Game Eleven – Cubs 7 Cardinals 5 – 11 innings
WP – Angel Guzman (1-0) LP – Dennys Reyes (0-1) Save – None
‘The RBI Machine‘ did it again. For the second straight day the Cubs beat the Cardinals on a dramatic home run by one of ‘The Big Three‘. Aramis Ramirez belted a 1-1 pitch from Dennys Reyes over the wall in left center in the bottom of the eleventh. His third of the year gave his team the win…and with the Ramirez blast, Angel Guzman notched his first career big league victory.
Ramirez was greeted at home plate by his teammates as the home crowd sang Tony LaRussa’s favorite song.
The Cubs and Cardinals issued a combined 15 walks on the afternoon…and the leadoff walk by Alfonso Soriano in the eleventh gave Ramirez a chance to get to the plate. The Cubs pitching staff, especially Ryan Dempster, struggled with their command. Dempster left after six innings due to a 37-pitch third inning, which ran up his pitch count. Dempster walked four in the Cardinals three-run third inning…and simply did not have it. In three starts (18 innings) this season Dempster has walked 10 batters.
However, Dempster was inline for the win despite giving up four runs on four hits with four walks and four strikeouts in six innings.
The Cubs offense did not quit all afternoon and the win was truly a team effort. Alfonso Soriano scored a pair of runs. Kosuke Fukudome drove in a run and scored two. Derrek Lee tied the game at five with a 2-out, 2-run double in the fifth…Aramis Ramirez delivered the game winner. Aaron Miles drove in two runs against his former team and for a while it looked like his RBI single in the sixth would be the game winner.
The Cubs patience was once again a plus on Saturday afternoon. Three of the Cubs first five runs were scored as a direct result of two-out bases empty walks. In the third Alfonso Soriano worked a two-out walk and scored on Kosuke Fukudome’s double to right…and in the fifth Soriano and Fukudome both worked two-out walks and tied the game on Derrek Lee’s double to left.
Six of the Cubs’ seven runs were scored with two outs on Saturday afternoon.
The Cubs bullpen, for the most part, put together one of their better collective games of the year…with one exception. Carlos Marmol escaped a jam in the seventh inning that the Great Whodini would have been proud of, as Pat Hughes so eloquently described the job Marmol did in the inning.
Neal Cotts, who’s days as a Cub must be numbered, took the mound to start the seventh with the Cubs up by a score of 5-4. Cotts walked both batters he faced on eight pitches…and did not throw a single strike. Lou Piniella made the slow walk and replaced Cotts with Carlos Marmol…Marmol retired Rick Ankiel, Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick to end the inning.
The Cardinals tied the game in the eighth off Marmol with back-to-back doubles by Chris Duncan and Yadier Molina.
Kevin Gregg cleaned up Marmol’s mess in the eighth and pitched a perfect ninth inning. Gregg retired all six batters he faced with two strikeouts and most importantly, no walks…by far the best outing for Kevin Gregg in a Cubs’ uniform.
Aaron Heilman issued a walk in the tenth but kept the Cardinals off the board. Alfonso Soriano caught a fly ball of the bat of Khalil Greene and doubled off Chris Duncan from second to end the inning.
Maybe Angel Guzman will finally turn the corner after picking up his first career win. Guzman walked Joe Thurston to start the eleventh. After a pinch-hit sacrifice bunt by Adam Wainwright put the go ahead run in scoring position, Guzman shut the door. Guzman struck out Skip Schumaker for the second out and induced a ground out to second off the bat of Rick Ankiel to end the inning…he left Albert Pujols standing in the on deck circle.
Saturday was another typical Cubs-Cardinals game…with Lou Piniella’s crew improving to 7-4 on the young season. Saturday’s win could come at a cost. Piniella used five of his seven relievers (only David Patton and Luis Vizcaino did not get into the game) and because of the short outing by Ryan Dempster and ineffectiveness by Neal Cotts, Piniella had to stretch out both Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg. It is unlikely Gregg will be available for Sunday night and Marmol’s status could be in question as well.
The entire staff must start throwing strikes and quit walking the other team. They are running up their pitch counts and with the Cubs starting a stretch of 20 in a row on Tuesday (without a day off), the bullpen could be burned out before the middle of May.
Ryan Dempster was very impressive in the first two innings, he retired the first six batters he faced and looked like he was well on his way to a good, strong outing…that all changed in the third.
Dempster could not find the strike zone. He walked Khalil Greene and Brian Barden to start the inning. Kyle Lohse popped out a bunt attempt. Skip Schumaker followed with the Cardinals’ first hit…a single to left that plated Greene.
Rick Ankiel struck out swinging then Dempster issued his third walk of the inning to Albert Pujols. With the bases loaded and one out, Ryan Ludwick singled to center. Barden and Schumaker scored, 3-0 Cardinals.
The Cardinals reloaded the bases after Dempster issued his fourth walk of the inning to Chris Duncan. Yadier Molina grounded out to second to end the inning.
Khalil Greene hit his second home run of the series, and the season, to start the fourth. Dempster settled down a little after that and retired nine of the last ten batters he faced.
After Kosuke Fukudome doubled in Alfonso Soriano in the third, the Cubs tied the game in the fifth. Ryan Theriot led off the inning with a triple to right off Kyle Lohse. Aaron Miles grounded back to Lohse but Theriot broke with contact and scored the Cubs second run.
Alfonso Soriano’s plate discipline on the young season is a welcome sight. He worked a two-out walk following Dempter’s ground out to third. Kosuke Fukudome also walked and both scored on Derrek Lee’s double to left. Lee was cut down at third to end the inning…Albert Pujols cut off Khalil Greene’s throw to the plate.
The Cubs took the lead in the sixth. With the bases empty and two outs, Geovany Soto walked and advanced to second on a single by Ryan Theriot. Aaron Miles drove in Soto with a single to left center.
After appearing to be out of sync through the first eight games, the Cubs appear to be on the right track to gelling as a team…now if the pitching staff could just quit walking so many batters. Ron Santo summed it up in the tenth inning after Chris Duncan worked the count to 3-2 against Aaron Heilman. “Please don’t walk him, please.”
Ted Lilly is slated to face Todd Wellemeyer on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. If the first three games are any indication, the finale should be anything but boring.