Game Twenty-Seven – Cubs 6 Astros 3
WP – Rich Harden (3-1) LP – Mike Hampton (1-3) Save – Kevin Gregg (5)
The Cubs won for the third time in four games against the Astros on Wednesday night behind a solid outing by Rich Harden…and a clutch two-out bases clearing triple in the first inning by Reed Johnson. Johnson’s first extra base hit of the season gave his team a three-run lead and he scored on the first of two passed balls on the night by Ivan Rodriguez.
Mike Hampton settled down after the first inning and the Cubs could not capitalize with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth. But the four runs in the first inning would be all that Rich Harden would need.
Harden struggled with his command early on before he settled down. The turning point in the game for Harden and the Cubs came in the third. Harden issued two of his three walks and loaded the bases ahead of Miguel Tejada. After a visit from Larry Rothschild, Harden threw three pitches to Tejada. The third in the sequence jammed Tejada and he popped out to Aaron Miles to end the inning.
The Astros were retired in order in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings and Harden appeared to get stronger as the game progressed. Harden allowed only one run on five hits in the first seven innings.
Michael Bourn led off the eighth with a single to right. Lance Berkman hit his seventh of the year over the left field wall and after a single by Carlos Lee, Lou Piniella brought in Carlos Marmol to shut the door.
Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg faced the minimum over the last two innings to seal the Cubs’ fifteenth win of the year.
Rich Harden ended up allowing three runs on eight hits in seven-plus innings with three walks and four strikeouts on 99 pitches.
Reed Johnson played a big role in the Cubs victory once again. His triple gave his team the lead and he scored two runs on two passed balls by Ivan Rodriquez….the second came in the sixth after the Cubs loaded the bases with no outs.
Aramis Ramirez hit his fourth home run of the year in the seventh. Ramirez’s solo shot into the Crawford Boxes gave the Cubs a 6-1 lead.
The Cubs improved to 15-1 in games they score four or more runs…the win was the Cubs fifth out of the last six games. A day after Lou Piniella gave his regulars the day off, they came out swinging against Mike Hampton. The Cubs took charge early and Reed Johnson’s clutch two-out hit started the five-game road trip out on a winning note.
Alfonso Soriano led off the game with a single to left. After Ryan Theriot flied out to left, Milton Bradley worked the count to 3-1 against Mike Hampton before he singled to left. Aramis Ramirez flied out to left center for the second out…Ramirez got all of it, just hit the ball to Michael Bourn.
Geovany Soto walked to load the bases with two-outs.
Reed Johnson stepped in and hit a liner into left center. Michael Bourn just missed making a spectacular catch. He dove, landed flat on his chest but missed the ball…it rolled all the way to the wall and it appeared Johnson might have an inside the park home run. Mike Quade held Johnson at third with a triple.
On a 1-2 pitch to Micah Hoffpauir, the ball got in between Ivan Rodriguez’s legs and the passed ball allowed Johnson to score the Cubs fourth run.
Mike Hampton worked out on a second and third jam in the second inning…after his defense let him down. Aaron Miles led off with a double to left. Rich Harden tried to sacrifice him to third but the bunt was too close to the plate. Rodriguez fired to third and Miles was caught in a run down…but Geoff Blum threw the ball too high to Tejada and Miles made it back to the bag. The mistake would not matter…Soriano, Theriot and Bradley all flied out weakly to right to end the inning.
Reed Johnson led off the sixth with a walk. Micah Hoffpauir doubled to right and Aaron Miles walked to load the bases. With Rich Harden at the plate and no outs, Rodriguez was charged with his second passed ball…Reed Johnson scored and that would be all the Cubs would score.
Rich Harden, Alfonso Soriano and Ryan Theriot struck out to end the sixth.
The Astros first run came in the fourth on a two-out single by Mike Hampton. Hunter Pence reached on an infield single to third. Aramis made a fine barehanded pickup of the slow tapper but could not throw out the speedy Pence. Geoff Blum walked, Harden’s third of the night. Ivan Rodriguez grounded into a 6-4-3 double play on the first pitch from Harden…but Hampton singled to left on a 1-2 pitch.
Harden recovered and struck out Kaz Matsui to end the inning.
Wednesday night was one of the better-pitched games for the Cubs all season. After struggling with his command early, Harden settled down and put together his longest start of the season…and for the first time this year, Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg faced six batters and recorded six outs. With Milton Bradley and Geovany Soto struggling, it was good to see Reed Johnson turn in a difference making performance….offensively.
Ted Lilly will face Russ Ortiz in the finale of the two-game series on Thursday night.