Finish Them Off

Game Fourteen – Cubs 6 Braves 8
WP – Oscar Villarreal (1-0, BS 1) LP – Scott Eyre (0-1, BS 1) Save – Bob Wickman (5)

For the past several seasons this organization’s pitching staff has given up countless numbers of 2 out runs and it was more of the same on Wednesday night. All 8 of the Braves runs came with 2 outs in the inning….the 4-run 1st inning was sparked by a 2 out walk and the 3 runs the Braves scored in the 7th started with a 2-out walk. The Cubs defense at times was dazzling but the lackadaisical play by Cesar Izturis in the 7th inning gave a very good team a window to mount a comeback and they took advantage of the opportunity.

Carlos Zambrano had another rough start, could not find the strike zone early on and gave up 4 runs in the 1st inning. At one point Zambrano retired four outs in a row with swinging strikeouts and the Cubs comeback in the 7th put Zambrano in position to win the ballgame. Felix Pie had another fine game and scored 2 runs but the Cubs continue to struggle in close ballgames.

Carlos Zambrano gave up two more long balls, struck out 6, walked 5, hit a batter and gave up 8 hits in 6 innings of work. The four runs the Braves scored in the 1st inning came after Mark DeRosa’s 4th homer of the season gave the Cubs an early lead. Zambrano was behind most of the batters he faced on the night and went to a 3-2 count on many of the 31 batters he faced. Zambrano and Michael Barrett also appeared to have problems with communication.

With 1-out in the 1st, Edgar Renteria singled to right and advanced to 2nd on a ground out by Chipper Jones. Zambrano walked Andruw Jones before giving up a single to left by Brian McCann to tie the game. Jeff Francoeur took the next offering from Zambrano over the left field wall to give the Braves the early 4-1 lead. Zambrano gave up a single to Scott Thorman on a 3-2 pitch before retiring Ryan Langerhans to end the inning.

In the 2nd, Zambrano walked Kelly Johnson with 1-out on a very close pitch….and the meltdown began. He followed the Johnson walk with a 4-pitch walk to Renteria before Cesar Izturis, Mark DeRosa and Derrek Lee bailed him out. Chipper Jones hit a ball up the middle that was snagged by Izturis, he flipped to DeRosa who caught it with his barehand and fired it to Lee who made a good stretch to finish off the double play.

In the 3rd, Zambrano walked Andruw Jones to lead off the inning and gave up a bloop single to center by Brian McCann. Zambrano was able to strikeout Francoeur swinging….his first of the night. With 2 outs, he hit Langerhans to load the bases but retired Kyle Davies on a comebacker to the mound. In the 4th, Chipper Jones hit a 2-out hustle double to left but was stranded at 2nd.

In the 5th it looked like Zambrano had turned the corner, despite throwing 74 pitches (42 for strikes) through the first 4 innings. He struck out McCann and Francoeur swinging but Scott Thorman hit a solo shot over the wall to straight away center….the pitch was down. Zambrano collected himself and struck out Langerhans swinging to end the inning. In the 6th, Zambrano struck out pinch hitter, Pete Orr, swinging before Kelly Johnson doubled to right. After a 2-out intentional walk to Chipper Jones, Zambrano retired Andruw Jones on one pitch….a ground out to Izturis.

Zambrano threw 113 pitches, 64 for strikes in 6 innings of work and did not have a 1-2-3 inning. If Zambrano wants to be paid like and ace, he has to start pitching like one. Lou Piniella needed Zambrano to go deeper in the game than the 6th inning and he did not step up for his team.

With the 14-inning marathon that took place on Tuesday, Piniella had little to choose from out of the pen. After the Cubs battled back to take the lead, Scott Eyre took the hill in the 7th and threw strikes. He retired McCann on a pop out and struck out Francoeur swinging but did not get the call on strike three and eventually walked Scott Thorman (by the way it appeared to be a strike). Matt Diaz pinch hit for Langerhans and on an 0-2 count hit an innocent grounder in the hole at short. Izturis fielded the ball cleanly but double pumped the throw and Diaz hustled down the line to beat out the throw. Eyre walked Chris Woodward to load the bases. Kelly Johnson singled past a diving Theriot that scored two to give the Braves the lead. Edgar Renteria singled to right center to put the Braves up by two and chase Eyre from the game.

The Cubs offense battled back all night against a very good Braves’ pitching staff that actually blew their first save of the season on Wednesday night. Mark DeRosa had another good night and drove in 2 runs with a solo home run and a ground out to 2nd that scored Pie in the 3rd.

In the 3rd with 1-out, Felix Pie tripled to right for his second major league hit….a double, a triple, a RBI and 3 runs scored in 2 games. DeRosa grounded out to 2nd to score Pie but Derrek Lee grounded out to short to end the inning. The Cubs were quiet until the 6th. Derrek Lee doubled with 1-out and scored on a double to right center by Aramis Ramirez. Cliff Floyd singled to right to chase Kyle Davies from the game but the single was unable to score Ramirez. Michael Barrett hit a sacrifice fly to center to plate Ramirez. Jacque Jones followed with an infield single that stayed in the glove of Kelly Johnson but Cesar Izturis struck out to end the inning.

The Cubs were able to tie the game and take the lead in the 7th. Felix Pie had a very good at bat and drew a 1-out walk. After DeRosa struck out, Derrek Lee doubled over the head of Andruw Jones to score Pie from 1st. Lee advanced to 3rd when the ball got away from McCann. With Ramirez at the plate, Villarreal threw a wild pitch and Lee scored from 3rd to give the Cubs the lead.

In the 8th, Matt Murton walked to lead off the inning and advanced to 3rd on a single by Barrett. With runners on 1st and 3rd with no outs, Jones hit a chopper to 3rd that Murton was unable to score on, Barrett advanced to 2nd and one Jones threw out the other Jones. With Daryle Ward at the plate, Peter Moylan threw a wild pitch but Murton was unable to score and the Braves unintentional walk to Ward turned into an intentional one after a 3-0 count. Ronny Cedeno pinch ran for Ward but Ryan Theriot hit the first pitch to short and the Braves turned a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. Bob Wickman retired the Cubs in order in the 9th to end the game.

The Cubs are now 0-3 in 2-run games to go with a 0-2 start in 1-run games. Lou Piniella has to figure out a way to win close games before the top of the calendar reads May.

Rich Hill is scheduled to take the mound on Thursday night against Mark Redman. The Cubs need the young Mr. Hill to put and end to a 2-game losing streak before heading back to Chicago for the weekend series against the Cardinals.

Quote of the Day

"Baseball is drama with an endless run and an ever-changing cast." - Joe Garagiola
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