Somebody apparently forgot to tell Dontrelle Willis this is 2007, not 2005.
Two years ago Willis dominated the National League, winning 22 games (he and Chris Carpenter, who won 21 that year are, in fact, the last NL pitchers to win 20 games) and losing out on the Cy Young Award to Carpenter, likely because the Cardinals made the playoffs and the Marlins didn't.
This year Willis has been bad -- his numbers coming into last night's game would have been, by far, the worst on the Cub staff -- but he looked like the pitcher that we Cub fans often lament "how did we let this guy get away?" in allowing only three hits -- one a "maybe we can get back into this thing after all" two-run HR by Craig Monroe, his first as a Cub, and the Marlins beat the Cubs 4-2, cutting their division lead to two games after the Brewers blew out the Cardinals for the second day in a row, 9-1.
So I sent Mike an email with one line: "This had better be a one-day aberration."
This is what I got in reply:
I think he's got it just about right, don't you? We've hesitated calling games "must-win" on this site, but tonight's, I believe, really is. That'd keep the lead at two games no matter what the Brewers do, and I don't see them running the table either.
Ted Lilly actually didn't throw too bad of a game last night; he was victimized by two bloopy little hits that probably both should have been caught, and after that the booming two-run double by Jeremy Hermida that wound up providing the winning margin for the Marlins. Other than that one bad inning, Lilly gave the Marlins only three other hits. Michael Wuertz and Kevin Hart did a fine job of keeping the game close and at least giving the Cubs a chance to come back -- and if Cliff Floyd's ball, caught on the warning track for the final out, had gone another twenty or so feet, we'd perhaps be having a different conversation this morning.
Give credit where credit is due: the Cubs ran into the same buzzsaw last night that they showed the Pirates all weekend -- outstanding starting pitching. And go figure -- the Pirates go home last night riding a nine-game losing streak and beat the team with the best record in the league, the Diamondbacks. This wacky season may get even wackier in its last five days.
So this may not feel very good, but somehow, I don't feel as bad this morning as I did last night, or than maybe I should. Jason Marquis, who didn't throw very well in his last start on Friday, will get another chance to redeem himself this evening. After that, though, Lou says the rotation may change:
"I said [Wednesday's] starter is the same," Piniella said. "I haven't said anything else. And I haven't said the rotation for Cincinnati either."
Well, that's interesting, isn't it? Rich Hill, who was originally slated for Friday's game in Cincinnati, could go on normal rest (he last threw on Saturday) in Miami on Thursday; then Carlos Zambrano and Lilly would also be ready on normal rest to start the Cincinnati series, if needed. Or:
Makes sense to me. In the meantime, there is work to be done, and I do know this: there's no manager who is going to have his team better prepared and focused on the task at hand tonight than Lou Piniella. I believe in him and trust him to get the job done.
As for the Brewers, despite their big wins the last two days, they seem unfocused on the race. Check out what Prince Fielder had to say after he hit two HR last night to get to 50 for the season:
"That's why I'm so passionate about playing," Fielder said. "I don't mind them comparing me, but I'm totally a different player. Hopefully one day, whenever they mention my name, they won't have to mention his."
"Here, they've never had too many good teams to earn the right to boo. We're the best team they've had in a while. But they pay for the tickets, so they can do what they want. It's their freedom of speech."
Earn the right to boo?
Finally, I need to say a few things about some of the comments that I have seen in the game threads. We're all a little on edge because of the tightness of this race. But that shouldn't mean that we snipe at each other, call names, or not get along, because we're all here for the same reason -- to root for our favorite team, and hopefully in a few days, to celebrate a division championship. I know there are quite a few new posters here, and I am going to ask them to review the BCB Community Guidelines, which are not meant to be any sort of Draconian absolutes, but simply this: to remind us that everyone here is a human being, that there's a real person behind each and every post, and sure, you can disagree with someone else -- but please do it with civility. I don't think that's too much to ask.
Thanks. Go Cubs. Let's win this thing.