It's really very simple. Even when your team does something ridiculous like have four straight singles and fail to score, if your pitcher doesn't give up any runs (yes, I said the pitcher, because the Cubs did give up a run on a really stupid error made by Aramis Ramirez, after he caught a line drive and tried to double off a runner who was already back on the base) and you can score at least one more run than the opposition, you will win.
This is a simple concept, yet one that the Cubs didn't seem to grasp till today, when Ted Lilly, who has been outstanding all year, allowed only three hits in eight superbly thrown innings and the Cubs beat the Phillies 4-1, thanks in part to a ninth-inning rally, scoring two insurance runs by -- surprise of all surprises -- some patient hitting and good baserunning, and a nice throw from LF by Alfonso Soriano to cut down Chase Utley trying to stretch a single into a double, to end the game. In so doing they salvaged the final game of the series, and guess what? While they lost two of three in Philadelphia, the high-flying Brewers also lost two of three in New York this weekend, getting whipped badly today 9-1, by, of all people, Oliver Perez, and so the Cubs leave for a four-game set against the Mets in New York the same distance behind Milwaukee -- seven games -- that they were when the road trip began.
Irony: Derrek Lee had to leave today's game (which he wasn't supposed to start in the first place; he insisted) with a "tweaked" neck, which likely will keep him out for a couple of days, no longer -- and his replacement, Daryle Ward, started the Cubs' two-run rally in the fourth with a double into the left-center field gap. One of the Cubs' two runs was unearned because Ramirez reached on what was probably a tough error on Abraham Nunez on a slow roller -- Ramirez, not speedy, might have beaten the play anyway.
This is the way a winning team works -- if someone goes down, someone else picks him up. For those of you ready to quit, or saying you liked last year's team better -- can you imagine Neifi Perez, Tony Womack, or Todd Walker picking up Lee like that?
Nope, me either. Ward may not be able to play the field very often or very well -- but the man can hit. Credit where credit is due, though: Ward did make a nice swipe of a low throw from Ramirez to retire Aaron Rowand in the fourth inning.
And credit to the justifiably-maligned Cesar Izturis, who had three hits today. Matt Murton, suddenly hot, also had three hits and raised his average to .301.
Meanwhile, Lilly breezed through a Phillies lineup that had blasted Cubs pitching for 18 runs and 23 hits the last two days, allowing only a first-inning walk to Rowand and a fifth-inning single by Nunez, and Ryan Dempster finished up efficiently for his eighth save in nine chances.
For all the naysayers, and all those looking forward to 2008 already -- if the Cubs continue to get starting pitching like this, they are going to win a lot of baseball games. And the starting staff has done well so far without the contributions of the guy who is supposed to be the #1 starter, Carlos Zambrano. If Z can get his act together, watch out for the 2007 Chicago Cubs.
I knew it was the kiss of death: I mentioned Alfonso Soriano's 20-game hitting streak in the game thread. Naturally, that brought it to a swift end.
Several Cubs, including Cliff Floyd, who lost a sister to breast cancer, used pink bats today in support of Y-Me's annual Breast Cancer Awareness Day, a worthy cause. Floyd's pink bat shattered when he inside-outed a pinch-hit single to left field, but it helped get the Cubs a badly-needed insurance run in the 9th. Other Cubs who used pink bats were Michael Barrett, Mark DeRosa, Aramis Ramirez, Jacque Jones, Alfonso Soriano, Daryle Ward and Ted Lilly. Incidentally, if you are interested, you can buy your own personalized pink bat at slugger.com, with $10 of the purchase price going to MLB's breast cancer charitable initiatives.
Finally, tomorrow is the fourth (of eight) games this season on WCIU, which usually means that those of you outside the Chicago area can't see it. However, the Cubs and Mets will be the featured early game on ESPN tomorrow, so all of you will have a chance to watch Jason Marquis try to bring the club back to the .500 mark.