Maybe all it takes is a good right-hook to the jaw.
With catcher Michael Barrett’s unexpected punching of Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski on Saturday, the Chicago Cubs may have finally awoken from their season-long slumber.
Or, they may have not. We’re going to have to wait about two weeks to find out.
Despite Barrett’s blow, the Cubs were shutout on Saturday 7-0.
But on Sunday, the Northsiders, at last, showed some resolve and some heart.
Battling back from a two-run deficit in the eighth inning, the Cubs defeated their cross-town rivals 7-4. Moreover, it was a game-tying triple from Barrett that kept the Cubs’ rally alive.
And while the SportsCenter-world of sports was buzzing all weekend long with the drama that the Barrett-Pierzynski bout induced, the key to the affair lay not in the blow itself, but in what it may represent down the line.
Point blank: since the first week of the MLB season, the Cubs have looked more like soft, gentle pandas than the young grizzly bears that their mascot represents.
Granted, it never helps when, annually, Batman and Robin (pitchers Kerry Wood and Mark Prior) can’t even find their way out of the Batcave.
And losing slugger Derek Lee to an injury more freakish than anything David Blaine has ever thought of is quite the setback.
But still, we expected more.
No one in their right mind was buying into the Red Sox-White Sox-Cubs triumvirate.
But the fact that the Cubs are 18-25 (10.5 games out of first-place in the NL Central) is downright disappointing.
A team filled with past and future All-Stars (Todd Walker, Juan Pierre, Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Dempster, Greg Maddux, Carlos Zambrano, Ronny Cedeno, Jacque Jones), Chicago has been outplayed, outthought and out hustled since the 2006 season began.
Every team has injuries. Just ask the Yankees and the Mets. But continually sleeping through the months of April and May should go down as a crime in Chi-town. Actually, it probably does.
Manager Dusty Baker’s head has been on the chopping block since the middle of the ’05 season. But Baker’s still standing.
And with three-fourths of the ’06 year still left to be played, perhaps the Cubs are starting to realize that the baseball Gods aren’t going to simply hand them their long-sought World Series rings just because they “deserve” them.
With Lee out of the lineup, the veteran Barrett has now become the leader on the field for the Cubs.
A Silver Slugger award winner in ’05, Barrett has been one of the best hitting catchers in the game since he broke in with the Montreal Expos in 1998
But, like the Cubs, Barrett has never quite fulfilled the expectations and potential that others saw in him.
Solid, dependable, reliable. Those are the words that come to mind when describing Barrett.
He hit .276 with 16 home runs and 61 RBIs last year. And he has a career average of .263 and 15 home runs.
Yet, just like everyone else on the Cubs’ starting roster this season (specifically Walker, Zambrano, Ramirez and Pierre), Barrett has been playing below the radar.
His numbers are good, .284, five home runs, 20 RBIs. But nothing spectacular.
So, maybe the “Blow from Barrett” will light the spark that the Wrigley-faithful have been waiting for for so long.
Giving credence to the theory was a rare outburst from Maddux on Friday. Unhappy with being squeezed by home plate umpire Larry Vanover, Maddux exchanged less than kind words with Vanover.
Zambrano then echoed Maddux on Sunday, jawing at Pierzynski as he crossed home plate.
Also, Wood has now returned to the mound. And his first outing, while technically unproductive (five innings pitched, four earned runs), showed promise.
Throw in the reactivation of Prior (mid-June) and Lee (July) and the Cubs may actually be turning things around before the mantra of “wait ’till next year” begins to course through Wrigley in early August.