CHICAGO—Yes, there also was a baseball game Friday. Amid all the hoopla of the NATO visit, rumors of President Obama visiting Wrigley Field and Kerry Wood picking this weekend to retire, the City Series finally got to take center stage.
The Cubs and White Sox renewed their rivalry and once the game actually could start at Wrigley Field, it was baseball as normal.
And it was apparent things were not normal right away during the Sox's 3-2 victory, as only 34,937 tickets were sold at Wrigley, which can seat more than 41,000. That was the smallest crowd ever on the North Side for a Cubs-Sox game.
When the game started, it became an attention-grabber early, as Paul Konerko homered in the first inning, then left the game after ebing beaned two innings later. And two innings after that, Cubs' manager Dale Sveum was ejected for arguing a call at second base.
The White Sox struck first, right in the first inning before Philip Humber had even thrown a pitch.
Konerko gave the South Siders a 2-0 lead when he deposited a Jeff Samardzija pitch into the left field seats. Gordon Beckham scored after an infield single.
For Konerko, it was his 55th homer in interleague play, moving him past Ken Griffey Jr. into second place all-time. Jim Thome is first with 59.
The Cubs chopped the lead in half in the bottom of the first. David DeJesus led off with a double off the left field wall and got to third when Tony Campana's sacrifice bunt went for a hit. Campana stole second base and then DeJesus scored on Starlin Castro's sacrifice fly. But Bryan LaHair (strikeout) and and Alfonso Soriano (fly out) could not get Campana home.
In the third inning, with two outs and no one on base, Konerko was drilled near the left eye by a Samardzija pitch and had to leave the game, holding a white towel to his cheekbone. Samardzija rushed into home plate and stodd over Konerko to show his concern.
First medial reports on Konerko were encouraging. He was treated for a laceration and swelling around his left eye and sent for more tests.
If the Sox had retaliation on their minds, it didn't show until the fourth inning. Samardzija led off the bottom of the third and had no Humber pitch come close to him. He reached on an error by shortstop Alexei Ramirez.
When LaHair led off the fourth inning for the Cubs, Humber's first pitch sailed behin his head and home plate umpire Tim Timmons warned both benches that he had seen enough.
But that didn't end the fireworks.
In the bottom of the fift inning, DeJesus led off with a single into the left center field gap. DeJesus slid into second base. He appeared to be safe but was tagged out by Beckham when he dived and his collision appeared to force DeJesus off the base.
That set off Sveum, who was ejected after an animated argument with umpire Marty Foster.
The Cubs finally saw Humber exit with two runners on base in the seventh inning and one of them scored when Samardzija singled off reliever Matt Thornton.
That tied the game at 2 and set up the final fireworks, which began right away when Beckham homered in the top of the eighth. He came into the game as a .360 lifetime hitter against the Cubs.
After an Adam Dunn walk, Wood came in for his final appearance and, appropriate for the one-time phenom labeled Kid K, he struck out Viciedo.
Wood pointed towards first base at Dunn, who doffed his cap, and walked off to a standing ovation and a curtain call from the fans, who had heard rumors before the game that he would retire.
Sveum knew before the game that when crosstown rivals play, anything is possible.
“You don’t want to say they’re different than any other game, but they are,” hesaid. “ That’s just the way it is. ... Everything is more magnified, fans are more into it, it’s a whole different atmosphere than other games.”
Of course, this is Sveum’s first up-close look at the City Series, but he has been witness to Red Sox-Yankees games.
There are certain rivalries in sports that just don’t match anything else,” he said. “And those are probably the two in baseball that are the biggest, no question about it.”
Friday’s game on a near-perfect baseball afternoon matched two underachieving teams, although that didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of fans North and South, although neither the stands nor bleachers were filled at game time.