Game Recap

The Cubs won their third in a row and take the opener versus the Cincinnati Reds on a cold and windy night at Wrigley. Rich Harden and Aramis "Two-out RBI" Ramirez did the heavy lifting with some assistance from Micah Hoffpauir and Chris Dickerson's glove.

Why the Cubs Won: From what I was able to watch, Rich Harden rebounded quite nicely from his last start, needing just 92 pitches to get through six innings while fanning eight. If the Cubs weren't already up by five, you have to think he could have easily come out for the 7th inning. The mid 90's velocity still isn't there as he sat in the 89-92 range (topping out at 93 mph), but he dazzled the Reds with his lethal fastball/change combo. There was a bit of a scare in the fifth when  Wily Taveras hit a sharp grounder up the middle off Harden's glove that ricocheted to his right. Harden scampered to try and make the play but his cleats failed him and he landed face down in the grass, groin and shoulder still in tact though.

Aramis came through with the big hits tonight, a two-out RBI single in the fifth - an opportunity that was only afforded to him thanks to Chris Dickerson dropping a Derrek Lee flyball two at-bats earlier. Then in the 6th, he picked up Reed Johnson who struck out with the bases loaded to drive in two more - once again with two outs - which pretty much put the game away. Hoffpauir kept up his torrid start with his first home run of the season in the second and then hit a sac fly to center before curiously being pinch-hit for in the sixth.

Tags: 

I encountered a number of Cardinals fans heading for Chicago Union Station during this evening's rush hour. I thought about making a smart remark or two in their direction, but I held back.

It's the middle of April, there are two games left in this series, and they're still in first place.

Besides, those Saint Louis-bound fans were going to be dealing with Amtrak for the next five and a half hours.

A person should only be subjected to so much grief in a single day.

Freaky Stat of the Day: The four Cardinal pitchers—Walters, Miller, Boggs, and Perez— combined to fan 13 Cubs this afternoon. That's the highest number of strikeouts by Cub hitters in a nine-inning game in which they beat St. Louis going back to 1954, when Baseball-Reference's Play Index data begins.

Blown.
W - Villanueva (1-0), Poorly designed stadiums

 

L - Gregg (0-1), the three and a half hours I could have spent grading, that now need to be repaid.

 

 

Things to Take from This Game

 

1.  Harden is just fine, thank you.
Harden hit 96 a couple times, sat at around 92, and gave up three hits, two walks (one intentional) and one earned run on a Hart solo homer through six innings.  He also struck out ten with a nasty changeup and a well placed fastball.  It's pretty cool to see that sort of line and think "yeah, that's about what we expect from our fourth starter."  The other run against Harden was an unearned run in the first.  (A slightly high Theriot throw pulled Lee off the bag, and eventually Braun drove in a run on a single.)

 

2.  Likely and Unlikely HRs.
Bradley got off the O-fer with a huge solo homer, and Hill hit a go-ahead two-run homer that put Harden in line for a win.

 

3.  But...
Lou hard to burn through his bullpen in the seventh and eighth, using Heilman, Cotts, Marmol, Marshall, Vizcaino and Gregg to preserve the lead going into the ninth.   He also pinch hit with Miles with a chance to drive in an insurance run from third with one out in the eighth, when Hoffpauir also was available, and Miles gave us an inning-killing GIDP.

 

4.  So...
A walk, a ground out, a Weeks game-tying double, and another walk into the ninth, and Gregg finds runners on first and third with one out in the ninth.  Braun hits a medium-to-slow roller three steps to Theriot's right.  Theriot chooses to try for the out at home instead of the double play, and Weeks just does get his hand on home in front of the tag.  Brewers win the game.

 

The second-guessing begins, below.
Tags: 

W - Ted Lilly (1-0)
L - Brian Moehler (0-1)

Box Score

In the spirit of Passover, we begin tonight's recap by asking, why is this night different from all other nights?

The answer:

Tonight the Cubs sent nine men to the plate in each of the first two innings, building a lead so large, it allowed Ted Lilly to throw his own personal game of Home Run Derby and still win his first game of the season.

Details after the jump.

Update--more on Soto...

From Wittenmyer's game story in the Sun-Times:

Soto, who said he felt ''discomfort'' on an awkward throw to second...is to be re-examined [Wednesday]. Manager Lou Piniella
suggested a possible return during the next series, which opens Friday
in Milwaukee. It wasn't considered serious enough to schedule an MRI.

Soto...downplayed the
injury. He said he has had similar discomfort before, as recently as
this spring.

 

W - Doug Brocail (1-0)
L - Neil Cotts (0-1)

Box score

In the early innings of Tuesday night's game, Pat Hughes and Ron Santo discussed the fact that the Cubs have not started a season 2-0 since Pat and Ron began working together in the WGN radio booth in 1996. Naturally, this had the effect of jinxing the team and thus, the outcome was inevitable.

Tags: 
Perfect Season?
W - Zambrano (1-0)
L - Oswalt (0-1)
S - Gregg (1)

 

Things to Take from This Game

 

1. Zambrano is Sharp
Zambrano cruised through six before getting into a bit of trouble in the seventh.  He got pulled before he could get himself too far into a jam, Heilman immediately induced a GIDP, but a run then went onto Z's account when Bourn "drove in" a runner from third with a 40 foot chopper up the first base line.  For Zambrano it was one measly run, 6 Ks, 3 BB, a bunch of ground balls and a very efficient first six innings, 98 pitches total.

 

2. Cubs Get to Oswalt Early
Soriano and Ramirez led off the first and second innings with solo home runs to left: Soriano's a bomb to deep left-center, Ramirez's a liner into the boxes more down the line.  Oswalt settled down and also induced one grounder after another through an efficient seven innings. The Cubs added two more runs with a Theriot sac fly scoring Fontenot in the 6th, and a Hoffpauir single scoring Fontenot in the 9th.

 

3. Bullpen works as planned
Heilman and Cotts got the Cubs out of a seventh-inning jam, allowing Marmol and Gregg to cover the eighth and ninth.  The run against Gregg came after Bradley had the ball pop out of his glove on a tough-but-ought-to-be-caught effort at a sinking line drive.  Overall, about all one could hope for on Opening Day:  The big bats hit a couple homers, the middle infielders got on and got around, the pinch-hitter pinch-hit, Z was Good Z, and set up the bullpen to execute their assignments.

 

The undefeated details follow.
Tags: 
Holy Moses! Wood K's 20, Parts Red Sea


W - Wood (3-2), History. Fastballs over the outside corner.  Generous outside corners.

L - Reynolds (2-3), any losers who didn't see this game live because they were out in the rain and cold shooting a bad round of golf.  Trying to come up with an adequate term for that freaky breaking pitch of Wood's.

Box Score, Photos, Standings

 

Things to Take from This Game

1. Wood Strikes Out 20, Two Batters Reach in Complete Game Shutout

From the first few pitches of the game it was clear that Wood had a potentially history-making fastball and breaking stuff working today.  Wood K'd his first five,and gave up his only hit on a grounder by Gutierrez off of Orie's glove.  This won't make me the most popular guy around here, but yeah, it was a hit.  It also was a play that Orie probably makes more often than not.  Tough luck for everyone involved. The only other runner came on a curveball that got away from Wood and beaned Biggio.  The performance is every bit as dominating as the box score will indicate.  Almost without exception, the Astros looked completely helpless.

2. Cubs scratch out 2 runs against Reynolds

Reynolds threw a complete game gem, himself, with 10 Ks and 1 ER in 8 innings.  The Cubs' scores came on a Grace "double" in the second, on an incredibly generous ruling where third-baseman Howell got completely devoured by a bouncer.  Grace then advanced to third as left-fielder Dave Clark throws away the potential play at second base.  Oh Henry! drove him in with a sac fly to Alou in deep center field.  They added another for good measure in the eighth; Morandini and Grace singled, with Morandini scoring on an attempted 5-4-3 double play that was too slowly turned and resulted in a fielder's choice.

3.  Greatest Game Ever?

A traditional recap can not adequatly contextualize this game.  The central question at this moment, just minutes after witnessing this gem, is not "what do we take from this game?" but "where will this game place among the all-time great games ever pitched?"  Larson's perfect game came in a far more important context.  Haddix's perfect game through 12 innings kept more hitters off base for longer.  Clemens has two 20-K games to his record, but as I thumb through the pages of my favorite baseball encyclopedia, I see that Clemens gave up five hits in his 1996 gem, and a run on three hits in 1986.  The 1996 Tigers and 1986 Mariners, furthermore, were no 1998 Astros.  IS this the greatest game ever?  If only we had some sort of pitcher's in-game dominance statistic, and a place that compiled every statistic from every game ever played.  Then we might have a more objective idea of where this game ranks on the list of all-time great pitching performances.  In the meantime, here's hoping that Wood's career is as successful and distinguished as the Rocket's.

4.  Looking to the Future...  All the way to the Year... 2000...

This has to portend well for the Cubs.  If Wood can stay healthy and anchor a rotation with Trachsel, and another talented young arm like Geremi Gonzalez or Terry Adams or Telemaco emerges as a compliment, we could have a dominant rotation for a decade to come.  We just need Wood's health to hold, and though we know he was worked hard in high school, he seems to be a very well built young man, and hopefully can keep his strength up.  The Cubs winning a world series may be about as likely as a black president or a second Great Depression, but Wood may have the arm to get us there.

The if-this-is-his-rookie-year, just-imagine-the-things-to-come details, below.

Tags: 

Booted

W - Billingsley (1-0)

L - Zambrano (0-1)

Box Score, Photos

Things to Take from This Game

1. Alex Gonzalez Redux

Second inning with Ethier on first, the dodgers put on a hit and run.  Loney hits the ball to shortstop.  But with Theriot covering the bag, he's out of position, can't make the barehand stop of the chopper.  Ruled a hit.  Correctly. Two batters later, DeWitt hits a potential inning-ending double-play ball right at DeRosa, but it pops out of his glove, and everyone's safe with a run scoring on the play.  Lee makes an error on the next play, a chopper right at him hit by Blake, loading the bases.  A Furcal bunt and a Martin bases-clearing double to the left-center Gap, and the Cubs found themselves down 5-0 going into the bottom of the second. A particular shame as Z had looked really focused, sharp, pitching quickly, with an awesome fastball, only to have his defense betray him and then give up a legit double.

  • Ramirez also made a lame error a couple innings later.  No damage was done, save to our pride. 
  • And Theriot gives the Cubs infield the Defensive Anti-Cycle, an error by each infielder, when he throws one away in the ninth.

2.  Manny Ramirez Redux

Manny hit a gargantuan home run.  He's good. 

3. Ah, screwit.

Cotts and Marmol struggled, the Cubs got through 2/9ths of a 9-run comeback in the bottom of the ninth, other things probably happened to.

 

The "we have not yet begun to fight!" "No, really...  we haven't yet begun to fight...." details, below.

Tags: 
Gyeh.

 

W - Lowe (1-0)
L - Dempster (0-1)

 

 

Things to Take from This Game

1.  Cubs out to an early lead

DeRosa lofted a home run down the right field foul line for a two-run homer in the second.  His first swing in a week.

2.  Dempster's wildness catches up to him

Dempster looked really sharp in the first, but the Dodgers didn't chase the splitter out of the zone, the umpire didn't call fastballs just off the corners, and Dempster lost progressively greater command of his fastball.  Seven walks by Dempster alone, three of them in the fifth inning, and after nearly, nearly, nearly escaping with a near-strike out of Loney on a foul tip, Loney lined a grand slam out to center.
 
3.  Not much good to report from there
Manny Ramirez hit a remarkable home run on a pitch at his shoelaces, and Martin also hit a shot into the basket.  Wrigley was quiet most of the second half of the game, save when a few fans found the energy to boo.
 

The worrisome details, below...

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Cubs Clinch Division, First Back-to-Back since 1907-1908, Earliest since 1932

W - Lilly (16-9), You, Me, Santo, Harry, 104-year-old-dude-who-threw-out-the-first-pitch, all Cubs fans.

L - Pineiro (6-7), the rest of the NL Central

S - Wood (32)

Box Score, Photos

Things to Take from This Game

1. A bases loaded three-run single for Soriano

Well, two rbis and an error leading to the third run.  In the bottom of the second Soriano lined a single right at Brian Barton in left. The ball kicked off his glove and rolled to the wall, clearing the bases.  The Cubs raced out to a 3-0 lead.

2.  More fielding problems, more runs.

The Cubs got two more runs in the fourth, as Soto began the inning by smashing one through Glaus at third.  DeRosa hit a double high off the ivy to score Soto, and after advancing to third on a Fukudome ground out, scored on a nicely executed suicide squeeze by Lilly.  5-0 Cubs through four innings.

3. Glaus homers in 4-run Sixth

Lilly looked great, very economical, through five. In the sixth Felipe Lopez gets an RBI single on a smash up the middle off Theriot's glove, and Glaus unloads a no-doubt three-run home run into the left field well.  Suddenly we had a close game.  5-4 through six.

4.  Lilly Recovers, Marmol and Wood close it out

Other than a leadoff walk to Glaus in the ninth, the last three innings passed uneventfully as Lilly pitched the seventh, with Marmol and Wood doing their jobs to close out the game.  A soft fly out to Edmonds off the bat of Aaron Miles ended the game, and a happy Cubs team celebrated between the pitcher's mound and first base.

 The Back-to-Back NL Central Champion Details, below.

Tags: 
Brewers Give the Cubs a Game, Cubs Happily Accept

 

W - Wood (5-4), Rob G's childlike faith in spells, fairies and magical comebacks
L - Villanueva (4-7), Brewers' base-running coaches.

 

 

Things to Take from This Game

 

1. Harden reprises Marquis
Like Marquis the night before, Harden got into all sorts of trouble in the first before settling down.  The difference between the two starts being that Harden escaped with only one run allowed. Three very economical innings allowed him to get to the fifth, where Harden again struggled.  There he snuck out of a bases loaded jam with 115 pitches thrown, and just the one run from the first.  Velocity looked good, but Harden had no command on the fastball.  6 walks, 9 K's

 

2. DeRosa struggles at 2nd, Cubs struggle in 6th.
DeRosa had a throwing error in the first as he chose to try to turn a very tough DP instead of going to first.  The first run of the game scored on the play.  A bobbled grounder in the sixth helped spark a big inning for the Brewers, abetted by Samardzija's struggles to throw strikes.

 

3. Solo Scoring
Edmonds and Ramirez hit solo home runs, but that was the extent of the Cubs scoring.

 

4.  Crazy-ass rally.
The Brewers ran into two outs on the basepaths in the top of the ninth, squandering a chance to blow the game out.  Instead it's "just" 6-2.  Bottom of the ninth, two outs, and Ramirez squeaks a double just under Braun's glove. Edmonds and DeRosa single, scoring Ramirez.  Soto, who had made a nice block of the plate and nice throw in the top of the inning, takes the first pitch from Salomon Torres and hits a game-tying 3-run homer.

 

5. Lee wins it.
With runners on 2nd and 3rd in the bottom of the 12th, Lee singles up the middle to drive in the winning run.  The Brewers had 25 (yes, TWENTY FIVE) runners LOB to the Cubs' 11, plus the running gaffes.  The Cubs certainly had their issues between Harden's wildness and DeRosa's early-game defense, but overall the Brewers deserved to lose this.

 

The almost-there details, below.

 

Tags: 
Wait 'Till... The Weekend

 

W - DiFelice (1-0)
L - Marquis (10-9), drinking champagne on a thursday afternoon

 

Things to Take from This Game

 

1.  Horrid first four for Marquis
Marquis loaded the bases with a single and two walks, and Fielder cleared them with a double.  After that, Marquis settled down well enough, but the Cubs never overcame the deficit

 

2.  Short-Sheeted
Ben Sheets left after two innings due to tightness in his right forearm.  The Brewers emptied the bullpen, and they pitched very well.  Six relievers in six innings, no runs added on to the solo homer Ramirez hit off of Sheets.  The Cubs manage one run off of Torres in the ninth, but there never really was a sense of an imminent comeback.  Before the ninth, the Cubs had eeked out just four hits on the game.

 

3.  Who Cares, Our Magic Number Still is 4.

 

The rather uninspired details, below...

 

Tags: 

I think I'm taking the 2008 Cubs for granted. I headed to my car for my commute home last night just as the Phillies were scoring three runs in the sixth. And even with Cole Hamels carving up the lineup, I never thought we were out of it. I tuned into XM radio by that point and it had Pat and Ron going and Pat was carrying on that the Phils bullpen has been worked hard lately. If the Cubs could just work up  that pitch count up on Hamels. If he could go eight, the Phils would just go to Brad Lidge which probably wouldn't have done the Cubs much good considering he's a perfect 31 for 31 in save opportunities. The key was to get into the pen before that. After seven, Hamels was up to 108 pitches but due up third, and Charlie Manuel obliged by pinch hitting for him.

Boom. Mike Fontenot goes yard on Ryan Madson. As I heard Bob Brenly say on the replay, "ABH - Anybody but Hamels".

Next up, Soriano sounds like he just missed one for a double. After the Theriot single, Derrek Lee stepped up and I'm sure many the skeptical Cub fan were expecting the double play that he seems to be so prone to hitting to this year. But he already had two hits on the night and his one out sounded like a well-struck ball to the outfield. He's also managed a .923 OPS over the last 7 days. Chad Durbin left his control in the bullpen though and the bases were loaded for tonight's hero.

Whenever a Cub hits one deep, you can always tell with Pat if it's going out or not by the first or second word. He tries to put some excitement in any ball that looks like it has any chance but there's just this little extra inflection he puts in his voice when a ball is definitely going out. When Soriano hit his double, it wasn't there. When Fontenot and Ramirez hit there blasts, I could tell right away just by the subtle change in Pat's voice.

After missing on the first pitch to Ramirez and considering Durbin just walked Lee, I figured Ramirez would be taking. Instead I'm listening to Pat Hughes calling yet another Cubs comeback victory. 

Ramirez is certainly the game's hero, but let's be sure to give Kerry Wood his deserved praise. Working on his fourth straight game against the four best Phillies hitters was no small task. He had a bit of breathing room, but an outstanding outing by him as well to navigate the ninth inning for his 28th save.

The Win Probability chart after the jump...

Quite a night for the Cubbies, who looked nothing like the team with the best record in baseball, other than the final result. Errors, defensive miscues, bad starting pitching, bad relief pitching and yet they overcame all that thanks to Craig Hansen's pitching and Geovany Soto's hitting. Soto had been on a steady decline since his monstrous April putting up OPS numbers of 1.048, .868, .747, .740 heading in August. But things have turned around for him and he's put up a 1.014 OPS with 20 RBI's matching his April RBI total with five games still to go this month. His seven RBI outburst yesterday tops his 6 RBI game in April versus the Brewers and is the second most RBI's for a Cubs catcher in a game trailing the likes of Barry Foote, George Mitterwald and Ed Bailey (since 1956).

If you happen to be wondering who had the most RBI's in a game for the Cubs since 1956 like I was, the answer is after the jump.

Top of the 7th, two on and two out and Derrek Lee steps up to the plate and I'm thinking to myself, "Well, at least he can't hit into a double play here". (Sigh).

The Cubs find themselves just one game ahead in the Central and their offense hasn't been able to buy, rent or even lease a big hit. Besides hoping for the comforts of Wrigley, I'm not sure what they can do to get out of this funk. I'm usually not a big fan of catering to the hot hand, when that hot hand usually doesn't do much, but it might be time to let Mike Fontenot move up to the two spot for a few games until he cools off. His 1.240 OPS in July needs to be somewhere where it can do a little more damage and Fukudome and his .555 July OPS can figure out why he's no longer awesome at the bottom of the order.

Otherwise, I think the a team-wide slumpbuster (see definition #3) might be in order.  My source at Sky Harbor airport  is keeping an eye out to see if Rosie O'Donnell, Kirstie Alley, and Camryn Manheim show up for a little team remedy.

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