Close not nearly enough for Cubs
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com July 4, 2013 10:30PM
Updated: August 6, 2013 6:36AM
OAKLAND, Calif. — Dale Sveum tossed a football in the air as he talked to reporters in the visiting manager’s office before the game Thursday at the Oakland Coliseum.
Almost 33 years ago, Sveum had one of the best days of his athletic life at this stadium, throwing four touchdown passes as a sophomore quarterback for nearby Pinole Valley High in a sectional-final upset of Amador High.
“My 16th birthday,” he said. “Got my license, won a championship, then my dad made me go right straight home.”
Sveum smiled as he told the story. And he tossed the football again.
It’s days like this the second-year manager couldn’t be blamed if he took his football and went home. Right straight home.
That would have made him the only one in a Cubs uniform capable of finding such a place Thursday.
Already in the process of another midsummer sell-off, the Cubs lost a rare shot at a feel-good flight home from a long road trip when a two-out passed ball in the seventh inning led to the only run of the game. The Cubs lost to the Athletics 1-0, their third 1-0 defeat this season and their 19th one-run loss.
According to research by Bay Area stats guru Bill Arnold, it’s the first time in 51 years the Cubs lost a game in which the only run scored came on a passed ball, invoking echoes of the worst team in Cubs history and journeymen catchers such as Dick Bertell.
The Cubs got another strong start from likely All-Star Travis Wood. But as baseball games go for this lineup, it was another good day for football for the Cubs.
“It was a shame. Once again he was outstanding,” Sveum said.
For a team that has been in roster flux since April, with even greater changes coming in the next month, games like this one will be less memorable and significant than they will be symptomatic of what is almost sure to become the Cubs’ fourth consecutive losing season.
For all the talk of organizational rebuilding, it’s a team still stuck between the tear down and the rebuilding part of the Theo Epstein Plan as it passes the halfway point of Year 2.
When relievers Matt Guerrier and Pedro Strop made their Cubs debuts Thursday, they became the 40th and 41st players to appear for the team in just 83 games.
Catcher Welington Castillo said his unfamiliarity with Guerrier played a role in the decisive passed ball.
“But I don’t want to make that excuse,” he said.
And the characters involved in the Cubs’ lone scoring chance were emblematic of the imperfect nature of any rebuilding effort in high-stakes, big-league sports.
Alfonso Soriano lined the only hit in seven innings against A’s starter Dan Straily into left field with one out in the fourth.
Yoenis Cespedes — the Cuban defector who said last spring he expected to sign with the Cubs until the A’s surprisingly offered the four-year deal he sought — unleashed a throw to the plate that cut down Starlin Castro trying to score from second.
Castro — the oft-criticized building-block shortstop with a three-month slump and a seven-year contract — swears he was running hard start to finish.
“I thought I’d score easy,” he said. “When I saw the throw, I said, ‘Wow.’ ”
Sveum just shook his head and said he was “shocked that anybody could get thrown out on that. Seemed like a no-brainer off the bat.”
Sveum might not know how much more of this awaits in the 79 games left.
But he still had the football, visible in a half-packed bag he eventually hauled home.