If you have been reading the "Cubs 2008 Walk Watch" box on the right sidebar since I posted it on May 18 after the Cubs had drawn seven walks and scored all four of their runs in a 4-3 victory via hitters who had walked, yesterday was a significant day.
The Cubs drew five walks in their 10-6 win over the Diamondbacks, increasing the season total to 398 -- incidentally, that number leads the major leagues -- and surpassed the entire season total in Dusty "Hackmaster" Baker's last season as manager in 2006.
With sixty-one games to go.
The Cubs are still a bit short of the pace they'd need to break the club record (650 in 1975) -- they're on pace to draw 638 walks. But the patience they showed last night helped; Kosuke Fukudome is suddenly looking better, as he did in the first half of the season, and the Cubs worked deep counts much of the night.
Fukudome, of course, wasn't the offensive star -- that note goes to Reed Johnson, who singled and doubled and then in the 8th inning, hit a grand slam that put the game out of reach even when Lou trotted Bob Howry out there again. I'm not sure what's wrong with Howry -- either he's hurt or he's done, and no matter which it is, the Cubs have a decision to make. Perhaps they could put Howry on the DL and bring up Jeff Samardzija; this Tribune article suggests the Shark might be coming up, although not for Howry, but for the still-unavailable Kerry Wood:
He would give Lou Piniella another power arm to use in front of Carlos Marmol and Bob Howry if Wood is forced onto the disabled list for the upcoming series against the Marlins and Brewers.
"With a lot of guys you might have questions about, 'How's he going to handle [the pressure]?' " Cubs assistant general manager Randy Bush said. "But with [Samardzija], you just think he'll handle it well."
In the meantime, Lou is going to have to slot Chad Gaudin ahead of Howry -- I can understand why Lou sent Howry out there with a seven-run lead, because where else are you going to find out whether the guy can still pitch or not? Unfortunately, it meant that Marmol had to throw the 9th inning on a night when he'd probably have stayed in the bullpen.
Ted Lilly looked pretty good last night -- almost better at the plate than on the mound; he had a seeing-eye RBI single, tying the game at 2, in the Cubs' three-run fifth (after they had coughed up the 1-0 lead they had on Derrek Lee's first HR in 26 games), advanced to 2nd on a groundout by Alfonso Soriano (which gave the Cubs the lead), then stole third uncontested and scored on Ryan Theriot's groundout. It wasn't his best outing of the year, but it was good enough to give him his 10th win of the year, joining Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster in double figures.
Speaking of Soriano, do not underestimate the value of his return, even though he had just one hit and the RBI groundout. In Carrie Muskat's recap on the Cubs' website, Reed Johnson said:
"He makes it fun to come to work. I think everybody will say he's just a presence and a leader for us. Any time you have a guy like that out, it's tough on you."
Yeah, I know. Can't measure that on a stat sheet, etc. etc. etc. But you can't put numbers on the psychological lift every player wearing blue, red and gray last night got when they saw Soriano (who, admittedly, looked a little tentative in the field) in the starting lineup, something that also allowed Lou to shift things around and post some semblance of what's likely to be the lineup for the rest of the season. I like Fukudome hitting sixth, as he did last night, or seventh on days when Jim Edmonds is playing -- and Edmonds wasn't available last night, having a sore knee, though he probably would have sat against the LHP Doug Davis anyway.
So the Cubs come home still in first place, one game ahead of the red-hot Brewers, who have got to cool off eventually. (Right?) The Cubs' 37-12 home record will come in handy for the next 18 days, during which they will play 17 games, 13 of them at home.