Mike Nadel column on Friday's Cubs-White Sox game
Better that the Cubs won. At least they have a remote chance to have something to play for come September.
The White Sox? Tank Johnson is more likely to be named NFL Man of the Year than the Sox are to avoid a long, meaningless summer.
With Carlos Zambrano at his best and Sox batters deep in hibernation mode, Friday's 5-1 Cubs victory was borderline unfair. After watching his helpless, hapless charges strike out seven times in the first three innings, Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen turned to coach Joey Cora and said: “I hope he doesn't throw a no-hitter.”
I said much the same thing up in the press box, because it would have been an almost asterisk-worthy no-no. I mean, I've seen corpses with more life than Ozzie's Zombies. Yes, the White Sox have injury woes. But how can a team batting Tadahito Iguchi, Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski and Jermaine Dye at Nos. 2 through 6 be so impotent game after game after unproductive game?
“I was like, there we go again,” Guillen said.
Regardless of the opponent's problems, however, Zambrano deserves his due. He has been magnificent ever since vowing to start the season anew three weeks ago. And with his fastball popping new catcher Rob Bowen's mitt and his split-fingered delivery diving to unhittable locations, Friday was his best outing yet: 12 K's, three hits, one walk over eight dominant innings.
Lou Piniella called Zambrano “nasty.” And it was a good nasty. I know because Bowen required neither a stretcher nor emergency surgery after working with Cra-Z for the first time.
“He calls a good game,” Zambrano said of Bowen, who was acquired from San Diego two days earlier in the purging of Michael Barrett. “He’s on the same page as me.”
Didn't Carlos say the same about Barrett — before and after rearranging his ex-batterymate's face?
“He's fun to catch,” Bowen said. “He goes right after guys, and when you're working with a guy whose ball moves away from the barrel of the bat like his does . . . he is elite.”
As if victories hadn't been tough enough to come by for Mark Buehrle, the luckless Sox starter had to face the elite Zambrano. After allowing first-inning homers to Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez, Buehrle completely shut down the Cubs.
Nevertheless, he had no chance thanks to the team's impotent batters and a bullpen Ozzie says is “scary” bad.
Buehrle left after throwing seven innings of four-hit ball, overcome by what the team called “flu-like symptoms.” More likely, it was nausea caused by lack of support. Despite a 3.39 ERA that ranks among the American League's best, the lefty has gotten wins in only four of his 14 starts.
With Buehrle and Zambrano seemingly headed for free agency because Sox and Cubs management royally screwed up contract talks, maybe they’ll leave Chicago in a package deal: a pair of aces capable of turning around a faltering but deep-pocketed franchise.
As for their current clubs, Zambrano has more to smile about than Buehrle does. While it’s all over but the salary-dumping for the Sox, the Cubs are but one hot streak away from making noise in the laughably lousy NL Central.
Do I think the Cubs will win their division? Nah. But at least they have a chance to pretend they're contenders.
That's far more than anyone can say about the White Sox.
TANKS FOR NOTHING: Last fall, after Tank Johnson's home was raided and numerous illegal firearms were found, I said the Bears’ defensive tackle deserved a second chance.
After that incident led to him serving two months in prison for a parole violation, I stuck up for him. After NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him for up to half of the 2007 season, I said: Hey, give him a break, he served his time already.
Of course I wasn't buying Tank’s baloney about him becoming such a model citizen he would win NFL Man of the Year honors, but I really thought he had a chance to stay out of trouble and become a positive contributor to society.
What a dupe I've been.
If it turns out to be true that Johnson was speeding early Friday morning in suburban Phoenix after he had consumed alcohol — even “to the slightest degree” under Arizona laws — the Bears should stop letting Tank make dupes out of them and the rest of us forgiving types.
It's time for the Bears to recommend a good shrink who can help him deal with his pattern of self-destructive behavior and then let him become some other team's problem.
Mike Nadel (email@example.com) is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at www.thebaldesttruth.com.