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Game Twenty-Four – Cubs 7 Nationals 0
WP – Carlos Zambrano (4-1) LP – Matt Chico (0-5) Save – None

wflag.jpgLou Piniella’s crew ended their 2-game losing streak with an impressive shutout win over the Nationals, the first of the year for the Cubs’ pitching staff. Carlos Zambrano struggled with his command at times but was able to get the big out when he needed it. Zambrano surrendered only 5 hits in 7 innings, struck out 5, walked 4 and hit a batter. The 4 wins by Zambrano in April is a new career high.

The Cubs offense broke out of their brief 2-game slump. Reed Johnson, Ryan Theriot and Derrek Lee were 6-for-6 with 5 runs scored in the first two innings. Derrek Lee drove in 3 with a double, a single and 2 walks. Mark DeRosa came through with a bases loaded, 2-run single in the 1st inning. Aramis Ramirez drove in a pair in the 8th with a 2-out double….all 7 of the Cubs’ runs were driven in by Lee, Ramirez and DeRosa. Ronny Cedeno added 3 hits, including 2 doubles in 5 at bats.

With the win, the Cubs tied the All-Time mark for victories in April with 16 set back in 1969. The Cubs wasted no time on Saturday night against the Nationals and before Carlos Zambrano threw his first pitch….he was given a 3-0 lead. Reed Johnson started the game with a bloop single to right. Ryan Theriot followed with a single to right and Derrek Lee stepped in with runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs. Lee recorded the third straight hit off of Matt Chico, a single to left that scored Johnson with the game’s first run.

Aramis Ramirez popped out to short for the first out and Kosuke Fukudome walked to load the bases. Mark DeRosa recorded his first hit of the road trip, a much-needed single to left. Theriot and Lee scored to give the Cubs a 3-0 lead.

Geovany Soto’s recent slump continued as he struck out and Ronny Cedeno grounded out to end the inning. Soto actually struck out more 5 times, 4 swinging, on Saturday and in the first two games of the series he has been retired via the strikeout 8 times….he just needs a day off.

Reed Johnson sparked the offense once again with 1-out in the 2nd inning. Johnson singled to center and advanced to 3rd on Theriot’s second hit of the game….a single to right center. Derrek Lee followed with a double down the left field line. Johnson scored easily and so did Theriot from 1st. With the 3 RBI’s against the Nationals on Saturday, Lee has driven in 21 runs in the first 26 games….

The Cubs offense continued to put runners on base but could not add to their lead. They left 11 more on base for a two game total of 21. The Cubs were retired in order only once in 9 innings. Ronny Cedeno hit his first double of the night in the 3rd that flipped the order. Aramis Ramirez was stranded at 2nd after his lead off double in the 5th. The Cubs loaded the bases in the 6th after a leadoff double by Ronny Cedeno and came away empty.

Felix Pie was hit by a pitch from Jesus Colome with 1-out in the 8th….the ball appeared to hit him in the foot. Derrek Lee worked a 1-out walk to put runners on 1st and 2nd with 2 outs for Aramis Ramirez. After working the count to 3-2, Ramirez doubled down the left field line off of Ryan Zimmerman’s glove. Pie and Lee both scored the final 2 runs of the game.

The Cubs new found patience continued to put runners on base on Saturday night. This time with one big difference, they figured out how to plate those runs. The fact is this version of the Cubs appears set to leave a lot of runners on base this year. For an example, they scored 7 runs on 13 hits with 5 walks without the benefit of a long ball….and still left 11 on base. Putting runners on base inning after inning is the obvious way to win ballgames. More times than not this team will score those runs. But the trade off is, there will be more nights this season like Friday….

Carlos Zambrano was not as sharp as he has been this season. He found himself in a lot of 3 ball counts but, as mentioned, was able to get the big out when he needed it. Zambrano struck out Lastings Milledge twice with runners in scoring position early in the game. It was good to see Zambrano pitch effectively on a night he did not have his best stuff.

Cristian Guzman doubled to the wall in left center with 1-out in the 1st inning. With Ryan Zimmerman at the plate, Zambrano tried to pickoff Guzman from 2nd. The throw ended up in center and Guzman advanced to 3rd on the error. Zambrano struck out Zimmerman but hit Nick Johnson to put runners on 1st and 3rd. Zambrano focused on Milledge and struck him out swinging to end the inning.

Felipe Lopez led off the 3rd with a single to left. With 1-out, Ryan Zimmerman hit a grounder into the hole at short, Theriot forced Lopez at 2nd but Zimmerman beat Ronny Cedeno’s throw to 1st. Zambrano then walked Nick Johnson. With runners on 1st and 2nd, Milledge looked at strike three to end the inning.

Lastings Milledge finally recorded a hit off of Zambrano in the 6th. The former top prospect of the Mets reached on a single to right to start the inning. Austin Kearns flied out to right for the first out. With Johnny Estrada at the plate, Geovany Soto blocked a ball in the dirt, the ball got away a little and Milledge took off for 2nd. Soto’s throw ended up in center, Milledge took off for 3rd and Felix Pie threw a perfect strike to Aramis Ramirez to nail him at 3rd….it was a textbook throw, catch and tag.

With the Cubs up 5-0 in the 7th, the Nationals tried to mount a comeback after Wily Mo Pena reached on an error by Ryan Theriot. Zambrano walked Felipe Lopez with 1-out and both runners advanced on a slow grounder to 2nd….Cedeno’s only play was to 1st. Zambrano then struck out Ryan Zimmerman swinging on a 3-2 pitch. Zambrano hopped off the mound pumping his fist.

Michael Wuertz started the 8th and after throwing 6 straight balls, induced a grounder off the bat of Lastings Milledge. Theriot started the 6-3 double play and Wuertz struck out Austin Kearns to end the inning.

Jon Lieber gave up a lead off single to Johnny Estrada in the 9th, but retired the last three batters he faced to end the game.

The Cubs for the most part played a complete game….and Carlos Zambrano kept Lou Piniella from using his short relievers once again.

The Cubs will try to finish the 5-game road trip on a winning note Sunday afternoon. Ted Lilly is scheduled to face John Lannan.