The worst part about watching the Cubs get obliterated on Opening Day was the anticipation of the professional media jumping up and down on their new favorite target now that Milton is gone, Carlos Zambrano.
While I am increasingly worried that Zambrano is just not right, the media seems to take a certain glee in pointing out Zambrano's failures. They seem to believe that the difference between the talented pitcher that earned the gigantic pay raise with his performance for this team is purely mental. Yesterday, Rick Telander did his best to organize the villagers with torches and pitchforks:
Being the Opening Day pitcher is supposed to mean something.
Yes. Generally, it means being the best starting pitcher on the team and as much as you don't want it to be a fact, there is no rational argument that can be made that a healthy Carlos Zambrano isn't one of the top pitchers in baseball, much less the Cubs.
You're the tone setter, the bell cow, the big swinging medallion chosen by the manager as the symbol of the team.
After the "tone setter," I'm not sure what the hell he is talking about. The bell cow leads because it has a damn bell around its neck, not because it is the best cow in the herd. The swinging medallion reference just makes me picture Telander in a leisure suit talking about the massive bulge in his tight pants as he looks for hot American foxes. Aside from the ill feeling in my stomach that resulted, I'm not sure what that has in common with Opening Day.
[Joke removed as it has been validly pointed out that it is unfair]
But Carlos Zambrano -- who now has started more consecutive Opening Days (six) than any other Cub -- is not a bell cow. He's a rambling, tin-can eating goat who has lost his way.
How exactly is one smelly animal somehow worse than a different smelly animal? Oh, you're working in a reference to goats. Cubs. Goats. Very original.
And with him, in a symbolic way, has gone the franchise.
So, the team that hasn't won a World Series in 101 years has lost its way as a winning ballclub because of Carlos Zambrano. Seeing how you support this statement should be almost as much fun as watching the game yesterday.
''Mind-set?'' repeated manager Lou Piniella when asked what Big Z's mind-set might have been before the 16-5 horror-show loss to the Braves at sold-out Turner Field. ''I don't know.''
What the hell did you want him to say? If someone asked me about your mindset before you wrote this bullshit column, I probably would have said "focused on being an arrogant toolbag," but the truth is I don't know because I'm not a fucking mindreader.
How could he?
By being a mindreader, which apparently, you think is plausible.
Lou's pretty old-school. Probably thinks two plus two equals four.
What does that even mean?
Zambrano is unknowable.
I guess Rick can decipher exactly what went on in the head of Ted Lilly when he got in a fight with his manager or when he got ejected from a game in which he wasn't even pitching, but that Zambrano is one Latino loco!
The 28-year-old from Venezuela speaks to the media in a voice so quiet and even-toned that it is nearly a whisper.
That is INSANE! He should be beating up Gatorade coolers and Michael Barrett!
''I will think about Cincinnati now,'' he said at his locker after he finished with a 54.00 ERA. Big Z said it the way one would if one were preparing to think about, oh, doilies.
Seriously, what do you want him to do? If he froths at the mouth, he's an insane lunatic who doesn't deserve the money he earned. If he brushes it off like it was ONE FREAKING START out of about thirty to come this year, he's a lackadaisical prima donna who doesn't deserve the money he earned. If he reacts like a disappointed professional who is ready to not dwell on the past and work on improving in the future, you bitch about doilies.
He had been handed a three-run lead on new center fielder Marlon Byrd's home run, and then he took the mound and blew up.
He actually walked a man and induced a bunch of weakly hit balls that probably should have been fielded by major league players, but instead the balls went unfielded by the Lil' Louisiana Lads and our pudgy right-fielder that is being played in center. The first really hard hit ball of the inning is the one that is tattooed on everyone's memory, but by my count, Zambrano had already induced what should have been four outs before Heyward launched it into orbit.
We should not judge a person's character by how he performs as an athlete, but if you're paid $17.8million a year to be the star and you've got a 95 mph Jedi sword in your holster and you've thrown a no-hitter and you always tell us how good you feel and you aren't even fat this year, then, Lord-a-mighty, how can you walk the first man you face and then give up four hits, a home run and another walk in the first inning on Opening Day?
It would be like if a professional columnist who has been writing for a living for over thirty years and who will gladly point out that he has written a book and for Sports Illustrated and that Sports Illustrated rated that book as one of the top 25 of all-time and had his smug face on television in the company of actual good journalists would write a horrible, self-righteous, run-on sentence.
No one knows.
As much as no one knows why anyone pays you a salary for this crap.
Yet the Cubs have latched themselves to this yo-yo -- meant in the sense that the classic spinning toy goes up and down and all around and even walks across the floor like a baby -- and the team itself cannot be counted on because of that.
It was a huge decision to sign Zambrano to a long-term contract in 2007. General manager Jim Hendry did it, and he was looking at the fact that Big Z had been an All-Star at 23, the youngest in Cubs history, and Hendry had prayed Zambrano would become the ace who could dial the code and lead the Cubs out of their century-old panic room.
Yes, it was a huge decision. Not sure what you are getting at here. Are you saying you would have let the then 26-year old walk away with his 82-55 record, 3.41 ERA and 1.28 WHIP? Because that is insane. Carlos wasn't making outrageous contract demands for his production and he always has said the right things about wanting to stay a Cub. Any other choice in that decision process could only be justified through the glasses of hindsight and revisionist history.
But Zambrano, who has been an All-Star three times and in the Cubs organization 13 years, teases, then yanks it away.
If anything has been yanked, it has been Zambrano's arm. The man threw over 200 innings for five consecutive years from 2003 to 2007. Even the last two years when the almost inevitable decline in his durability has taken a hit, he has put up a total of almost 350 innings. But, yeah, the problem is probably his head.
He has won only 23 games the last two years, and the Cy Young talk has vanished.
Since you value wins so much, I'll just point out that in Carlos' win percentage until 2007 was .599. Including the Opening Day loss, his win percentage is .622 since. It was .639 before Opening Day. Wow. Talk about a precipitous drop in production.
And how do you deal with the other things he does? The punch thrown, the water dispenser battered, the glove hurled into the dugout, the emotional and physical control lost -- they all pop from nowhere.
Earlier in this same column, you criticized him for being "quiet and even-toned!" What the fuck do you want from him?
Zambrano had an astounding second inning against the Braves, even by his standards. After hitting leadoff batter Martin Prado, he covered first base on Chipper Jones' grounder and then launched a rainbow to third that soared over Aramis Ramirez's head and nearly into the stands. To tie it up with a bow, Zambrano offered a homer to Brian McCann before Piniella mercifully yanked him.
There is no getting around that Zambrano had a bad day. I still contend that a large part of his bad day would have been extremely manageable if the Lollipop Guild weren't his middle infield defense, but exaggerating these two innings out of the 1,552 innings he has pitched in his career as a microcosm of his entire career? Aren't you supposed to be the veteran writer who can add some perspective to a situation while the emotional fans are all jumping off cliffs?
Opening Day pitcher?
I guess you would have preferred Ryan Dempster who has never walked everyone in the ballpark in a tone-setting situation before.
''It happened,'' Zambrano said. ''I gave up eight runs. Like I said, I will concentrate for the next start.''
Concentrating for this one would have been nice.
Nice cheap shot. You know what? I can do that too. Fuck you.
No, it's not like one game means much.
But you are about to explain why it should mean so much to your half-witted argument.
But the 16 runs are the most the Cubs have given up to anybody on Opening Day, going back to 1884.
I guess it is also Carlos' fault that the Cubs would be better off with Devin Hester in the bullpen over Jeff Samardzija?
''Somewhat of an embarrassing loss,'' Piniella said.
Not as embarassing as this column.
Oh, Zambrano had help. Reliever Jeff Samardzija's 108.00 ERA is in the mix, as is gazillion-dollar left fielder Alfonso Soriano's .000 batting average.
I guess Theriot's .000 in the leadoff spot doesn't warrant a mention, or his leprechaun brother booting routine groundballs.
But this was Big Z's day -- in front of new owner and stunned fan Tom Ricketts.
How stunned could he possibly be? He has watched this team before, right? I mean, we were all told what a big fan he was.
Seemed a little like Closing Day, it did.
I'm hoping this means you have given up on the 2010 season and won't be writing anything more about them. By the way Jay Marriotti called, he wants his assholic vitriol back.