Anyone else have fingernails a lot shorter than they were at 1:00 this afternoon?
The Cubs' 4-2 win over the Cardinals was what Jack Brickhouse (and many, many other announcers) would have called a nail-biter, and I'm not too proud to say that I was nibbling on mine pretty good while the Cubs were leaving baserunners all over the state of Missouri.
That wasn't really a very good exhibition of timely hitting, was it? Here's the litany of LOB, fourteen all told, by inning:
And finally, in the ninth inning, the Cubs stranded no one -- but only because they went out 1-2-3. Thank heavens for Matt Murton's three-run homer and Ronny Cedeno's RBI single in the second inning -- and still, they left Cedeno stranded in that inning with two out.
I shouldn't complain about this, really, because a win's a win, right? Especially when the Cardinals were just about as bad at leaving runners on base, leaving eleven, including leaving the bases loaded in the 7th, with the tying run aboard, and also leaving that same tying run on base in the bottom of the 8th. All four Cub pitchers -- Jason Marquis, Carlos Marmol (who didn't really have it today), Bob Howry, and even Ryan Dempster -- pitched themselves into, and then out of, trouble all afternoon.
Marquis threw five very, very good innings and a sixth that wasn't quite so good, and managed to wheeze into the seventh, allowing a baserunner that Marmol let score (only the fifth of 35 inherited runners he's let touch the plate all season). Marmol walked the bases loaded after that, but Howry got Jim Edmonds to pop up to end the inning.
Then Howry had his own control troubles in the 8th, allowing a walk and two hits and a run, and thank heavens for the little guy, Sam Fuld, who has yet to have a major-league at-bat in his seven appearances (five as a pinch-runner, and this, his fourth appearance in the field), made a spectacular running catch of a fly ball that was probably foul off the bat of Scott Spiezio -- still, it got the Cubs an out when they badly needed one, and prevented Spiezio from getting another chance to get a hit off a pitching staff that was handing them out like scratch-off cards at Wrigley Field.
And then, Dempster-bashers, Ryan Dempster came in, recorded an easy groundout by Rick Ankiel, allowed a single that Ronny Cedeno might have stopped if he was, well, a bit better player, and then got pinch-hitter So Taguchi (that shows you how far Edmonds has fallen; a year or two ago, would Tony LaRussa ever have batted for Edmonds in a situation like that? I was thinking that we might have seen the last of Edmonds, because he'll be 38 years old next June, hasn't had a good year, and might wind up retiring as the Cardinals retool) to hit into a game-ending double play, this time Cedeno making the play, shoveling the ball to Mark DeRosa, who whipped it accurately to Derrek Lee to end this game that we all desperately, pleadingly, wanted to end right then and there, two hours and fifty-nine minutes after it began.
And props today to Geovany Soto, who had his biggest offensive day as a major leaguer, going four-for-five with two doubles, and hitting a ball to the warning track in the opposite field for the only out he made, raising his average to .423 (11-for-26). On the telecast, if you didn't see it, Len and Bob discussed the possibility that Soto might be named to the postseason roster, and both agreed he probably would be, and I agree completely. Henry Blanco hasn't played since September 3, two weeks ago, and may still be bothered by the back trouble that had him out for almost three months. There will likely be a slot for another position player on any postseason roster, as you don't need 12 pitchers in the playoffs (four starters would do it, and the guy who's clearly odd-man-out from the 25-man roster on August 31 is Steve Trachsel; Sean Marshall would likely go to the bullpen for the postseason). I heartily endorse Soto for any postseason roster and I have to say, since I was one of those saying "don't rush him" while many of you were clamoring for his recall all August, he has won me over with his defense and his quick bat. Maybe we really do, at last, have a genuine power-hitting catching prospect.
Now that's a pleasant thought, isn't it? But that's something, perhaps, for the future, as well as the now.
In the meantime, this win gave the Cubs what they really needed in St. Louis, winning three of four (and winning the season series 11-5, with a 7-2 record in St. Louis), for all intents and purposes eliminating the Cardinals from playoff contention (seven games behind now with fourteen left for the Cardinals, we can now root for them to defeat the Brewers when they play them in Milwaukee during the season's final week).
The Brewers, meanwhile, maintained their one-game deficit by defeating the Reds 5-2 this afternoon in Milwaukee. That, the final game of a short three-game homestand for the Brewers, now negates any home/road advantage either the Cubs or Brewers might have had. The Cubs have six home games and six road games left. The Brewers have seven home games and seven road games left; the only advantage now may go to the Cubs, who have two off days while the Brewers have none, and the fact that the Brewers must finish their season at home against the Padres, who may still need those games very badly to make the postseason themselves (at this writing, they stand two games out of first place in the NL West, but lead the wild-card by 1.5 games over both the Phillies and Dodgers).
Wouldn't it be sweet if Greg Maddux helped the Cubs by beating the Brewers for San Diego, putting both teams into the playoffs?
Exhale a little, after four games completed in forty-five hours' time (and the Cardinals' Yadier Molina caught all thirty-six innings, rare in these times); the Cubs met their goal, won six of ten on the road trip (seven of eleven including the "road trip" to Wrigley Field), and now, they rest, and so can we, until they take the field tomorrow night against the Reds.
Keep the faith. The best is yet to come.