Almost Famous, and Open Thread: Cubs vs. Pirates, Thursday 5/10, 1:20 CT

Three solid hits.

That's all Jason Marquis gave up in last night's briskly and crisply played 1-0 Cub win over the Pirates. When Don Kelly, the Pirates' backup shortstop who got the start last night, slapped a single right in front of us, I said to Mike, "I really thought Marquis had a shot at it," meaning a no-hitter or even a perfect game, since he hadn't walked anyone up to that time (and didn't walk anyone). Figures, doesn't it, that the guy breaking up the perfect game would be hitting in the .160's, right?

It was the first Cub CG of the year and couldn't have come at a better time, given the two roster-depleting games of Sunday and Tuesday; the first CG shutout since Rich Hill shut out the Reds at Wrigley Field last September 16, and the second CG shutout of Marquis' career (he threw a two-hit shutout against the Nationals on August 27, 2005).

I can't say enough good things about the way Marquis threw and approached the game. He threw 72 strikes in 109 pitches and went to a three-ball count only three times, none after the third inning. He's now 5-1, leading the staff in wins (he was also 5-1 in 2005, but with a 3.26 ERA that year, compared to 1.70 now). Yes, it's only May, and in order to be "worth" the very large contract Jim Hendry signed him to, he'll have to keep this up all year. In the seven starts he's made so far, I see every sign he'll be able to do this. He hasn't been bad in any of them; the "worst" was April 10 vs. the Astros, where he allowed four runs (three earned) in five innings, taking his only loss.

Now it can be told -- Matt Burtz (gauchodirk here at BCB), who showed up, late, with three friends, is responsible for the no-hitter being broken up, since he told us afterward that he had mentioned it. He tried to make the excuse that he wasn't in the dugout, but that doesn't matter. Mike and I knew better. Hey, don't worry, Matt -- you can still come back and sit with us. Just don't talk about no-hitters in progress again!!

There isn't much to tell about the rest of the game, either. Alfonso Soriano led off the game with a home run, his second leadoff HR of the season, and thanks to Marquis, that was all the offense that was needed. Of course, we didn't know that at the time, and the Cubs did keep stranding runners, something they shouldn't do too much of if they want to win games where the starting pitcher isn't doing what Marquis did last night. Again, it came at the perfect time, since the bullpen badly needed a day off. Will Ohman and Bob Howry briefly got up in the 8th and 9th innings, but were never needed. The Cubs did leave ten men on base, never a good thing; fortunately, Marquis' masterpiece made that simply a footnote rather than an issue, at least for one day.

Here's what Marquis has to say about why he thinks he's doing so well this year:

"I pride myself on my conditioning. I work hard between starts to make sure when that time comes, I feel just as strongly now. I’m not giving the hitters any advantage.

"This stretch of games to start the season for myself has been as good as I’ve been throughout my career."

Finally, a welcome back to the bleachers to my friend Sue, who couldn't make it until yesterday due to illness and (well, this is what she claims, anyway) too much schoolwork. And she didn't bring the brownies she promised, either. Next time. And since they won, you're forgiven.
Today's Starting Pitchers
Carlos Zambrano
C. Zambrano
Cubs
vs. Paul Maholm
P. Maholm
Pirates
3-2 W-L 1-4
5.80 ERA 5.51
29 SO 19
22 BB 11
9 HR 4
vs. Pit -- vs. Cubs
The Cubs really need to win this series if they are going to make any sort of statement about contention this early in the season. The Pirates aren't a terrible team, but neither do they look as if they are ready for contention themselves. Thus, winning two of three here (as they did in Pittsburgh last week), and therefore having a 5-1 homestand, is really important.

So is getting Carlos Zambrano back to the form we've been used to seeing in past years. The nine HR allowed is worst in the major leagues, and the 22 walks are far too many. Frankly, the game Marquis threw last night is the sort of game I've been hoping to see out of Z all year. It's going to be a gorgeous day. Time for Z to step up.

Paul Maholm (and how do you get the pronunciation "Mah-HALL-uhm" out of that?) is 2-0, 4.86 lifetime against the Cubs, but has not thrown well so far this season.

Today's game is on WGN and also, as always, at the Mediacenter.

MLB.com Gameday

Finally, in a move that surprises me, the Cubs have agreed to the Astros' request to reschedule the April 11 snowout to June 11, an off-day after the Cubs' trip to Atlanta and the Astros' series in Chicago vs. the White Sox. You can buy tickets to this makeup game here.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

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