It just doesn't get much better than this.
(Well, actually, it could, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves).
Today's weather forecast was for hot, humid conditions with the wind blowing out -- not a good portent for Jason Marquis. But about an hour before gametime, low clouds blew in off the lake, cooling the temperature off 20 degrees; just before gametime the clouds lifted, the sun came out -- and the wind was blowing out of the east at 12 MPH, a good mark for Marquis, and he rose to the occasion, throwing seven outstanding shutout innings.
But the hero of the day, as he has been so many times before, was Aramis Ramirez, who came up with two on and one out in the bottom of the 8th and hit Tyler Walker's first pitch, a 92-MPH fastball up and out over the plate, just inside the LF foul pole, over our heads onto Waveland (where it appeared to have been caught by a kid -- ballhawk, perhaps you can provide details), and despite some sketchy play in the 9th inning, the Cubs had enough to hold on for a 3-1 win over the Giants.
Marquis had his sinker working early, as nine outs in the first five innings were recorded on ground balls, but even then, signs of weakening showed -- there were three or four flyouts that yesterday would have been deposited on Sheffield, but were held up by the stiff wind blowing in over the RF wall today. Marquis took full advantage before leaving for a pinch-hitter in the 7th. That was Kosuke Fukudome, who popped up and then remained in the game -- Fukudome and Jim Edmonds were both given the day off, and Fukudome didn't have a good at-bat, either. He stayed in the game to play right field and his arm was needed in the 9th.
Meanwhile, Matt Cain was matching Marquis, only with more strikeouts -- nine of them to Marquis' four, and Cain also had to be lifted after seven, due to a pitch count of 118. That was all the Cubs needed, as the Giants' bullpen, apart from closer Brian Wilson, has been a disaster area most of the year. After Ryan Theriot led off the 8th with a single to left-center, Mike Fontenot laid down a perfect sacrifice (nearly pushing it past Walker, too).
And then Bruce Bochy did something that absolutely stunned all of us -- he ordered Derrek Lee intentionally walked. In a scoreless game. To pitch to Aramis Ramirez. After having intentionally walked Ramirez two innings before. I just don't get it. Ramirez has consistently risen to such occasions; why would you do that? Yes, I know. It set up a possible double play.
And then why would you have your pitcher throw A-Ram a first-pitch fastball?
The answers to these questions are ones we like, of course, since Ramirez won the game with a homer, but this partly explains why the Giants are as bad as they are -- as bad as they looked when I saw them in spring training. They don't have a single player in double figures in home runs; their bullpen is in shambles, and their shortstop -- who some here would like to see the Cubs acquire, I have no idea why -- is hitting .153 and really ought to retire after a stellar career.
Good news today: Bob Howry threw an efficient scoreless inning. If he can build on this the Cubs will have many more options in the late innings.
Kerry Wood had a shaky 9th; it wasn't all his fault, but I'm not going to blame Mark DeRosa for having Ray Durham's fly ball go over his head for a double. The ball seemed to take off on him after he had it scoped out pretty well; what Lou might have done is to leave Edmonds, who had batted for Howry, in the game in CF, and move Reed Johnson to LF for defense. Doing this, though, would have left the bench with no one but Henry Blanco had the game gone to extra innings.
Which is one more reason not to have a 13-man pitching staff!!!
Rant over. The staff had one turnover today; Michael Wuertz was optioned to Iowa (surprising me, and others too, who assumed he had no options left) and Kevin Hart recalled. After the All-Star break, I assume either Hart or Sean Marshall will go to Iowa and a hitter will be recalled (Micah Hoffpauir seems the most likely, though BCB reader mrcubsfan, in from Des Moines for the weekend, told me Hoffpauir's been playing almost exclusively 1B there) until Alfonso Soriano returns, which is now tentatively scheduled for the Arizona series. (Soriano was in uniform today, shagging flies in the OF during BP.)
Finally, some Deep Goat rumors heard today: there were definitely scouts at the ballpark watching Jason Marquis today, and there is interest from more than one team. After this performance, which lowered his ERA to a not-unreasonable 4.44, interest might heat up. Cub scouts have been dispatched to watch at least one minor league team in order to gauge possible prospects the Cubs might want in return. (Sorry, can't tell you who at this time.) Also, the Cubs are still seeking left-handed relief help, so although there aren't any deals (that I know of) in the works right this minute, Jim Hendry may not be done dealing, and of course there are three weeks remaining.
A reminder: tomorrow's game is at noon, not the 2:55 on the original schedule. Since Fox blacks out EI broadcasts before 7 pm EDT on Saturdays, the only way you can see this game outside of the Chicago area (or SF Bay Area) will be on MLB.TV. If you voted in the Final Ballot All-Star voting, you should have received an email giving you a one-week free trial of MLB.TV, starting today.
Onward. I am, as I'm sure you are, excited to see Rich Harden's Cub debut tomorrow.