Chippin’ Away

Game Seventy-Eight – Cubs 6 Brewers 5
WP – Bobby Howry (5-4) LP – Francisco Cordero (0-2, BS 3) Save – None

wflag.jpg A week ago Lou Piniella’s crew appeared to be dead and buried in the weakest division in baseball. They had just lost two of three to arguably the worst team in the majors and limped back to Chicago to face the White Sox on the South Side. Since then the Cubs have rattled off 7 in a row and seemingly every win has been more dramatic than the last. The Cubs spotted the Brewers 5 runs in the first inning and with poor pitching and sloppy defense it appeared the Cubs had cooled off after a very impressive stretch of wins.

After Rich Hill ran up his pitch count in the first three innings, Piniella turned the game over to his bullpen and they responded with 6 innings of shutout ball, they bent but never broke and gave the offense ample time to mount a comeback. The Cubs cut the Brewers lead to 5-3 going into the bottom of the 9th. Alfonso Soriano singled to center with 1-out, Mike Fontenot followed with a single to right. With runners on 1st and 3rd, Derrek Lee hit a sacrifice fly to right that scored Soriano to cut the lead to 5-4. Aramis Ramirez stepped in and took the first offering from Francisco Cordero over the left center field wall….the only thing missing was Harry Caray shouting ‘Holy Cow, Cubs Win!’. Ron Santo screamed, the Faithful jumped up and down and the Cubs ran out of the dugout to greet Ramirez at home plate. The word unbelievable came to mind and breaking even on the season never felt so good….to quote Harry, “You can’t beat fun at the old ballpark.”

While the Cubs still have a lot of work to do, reaching the .500 mark was the obvious first step and now the goal must be to surpass .500 but most importantly, stay there. Lou Piniella said after the game, “Let’s not get crazy, there’s a long season ahead. Everything’s going well. Let’s just play them one at a time and not get too excited about it.”

Before Alfonso Soriano stepped in for the first time against Yovani Gallardo, the Cubs had dug themselves a very deep hole. Gallardo retired the Cubs in order on just 7 pitches and after a long top of the inning, they barely got a breather before taking the field for the 2nd inning. Aramis Ramirez singled to lead off the 2nd and Mark DeRosa singled to left center with 1-out but Rob Bowen and Felix Pie looked at strike three to end the inning.

Piniella lifted Rich Hill for Jacque Jones to start the 3rd and Gallardo retired the Cubs in order. Derrek Lee led off the 4th with a walk and advanced to 3rd on a double to left center by Ramirez…Bill Hall did a good job cutting the ball off in the gap and kept it from rolling to the wall and Lee scoring from 1st. Cliff Floyd grounded out to 1st and Lee scored after a strange play by the Brewers. Gallardo broke for the bag with the ball hit to the right side, got in Prince Fielder’s way, the two collided, Floyd was tagged out by Fielder, Lee scored and Ramirez ended up at 3rd….Lee actually held before deciding try to score. With Mark DeRosa at the plate, Gallardo uncorked a wild pitch and Ramirez scored the second run of the game.

Cliff Floyd singled to center with 1-out in the 6th but Kevin Mench made a nice sliding catch to rob DeRosa of a hit and effectively ended the inning. Ned Yost lifted Gallardo to start the 7th….Gallardo was as advertised.

Felix Pie walked to lead off the 7th and Angel Pagan singled to right off of Carlos Villanueva. Soriano struck out for the first out of the inning. But Mike Fontenot came through again with a single to left and Pie scored to cut the Brewers lead to two. The table was set for the 9th inning.

After Derrick Turnbow gave up just a walk to DeRosa in the 8th, the Cubs were left to face Francisco Cordero in the 9th. Ryan Theriot led off the inning and popped out to 2nd for the first out. Alfonso Soriano once again jump-started the offense, this time with a solid single to center past a diving J.J. Hardy. With Soriano on 1st, Mike Fontenot had a nice hole on the right side to hit through, he singled to right and Soriano ended up at 3rd. Derrek Lee worked the count to 2-2 but flied out to right. Corey Hart struggled to find the ball momentarily and never tried to throw home….it was the right play to begin with. Soriano scored and the Cubs were down by 1 with 2 outs. Aramis Ramirez then took Cordero’s first pitch midway up into the bleachers in left center (the first home run allowed on the season by Cordero) with the wind blowing in….on any other day it would have been out onto Waveland.

To quote Ron Santo, Rich Hill was “all over the place.” Hill threw 45 pitches in the 1st inning alone and 92 in his 3 innings of work. Hill had problems with his command early and faced nine Brewers in the 1st inning. Hill struck out Corey Hart, after a 9-pitch at bat, to start the game. J.J. Hardy worked a walk and Ryan Braun singled to left past a diving Aramis Ramirez. Hill hit Prince Fielder in the back with a curve ball that did not break to load the bases. Bill Hall blooped a single to right (the ball should have been caught, Floyd could not get there but appeared to call off Mark DeRosa)….Hardy scored. Johnny Estrada hit a sacrifice fly to right and Kevin Mench followed with a 3-run homer to right. Rickie Weeks reached on an error by Fontenot at short (his first attempt at short at the big league level) but Hill struck out Gallardo to end the inning.

Hill recorded all 3 outs in the 2nd inning with strikeouts but gave up another walk to Hardy and a single to Fielder. At the end of two innings, Hill’s pitch count stood at 75. Hill worked around another error in the 3rd. DeRosa could not catch a ball in shallow right by Mench, the ball hit his glove and it was originally ruled an error but changed to a hit. Weeks beat out a grounder hit to Ramirez at 3rd, he took too much time and they could not turn the inning ending double play, Gallardo struck out to end the inning.

Hill struck out 5, walked 2, hit a batter and gave up 5 runs on 5 hits. The Brewers fouled off pitch after pitch after pitch from Hill, nearly half of the strikes Hill threw (63 strikes, 37 fouls) was hit into foul ground and the Brewers were able to get to Piniella’s bullpen early.

Billy Petrick took the mound to start the 4th and gave his team two very impressive innings. Petrick struck out 2, gave up a hit but not a walk or a run….he also hit 97 MPH on the gun. He threw 28 pitches, 21 were for strikes and the rookie set the tone for the pen. Michael Wuertz pitched two scoreless frames, struck out 3 and gave up both a hit and a walk. Carlos Marmol pitched a perfect 8th inning but once again Bobby Howry struggled to throw strikes (22 pitches, 12 strikes).

Howry issued a walk to Tony Graffanino with 1-out in the 9th. Corey Hart singled but Hardy popped out to DeRosa for the second out. Howry fell behind Ryan Braun 3-1 and on a 3-2 count received a generous call from Bruce Froemming for strike three….Braun thought it was ball 4 and actually took off for 1st base….Prince Fielder was left in the on-deck circle and the Brewers could not tack on any runs.

The bullpen deserves a lot of credit for the win, as well as Rich Hill. Hill did not give up any runs after the 1st inning and gave Piniella innings when he appeared to be well on his way to exit earlier than he did. The bullpen combined on 6 innings, 3 hits, 2 walks and 7 strikeouts….and the biggest stat NO RUNS.

Rob Bowen recorded a strike ’em out, throw ’em out in the 4th inning….his first as a Cub on a perfect throw. Aramis Ramirez robbed Ryan Braun of a hit in the 4th as well.

A win is a win, but Friday was special….now the Cubs have to continue to build.

Sean Marshall is scheduled to take the hill on Saturday afternoon, on FOX against Ben Sheets….

Quote of the Day

"From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life." – Arthur Ashe