Can’t Close ‘Em Out

Game Forty-Two – Cubs 6 White Sox 10
WP – Nick Masset (2-1) LP – Carlos Zambrano (4-4) Save – None

Carlos Zambrano was unable to give his team what they need most, a win. Not only because it was the White Sox but a win on Sunday would have put the Cubs back at .500 for the season before a well-deserved day off and a very important 6-game West Coast road trip against two of the better teams in the National League. Zambrano pitched behind in the count seemingly all day with very few first pitch strikes thrown and of the 7 runs Zambrano was credited with, 5 of them came after he retired the first two batters of the inning.

A.J. Pierzynski hit a grand slam as a part of the 7-run 7th inning off of former teammate Neal Cotts that ended up being the difference in the game. The Cubs scored 4 times in 8th but after a 42-minute rain delay they were unable to mount a comeback for the third day in a row.

Cubs pitching issued 8 free passes on the afternoon, 7 walks and a hit batsman, and 4 of them scored. The impatience of the Cubs cost them early in the game against rookie pitcher Nick Masset while the White Sox patience gave them the win.

When Carlos Zambrano walked Darin Erstad on 4 pitches to start the game one could see the handwriting on the wall. Zambrano did settle down and threw strikes to Tadahito Iguchi before he flied out to center. Pierzynski followed and hit into a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning. Zambrano recovered and after starting Iguchi and Pierzynski with strikes he faced the minimum in the 1st inning.

In the 2nd inning, Zambrano fell behind Jermaine Dye, ran the count to 3-2 before Jermaine Dye popped out to Daryle Ward. Paul Konerko worked the count to 3-2 again but this time Zambrano gave up the walk. Rob Mackowiak singled to right and Joe Crede (Crede left the game in the 4th inning with tightness in his lower back) hit a bullet off of the glove of Aramis Ramirez at 3rd to load the bases. Zambrano threw Juan Uribe a ball to start the at bat and he ended up singling to right to score Konerko and Mackowiak. Nick Masset attempted two bunts before a successful sacrifice moved the runners up 90 feet. Zambrano fell behind in the count to Erstad before inducing a grounder to 1st to end the inning.

Zambrano retired Iguchi and Pierzynski to start off the 3rd before Jermaine Dye homered to centerfield. Konerko stepped in, Zambrano threw a ball to start the at bat before home plate umpire, Joe West, issued ball 2 for him going to his mouth on the mound….Konerko flied out to right to end the inning. Zambrano retired the White Sox in order for the first time in the 4th and recorded out his first strikeout of the game (Juan Uribe) to end the inning. Zambrano was very sharp in the 5th and struck out the side in order….Zambrano struck out 4 in a row and 4 of the 5 on the day.

Zambrano fell behind Pierzynski 3-1 before he singled to left to start the 6th inning. Dye grounded into a 6-4-3 double play and Konerko grounded out to short to end the inning after working the count to 3-2. The Cubs closed the gap in the bottom of the 6th and when Zambrano took the hill in the 7th, he was down 3-2 and the momentum seemed to have shifted the way of the Cubs. Zambrano retired the first two batters he faced, with ease, to start the 7th….Mackowiak flied out and Zambrano struck out Pablo Ozuna for his 5th strikeout of the day. But that would be the last out he recorded….

Juan Uribe was hit in the hand by Zambrano’s first pitch of the at bat and Ozzie Guillen went to his bench for Jim Thome. Zambrano got ahead in the count 0-2 before issuing a walk to Thome. Darin Erstad blooped a single into left center to score Uribe and the runners moved to 2nd and 3rd on a passed ball by Micheal Barrett. Iguchi ran the count to 3-2 but Zambrano ended up walking him to load the bases. Lou Piniella jogged out of the dugout and brought in Neal Cotts.

Neal Cotts was greeted by his former catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, and on the second pitch of the at bat, he cleared the bases with a home run into the basket in right. Cotts issued a walk to Jermaine Dye, a double to Paul Konerko and a 2-run RBI single to Rob Mackowiak before Ozuna flied out to right to end the inning. Carlos Marmol pitched the 8th, struck out Uribe to start the inning but issued a 4-pitch walk to pinch hitter Luis Terrero. Marmol retired Erstad and Iguchi on fly outs with pitches all over the zone.

Scott Eyre (who was rumored to be heading to the DL) pitched the 9th. During Dye’s at bat (0-1 count) the game was delayed for 42 minutes and when play resumed, like Zambrano, Eyre retired the first two batters he faced before giving up a 2-out single to Konerko. Eyre walked pinch hitter Alex Cintron and Ozuna reached on an infield single to short. Juan Uribe worked the count to 3-2 before flying out to right to end the inning.

Lou Piniella and Larry Rothschild have to get the point across to their pitching staff that they must throw strikes early and often in the counts and make the opposition earn their way on base….and just not allow them to stroll around the bases and keep the line moving.

Nick Masset made his first career start and the Cubs’ aggressiveness at the plate helped him make it a successful one. Masset started the game the way one would expect from a rookie in a big game….he was wild and could not find the strike zone. After Ryan Theriot led off the game by flying out to right, Angel Pagan drew a walk on 4 pitches and stole 2nd on a pitch out with Alfonso Soriano at the plate. Soriano walked despite swinging at ball four to run the count to 3-2. Aramis Ramirez went to the plate swinging and popped out to right. Daryle Ward took the first pitch he saw before he hit a single to right over the leaping Iguchi. Barrett swung at the first offering from Masset and grounded out to end the inning. Masset threw 21 pitches in the 1st inning….

With the Cubs trailing 2-1, Jacque Jones swung at the first pitch (from a pitcher he had never faced) and grounded out to 1st base. Cesar Izturis looked at ball one but swung at the second pitch from Masset and grounded out to short. Carlos Zambrano struck out swinging but did look at 5 pitches. Massett retired the Cubs on 8 pitches in the 2nd inning….

Masset retired 7 in a row before Aramis Ramirez led off the 4th with a single to left (the second hit for the Cubs on the day) but was erased on a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. He retired the Cubs in order in the 5th and with the third out registered his longest outing of the season. Ryan Theriot was robbed of a single to left on a good play by Ozuna to lead off the 6th. Pagan flied out to right and Soriano tripled to right for the 3rd (and last hit of the day) off of Masset. Ramirez walked and Ozzie Guillen went to his pen for Andrew Sisco (another former Cub). Piniella went to the bench for Derrek Lee. Lee was patient and looked more comfortable in the batter’s box. Sisco uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Ramirez to move into scoring position and Soriano scored on his second wild pitch of the inning. Lee worked a walk and Mark DeRosa pinch ran for him. Guillen lifted Sisco for Mike MacDougal. MacDougal threw strikes this time and retired Barrett on a ground out to short.

Nick Masset finished the day with a very good line: 2 runs on 3 hits, 3 walks and 3 strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings on just 78 pitches after a 21 pitch 1st inning.

The Cubs went in order against Matt Thornton in the 7th and by that point they were down 10-2. David Aardsma took the hill to start the 8th and Ryan Theriot greeted him with a single to center. Pagan walked and the ever-aggressive Soriano struck out swinging. Aramis Ramirez followed with his 11th home run of the season, a 3-run shot into right center. Mark DeRosa reached on a wind blown, pop-up double down the right field line. Barrett popped out to short and the rain started. Jacque Jones followed with a bloop single to center, DeRosa scored but Izturis grounded out to 2nd to end the inning.

Cliff Floyd pinch hit for Scott Eyre to lead off the 9th, was called out on a check swing and was thrown out of the game after a few choice words to home plate umpire Joe West. Ryan Theriot drew a walk but Pagan flied out to center and Soriano grounded out to end the game.

Carlos Zambrano had a chance to make a statement with a solid performance and there is a big difference between two under .500 and being even before heading to the West Coast. Zambrano has to figure out a way to win the important games if he wants to be considered an ace….and apparently what is more important, to be paid like one.

The Cubs did win the first series of the year against the White Sox and most importantly a series at Wrigley but they have to figure out a way to correct the same problems that keep costing them games.

Sunday was the 1-year anniversary of the Barrett-Pierzynski game.

The Cubs have Monday off while they travel to the West Coast with 6 games against the Padres and Dodgers. Rich Hill is scheduled to face Jake Peavy in the series opener on Tuesday night. Lou Piniella has said he will announce changes to his pitching staff before the series begins on Tuesday. Rumors have Ryan Dempster becoming a starter again with Bobby Howry becoming the new closer. Some rumors have Angel Guzman or Carlos Marmol taking the closer’s role….the next few days should be very interesting.

Quote of the Day

"You are never as good as the adulations or as bad as the criticism, so don't get caught up on either one."
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