A Good Start to the Trip

Game Forty-Five – Cubs 7 Astros 2
WP – Ted Lilly (5-4) LP – Brian Moehler (1-1) Save – None

wflag.jpgLou Piniella had his team ready to play on Monday night in Houston. After three quiet innings both teams cranked it up and the game was actually much closer than the final score. This game had it all. The first inside the park home run by a Cubs’ catcher since 1959, a spectacular game changing catch by the newest Cub, an 11-pitch at bat by one of the big three, 3 2/3 shutout innings by the Cubs’ bullpen, a dominating performance by Carlos Marmol and a 2-run home run in the top of the 9th that allowed Piniella to save Kerry Wood for another day.

Ted Lilly’s performance will be lost in the tremendous effort by the entire team. Lilly shutdown the Astros’ offense and allowed 2 runs on 4 hits with 6 strikeouts and 2 walks in 5 1/3 innings. Lilly did not allow a hit until the 4th inning and showed very good command early in the game. Lilly more than earned his 5th victory of the year. The Cubs bullpen, however, was the difference in the game. When both starters departed the Cubs were up 3-2, the Cubs offense kept tacking on runs while the bullpen threw the pitch they needed to get out of trouble and keep the Astros off the board.

Carlos Marmol replaced Michael Wuertz in the 8th with runners on 1st and 3rd, no outs and the Cubs up by a score of 5-2. Marmol retired Miguel Tejada, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee to get out of the jam without allowing a run. Berkman finished 0-for-4 on the night with 3 strikeouts and ended his 17-game hitting streak.

Geovany Soto hit his 9th home run of the year in dramatic fashion. Soto became the first Cubs’ catcher to hit an inside the park home run since Cal Neeman on June 17, 1959. Soto’s 3-run lumber around the bases gave the Cubs an early lead and the pitching staff did the rest.

The Cubs offense tacked on 4 runs off the Astros’ bullpen in the last 3 innings. Derrek Lee ended a 0-for-15 slump with an RBI single in the 7th. Ryan Theriot drove in a run in the 8th with a 2-out single to center. Derrek Lee led off the 9th with a double and scored on the first home run for Aramis Ramirez since April 23rd.

Lou Piniella’s crew evened their road record at 9-9 and improved to 11 games over .500 for the season.

Big league games are typically decided by one or two plays that usually do not end up in the box score. On Monday night, both plays came in the 4th inning. Aramis Ramirez was hitless over the weekend against the Pirates but he did not carry that baggage with him to Houston. Ramirez put together an 11-pitch at bat against Brian Moehler that resulted in a 1-out single to left past a diving Miguel Tejada. Kosuke Fukudome followed with a walk and both scored on Geovany Soto’s inside the park home run.

In the bottom of the 4th, the Astros cut the Cubs’ lead to 3-1 after a double and stolen base by Miguel Tejada. With Carlos Lee at 1st, Hunter Pence hit a long drive to center. Jim Edmonds made a sensational over the shoulder catch to take at least a triple, if not more away from Pence. Edmonds ended up on Tal’s Hill and Lilly ended up out of the inning with a 3-1 lead.

The Cubs’ patience at the plate continued to make a difference on Monday. Aramis Ramirez and Ted Lilly managed the only two hits off of Brian Moehler in the first 3 innings. Derrek Lee started the 4th with a pop out to left. Ramirez singled to left on the 11th pitch of the at bat for the third hit off Moehler.

Kosuke Fukudome worked a walk by taking an incredibly close pitch for ball 4. Geovany Soto then stepped in an appeared to hit the ball out of the park. Replays showed the ball was actually a home run. The ball hit off the top of the wall in left center, very close to the yellow line. Michael Bourn tried to make a leaping catch, the ball bounced back into center and neither Pence or Lee backed up the play. Soto ran all the way around and scored standing with the Cubs’ first in the park home run since Derrek Lee’s in Arizona last season (August 26th).

Jim Edmonds followed with his second hit as a Cub with a single to left center. Mark DeRosa singled to left but Edmonds held at 2nd. During his at bat Edmonds fouled a ball off his ankle and was not running at full speed. Ted Lilly sacrificed both runners into scoring position. Moehler threw Alfonso Soriano two balls before walking him intentionally to load the bases. Ryan Theriot followed, swung at the first pitch and grounded out to 2nd to end the inning.

Ryan Theriot sparked the offense with a 1-out double to left in the 7th. Derrek Lee (0-for-15, 2-for-22) followed with a single to left center. Theriot scored to give the Cubs a 4-2 lead. Kosuke Fukudome came through with a 2-out single to right but with runners on 1st and 3rd, Soto grounded out on the first pitch to end the inning.

Mark DeRosa reached on a 1-out single in the 8th. Ronny Cedeno followed with another impressive at bat and worked a walk. Alfonso Soriano struck out for the second out of the inning. Ryan Theriot followed with a single to center. DeRosa scored but Cedeno was caught in a rundown between 2nd and 3rd to end the inning. Theriot’s 19th multi-hit game of the season gave the Cubs a 5-2 lead.

Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez did the rest in the 9th with a double and a long home run to left.

Jon Lieber replaced Ted Lilly with 1-out in the 6th and retired 4 of the 5 batters he faced…but faced the minimum. Lieber once again proved his value to the Cubs out of the pen. He gave up a bloop single to Carlos Lee but got Hunter Pence to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. Lieber then retired the Astros in order in the 7th.

Michael Wuertz gave up back-to-back singles to Michael Bourn and Kaz Matsui to start the 8th inning. After the single to Matsui put runners on 1st and 3rd with no outs, Piniella brought in Carlos Marmol for the third day in a row.

Matsui promptly stole 2nd (replays showed he was out) but Marmol retired Miguel Tejada on a pop out to Ryan Theriot in shallow center. Lance Berkman was called out on a check swing and Carlos Lee grounded out to 3rd to end the inning. Bobby Howry retired all 3 batters he faced in the 9th to end the game.

Both Ted Lilly and Carlos Marmol put Carlos Lee on his backside on Monday night, so it could get a little heated in Houston on Tuesday.

The Cubs put a big win on the board against a division rival in their ballpark….like Piniella said on Sunday, it is only May. But on the other hand, a win is a win.

Ryan Dempster will face Chris Sampson in the second game of the series on Tuesday.

Quote of the Day

"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow." - Albert Einstein