I've got pieces of April; I keep them in a memory bouquet... -- Three Dog Night
Right after Felix Pie hit his improbable three-run homer, putting tonight's 7-1 Cub win over the Mets into a "memory bouquet", Mike said to me, "When have the Cubs ever had an April like this?"
My first instinct was to say, "2004", but that isn't quite right. In nineteen games this Cub team has won games that previous Cub teams would have lost. They've won blowout games. They've won games with good pitching; they've won games with good and timely hitting. The literal answer to the question is: "1985", because that's the last time a Cub team started 13-6. That team, as most of you know, the defending NL East champs, started out 35-19 and had a four-game lead on June 11, before a disastrous 13-game losing streak and having all five starters spend time on the disabled list caused a collapse to a 77-84 finish. But that's not the right answer either, because the 2008 Cubs are winning games that most Cub teams in my lifetime would have found ways to lose.
So let's not dwell on losing. Instead, let's celebrate yet another solidly played victory, even on a night when the hot-hitting Ryan Theriot wasn't available due to back spasms. Mike Fontenot started in his place, with Ronny Cedeno moving from 2B to SS on this early-starting game (for ESPN purposes). Fontenot walked, but Cedeno had a stellar day. More on that later.
Carlos Zambrano came out as he has in every start so far this year -- aggressive (so said Lou in his postgame press conference), throwing strikes (61 of 101 pitches), and handling the Mets easily. Even in the one inning where they scored their only run of the game, Z survived a mistake by Geovany Soto. Endy Chavez led off the sixth with a double, and pitcher John Maine, up next, squared to bunt. He laid down a good bunt, and Soto tried to get Chavez at third -- something he had absolutely no chance to do. Fortunately, Z didn't let this get to him -- as he might have in the past. Instead, he bore down on Jose Reyes, getting him to hit into a double play, scoring Chavez. Chavez might have scored anyway, had Soto made the right play (going to first to get Maine).
Maine and Z had matched up very well through six; Maine's only mistake was a fastball that Aramis Ramirez hit into the LF bleachers for a two-run homer. That, and the above-mentioned Mets run, were the only runs through seven, and the tight game had Carlos Marmol replacing Z and throwing an excellent nine-pitch inning, finishing off with a flourish of a strikeout of Mets catcher Raul Casanova on one of Marmol's patented sliders -- the ones that no one can hit.
The eighth inning was one of the best innings I've seen the Cubs have in recent years. The normally-solid Reyes bobbled Derrek Lee's leadoff grounder and then Ramirez got hit on the arm with a pitch (said Lou in his postgame conference: "He's OK"). Kosuke Fukudome had yet another terrific at-bat -- does this guy ever have a bad one? -- working the count full and fouling off three pitches before he got the one he wanted, singling up the middle. Lee prudently was held at third with nobody out, and the crowd groaned as Mark DeRosa struck out and Soto popped up.
That brought up Cedeno, the guy we have loved to bash for almost three years. Kudos to whoever here came up with the tag "ONEDEC" for him, because it does appear he really IS "turning things around". Ronny also had an excellent AB against Mets reliever Aaron Heilman before lining a two-run single up the middle, giving the Cubs some breathing room, and then, after Willie Randolph pulled Heilman for Jorge Sosa, Felix Pie slammed a pitch into the RF bleachers for his first HR of the season (and first career HR at Wrigley Field).
Kerry Wood, who had been warming up in anticipation of having to save a tight game, instead came in with a six-run lead. We all know many closers have trouble at times with this sort of situation, but Wood not only finished off the Mets, but did so by throwing only six pitches, thus keeping him available tomorrow if necessary.
So the Cubs make a statement against one of the "good" teams in the National League, win their fourth in a row, and oh yes -- for those of you who didn't believe me when I said the Pirates are a really bad team: they gave up ten runs for the third game in a row, tonight losing to the Marlins 10-4. The Pirates ARE a really bad team.
That's not really important, though the Cubs can look forward to playing the Pirates again in less than four weeks, as this year's wacky schedule continues. In the meantime, what a nice way to celebrate the milestone of my 2000th Cub game (and thanks, ballhawk and others who stopped by to offer congratulations). There was a juggler outside on Waveland tossing four balls up in the air from time to time all evening. Let's keep that festive, winning atmosphere going tomorrow. At this writing, the Giants are leading the Diamondbacks 2-1. If that score holds up, the Cubs and D'backs will be tied for the NL's best record. Onward and upward.