Finally, a winning day at Wrigley Field
A big crowd and a big victory over the Yankees remind the Cubs how success feels
CHICAGO -- Wrigley Field was lousier than usual with schmaltzy baseball reverie Friday as baseball's winningest franchise crossed paths with baseball's Cubbiest.
Twitpics were popping on the field pregame as baseball luminaries made the rounds for Andrew Cashner Bobblehead Day, which happened to coincide with a rare Yankees visit to Wrigley Field.
Major League Baseball's new dean of discipline, Joe Torre, was walking around wearing a sling, not from protesting cross-team fraternization too profusely, and Mr. Slim-Fast himself, Tommy Lasorda, was also in the house.
Heck, even Alex Rodriguez signed autographs down the right-field line before the game.
I'm sure a lot of us were disappointed with the way we've been playing. It's never too late to turn it around, and it's a good thing we're doing it here.” -- Reed Johnson
This also was a reunion weekend of sorts with the city for other Yankees. Former Cubs such as the sainted Joe Girardi and the perpetually glum Larry Rothschild were feted by the media, and were joined by a passel of ex-White Sox players (Freddy Garcia, Nick Swisher, Andruw Jones, Boone Logan and Jeff Marquez) and Chicago's own Curtis Granderson, who stayed at the Trump Hotel with the team, rather than at his city pad. (Wouldn't you?) Other celebs included the rarely seen Ricketts sibling, Pete, who was on hand to see a bigger waste of family money than his ill-fated 2008 Senate campaign, the 2011 Cubs.
Even the most bitter cranks admit the Yankees-Cubs series is a major event in baseball this season, an interleague matchup to actually savor, and more importantly, one for the Cubs to cash in on. The stadium was filled, 42,219 strong, thanks to a preponderance of visiting Yankees fans who bought up some of the 30,000-plus tickets available on the secondary market for this series.
Yankees-Cubs at Wrigley Field on a sunny June afternoon; you couldn't mess this up if you tried.
And the "getting healthy" Cubs not only won at the gate, but they look legitimately lukewarm as a team after a 3-1 win, which followed their taking three of four against Milwaukee.
Lack of offense aside -- there were only three total extra-base hits -- it was an enjoyable game, especially for Cubs fans, somewhat of a rarity during a moribund start to the season.
Context aside, if you woke up from your 2008 coma and walked into Wrigley, you'd think nothing had changed.
But of course, a lot has changed, and it's tough to celebrate this win for anything more than a sliver in time. Unless, unless, the Cubs are gearing up for a major summer run. After the White Sox's surge last season, you know it's not impossible.
"I'm sure a lot of us were disappointed with the way we've been playing," said Reed Johnson, who made a highlight-reel diving catch to start the ninth. "It's never too late to turn it around, and it's a good thing we're doing it here."
The change in atmosphere was palpable thanks to the buzz the Yankees pack.
"Today it felt like '07, '08, '09," catcher Koyie Hill said. "I think a lot of guys left over from those teams remember that, and we're anxious to get back to that on a consistent basis."
One more win over the Yankees this weekend, and two of three against the White Sox next week, and this team officially has some momentum. Don't start printing those fourth-place T-shirts just yet, Pittsburgh.
How important a game was this for the Yankees? Well, they trotted out "Big Game" Freddy Garcia, if that says anything.
The Cubs started Doug Davis, which caused a million Yankees fans to say out loud, "Doug Davis is still in baseball?" Davis, of course, shined, pitching into the eighth to earn his first win of his short Cubs tenure and proving Cubs manager Mike Quade's eternal mantra: Ya never know.
The team even opened a block party on its Clark Street property. We're unofficially naming the party after the team's marketing capo, Wally Hayward, who could try to profit from the "Is Wrigley a dump?" conversation by turning it into a naming rights deal with Waste Management. Just a thought.
While Jeter's chase for 3,000 hits was paused by his trip to the disabled list (I hope you season-ticket holders didn't wait on scalping your investments), Castro hit as advertised with two doubles and an RBI.
And although the Cubs mostly downplayed the importance of the big, bad Yankees coming to town, Davis admitted he got a little excited on the mound.
"Everybody was into the game, and you get those extra butterflies when you strike a guy out and when you're in trouble and stuff like that," he said. "There is something to it."
Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner wasn't with the club for its last visit in 2003. He joined the thousands of predecessors in expressing his dismay with the visiting clubhouse, noting visiting teams should bring only 20 players and the media should be limited to five pool reporters.
Aside from Cub-for-life Girardi and a few other starry-eyed historians, the Yankees probably were just happy to have a couple of nights to hit downtown.
"For us, it's just another series," said Granderson, the local product who starred at University of Illinois-Chicago. "I know some guys are excited because they haven't seen this park before."
Granderson, by the way, is on the side of modernity when it comes to Wrigley, where he had played only once before.
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"For me, I always like new," he said before the game, comparing Wrigley to the new Yankee Stadium. "I understand tradition and history and all that stuff that goes with it. At the same time, technology for me has been a big thing. ... It's not necessarily I want to see this go, but I'm all for new."
The Wrigley Gods of Antiquity struck back, as Granderson went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, also misplaying Castro's RBI hit in the first inning.
Whether the Cubs turn this season around was a moot point for an afternoon as fans of all stripes enjoyed a Davis-Garcia pitching duel. We can only hope the next two games are as good.
"If you bought a ticket today and weren't happy with what you saw," Quade said, summing up the day, "you should probably do lacrosse or something else."
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.