All you can ask when you go on the road is to win two of three (in the most common of series, the three-game series).
And the Cubs did that in both St. Louis and Cincinnati, completing a series win this afternoon with a convincing 6-0 shutout victory over the Reds.
This despite the fact that:
- Carlos Zambrano walked the first man he faced, Scott Hatteberg, and that's generally not a good sign for Z. Instead, Z settled down, throwing into the bottom of the 8th with 113 pitches (76 strikes), and added three hits, raising his average to .291, and took over the major league lead in wins with his fourteenth.
- Alfonso Soriano hit a ball that at first appeared to go into the first row of the left-field seats for a two-run home run in the top of the second inning, only to have it ruled by inveterate Cub-hating umpire Cowboy Joe West a ground-rule double, having been touched by a fan over the wall.
This makes a lot of sense to me. They have such a "moat" between the OF wall and the first row of the outfield seats at the Cell. I have sat in the first row of the left-field bleachers there many times, and there's about a six-foot gap between the wall and the seats (that's probably not obvious to you if you have only seen the Cell on TV). It doesn't interfere with your view of the game, and instead keeps fans from interfering with the game itself.
I'd recommend that every one of the new ballparks do this. There are far too many of these interference calls these days. Let the players play the game. About Soriano's ball, the WGN replays were inconclusive as to whether the fan touched the ball when it was already over the wall or not -- but apparently, the replays on FSN Ohio were a bit more obvious, and even the Reds announcers acknowledged that it was probably a HR.
And I love Z, but he wasn't running very hard on the play. Had he done so, the umpires might have allowed him to score (which they had the discretion to do if they felt he might have scored had the ball hit high off the wall).
The other issue this raises is "instant replay", which has been discussed regarding pretty much all pro sports for as long as videotape has been available. As you know, the NFL uses it in limited amounts. There are a couple of problems with using it in baseball: let's say a team appeals through replay. What sort of penalty could be assessed (in the NFL, a team losing an appeal loses a timeout) if they don't win the appeal? Further, baseball games are already slowed down by the increasing number of mid-inning pitching changes, walks, and longer TV commercial breaks. To slow games down by asking for replays is asking for the average length of a game to start pushing three hours (it's now about 2:45 or so).
I haven't been in favor of replay in the past and I'm really hesitant to endorse it now, even in the face of a call that might have been wrong today, and several other recent well-publicized bad calls. For example, I think it'd have to be banned for arguing ball/strike calls. If you had it, it'd have to be severely limited -- say, a limit of one "replay appeal" per team per game -- and only on calls like the one today, or maybe things like fair-foul HR calls, and like the NFL does, it'd have to be conclusive evidence on the replay before it overturned the ruling on the field.
In the end, none of the controversy mattered today; Aramis Ramirez' double and a sacrifice fly by Mark DeRosa gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead before Z threw a single pitch, which would have been enough, and then Derrek Lee homered for the second day in a row (and his third HR on the road trip, and fifth in eleven games since the All-Star break). The Cubs tacked on a couple of ninth-inning runs to put an exclamation point on the day, and on the road trip.
Can we finally stop worrying about D-Lee's HR power? I think it's back.
Will Ohman and "Good" Bob Howry finished up the game uneventfully, with Mike Fontenot making a nice diving stop for the game's last out.
At this writing the Brewers are leading the Cardinals, so unless there's a comeback by St. Louis, the Cubs will return home 1.5 games behind Milwaukee in the NL Central (two games closer than when they left on the trip), and could move to within one game of the wild-card lead if the Braves can salvage their final game against the D'backs in Arizona today.
And so the Cubs return home seven games over .500, to take on two good teams from the NL East in a tough test; they are the only team in the NL Central with a winning record on the road, and surely would like to improve on the 27-24 record they have compiled at home so far (17-7 since June 3). Going 5-2 on the upcoming homestand would, I think, be called for.
And about any deals to be made before Tuesday's deadline -- we've heard a ton of rumors, including rumors about why Matt Murton and Jay Payton weren't playing today -- but in the end, maybe the best moves are the ones you don't make. The Cubs are 33-17 since June 2 (Len noted on the telecast that in 2006, when the Cubs won their 55th game of the season -- on September 1, they had seventy-nine losses, compared to 48 today). Keep up the good work. Onward to tomorrow.