I spent much of last night's game with a sense of deja vu. The weather was practically identical to the weather of Opening Day. I was watching a Dusty-managed team swing at anything close to the strike zone on offense, and pitch anywhere but the strike zone on defense. Neal Cotts pitched poorly. The game ended on a Jerry Hairston Jr. strikeout.
Then there were the other instances we seem to have seen before. A cat (which was NOT black) came scampering out from somewhere in left field and ran around a bit before a member of security corraled it. Of course, everyone in the ballpark started playing the mental video of Ron Santo being circled by a black cat at Shea in 1969.
Then a high foul ball twisted and curved and came down ominously close to the Bartman seat, and a fan caught the ball, thus taking away the .000001% chance that Soriano had of making the catch. The crowd erupted in a chorus of boos that grew louder when the next pitch was hit into right for a single.
I wasn't sure what would happen next. I half expected to see a ball go between Lee's legs at first, or have Steve Garvey or Will Clark come out of the Reds' dugout to pinch hit.
Now, there was a lot of debate on Bleed Cubbie Blue about exactly how much the foul ball actually had in common with the Bartman incident. There were many arguments that the ball was actually two or three rows further up the line, that the situation was totally different, that there was a good chance that Soriano wouldn't have caught the ball even if there was no wall or fans within twenty feet of him, etc.
All of which brings to mind the question: Who f---ing cares!?
I don't care if the ball was a frame-by-frame re-enactment of the incident down to the headphones and Alou hissy-fit. What the hell does it matter?
I hear people talk all about how they can't believe how badly they feel for Bartman and that it wasn't his fault the Cubs imploded in 2003. But there was a whole stadium full of people booing a guy who may or may not have done something that resembled the Bartman play.
I don't like passing blame onto one individual when a collapse on the magnitude of Game 6 occurs, but if one person has to take the blame, it is Dusty Baker and not Steve Bartman that should take the heat. Leave Bartman alone for once and for all.
When the eighth inning started in Game 6, Dusty sent his rookie pitcher to the mound after 95 pitches to protect a three run lead. Nobody was warming up in the bullpen. Those of us in Aisle 424 pleaded for Dusty to get Farnsworth up in the bullpen - just in case. We had seen much larger leads dissolve in the past. We had been witness to the near-collapse of a five-run lead to the Giants in 1998. Stuff happens in baseball, and never more so when a team is on the precipice of history.
Apparently Dusty was unconcerned, as Farnsworth sat out in the bullpen as the inning began. We all know what happened next. Prior gets an out and gives up a double to Pierre. He is now about to face the middle of the Marlin order after 105 pitches, and Castillo is doing his thing by fouling off pitch after pitch. He then sends that ball towards Bartman, yada yada yada... Alou stages a nutty, the fans are throwing beer and cascading boos down on the guy, and every Cub fan in the world braced for impact.
One would think that at this point, Dusty would come out, gather the infield and say something to the effect of, "Dude, we still got this game. Get the out, and then get one more. Don't worry about what could have been. Get the job done." This would have allowed Farnsworth some time to get ready (he was finally up) AND maybe calmed the whole team down a bit and allowed them to re-focus. It would have been SOMETHING other than sitting in the dugout and doing NOTHING.
Dusty chose to sit in the dugout and do nothing.
Maybe if he goes out there, Prior doesn't proceed to walk Castillo, maybe he doesn't give up a hit to Pudge, maybe Alex Gonzalez doesn't bobble the grounder (I still don't think he turns two on it - but one would have been nice), maybe Farnsworth is ready to face Derrek Lee instead of a rattled Prior with 118 pitches on the night. Maybe.
It might not matter, but we'll never know. Dusty just sat and watched it all unfurl and never even tried to change the momentum, and eight pitches after the Bartman ball, the lead was gone.
He was completely unprepared for anything other than Prior continuing his dominance. He was completely unwilling to accept that the team might need to hear a word or two from their leader when things went bad. There is only so much that a manager can do, but he didn't even attempt to change the course of the game.
There were all sorts of events conspiring to defeat the Cubs that night, but Dusty's complete inactions in that inning were, in my mind, the single largest contributor to the Cubs defeat.
Oh - and when Seat 106 yelled to his beer vendor buddy: "Hey Steve, I'll see you at the World Series!" That didn't help anything either.