A Curtain Call

Game One Hundred Thirty-Five – Cubs 6 Astros 5
WP – Carlos Marmol (5-1) LP – Chad Qualls (6-4, BS 5) Save – Ryan Dempster (25)

wflag.jpg Lou Piniella’s crew struggled to start the game once again and had to play catch-up for the 5th time in the past 6 games. Rich Hill ran up his pitch count in the 1st inning while the offense continued leaving runners in scoring position. The Cubs were down 5-1 in the bottom of the 6th inning and appeared to be on their way to dropping another game to the Astros. But a harmless leadoff walk by Jacque Jones started the 2-run 6th inning. Alfonso Soriano drove in Jones with a bases loaded sacrifice fly and Ryan Theriot singled in the second run of the inning. Matt Murton cut the Astros lead to 5-4 with a pinch-hit home run to lead off the 7th and a great diving catch by Jacque Jones kept the Astros off the board in the top of the 8th. Alfonso Soriano singled with 1-out in the 8th to set the stage for Derrek Lee’s 17th home run of the year, his second in as many days. Lee was 3-for-4 with a run scored and 3 RBI’s on the afternoon. The Cubs scored 5 times in the last 3 innings for the dramatic come-from-behind win.

Rich Hill did not pickup where he left off in August. Hill struggled with his command from the first pitch and barely made it through 5 innings. He allowed 5 runs on 6 hits with 5 strikeouts in 5 innings and tied a season-high with 4 walks. Piniella’s bullpen took over in the 6th and was all but perfect. Michael Wuertz, Kerry Wood, Scott Eyre, Carlos Marmol and Ryan Dempster threw 4 no-hit, shutout innings, struck out 4 and walked only 1. The Cubs have won 17 of the last 25 games decided by 1 run.

Lou Piniella said after the game, “Boy, what a big win. That’s our biggest win of the year. Clutch, Clutch by Mr. Lee.” With the win the Cubs improved to 5 games above .500, evened the season series with the Astros at 6-6 and maintained their lead atop the Central Division.

Watching this version of the Chicago Cubs can be very frustrating at times. Some innings they appear flat and not interested and other innings they appear to be one of the elite teams in the league….there does not seem to be a middle of the road. Sunday’s game could have been mistaken for a football game. The Cubs looked horrible in the first half and came back after halftime with a new game plan and a purpose. Woody Williams continued his dominance over the Cubs in the first few innings but gave away to the bullpen in the 6th.

Williams was in cruise control until the 3rd inning. He pitched out of a 1st inning jam by striking out Aramis Ramirez and Cliff Floyd with runners on 1st and 3rd….with a little help from home plate umpire, Tony Randazzo. Randazzo had a major impact on the game, he did not call a consistent strike zone. The Astros pitching staff benefited all afternoon while the Cubs pitching staff did not receive the same….it is one thing for an umpire to call a bad game, but the game must be call consistently bad for both teams, just not one. Mr. Randazzo eventually ejected Aramis Ramirez for arguing ball and strikes in the 6th inning on a ball well out of the strike zone.

Williams retired Rich Hill on one pitch in the 3rd and eventually struck out Soriano on 7 pitches. Ryan Theriot stepped in and drew a 4-pitch walk. With Lee at the plate, Theriot stole 2nd on a 1-2 pitch. He took 3rd on Eric Munson’s throwing error and scored on Lee’s infield single to 3rd. Ty Wigginton stopped the ball but could not get it out of his glove and it eventually fell to the ground. Ramirez singled to right (it was the Cubs 3rd hit, but the 1st clean hit). Cliff Floyd popped out to right center to end the inning. Floyd is not making solid contact right now. Floyd was 0-for-2 with RISP on Sunday, left a total 4 on base and is 1-for-his-last-13 with RISP. The Cubs however chipped at the lead and made Williams work in the 3rd.

In the 5th, Lee singled to left with 2-outs and both Ramirez and Floyd walked to load the bases but Mark DeRosa grounded out to 3rd on the second pitch he saw from Williams. The Lee single kept the inning alive and the Cubs eventually chased Williams from the game after the 5th inning….96 pitches. Cecil Cooper was forced to use his bullpen.

Mark McLemore took the mound to start the 6th. Jacque Jones walked on 5 pitches against the southpaw. Jason Kendall hit a grounder up the middle that hit off the side of the mound and took a weird hop, Eric Bruntlett let the ball play him and his error put runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs. Craig Monroe then walked to load the bases. Cooper brought in Dave Borkowski to face Soriano.

Soriano flied out to center, Jones tagged and scored from 3rd. Ryan Theriot followed with a single to right center, Jason Kendall scored to cut the Astros’ lead to 5-3. Lee flied out and Ramirez struck out on a called strike three to end the inning. The ball was well off the plate, Ramirez slammed his helmet, yelled at the home plate umpire and was ejected from the game. Ramirez had a legitimate argument, it was a bad call and it was good to see some fire out of the usual mild-manor Ramirez.

Matt Murton pinch-hit for Cliff Floyd to lead off the 7th. He took a 1-1 offering from Trevor Miller over the centerfield wall to get the Cubs to within 1-run.

Eric Patterson pinch-hit for Scott Eyre in the 8th and struck out on a check swing. Soriano followed with a single to center but Theriot popped out to right center for the second out. Derrek Lee then stepped in and took and 0-1 pitch from Chad Qualls into the basket in left field….the Cubs first lead of the day, with 2 outs in the 8th inning.

Rich Hill must have allowed Michigan’s loss on Saturday affect him. To say it was not Hill’s day would be an understatement. Hill walked Hunter Pence to start the game and after striking out Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman hit a 2-run homer just to the left of straight away center. Hill limited the damage in the opening inning, he did not give up any more runs but it took him 34 pitches to make 3 outs.

The weak hitting Woody Williams singled to center with 1-out in the 2nd. Hunter Pence followed with a hard shot to short that ate up Ryan Theriot. The ball got passed him and rolled almost to the wall. Williams scored from 1st and Theriot was originally given an error….it was later changed to a double and a RBI for Pence. Biggio popped out on the 1st pitch he saw but Hill walked Berkman ahead of Carlos Lee. Lee ended up grounding out to 2nd to end the inning.

Hill struck out the side looking in the 3rd, his only 1-2-3 inning of the afternoon and appeared to be settling down. Hill retired the first two batters he faced in the 4th before walking Pence for the second time. Biggio popped out to end the inning.

Hill hit Lance Berkman to start the 5th. Randazzo warned both benches, he took Hill’s action as being intentional. The Astros hit two more Cubs on Sunday, Lee and Kendall, and 4 in the last 2 games. If it was intentional, it cost Hill a run. Lee flied out but Ty Wigginton doubled off the wall in left, Berkman scored. On a 3-0 pitch, Chris Burke bailed out Hill and popped out to left for the 2nd out but Bruntlett doubled to left to give the Astros a 5-1 lead. A healthy Soriano might have made both plays, but definitely the second, the ball was misplayed.

Michael Wuertz pitched a perfect 6th inning. Kerry Wood made his 200th appearance in the 7th. He retired all 3 batters he faced in the 7th and the first he faced in the 8th. Wood walked Bruntlett with 1-out, the only baserunner allowed by the bullpen. Scott Eyre replaced Wood and retired Munson on a fly out to center, it was a nice running catch by Jones. Cooper brought in Mark Loretta to face Eyre with a man on 2nd. Loretta hit a weak fly into shallow left, Soriano appeared to be playing to deep to get to the ball. Jacque Jones came all the way from center and made a diving catch just ahead of Soriano for the out….it was the number two web gem on Baseball Tonight.

Ryan Dempster pitched a perfect 9th, struck out 2 of the 3 batters he faced for the save….and left Carlos Lee in the on deck circle.

The Astros’ future Hall of Famer, Craig Biggio, played the last game of his career at Wrigley on Sunday, he was 0-for-4.

Lou Piniella put the game into the proper perspective when he said it was their biggest win of the year, now comes the hard part, building momentum.

Carlos Zambrano is scheduled to open the first of four against the Dodgers on Labor Day afternoon. Esteban Loaiza will make his debut in Dodger Blue.

Quote of the Day

"Build up your weaknesses until they become your strong points." – Knute Rockne