Timely Hitting and the Good Harden – Cubs 6 Nationals 2

Game Eighty-Seven – Cubs 6 Nationals 2
WP – Rich Harden (6-6) LP – John Lannan (6-7) Save – None

wflag.jpgThe Chicago Cubs began the second half on a positive note Thursday night in the Nation’s Capital. The Cubs came up with clutch hits against John Lannan and beat the southpaw for the first time. Two of the Cubs first three runs were scored on two-out hits … the first on a double by Ryan Theriot in third and the second by Reed Johnson in the seventh. Derrek Lee had another big night. He finished the game 3-for-4 but it was his 18th dinger of the year in the sixth that gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead.

The Cubs tacked on three in the ninth off of the Nationals bullpen. Koyie Hill drove in the Cubs’ fourth run. After an error by Sean Burnett allowed the Cubs’ fifth run to score, Ryan Theriot hit a sacrifice fly that plated Koyie Hill with the Cubs sixth and final run.

Rich Harden dominated on the road once again. Harden kept the Nationals’ off balance all night and allowed just one earned run on three hits without any walks, a hit batsman and seven strikeouts … that included the 700th K of his career. Harden mixed his pitches extremely well with good velocity on his fastball that has been missing in his last few outings.

Angel Guzman was impressive again in the seventh inning. Guzman sat down the Nationals in order and struck out Josh Bard for the third out. Carlos Marmol took the hill in the eighth. He retired the first two batters he faced on five pitches, four for strikes, but issued a two-out walk to Nyjer Morgan. With the Cubs up by a score of 3-1 at the time, Marmol picked off Morgan to end the inning with the heart of the Nationals order coming to the plate.

Kevin Gregg struggled with his command in the ninth. Gregg recorded the 27th out in a non-save situation but it was not pretty. Gregg fell behind Ryan Zimmerman before serving up a home run on a 2-1 pitch. Zimmerman’s 15th of the season ended up being the Nationals final run. Adam Dunn worked a one-out walk then Josh Willingham flied out to right on a 2-1 pitch and Cristian Guzman flied out to center on a 2-0 pitch to end the game.

The Cubs put together a solid performance on the road against a pitcher they had struggled against in the past … and improved to a game over .500 for the year.

Rich Harden pitched the way the Cubs expect him to in the second half. With the signing of B.J. Ryan on Thursday afternoon, the speculation became that Harden is in trouble of losing his starting job. But for one more start, Harden silenced the critics with an excellent outing against a very good Nationals’ offense.

Harden retired the Nationals in order in the first and second inning. After setting down the first seven hitters he faced, Harden gave up a one-out triple to Alberto Gonzalez in the third. John Lannan struck out and Nyjer Morgan grounded out to second to end the inning.

After the triple by Gonzalez, Harden went on cruise control. He retired the Nationals in order in the fourth and sat down Josh Willingham and Cristian Guzman to start the fifth. On a 1-0 pitch to Josh Bard, Harden hit him. Alberto Gonzalez followed with the Nationals second hit, a single to left. Ryan Theriot picked a grounder hit by John Lannan to end the inning.

The Nationals lone run off Harden came in the sixth. Nyjer Morgan reached on a bunt single. On a 1-2 pitch to Nick Johnson, Morgan took off for second. Koyie Hill’s throw ended up in center and Morgan advanced to third. Nick Johnson grounded out to Ryan Theriot on a 1-1 pitch that plated Morgan … and cut the Cubs lead in half, 2-1.

Rich Harden retired Ryan Zimmerman on a ground out to short … and ended his night by striking out Adam Dunn swinging, his third strikeout of Dunn in the game.

The Cubs first run came after the Nationals’ 21st error of the year from the left side of their infield. Koyie Hill led off the third and hit a routine grounder to Ryan Zimmerman at third. Zimmerman airmailed his throw to Nick Johnson, Hill ended up at second and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Rich Harden.

After Reed Johnson was called out on a check swing, Ryan Theriot hit a double down the left field line that plated Hill with the unearned run. Milton Bradley (0-for-5) flied out to right for the third out …

Derrek Lee led off the fourth with a double to right. Following a fly out to center by Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano singled to center. Mike Quade held Lee at third again as Nyjer Morgan’s throw missed the cut off man. Soriano was caught in no man’s land trying to advance to second and was thrown out at first for the second out of the inning (for those scoring at home, the play went 8-2-6-4).

With the Cubs up by a slim 1-0 margin, Derrek Lee lined his 18th homer (on a 3-2 pitch) of the season over the wall in right with one-out in the sixth … Lee hit twenty longballs all of last year.

After the Nationals cut the Cubs’ lead to 2-1 in the sixth, the Cubs answered in the top of the seventh. Jeff Baker led off with his fourth hit as a Cub (4-for-17). Koyie Hill sacrificed him to second. Micah Hoffpauir pinch-hit for Rich Harden and was robbed of a hit by Nick Johnson … the productive out advanced Baker to third.

After a conference on the mound, Jim Riggleman decided to leave in John Lannan to face Reed Johnson. Johnson singled to center on Lannan’s first offering, Baker scored … 3-1 Cubs.

The Cubs tacked on in the ninth against former Cub Julian Tavarez.

Alfonso Soriano put together a very good at bat that resulted in a walk. Lou Piniella sent up Sam Fuld to hit for Carlos Marmol. On the first pitch to Fuld, Piniella called for the hit and run. Fuld singled to right and Soriano advanced to third.

Koyie Hill worked the count to 3-2 before knocking a single to right and plating Soriano with the Cubs fourth run. With runners on first and third, Jake Fox pinch hit for Andres Blanco and hit a tapper back to the mound. Sean Burnett bobbled the ball and Fuld scored on the error. With Reed Johnson at the dish, Burnett uncorked a wild pitch that advanced Hill and Fox to second and third … with no outs. Johnson flied out to shallow center. Tyler Clippard took over for Burnett to face Ryan Theriot.

Theriot knocked in his second run of the game on Clippard’s first offering. Koyie Hill scored the Cubs’ final run on a sacrifice fly to right.

Counting Thursday night, 17 of the first 24 games out of the break are away from Wrigley. In order for the Cubs to put together the kind of second half they need to, it will require more performances like the one against Nationals on Thursday night.

Box Score from Yahoo Sports

Carlos Zambrano will face Craig Stammen under the lights on Friday night.

Quote of the Day

"Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow." - Plato
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