Game One Hundred Twenty-Nine – Cubs 1 Cardinals 2
What a pitchers’ duel….Rich Hill had the best start of his Major League career and went pitch for pitch against one of the league’s best but unfortunately he did not figure into the decision, thanks to more mismanagement by Dusty Baker. Hill left the game after 7 full innings, warmed up to start the 8th but was not allowed to throw a pitch, Bobby Howry took over, made it a little interesting before Roberto Novoa lost the game in the bottom of the 9th after a single and stolen base by Preston Wilson; he scored on a game-winning walk off single by Gary Bennett, the back-up catcher was 3 for 4 on the day and accounted for both of the Cardinals runs.
At this point of the season, 21 games under .500, the Cubs are playing for jobs for next season and Rich Hill took another step at competing for an Opening Day roster spot in next year’s rotation. Hill was spectacular; he allowed just 1 run on 4 hits, did not walk a single batter and struck out 2….Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen. Like Mateo, Hill deserved to win the game….too bad the Cubs have forgotten how to score runs again, but at least on Saturday those darn bases were not clogged. Rich Hill made one mistake, the home run to Gary Bennett in the 3rd. He was incredibly sharp and looked very confident on the mound. He threw 93 pitches in 7 innings, 61 for strikes, a very good ratio for a pitcher that has struggled to throw strikes. The Cardinals are fighting for their playoff lives and for Hill to basically shut them down showed a lot of growth out of the talented lefty. The Fox and ESPN announcers made the comparisons to a young Steve Carlton, Barry Zito and David Wells during the game. As surprising as those comparisons were to hear if the Cubs could get Hill to pitch half as consistently as those three, they might have found an addition to their rotation for several years to come.
The Cubs bullpen has been overworked all season long, the struggles of the young pitching staff have been well documented as well as Dusty’s frustrations with them. Rich Hill was clearly in command and had retired the last 11 batters he had faced and had not allowed a hit since Juan Encarnacion in the 4th inning. As mentioned he looked confident and seemingly had command of all his pitches. He did have trouble in the 3rd after allowing the home run to Bennett, he proceeded to allow a single to Chris Carpenter but he pitched his way out of trouble….no one is perfect. But for some reason Dusty allowed Hill to warm-up to start the 8th but before he had a chance to throw a single pitch, Dusty went to the pen and brought in Bobby Howry. The game was tied 1-1 and Hill deserved the chance to either win or lose the game….see what he is made of. Here is the rest of the scenario….
The Cardinals had little choice but to allow Bennett to hit for himself with Molina being injured, granted Hill had given up the homer to Bennett but LaRussa had no choice but to allow Bennett to hit. Hill was due to lead off the 9th, so a pinch hitter was inevitable. But with the known injury to Molina and Bennett swinging a hot bat, if Dusty knew he was going to make the switch….why allow a young pitcher with a fragile ego and confidence to warm-up, just to pull him. The move also made it necessary for Dusty to use one of “his guys” in the 9th that ended up costing the Cubs the game. Dusty has made questionable decisions all season, if not longer, hopefully this decision will not have a long lasting negative effect on the young, very talented Rich Hill.
The Cubs managed just 2 hits against Carpenter and he faced only 2 over the minimum but left the game in the 9th with cramps in his leg. Phil Nevin had the only 2 hits, a single and a solo home run in the 8th. Jacque Jones walked, Carpenter’s first in his last 4 starts and Juan Pierre added a single in the 9th but was erased on a double play to end the 9th. Nevin’s home run in the 8th ended a scoreless innings stretch that dated back to the 4th inning of Thursday’s game against the Phillies….21 innings.
Another game and another rookie, Les Walrond is scheduled to make his Cub debut on National TV on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. Walrond pitched for the Kansas City Royals out of the pen in 2003 and Sunday night will be his first career start. Walrond was drafted by the Cardinals in 1998 and will face Jeff Weaver. Sunday night would be a great time for Walrond to register his first career win and keep his team from being swept by the Cardinals.