It was one of those rare nights of Chicago baseball symmetry, when external forces conspired to put both teams in similar situations, and fans reacted in a similar manner.
Trying to protect a two-run, eighth inning lead against the Reds, Cubs manager Rick Renteria used four relievers in a five-batter span, going all LaRussa on the remnants of a Wrigley Field crowd that had waited out a 53-minute, pre-game rain delay and saw Jake Arrieta’s perfect game bid broken up an inning earlier.
Minutes earlier in Baltimore, trying to protect a three-run, ninth inning lead against the Orioles, after left-hander Scott Downs, (who has a 5.70 earned-run average) gave up a leadoff single, Ventura turned to interim closer Ronald Belisario.
This was the same Belisario who blew a win for Chris Sale the day before, giving up a walk-off grand slam to Chris Davis, and has been anything but closer-like since taking over for injured Matt Lindstrom.
Renteria’s moves worked out. The Reds didn’t score and the Cubs pulled away in the bottom of the inning.
Ventura’s moves worked out as well. Though Belisario gave up a couple hits and let the inherited runner from Downs score, he still notched the save, reduced his ERA to 5.65 and helped stop a five-game losing streak.
All’s well that ends well. So what have we learned here?
That nearly halfway into a lost season on both sides of towns, some fans are still passionate enough to care about winning a baseball game, and that the low-key, high-visibility managers have yet to win over their respective factions.
Upsetting fans is an occupational hazard for any manager or head coach in sports, and neither Renteria nor Ventura are expected to make decisions based on potential backlash if the move backfires.
Fortunately, both have been around long enough to shrug off the criticism, knowing the only ones they really have to please are their bosses. (No, not their wives, but their work bosses.)
Despite the general malaise on the North and South Sides, both managers have done as expected in the first half with the cards they’ve been dealt.
The Sox were supposed to be improved, having added slugger Jose Abreu and a new leadoff man in Adam Eaton to a 99-loss team. They are much better, but the season-ending injury to Avisail Garcia probably killed any chance they had of contending, even in a weak division.
Good luck with that.
The Cubs are about where everyone expected them -- in last place and preparing for Theo's Annual Summer Flip-a-Thon. But the two wild cards that accidentally got Dale Sveum fired — Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro — have both improved under the Ricky Sunshine approach, and the Cubs are satisfied with Renteria's performance.
The wise decision by president Theo Epstein to dump-and-eat Jose Veras and his salary gave Renteria a young bullpen to manage, but the starters have lasted long enough to keep the relievers from being overworked, and they're getting better.
Now it’s up to Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer to get a solid return on Jeff Samardzija and, to a lesser extent, Jason Hammel. They can’t afford to blow the Samardzija deal, which has been debated for two years now.
As for Ventura and Renteria, they don’t have to worry about job security if their teams finish last, no matter how fans react to their day-to-day decision-making.
But they may want to invest in some earplugs if this keeps up.