Game Twenty-Nine – Cubs 3 Cardinals 5 – 11 innings
WP – Ron Villone (1-0) LP – Chad Fox (0-1) Save – None
Every game counts just as much as the next but losing to the Cardinals always seems a little different….especially with the way Lou Piniella’s crew dropped the first game of the series on Friday night. After striking out Brian Barton on three pitches to start the game, Rich Hill walked 4 of the next 5 batters he faced and left after throwing only 27 pitches. Lou Piniella saw enough and yanked Hill seemingly without any hesitation. Michael Wuertz came in and got his team out of the jam but the game felt over before it started.
Wuertz gave up a run in the 2nd but the Cubs bullpen turned in a tremendous performance, led by Jon Lieber. The Cardinals scored an unearned run in the 7th off of Bobby Howry after a Derrek Lee error and two badly misplayed balls by Alfonso Soriano. The much-maligned bullpen at one point retired 10 in a row and did not allow an earned run after the 2nd inning….until the 11th.
After being called up early in the day on Friday, Chad Fox made his first pitch in the big leagues since April 25, 2005. Fox retired the Cardinals in order in the 10th on 12 pitches but Piniella had to use him again in the 11th. Fox gave up a lead off single to pinch hitter Aaron Miles. After a wild pitch and a sacrifice bunt by Brendan Ryan, Skip Schumaker ended the game with a 2-run shot into the stands in right center.
Aramis Ramirez appeared to be hit on his wrist on a pitch by Adam Wainwright in the 6th inning. He was replaced at 3rd in the 7th inning by Mark DeRosa but watched the remainder of the game from the dugout. Alfonso Soriano tied the game in the top of the 9th with a 2-run homer off of Jason Isringhausen but the Cubs could not come up with the big hit in extra innings to turn a weird night into a big win. The Cubs dropped another tough game to a division rival but in the process might have suffered a bigger loss….Rich Hill. The Cubs were depending on Hill to take his game to the next level at the beginning of the season and Hill has done the exact opposite. Lou Piniella explained the importance of this start to Ron Santo during the pre-game show and Hill responded with the shortest outing of his career. Whatever has gotten in Hill’s head could have just punched his ticket back to Iowa. With the Cubs in the middle of a 6-game road trip and only two off days in May there will have to be a roster move….or risk burning out the bullpen before the end of the second month of the season.
The Cubs have options in the minors but none with the potential and talent of Rich Hill.
A day after being right in the middle of the meltdown in the 9th inning against the Brewers, Alfonso Soriano had a big impact on Friday’s game. Soriano struggled at the plate, again, with three strikeouts in 6 trips to the plate. Soriano drove in the first run of the game for the Cubs on a fielder’s choice in the 3rd and came through in the 9th to tie the game but his defense and lack of plate discipline aided in the Cubs being down by 2 in the 9th. While no player is perfect, Soriano must step up his play and contribute to the team.
Soriano is under a microscope right now, whether that is fair or not is a topic for another day. After his slow start before going on the DL and the fact the Cubs posted a 10-5 record with him not on the field started the debate….and his performance in the first two games since his return have just added fuel to the proverbial fire. While Soriano drove in 3 big runs, he left 5 on base and turned in his worst defensive game since becoming a Cub.
Soriano misplayed a ball on a pop fly into short left in the 7th. Soriano appeared to call Ryan Theriot off, got a glove on the ball but was not able to make the catch. It was ruled a hit for Albert Pujols. With runners on 1st and 2nd with 2 outs, Bobby Howry appeared to get out of the inning. Yadier Molina hit a deep fly to left center, Soriano was there in plenty of time and just whiffed on the ball. Pat Hughes and Ron Santo could not believe he missed the ball and neither could Len and Bob….
The ball bounced on the warning track and then over the wall for a ground rule double. The Cardinals scored a very big run on the misplayed ball.
The Cardinals second run of the game came in the 2nd inning after a double off the left field wall by Adam Wainwright. Brendan Ryan singled to center and Wainwright scored when Felix Pie airmailed the throw to home plate. Pie missed the cut off man as his throw was way off the mark. Fortunately the play did not cost the Cubs another run. Brian Barton sacrificed Ryan to 3rd. Wuertz struck out Rick Ankiel and intentionally walked Albert Pujols. For some reason Pujols tried a delayed steal with Troy Glaus at the plate. Geovany Soto threw to Mark DeRosa who stepped up and returned the throw to Soto in time to tag Ryan to end the inning.
Jon Lieber stepped up big once again and proved his value out of the pen. Lieber shutdown the Cardinals offense for 3 2/3 innings, gave up just 5 hits, struck out 1 and did not walk a batter. Sean Marshall retired the only batter he faced and Bobby Howry turned in his best outing of the year. Howry’s line may read 1 unearned run on 2 hits in 2 innings but sometimes things are not as they appear. Both hits were on balls misplayed by Soriano. Howry struck out 2 batters in the middle of the mess….Troy Glaus and Cesar Izturis and recorded the Cubs first 1-2-3 inning of the night.
Kerry Wood retired the heart of the Cardinals order in the 9th and turned it over to Chad Fox in the 10th. Unfortunately for Fox, Piniella had only Carlos Marmol left in the pen and with the fact the offense could not come through with two on in the 10th, Piniella had little choice but to trot out Fox for another inning. While Rich Hill did not figure into the decision, his performance cost his team a chance to beat their biggest rival.
Adam Wainwright had the Cubs number early on and once Aramis Ramirez left the game, Derrek Lee was no longer a factor. The Cubs offense had plenty of chances again. They loaded the bases in the 8th with 2 outs and came away empty. And on the night they left a total of 13 on base.
The Cubs first run came in the 3rd after Geovany Soto led off the inning with a double to left. Felix Pie struck out and Carlos Zambrano pinch-hit for Michael Wuertz. Zambrano came through with an impressive at bat and reached on a broken bat, bloop single to center. With Soto on 3rd and 1 out, Soriano hit a grounder into the hole at short, Izturis made a good play on the ball (like he used to make for the Dodgers) and forced Zambrano at 2nd. Soto scored to cut the Cardinals’ lead in half.
Changes are coming to the Cubs….it’s just a matter of time. Piniella has a team that is 17-12, 5 games over .500 and it is clearly not enough for him. While the record looks good and much better than a year ago, his body language is saying more than the words that are coming out of his mouth.
It will not get an easier on Saturday afternoon for the Cubs. Ted Lilly is scheduled to face Kyle Lohse.