Game Nine – Cubs 7 Pirates 3
WP – Jon Lieber (2-1) LP – Matt Morris (0-1) Save – None
Lou Piniella’s crew came back from an early 3-1 deficit to win their 5th in a row and completed the 3-game sweep of the Pirates. Rich Hill struggled with his command and left after just 3 innings, exactly what the Cubs bullpen did not need but Jon Lieber came through once again. Lieber threw 4 1/3 innings of shutout ball, gave up 5 hits and did not walk a single batter. Bobby Howry recorded 2 outs on 3 pitches in the 8th and Kerry Wood retired the side in order in the 9th.
Geovany Soto and Mike Fontenot each hit 2-run home runs in the Cubs 5-run 6th inning. Soto was 4-for-5 on the night with 2 doubles to go along with his second long ball of the year. Reed Johnson added an RBI single and Derrek Lee drove in a pair on a ground out and a sacrifice fly. Alfonso Soriano was 2-for-5 with a double, 2 runs scored and a stolen base….and Ryan Theriot added a 2-for-3 night with a walk, a run scored and a big stolen base in the 6th inning.
On a night when Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez were a combined 0-for-8, it was good to see the Cubs offense put a 7 spot on the scoreboard. Rich Hill’s struggles continued once again on Thursday night in Pittsburgh. The Cubs are depending on the southpaw to perform this season….and his start on Thursday was very reminiscent of Spring Training. Hill barely made it through the 1st inning. He threw 30 pitches, 13 for strikes, and gave up 3 runs. Hill threw a total of 74 pitches in 3 innings and only 34 of them found the strike zone. Hill obviously could not locate his trademark fastball and walked 4 while striking out only 3.
Jon Lieber on the other hand stepped up when his team needed the win. Teams with aspirations of the post season have to win games like Thursday and that is exactly the way Lou Piniella managed the game. When he replaced Hill with Lieber, he also removed Felix Pie as a part of a double switch and brought in Reed Johnson. Pie struck out looking in both trips to the plate, both times with runners in scoring position.
Lieber once again did not allow an earned run and threw strike after strike. Lieber did not do anything fancy, it was typical Jon Lieber, but he pitched to contact and threw only 58 pitches, 41 for strikes, in 4 1/3 innings….let’s hope young Mr. Hill was paying attention.
The Cubs manufactured a run in the 1st inning. Alfonso Soriano led off the game with a single to left on the first pitch from Matt Morris. Soriano stole 2nd and advanced to 3rd on a ground out to 2nd base by Mike Fontenot….a productive out. Derrek Lee followed with a ground out to 3rd, but Soriano scored with the game’s first run.
After the 1st inning, it looked like Matt Morris had the Cubs number once again. The Cubs had plenty of chances in the first 4 innings but were unable to cut into the Pirates’ lead until the 5th.
Alfonso Soriano reached on a 1-out double to left. Mike Fontenot followed with a single to right but Mike Quade did not test Xavier Nady’s arm and held Soriano at 3rd. Derrek Lee came through with a sacrifice fly to center….Soriano scored and the Cubs were down 3-2.
The 6th inning was fun to watch. Kosuke Fukudome led off the inning with a walk and scored on Geovany Soto’s blast to straight away center that put the Cubs up 4-3. Ryan Theriot followed with a perfectly placed bunt single and advanced to 2nd on a sacrifice bunt by Jon Lieber. Theriot then stole 3rd and was out by plenty….but Jose Bautista could not hold on to the ball. Theriot was safe.
With the infield in, Reed Johnson singled by a diving Brian Bixler at short….Theriot scored. Soriano tapped out to 3rd for the second out of the inning, Johnson advanced to 2nd and scored on Mike Fontenot’s first home run of the year.
The Cubs offense pounded out 11 more hits and left 8 more on base but when a team scores 7 runs and wins the game….does it really matter?
Lou Piniella pulled all of the right strings on Thursday night….after it appeared early on the Cubs would lose the game. 5 in a row….not bad.
Carlos Zambrano will face Brett Myers in the opener of the 3-game series in Philadelphia on Friday night….weather permitting. Jason Marquis was scheduled to make the start but has been pushed back to Sunday.