Is this Swagger?

Game Twenty-Seven – Cubs 6 Nationals 4
WP – Carlos Zambrano (3-2) LP – Jason Bergmann (0-3) Save – Ryan Dempster (6)

wflag.jpg The first inning of Friday’s game with the Nationals is one Carlos Zambrano will want to forget. Before the Cubs were able to take a swing, Zambrano spotted the Nationals 4 runs on 3 hits that included a 3-run home run by Austin Kearns. Zambrano walked 2 batters in the inning while throwing 35 pitches. Jacque Jones made a sensational diving catch in right center to limit the damage. Zambrano escaped the first inning, settled down and with a lot of help from the Cubs’ offense, earned his third win of the season.

Derrek Lee started the comeback in the 3rd inning with his 2nd home run of the year. While Lee’s doubles streak ended at eight games, he has reached base safely in all 27 games and his 2-3 day raised his major league leading average to .422. Alfonso Soriano drove in the tying run and scored the go ahead run in the 4th inning.

Carlos Zambrano could not find the strike zone early, his fastballs had little to no movement and he left them up in the zone. While the Nationals’ offense has struggled all season, major league hitters seldom miss the pitches Zambrano left up. During the first inning his frustration on the mound was evident and several times he appeared to be just throwing the ball as hard as he could without any concern with its final destination. Once the offense started making the comeback, he settled down and gave Lou Piniella the innings he needed.

The Nationals scored as many runs in the first inning against Zambrano, four, as they had totaled in their previous 28 games. Felipe Lopez tripled on a 0-2 pitch to start the inning. He scored the first run of the game when Ronnie Belliard grounded out to 2nd with the infield back. Ryan Zimmerman followed with the first walk issued by Zambrano, moved to 3rd on a double by Ryan Church and scored on the 3-run homer by Kearns. Dmitri Young followed and scorched a 3-2 pitch into right center. Jacque Jones made an excellent break on the ball and a tremendous diving catch. Zambrano walked Brian Schneider before striking out Kory Castro to end the inning. Zambrano faced eight Nationals while throwing 35 pitches, 19 for strikes in the 1st inning alone.

In the 2nd, Zambrano faced the minimum after giving up a lead off single to Bergmann thanks to a 4-3 double play and striking out Belliard. He worked around a lead off walk to Ryan Zimmerman in the 3rd and recorded his first 1-2-3 inning in the 4th. After the Cubs took the lead in the bottom of the 4th, Zambrano gave up a lead off double to Felipe Lopez. Belliard moved Lopez to 3rd on another groundout to 2nd. A 2-0 wild pitch with Zimmerman at the plate did not roll far enough away from Michael Barrett to score Lopez. With the infield in, Zimmerman hit a grounder in the direction of Mark DeRosa, who was able to tag him out, Lopez was unable to score and Zambrano retired Ryan Church on a fly out to deep right.

Zambrano pitched around a 2-out double by Schneider in the 6th to finish his afternoon. Neal Cotts started the 7th inning and struck out former Cub Michael Restovich to start the inning. However Cotts walked Lopez and Piniella went to the pen for Michael Wuertz. Ronnie Belliard popped out to 2nd ahead of a double to left by Ryan Zimmerman. Piniella went to the pen….again, for Will Ohman. Ryan Church drew a 4-pitch walk to load the bases. For the 3rd time in the inning, Piniella made the slow walk, this time for Bobby Howry. Austin Kearns hit a hard grounder to Cesar Izturis, who flipped to Theriot to end the inning. Howry pitched a perfect 8th to setup Ryan Dempster for the 9th.

Ryan Dempster retired Ryan Langerhans on ground out to Ryan Theriot (Ryan cubed), got Lopez to swing at strike three but Belliard singled to left to extend the inning. Dempster fell behind Ryan Zimmerman before striking him out swinging on a 3-2 pitch.

Zambrano won back-to-back starts for the first time this season. On the afternoon, he allowed 4 runs on 6 hits in 6 innings, struck out 4 and walked 3 on 104 pitches, 64 for strikes. In his last 5 innings of work he shutout the Nationals on 3 hits….a nice recovery from such a rocky start.

Jason Bergmann had been just short of unhittable this season and the Cubs appeared to be headed toward their 15th loss on the season. Bergmann had given up just one hit until the 3rd inning. Alfonso Soriano recorded an infield single on a check swing, Floyd hit a grounder into the hole at 2nd that advanced Soriano to 2nd ahead of Derrek Lee’s 2nd home run of the season that cleared the left field wall. Aramis Ramirez doubled and scored on an error by Ryan Zimmerman. Michael Barrett hit the grounder to 3rd, Zimmerman made a good play on the ball but his throw sailed over the head of Young. Ramirez was watching the play unfold as he rounded 3rd and in the process he lost sight of Mike Quade and ran him over on the way to the plate. Ramirez stayed in the game and neither Ramirez nor Quade were hurt during the collision.

In the 4th, Mark DeRosa led off the inning with a walk but was caught trying to steal 2nd. Cesar Izturis followed with a double to left and scored the tying run on Soriano’s double to left center. Cliff Floyd singled to right to score Soriano and gave the Cubs the lead. The offense was quiet until the bottom of the 8th. Jacque Jones led off the inning with a single to center, Izturis drew a 1-out walk and Felix Pie singled to center to give the Cubs a very important insurance run.

Former Cub, Micah Bowie made an appearance in Friday’s game and Ron Santo returned to the booth and even led the crowd during the 7th inning stretch….when are they going to just give him that job on a daily basis?

The Cubs continue to score runs with 2-outs and have made improvements over the past week in the process they themselves just one game under .500….the Cubs have won 6 of their last 7.

Rich Hill is scheduled to take the mound on Saturday against John Patterson, a win on Saturday would give the Cubs their first series win at home this season.

Quote of the Day

"People who write about Spring Training not being necessary have never tried to throw a baseball." – Sandy Koufax