Game Five – Cubs 6 Brewers 3
WP – Carlos Zambrano (1-1) LP – Ben Sheets (1-1) Save – Ryan Dempster (2)
Carlos Zambrano won his first game of the season and his first April start since 2005 with an impressive 7-inning performance against the Brewers on Saturday afternoon. The Cubs are over .500 for the first time this season. Zambrano gave Lou Piniella his fourth consecutive quality start but most importantly Zambrano threw strikes and only walked 2 on the day.
Aramis Ramirez hit his first homer of the season, Mark DeRosa tripled, Alfonso Soriano doubled and Derrek Lee was 3-4 on the day with a double that was his 500th career extra base hit. All of Piniella’s starters with the exception of Henry Blanco recorded a hit and the “struggling offense” has scored 15 runs in the past two games. Carlos Zambrano dominated early, threw first pitch strikes to 2 of the 3 batters he faced in the 1st inning in route to striking out the side on 17 pitches, 13 for strikes. In the 2nd, Zambrano sat down the side in order on just 12 pitches, 7 strikes. In the 3rd, Zambrano retired the Brewers in order on 6 pitches….all for strikes. He hit his spots and showed very good command on the afternoon. He followed Rich Hill’s five perfect innings with three of his own that included striking out 4 of the first 6 batters he faced.
The Brewers did not record their first hit or base runner until the 4th inning when Rickie Weeks led off the inning by hitting a 3-2 pitch over the left center field wall. Zambrano walked J.J. Hardy but a fine defensive play by Derrek Lee kept the Brewers from having a huge 4th inning. Prince Fielder hit a grounder to Lee, he caught the ball, tagged the base with his glove and threw to Cesar Izturis at 2nd (from his knees) to complete the 3-6 double play….he made it look routine. Bill Hall followed with a 4-pitch walk and advanced to 3rd on a single to right by Johnny Estrada. Zambrano collected himself and struck out Geoff Jenkins (swinging) to end the inning. Big Z left the field pumping his fist in typical Zambrano fashion. The 4th inning was the biggest challenge on the afternoon for Zambrano, he faced 6 batters, threw only 3 first pitch strikes and a total of 27 pitches, 12 for strikes.
The Brewers helped out Zambrano in the 5th, it took just 7 pitches to set them down in order. In the 6th, Hardy singled to right center with 1-out and scored on a double to right center off the bat of Prince Fielder. Zambrano settled down and retired Hall and Estrada to end the inning. In the 7th, Jenkins led off with a home run and Zambrano received a visit from Lou Piniella. Zambrano settled down and was helped out by Derrek Lee again….he made another fine play on a grounder off the bat of Craig Counsell and threw to Zambrano covering 1st for the 2nd out of the inning. Tony Gwynn Jr. grounded out to DeRosa to end the inning and Zambrano’s afternoon.
Zambrano took a big step on Saturday by rebounding from his performance on Opening Day and pitching extremely well against a team he has had a lot of difficulty with in the past. He threw 109 pitches, 67 for strikes and gave up just 3 runs on 5 hits, walked 2, struck out 6 and gave up 2 more dingers….that is 4 in 2 starts.
Bobby Howry threw a perfect 8th inning and retired the Brewers on just 13 pitches. Ryan Dempster picked up his 2nd save of the season with an impressive 9th. He retired the Brewers in order on 12 pitches, 10 for strikes and struck out Johnny Estrada and Geoff Jenkins swinging.
Many had already given Ben Sheets the 2007 Cy Young Award after his performance against the Dodgers on Opening Day. Sheets is a very good pitcher but the Cubs offense was just a little better on Saturday. Other than Derrek Lee’s double in the 1st, the Cubs went quietly and it seemed early on it would end up being a duel between the two staff aces. Matt Murton singled to left with 1-out in the 2nd and scored on a triple to left center by Mark DeRosa. Sheets ran the count on DeRosa to 3-2 and that allowed Murton to get an early start….he scored easily on the triple. Blanco grounded out to 3rd but Carlos Zambrano helped his own cause with a single to left to score DeRosa.
Sheets settled down and retired the next eight Cubs he faced until Soriano doubled with 2-outs in the 5th. In the 6th, Derrek Lee reached on an infield single and scored on Aramis Ramirez 1st home run of the season….a shot to the upper deck in left center. Jacque Jones and Matt Murton followed with back-to-back singles to center. The Brewers defense could not turn a routine double play when DeRosa grounded to short. Hardy flipped it to Weeks who threw wide of Fielder….he got a glove on it but could not haul it in. Henry Blanco followed with a sacrifice fly to right to score Jacque Jones.
The last run on the afternoon for the Cubs came in the 7th. With 1-out, Cesar Izturis hit his 4th double of the year to left….it was a “hustle double” and scored on Lee’s 3rd hit of the day, a single to right. Daryle Ward recorded his first hit as a Cub, a single to center in the 9th.
The Cubs have played two very good games against the team most feel would win the central this season and will go for the sweep on Sunday. Wade Miller will make his first start against Chris Capuano….a 3-game winning streak on the road would be a great way to end the trip before the home opener on Monday against the Astros.