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Even ump seems to have it out for Cubs

Updated: July 3, 2011 6:18AM



The Cubs might want to consider giving bribery a try, seeing as how the bad-
baseball approach hasn’t done a whole lot for them.

They have very little on their side these days, and that certainly includes umpire Paul Emmel, whom we’ll get to in a second. They ran into White Sox pitcher Philip Humber on Saturday at Wrigley Field and did what a lot of teams have done against Humber this season: They walked away scratching their heads after a loss.

This time it was a loss of the 1-0 variety, an especially painful experience because Cubs starter Matt Garza pitched so well. But that’s how it goes for a team going nowhere. It does just enough to lose.

That’s where Emmel comes in. Outside of the traditional blind-umpire defense, there are two possibilities about what was going on with the second-base umpire Saturday. Either he had a 5:30 p.m. dinner reservation or he is Gordon Beckham’s long-lost uncle.

In the second inning, Emmel was standing a few yards away when Sox third baseman Brent Morel scooped up Alfonso Soriano’s grounder and started a double play.

One problem: Beckham took the throw and failed to step on second base. Check that: Beckham didn’t come close to stepping on the bag. If you didn’t know better, you would have thought he was a farmer avoiding a cow pile.

But that’s not how Emmel saw it — or didn’t see it. He called a hard-sliding Marlon Byrd out at second.

Quade has his say

And out came Cubs manager Mike Quade, carrying with him the injustice of a bad call and perhaps the frustration of a lifeless baseball season. Emmel tossed him like spoiled milk.

There’s leeway given on the pivot of a double play. We’ve all seen it. The shortstop or second baseman drags his foot near the bag and misses by a few inches — maybe more — and the umpire lets it go. But this wasn’t even close.

‘‘I was out of the dugout as the play was developing,’’ Quade said. ‘‘I don’t manufacture stuff. I was mad. I thought he was way off the bag.’’

Cubs players appreciated the gesture.

‘‘He went out there and said, ‘I’m not going to let this happen. This is our turf,’ ’’ Garza said.

Quade wasn’t around to argue a similar play in the fourth. Morel’s throw from third pulled Beckham off the bag, but Emmel called Aramis Ramirez out at second. Quade, from his seat in front of a TV in the clubhouse, thought it was a good call. Garza didn’t.

‘‘I felt Beckham was completely off the second time also,’’ he said.

This isn’t the NBA, where stars or good teams get calls. In baseball, though, bad things tend to happen to bad teams. Call the blown calls a cosmic occurrence, a Cubbie occurrence or anything else you like. But they happened.

The Cubs can complain all they want, but they hit into three double plays and finished 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

You could call the battle between Garza and Humber a pitcher’s duel, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Hitters flailed at pitches or watched them go by like cross traffic at a stoplight.

But it felt more like a contest to see who could withstand the heat of a July afternoon in Chicago. Besides Quade’s outburst, there was a certain languidness to the proceedings. There wasn’t enough tension to cut with a knife, though you could have taken a butter knife to the humidity.

One run is enough

Garza lost his no-hitter and the lead in the sixth. He could be forgiven for thinking it was a cheap run. A walk to Beckham, a sacrifice, a wild pitch, a bloop single to left by Juan Pierre. But that’s baseball on a thick, swampy day. It was a tribute to Garza’s pitching and Adam Dunn’s refusal to swing at strikes that the Cubs got out of the inning without more damage being done. With men on first and third, Garza struck out Dunn looking and got Paul Konerko to fly out to left field.

Why did 1-0 feel so insurmountable? Because it was.

Garza pitched a complete-game four-hitter, and it wasn’t enough. It’s the type of thing that happens to a team with a 34-50 record. And it’s why the Sox are back to .500 for the first time since April 16. Their fourth consecutive victory gave them a
42-42 record. They’re on something of a — dare we say it? — roll.

There are glimpses of a team on the cusp of finding itself, but you’d be foolish to be definitive about it, especially if you’ve watched this team bounce on a trampoline all season. And you’d be silly to say such a thing with Dunn still struggling so badly. He struck out three times Saturday, and his follow-through looked like a contortionist’s idea of fun.

But the Sox are winning, and the American League Central is up for grabs. Who knows?

The saddest thing about the Cubs is that we do know. We know everything there is to know about them because we’ve had a half-season of watching this. We know too much, and we’ve seen too much.



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