceptions can be made for those TRULY EXCEPTIONABLE based on statistical categories.

Did you ever fail a drug test, were listed on the Mitchell Report, admit to taking steroids or PEDs, or taken to court for steroid use?   Please note, if you were none of the previous sentence, "suspicions" or the fact you took andro does not include you in this category.
So based on the above paragraph, Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza are Hall of Fame worthy candidates.

Here's what would be my Hall of Fame Ballot.

1) Greg Maddux
2) Tom Glavine
3) Frank Thomas
4) Craig Biggio
5) Mike Piazza
6) Jeff Bagwell
7) Jeff Kent
8) Tim Raines
9) Roger Clemens
10 Barry Bonds

Not making the list - Fred McGriff, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling and Jack Morris

1) Greg Maddux - Simply put, he should be a unanimous pick.  Three hundred and fifty five wins, four Cy Youngs, eight time All Star, led league in ERA four times, EIGHTEEN time Gold Glove winner, led league in Ratio four times, three times in Wins and five time in Shutouts.  One of the greats of all time.

2) Tom Glavine - The Sundance Kid to Maddux's Butch Cassidy.  Three hundred and five wins, two Cy Youngs, ten time All Star and led league in Wins five times.  Definite first ballot Hall of Famer.

3) Frank Thomas - Five hundred and twenty one home runs, lifetime .301 hitter, two time MVP, five time All Star, four time Silver Slugger.  His .419 on base percentage is twentieth all time and  his .555 slugging percentage is twenty second all time for major league hitters.  Easily had a ten year period between 1991 and 2000 where he was truly dominant.  Another no brainer for the Hall of Fame.

4) Craig Biggio - Three thousand and sixty hits. Seven All Star appearances. Five Silver Sluggers and four Gold Gloves. Twice lead league in runs scored and lead the league three times in doubles. Fifth all time leader in doubles with 668 and fifteenth all time in runs scored with 1844.  Should have made the Hall of Fame last season in his first year eligible on the ballot.

5) Mike Piazza - Twelve time All Star and ten Silver Slugger Awards. Lifetime .308 hitter.  Rookie of the Year winner. Had ten year dominant period from 1993 to 2002, which coincides with him winning the Silver Slugger each year during that period.  All time home run leader for catchers.  JAWS lists him as 5th all time catcher.  Of the top eight catchers in JAWS, six are in the Hall of Fame and the other two are Ivan Rodriguez (another future Hall of Famer) and Piazza.  Enough said.

6) Jeff Bagwell -  Won MVP once and was also Rookie of the Year. Four All Star appearances, three Silver Sluggers and one Gold Glove.  Eight times drove in 100 or more RBIs. Had ten year dominant period from 1994 to 2003.  34th all time with .540 slugging percentage.  JAWS lists him as 6th all time first baseman.  Of the top ten first basemen in JAWS, seven are in the Hall of Fame, the other three are Thomas, Jim Thome (a definite Hall of Famer) and Bagwell.

7) Tim Raines - Seven time All Star and one Silver Slugger.  Led league in stolen bases four times. Fifth all time leader in stolen bases with 808. The top four leaders in stolen bases are all in the Hall of Fame (Ricky Henderson, Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton and Ty Cobb). Led league in assists three times, runs twice and batting average and doubles each one time. JAWS lists him as the eighth all time left fielder.  The other top seven are Hall of Famers and Barry Bonds.

8) Jeff Kent -  Won MVP once, five time All Star and four time Silver Slugger Award winner.  From 1997 to 2007, he had eight years of one hundred or more RBIs.  If there's anyone on this list that might be considered border line, it would be Kent.  But I think he was the dominant second baseman at his position for a good ten year period.

Now my last two have been involved in PEDs from lawsuits or federal cases but their numbers, especially WAR are too strong to ignore.  But before I talk about the last two players, let's note a couple of things  right now.

A) The Hall of Fame is already not pristine.  There is at least one member of the Hall of Fame who used performance enhancing means to get into the Hall of Fame and admitted as such; Gaylord Perry.  Gaylord Perry doctored baseballs, ie. used spitballs and admitted as such.  Yet, there he is in the Hall of Fame.

Also much has been made of the amphetamine use of the 1970's, 80's etc.  There was no tests for that back in the 70's till the time of testing in baseball.  I haven't heard anyone seriously question current Hall of Famers for their use of amphetamines and whether that was cheating.

B) Which leads to my second item. There were no tests for steroids or PEDs years until the past several years in baseball.  Whether there is a basis of evidence or not, at the time the players did not do anything illegal, or at least not illegal in Major League Baseball until there was approved, mandatory tests.  So, yes, there is a good deal of evidence or circumstantial evidence if you wish to say Clemens and Bonds were using steroids.  But there seems to be a good period of time when Bonds and Clemens didn't use steroids (based on body type early in career).

Also, if PEDs were the sole reason a player had Hall of Fame worthy statistics, Ozzie Canseco would have put up Hall of Fame numbers (thankfully his more talented brother, Jose Canseco, didn't either).

There are players I have left off this list, like Rafael Palmeiro, who failed a drug test, or Mark McGwire, who admitted taking steroids.  Much of that has to due with the overwhelming evidence in their cases, but also has to do that their WAR wasn't really all that good.  In Clemens and Bonds cases, their WAR is so much greater that those two and of anyone eligible currently for the Hall of Fame that their numbers trump their alleged/likely use of steroids/PEDs later in their careers.

So until Gaylord Perry is kicked out of the Hall of Fame or there is a honest, statistical discussion about whether the Hall of Fame should celebrate the greatest players of all time, no matter the circumstances or is the Hall of Fame truly only for those who played the game "clean", I can't keep out two elite players, despite the PED baggage they had towards the end of their careers

9) Roger Clemens - Seven time Cy Young award winner and won MVP once. Three hundred and fifty four wins.  Led league in ERA seven times, shutouts six times and strikeouts five times. Led the league in wins four times and won twenty or more games six times.  Eleven time All Star. Career 139 WAR, which is third all time for pitchers. Third all time in strikeouts.  Look up the definition of "dominant", you'll likely see his picture there.  Sorry, Clemens had immense talent and great pitching acumen and successfully used both, whether there was PED use or not.

10) Barry Bonds - The all time leader in home runs, first all time in runs created, third all time in runs scored, fourth all time in Total Bases, fifth in career slugging percentage (.607), fifth all time in OPS (1.051) and sixth all time in OBP (.444).  MVP seven times, three of those came early in his career (1990, 1992, 1993) when it was clear his body type was not of a "suspected" steroid user.  Twelve time Silver Slugger, eight time Gold Glove winner (he was not just a hitter).  Fourteen time all star.  His 162 WAR is fourth all time.  Thirty third all time in hits.   Just too dominant, even in his early career, to leave out of the Hall of Fame.

Now for those who I left off this list.

Fred McGriff - The Crimedog was a good home run hitter and you could even say a very good home run hitter with 493 career home runs.  Drove in 100 runs eight times in his nineteen year career.  Five time All Star and three time Silver Slugger award winner.   Led the National League twice in home runs.  Just wasn't someone considered dominant and fell short of the magical 500 home run mark.  He might be the Mike Mussina of hitting (see Mussina for description). He's much more of a borderline case than the next three.

Mike Mussina - Five time All Star and seven time Gold Glove winner.  24th all time for WAR.  JAWS lists him as the 28th best pitcher of all time. . My friend John Templon of Big Apple Buckets has the perfect nickname for Mussina - "The Great Compiler".  That's because Mussina compiles stats; wins - 270 (33rd), strikeouts 2813 (19th), WAR 82.7 (24th).

But Mussina never led the league in ERA, ratio or strikeouts or in a single season.  He led the league once in wins, shutouts and WAR.   Mussina never won a Cy Young and only came in second once.  He only won twenty games once, his last season in the big leagues.  If you look at Mussina' similarity scores, he compares closest to Andy Pettitte (and the numbers are scary).  Pettitte, good pitcher that he was, was never a dominant pitcher and not Hall of fame worthy in my book.  Likewise, Mussina never had a ten year dominant period, like say Roy Halladay or Pedro Martinez.  He was the ultimate #2 starter but not yet Hall of Fame worthy to me.

Curt Schilling -  Six time All Star, led league twice in wins, twice in strikeouts, twice in ratio and four times in complete games. Won twenty or more games three times.   JAWS lists him as the 27th best pitcher of all time.  Here's the thing; Schilling never won a Cy Young. never had a ten year dominant period.  To me he compares with Mussina, but didn't compile as much stats as Mussina or was as good as Mussina for as long a period of time.  Would vote Mussina in before Schilling.

Jack Morris - Five time all Star, led the league twice in wins (one year was strike shortened season -1981), led the league once in strikeouts, once in shutouts and won twenty or more games three times.  But that's it.  Yes Morris had the 1984 and 1991 postseasons, the five all star appearances, he was a warrior and for that, a lot of old school BBWAA writers have voted for him.

Morris compiled some good statistics on par with Mussina and Schilling.  But he was never considered "dominant", certainly didn't have a ten year dominant period and most importantly, never won a Cy Young.   I would vote for Mussina and Schilling before Morris, who JAWS lists as the one hundred and fifty ninth all time best pitcher.  Uh uh.

Now mind you, I don't have a vote, I never will and the voters are entitled to their opinion.  Most that have a vote have thoughtful explanations/reasoning/evidence/statistics for their voting.  There may be no place in the Hall of Fame for cheaters (Gaylord Perry proves otherwise) but there's also no place in the BBWWA Hall of Fame voting for writers who base their votes on suspicion and uncertainty.   Surely we can all agree the Hall of Fame is too important for that.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 4 - Chicago, Chicago My Kind of Town

After seemingly killed every flying bug in the state of Michigan and quickly saying "Hi" and "Bye" to Indiana, we reached our destination of the Omni Hotel on Michigan a little after midnight central time.  It was the first time in my life that I actually DROVE to a different time zone. In the span of three days we had driven from DC to Pittsburgh to Detroit and now to Chicago.

Tieff and I got an early start to day four as we were wired for sound when we got to our hotel room.  The two of us made an executive decision to walk around town, due to the fact I promised him that he had to go down Rush Street, which probably has the most hopping night life in Chicago.

This was Tieff's first time ever in Chicago.  For me, this was now my fifth time here.  Three times I have been here on business, most recently in May when I did my PMP bootcamp training (I received my PMP certification a week later when I passed the exam).

The only other time I was in Chicago for pleasure was back in October 2001, not too long after the ban on air travel was lifted.  My friend Mal and I decided to support the airlines and see Wrigley for the first time.  We made it a sports weekend as we watched Northwestern win an exciting college football game at home over Michigan State that Saturday.  And then that Sunday we watched the Cubs lose to the Astros.  It was an unusually warm October weekend in Chicago, and I remember the two of us hanging outside on Rush Street amazed at the fact of how busy Rush Street was on a Sunday night in October.

And here Tieff and I were nearly nine years later on the same street (Rush is a very short walk from the Omni Hotel).  The first thing you notice about Chicago in the late spring/summertime, well ok, if you are a guy this is the first thing you notice, there are a lot of beautiful women in Chicago ( I warned my wife I was going to write this -doesn't mean I will be ok, but I warned her).  I noticed this when I was here in May and I forewarned Tieff as were driving towards Chicago.   The great thing if you are a single guy is that a lot of women are traveling as a group unattached seemingly or even by themselves.

The next thing that Tieff noticed is how clean Chicago is (or at least the sections of Chicago we walked around).  And that's very true. Chicago is very clean and also happens to have good drinking tap water (always helps to have a major lake, Lake Michigan, as your water supply).  Another thing we noticed, and it might have had partly due to that we were there on an extended weekend, was that it was surprisingly easy to drive around the city.  Finally, the mass transit train system works very well.  We took the Red Line to both Wrigley and U.S. Cellular (more on U.S. Cellular in my next post).

So on the morning of July 4th, we walked around Rush Street, then ended up at Pippin's on Rush till about 2:00 am in the morning.  We headed to our hotel rooms and ended up running into two cute twin blonde young twenty something females who were seemingly as lost about the Omni's entrance as we were.   Tieff and I made it to our hotel room and hit the hay.  Before we knew it, it was 9:30 am and we headed out to the Red Line stop to go to Wrigley.  We tried to find a place serving breakfast that had no long wait.  No such luck, thus we got on to our train and headed uptown to the Addison street stop where Wrigley is located.

Once we got to Addison, along with hundreds of other Cubs fans, again we tried to find someplace to eat breakfast a little after 11:00 am.  We ended up at a McDonalds that of course stop serving breakfast at 11:00 am.  A note to the moronic folks at Mickey D's - On a SUNDAY, people eat breakfast late.  It's called BRUNCH.  You should seriously consider serving breakfast on Sundays till about 1:00 PM.   That might explain why the Mickey D's DIRECTLY ACROSS from Wrigley Field had no lines at the counter at 11:00 am.

So being starved, we ended up eating Angus burgers at 11:00 AM on a Sunday.  Then we made our way to magnificent Wrigley on a warm sunny Sunday morning, but not before stopping at every souvenir stand around the park to see if we could find a cheap Cubs hat to wear, because I knew we had field level seats down the RF line.  And on a 93 degree day with the sun pounding on us, we needed all the cover we could get.

Tieff ended up getting the pictured hat from a vendor for five bucks.  I decided I didn't want a hat that badly.  And here is the ironic thing, as we walked in and get our tickets scanned, we see it was a giveaway day. The giveaway was a fitted Cubs cap with a red white and blue C.  A free hat.   All that work to find a cap/hat and it was Cubs Cap Day.  Tieff still decided to wear his hat for the game.

There is no better way to spend the Fourth of July then at Wrigley Field.  Wrigley is a really great ball park with the scoreboard, the apartment buildings with skybox seats, and of course the Ivy and brick.  I was here in 2001 and my seats were field level on the first base side but way up, under the overhang, near a pole, thus I had an obstructed view of the field.  I wasn't taking any chances this time. I purchased tickets on Stubhub and got field level row 13 on the RF line.  We could have used the shade today, but I wasn't complaining.  It was still a great day for a ball game.

Well it turned out it was a great day for a ball game if you were a Reds fan (or a neutral observer like us).  The Reds are in first place for two reasons.  One, they have talented young hitters like Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto.  Second, they have been getting excellent starting pitching from Mike Leake, who started our game, Johnny Cueto and Brandon Arroyo.  When you put those two things together, you get a game like ours.

The Cubs are going through a rough year. First, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez have had injury plagued seasons, where both are not hitting up to their standards.  Carlos Zambrano has struggled so much that he is now in the bullpen, which didn't provide much help on this day.  The Cubs one strong point had been their starting pitching with Carlos Silva, Ryan Dempster having very solid years.  Ted Lilly, the Cubs starter on this day, had been pitching well on the season with an ERA in the low 3's .  However the Cubs lack of offense left him with a 3-6 record entering the game with the Reds.

The game started off well for the Cubs.  The Reds best player, Joey Votto, got ejected in the first inning for arguing a strike three call (he threw his helmet down in front of the umpire, a no-no in MLB).  Lilly held the Reds scoreless for the first two innings.  Then in the bottom of the second, a Marlon Byrd single and a Tyler Colvin home run put the Cubbies up 2-0.  A full house of 41,079 thought this was going to be a very festive July 4th for the hometown team.

However, Colvin's home run was the next to last joyous moment for Cubs' fans on this day. Drew Stubbs would wallop the first of his three home runs on the day in the top of the third.  In the top of the fourth, an Orlando Cabrera single, a perfect bunt single by Paul Janish, and a crushed triple by Ramon Hernandez put the Reds up to stay 3-2.   Lilly got through the fifth, but Mike Leake held the Cubs scoreless for the third inning in a row. 

In the top of the sixth, the Reds would strike again using the long ball.  Cabrera again singled, but Janish would not be playing small ball this time.  He smoked a two run homer over the left field wall to put the Reds up 5-2.  Colvin would respond with his second homer of the day to narrow the gap to 5-3.  But that would be the last run the Cubs would score on the day.

After giving up runs in three of the past four innings, Tieff and I along with several Cubs fans around us wondered why Ted Lilly came out to start the seventh.  But manager Lou Pinella looked like a genius as Lilly got the first two out.  Then Lilly unraveled like a ball of yarn in front of the Cubs' faithful.  Brandon Phillips launched a missile over the left field fence.  Orlando Cabrera then followed with a double and Janish chased him home with a single.  Johnny Gomes followed with a two run bomb and before you knew it, it was 9-3 Reds.  And the second guessing in the stands began as Lilly gave up nine earned runs in 6 2/3 innings to bring his ERA up to 3.76.

But if anyone questioned why Pinella left Lilly in, Jeff Stevens immediately answered their questions by playing human batting practice machine, with a few walks thrown in. First, Corky Miller tattooed a Stevens offering to dead center for a solo homer. 

Then Stevens, probably affected from knowing the ball he served up to Miller was still traveling, walked the next two batters, Jay Bruce and Miguel Cairo.  Drew Stubbs then uncorked his second homer of the day and it was now 13-3.   Stevens then walked the pitcher Leake and gave up a single to Phillips.  Lou went out and got his human gasoline can out of the game.  Stevens line - 0 IP, 4 ER, 3 H, 3 BB.  A good number of Reds fans made the trip from Cincinnati and they were reveling in the beating the Big Red Machine was giving the Cubbies.  Bobby Howry spared Stevens further damage by getting Cabrera to fly out to end the inning much to the grateful delight of the home run weary fans.

The wonderful thing about Wrigley, is that despite the beatdown the Cubs were getting, you were at a magnificent shrine of a ballpark on a beautiful though warm day.  You had an old time band walking around the ballpark playing.  There was a wonderful rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" in the seventh inning by two local well known husband and wife opera singers.  There were the skybox seats in the apartment buildings, the old fashioned scoreboard and of course that green green ivy and brick.   Just a perfect July Fourth.

Stubbs put an exclamation point on the day for the Reds by hitting his third HR on the day in the ninth inning.  By then, many of the Cubs fans had headed for the exits already, leaving mostly Reds fans to rejoice on the home run parade.  The Reds belted seven round trippers, which almost accounted for half their hits.  We made the trip back to the Red Line stop along with seemingly thousands of other fans.  Tieff and I got back to our hotel room, showered, changed and headed back out for dinner.

We ended up eating outside at McCormack and Schmick's enjoying good seafood, good scenery and recapping the game we saw.   Then I got my one celebrity sighting as Rush Lead Singer/Bassist Geddy Lee walked right by our table.   We also got to see an Indian wedding procession in the park across the street from us.  Despite all that, it was relatively quiet where we were considering we were on the corner of Chestnut and Rush.

Then it was on to Lake Shore Drive and the fireworks on Lake Michigan.  Tons of people, including us, illegally crossed the very busy Lake Shore Drive, hopped the barrier and took a spot to watch the festivities. It was a good show, which I did videotape with my camera (coming to my Youtube channel in the distant future).  Finally, we capped the night with some great Ghiardelli chocolate ice cream which I first got to experience the last time I was in Chicago as well.  Tieff and I each got a bag of chocolates for our wives and after one last walk around the area, we limped back to our hotel rooms.

Our plans for July 5th was a doubleheader.  First the Milwaukee-San Fran game at Miller Park, then the night cap, the White Sox hosting the Angels at U.S. Cellular.  Accomplishing it would be another story.