7:18 PM CDT, May 29, 2013
Oh, yeah. That's what a curtain call looks like.
You could understand if Wrigley Field fans had forgotten, chugging toward the All-Star break in the fifth season with the ivy-covered walls surrounding a playoff-free zone. But it turns out they remember, and we have Dioner Navarro to thank for reminding us.
Like a cross between Tuffy Rhodes and Mike Caruso, the 29-year-old switch-hitter from Venezuela put his stamp on the City Series on a lazy Wednesday afternoon. The outfield walls finally a green worthy of Sherwin Williams, Navarro blasted three balls over them, the last of them hit left-handed — off reliever Brian Omogrosso — flying all the way to Sheffield Avenue.
If you count the first ball he crushed — a long, hard foul into the seats down the left-field line — he almost had four home runs. Instead he had to settle for being the first Cubs catcher since George Mitterwald in 1974 to have three in one game.
He won't get greedy.
"I had two (home runs) one time in a Little League game,'' Navarro said, smiling like Sammy Sosa in 1998. "That was about it. … It's a good feeling. So surreal now.''
Navarro, signed for $1.75 million to back up the unproven Welington Castillo, has been a rare bargain for a team that has squandered money like Lindsay Lohan.
This being Chicago's City Series, it will not come as a surprise that Navarro's power display fueled a 9-3 victory for the Cubs, not the team that needed to win the most. It was a long, painful day for the White Sox, who have slid back to two games below .500 in an attempt to retain their seasonal relevance.
There has been no end to the twists and turns in 17 years of interleague play between the Cubs and White Sox, but the prevailing storyline is it's a welcome chance for a downtrodden team to strike back.
The Cubs, who had lost six of seven before arriving at U.S. Cellular with an 19-30 record on Monday, have done just that with two easy victories. They were beating Chris Sale 2-0 on Tuesday before downpours arrived in the third inning, causing a rainout.
"It's a series where sometimes if you're in a little bit of a lull it gets you going again because of the intensity,'' Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "You know everybody in Chicago is watching.''
Not anymore, they aren't. The lack of optimism with both fan bases has put a dent into both fan bases. That's why the Blackhawks' Game 6 against the Red Wings doubled Cubs-White Sox in ratings on Monday night.
The common theme between our baseball teams is dead money. The Cubs still are paying Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol after finally getting out from under investments in Milton Bradley and Carlos Zambrano. The White Sox are getting dragged down by the $25 million they still owe Adam Dunn, the .153-hitting cleanup hitter, and are scared to death about the post-surgery future of John Danks, who gave up Navarro's two right-handed-hitting homers — a liner into the seats in left-center field and a fly that slipped just inside the left-field foul pole.
Danks was making his second start since surgery, and he didn't have much. His fastball hit 92 early but was in the high-80s in the third and fourth innings, and the Cubs seemed to know when his 80-mph changeups were coming. He's owed $14.25 million through 2016 and will need a bottomless supply of toughness to add onto the legacy he began when he beat the Twins in Game 163 in 2008.
Baseball does offer a lot of chances to change the storyline. Navarro is taking care of the one he was offered by Cubs President Theo Epstein, who signed him based on reports of how hard he played for Triple-A Louisville last season, when he couldn't carve out room on Dusty Baker's Reds roster.
With the Rays, Navarro is remembered for packing his bag and going home early when he was left off the roster for the first round of the 2010 playoffs. He was so frustrated he left even though Joe Maddon wanted a chance to add him for the next round, if the Rays beat the Rangers.
That must have seemed a long, long time ago when Navarro stood at the plate and watched his blast off Omogrosso sail toward the right-field rooftops, for his third homer of the day and sixth in 58 at-bats this season. The temple of doom was suddenly a house of joy, and it was clear that none of the views were blocked.
Surreal? No, not really. That was baseball in all its mysterious splendor.
Navarro, seemingly like everybody else in Chicago, was headed to the United Center afterward for the Hawks' Game 7 against the Red Wings. He knew he won't be in Thursday's lineup, and he didn't mind, not a bit.
"I'm going to have a few days off,'' Navarro said, smiling. "I'm going to take advantage of it.''
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