"The Worm Has Turned"

That's what Lou Piniella said about the Cubs' fortunes after Wednesday night's heart-stopper of a win.

After last night's 6-2 win over the Astros, which put the Cubs back in sole possession of first place by half a game over the Brewers, maybe Lou's on to something.

And what turned things last night? Power, something the Cubs have been woefully short of most of the year. They hit four home runs, including two in the first inning, with Alfonso Soriano leading off the game with one for the eighth time this year (one more and he breaks the team record for such things; it was set by Rick Monday in 1976). Cliff Floyd and Daryle Ward also went deep; Floyd's now homered in consecutive games and if he, at last, has his power stroke back, this is what we've been waiting for all season from him. Better late than never, right?

And Ward, playing in place of Derrek Lee (who fouled a ball off his knee on Wednesday, and sat, presumably, so he can be 100% for the series this weekend in St. Louis), had a Lee-like day, homering and also hitting a single. He's now hitting .340/.446/.540 in a no-longer-small-sample-size 100 at-bats, with 3 HR and 16 RBI and twenty walks, and I daresay he may be the most valuable bench player the Cubs have had in my lifetime.

With the 4-0 lead before the Astros had sent anyone to the plate, Steve Trachsel didn't have to be perfect, and he wasn't -- in five innings he allowed seven hits, three walks and two home runs, fortunately both solo jobs, and was helped out of a jam when Lance Berkman lined into a double play in the third inning. Props again to the bullpen; they shut the Astros down on only one hit over the last four innings with five strikeouts.

One of those strikeouts was Kerry Wood's called K on Craig Biggio to end the seventh inning; this was notable for two reasons. First, because Wood had had such a poor outing against the Pirates on Sunday, I was pleased to see him put up a 1-2-3 inning, and second, because this was the final time these two veteran players would face each other. Biggio had faced Wood 41 times before last night, getting six hits; he had struck him out ten times, and that was the eleventh; after the K you could see on the telecast, Biggio having a brief conversation with plate umpire Jeff Kellogg. I could imagine him saying something complimentary about Wood; in his final visit to Wrigley Field earlier this month, Biggio was given a couple of gifts by the Cubs (a number "7" from the scoreboard and a seat numbered "7"), and gave to Wood a signed bat which read, "To Kerry Wood, who threw the most dominant pitching performance I've ever seen", referring, of course, to the twenty-strikeout game on May 6, 1998; oddly, Biggio was the only one of the Astros' regulars who didn't strike out at least twice in that game.

Enough nostalgia. We have a pennant race to follow; sixteen games remain (now seventeen for the rival Brewers, who have only one off day remaining while the Cubs have two), and I also wanted to give props to Scott Eyre, who threw a scoreless inning last night and who now has a 1.02 ERA since the All-Star break, pitching now much more like the solid reliever he was in 2006. Good. The Cubs need that. The bullpen did a very good job in the Houston series, despite Dempster's loss in the first game -- throwing a total of 10.2 innings, allowing eight hits and two runs, with three walks and thirteen strikeouts.

We'd take that sort of performance for the rest of the year, right? As long as they slam the door when it needs to be slammed? I was also pleased to see Lou leaving Carlos Marmol in to throw two innings last night -- thus saving Bob Howry and Michael Wuertz for tonight, and maybe saving some other bullpen arms for use in the doubleheader tomorrow.

Onward. We will know much more about the shape of this race on Sunday evening.

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