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Weekend Recap: In Which Phil Makes Happy Faces
by Phil Bencomo
Some weekend for the defending champs of the world. The Bulls extinguished the Heat, as the hoary pun goes, in glorious fashion a sweep, in fact. Nine or ten years ago I'd have been far more excited about such an occurrence, but Michael Jordan's (second) retirement, the subsequent dismantling of the team, and the horrible mismanagement that followed made losing interest pretty easy. I instead devoted my full attention to baseball. But as a former basketball nut, I do appreciate the significance of the Bulls' first playoff series win against the defending champs, no less since I last really paid attention to the team.
The Cubs had a chance to accomplish a similar feat: A sweep of the defending champs. Granted, the Cubs aren't in the playoffs, and they have won a playoff series within the decade, but if it's close enough for me, shouldn't it be for you, too?
But, as you well know, the Cubs' hopes for a sweep were dashed due to the untimely death of Cards pitcher Josh Hancock. With Sunday's game postponed, the Cubs still managed a sweep of the abbreviated series, I suppose, if you want to get technical. "Series" denotes continuity, so the makeup game, whenever it's scheduled for, won't truly be a part of the series. And a series can be two games.
The point is, I'll take all the chances to gloat ("Remember when we swept you in April," I'll say to Cardinal-loving friends) that I can get. But it is unfortunate that it comes under such tragic circumstances.
Now to the games:
Friday: Cubs 5, Cardinals 3: Jason Marquis started on Friday and was solid, if unspectacular. Despite striking out nobody, he managed to hold St. Louis to three runs on a mere five hits, no small feat considering his utter lack of Ks. In fact, since 1957 only five other Cub starting pitchers have ever won such a game (see the list, generated by Baseball Reference's PI tool, here). As is fitting for the Cubs, opposing pitchers have replicated Marquis' rare outing 11 times, most recently Houston's Chris Sampson in 2006.
The bullpen held the Cubs' slim lead, marking the team's first win, after 22 games, by two runs or less. Lou Piniella managed the bullpen deftly, pulling Will Ohman after one batter and bucking the One Inning Rule Of The Closer by going to Ryan Dempster with one out in the 8th. Smart move, Lou, smart move. With Bob Howry out with a bad back after a freak barbecue accident, Piniella had rookie Rocky Cherry, lefty Scott Eyre and his closer in the bullpen. Late in a close game, it makes all the sense in the world to go with the best available pitcher. Eyre's got an ERA over 12, Cherry's an unproven rookie, and Dempster's been excellent: The choice was obvious. But I can only imagine, with horrific images of catastrophic disaster flashing before my eyes, what Dusty would have done...
The Cubs' offense was carried by home runs from Aramis Ramirez and überprospect Felix Pie, the latter hitting the first of his career. Those two homers were all the Cubs would need. And nobody even grounded into a double play! Woo-hoo!
Saturday: Cubs 8, Cardinals 1: Carlos Zambrano finally awoke from his early-season nightmare with seven innings of seven-hit ball, and Z allowed a lone run a solo home run by "Big Al" Pujols, as we call him within my humble abode. But Carlos could have given up half-a-dozen solo shots to Pujols and the Cubs would have still won, thanks to the less-than-brilliant performance of St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright.
'Cause it was all Cubs on offense Saturday. The bottom of the order (Mark DeRosa, Jacque Jones, and Henry Blanco) combined for seven hits and five RBI. Derrek Lee chipped in with two more hits, including his 13th double.
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These are the kinds of performances that the Cubs should be putting together with regularity. 10-13 we may be, but the Cubs have an excellent opportunity to put the team on the better side of .500 with upcoming series against the 11-12 Pirates, the 8-17 Nationals, again against the Pirates, and then the 11-13 Phillies. Winnable series, especially if the Cubs play to their capability.
Rich Hill throws tonight in about an hour to kick off a three-game set with Pittsburgh.