Game One Hundred Twenty-One – Cubs 2 Cardinals 1
WP – Rich Hill (7-7) LP – Braden Looper (10-10) Save – Ryan Dempster (18)
Friday afternoon there was a playoff atmosphere at the Friendly Confines and it was highlighted by a good ole fashion pitchers duel. Rich Hill threw arguably his best game of the year against the Cubs biggest rival. Hill made one mistake all afternoon, a home run to Albert Pujols in the 6th inning. Hill allowed just 3 hits in 7 strong innings with 7 strikeouts and 2 walks while simply out pitching Braden Looper.
Braden Looper continued his dominance of the Cubs and if not for Hill’s gem would have beaten Lou Piniella’s crew for the third time this year. Ryan Theriot recorded 2 of the Cubs’ 4 hits off of Looper but the big blow was a 2-run home run by Jacque Jones in the bottom of the 6th inning. Jones also made a game changing catch in the 5th inning when he banged into the ivy in center to take a hit away from Brendan Ryan….the much-maligned Jacque Jones received a standing ovation when he left the field.
Rich Hill quieted the Cardinals offense with his first win in over a month. The Cubs improved to 3 games over .500 and put a little distance between themselves and the defending World Champions. Round one of the weekend slugfest went to the Cubs. Friday’s game was a typical Cubs-Cardinals match-up and was not decided until the 27th out was recorded. Friday was also the first time since 2003 the Cubs and Cardinals played a series late in the year that was meaningful for both teams.
Rich Hill was in cruise control until a 2-out single by Brendon Ryan in the 3rd inning. He had retired the first 8 batters he faced, found a rhythm and worked quickly all afternoon. After the Ryan single, Hill walked David Eckstein but retired Ryan Ludwick on fly out to right.
Albert Pujols led off the 4th with a single to left. Juan Encarnacion popped out to Derrek Lee and ran the count to 3-2 on Scott Rolen. Hill struck out Rolen and Pujols took off for 2nd but he stopped half way there and tried to run back to 1st as Rolen swung through strike 3. Jason Kendall popped up and attempted to make a throw but Rolen got in his way, Kendall hit his hand on Rolen’s shoulder and Rolen was called for batter’s interference. Angel Hernandez called Pujols out and Tony LaRussa argued to no avail.
In the 5th, Hill gave up a 1-out walk to Yadier Molina. Braden Looper could not get a bunt down and eventually looked at strike three. Brenden Ryan however hit a ball just to left of straight away center. Jacque Jones took away an extra base hit and possibly a RBI with a great running catch. Jones ended up crashing into the wall but hung on to end the inning….the best catch Jacque Jones has made in a Cubs’ uniform.
Hill struck out the first 2 batters he faced in the 6th and quickly got ahead in the count to Albert Pujols, 0-2. But he left a 2-2 pitch out over the plate and Pujols hit it into the bleachers in left center….it was Pujols’ 30th career home run against the Cubs and his 17th at Wrigley Field. Hill did not allow that to rattle him and retired Encarnacion on a ground out to 2nd to end the inning.
Hill then retired the Cardinals in order in the 7th to complete his outing.
Bobby Howry took the mound in the 8th and made it very interesting. He struck out Chris Duncan for the first out. Ryan popped up a bunt back to Howry but David Eckstein blooped a single into center with 2 outs. LaRussa brought in Rick Ankiel for Ryan Ludwick and Howry walked him with Albert Pujols on deck. Howry fell behind Pujols, 2-0, but challenged him on the next pitch and retired him on a pop out to Mike Fontenot in shallow right.
Braden Looper continued his outright dominance against the Cubs and Daryle Ward recorded the only other Cubs’ hit on the afternoon….a double. While the Cubs’ offense was anything but a juggernaut….all that matters is the “W”. But hopefully Mr. Jones will get to pump his fist as he rounds the bases several more times this weekend.
Sean Marshall is scheduled to face Anthony Reyes in round two on Saturday afternoon on Fox.