Before we celebrate today's exciting 8-5 Cubs comeback win over the Pirates (and yes, I call it "comeback" because they seemed to have it well in hand at 5-2 before a bullpen failure in the 8th inning allowed the Bucs to tie the game), a little more perspective.
The win puts the Cubs 22 games over .500 at 67-45. The last time the Cubs were this many games over .500 was October 1, 1989, the last day of the 1989 regular season, when they beat the Cardinals 5-1 in St. Louis to get to 93-69, 24 games over .500, their high water mark of that division title season.
It's taken nearly nineteen years to get that far over breakeven again. Now, if you choose to look at this negatively, you could discuss the mountains of failure over the last two decades, and there's no question that mountain exists.
But this Cubs team is way over that mountain. Today was a perfect example of how this ballclub wins as a team. There was a pretty bad bullpen failure today -- when Jeff Samardzija had to be lifted after throwing 40 pitches in two-plus innings, Neal Cotts (who gave up two hits in facing three batters) and Chad Gaudin (who gave up the game-tying HR to Andy LaRoche) didn't get their jobs done. Fortunately, Gaudin recovered from his failure by striking out Steve Pearce to keep the Cubs tied.
Then, Lou simply took advantage of an inferior team. After the first two outs in the last of the 8th were recorded easily by Craig Hansen (who I suspect the Pirates will install as their closer eventually), Hansen walked Geovany Soto on a very close pitch that got appealed to 1B umpire Ed Montague. It looked to us in the bleachers as if Soto might have swung, but Montague ruled in the Cubs' favor. Lou sent Daryle Ward up to bat, likely with absolutely no intention of having Ward actually hit. As most of you know, Ward hasn't been all that productive as a pinch-hitter this year, and I suspect all Lou wanted was to get the lefty Sean Burnett in the game to face the hot-hitting Reed Johnson, which is exactly what happened.
Johnson crushed Burnett's second pitch deep into the LF bleachers to give the Cubs a 7-5 lead and Alfonso Soriano followed with his 19th of the season, giving the Cubs back the three runs they'd frittered away in the top of the inning. Carlos Marmol, looking like the Marmol of old (15 pitches, 12 strikes), mowed down the Pirates in the 9th for his sixth save. In his postgame press conference, Lou was asked if he'd use Bob Howry to close tomorrow, and he hedged, suggesting that Marmol might be used four days in a row if necessary, for the first time this season. He also said that it's possible that Kerry Wood, who threw a simulated game this morning and was shagging flies in the OF during BP (but without throwing anything back in), could be activated sometime during the Houston series.
Soriano and Aramis Ramirez both hit their 19th HR today. That doesn't even rank in the top twenty in the NL (it's tied for 25th). Even so, the Cubs lead the NL in scoring by a significant margin (currently, 42 runs more than the Phillies, pending Philly's game tonight vs. the Cardinals) -- further proof that this team has learned how to score runs in other ways besides just whacking the ball out of the yard.
About Carlos Zambrano's seemingly too-early exit from today's game: no worries, said Lou in his postgame press conference. Lou explained that Z, having been extended pretty far in his last two starts (125 and 118 pitches, respectively), was "shortened up" this time. He threw 82 pitches in five innings and will have an extra day off this week due to the off day on Thursday (he'll throw vs. the Cardinals on Saturday). Z was in line for the win until the bullpen meltdown, and also contributed with his bat -- the Cubs tied the game in the 2nd on his double play ball, and then he drove in a run with his fourth double of the season. He's now hitting .354 with a .538 SLG. Today is another example, too, of how individual pitcher wins mean little. Chad Gaudin, the pitcher who threw the worst single pitch of the game, the one that tied it up, got the "win" for his record. It's TEAM wins that matter.
So all is well. Today was Jeff's birthday and we celebrated in the bleachers with gooey chocolate cupcakes with red & blue frosting. It was a day worth celebrating. The Cubs did what they needed to do this weekend -- win the series. Onward to tomorrow, and go Phillies! I'll have some of David's photos from both yesterday and today's wins posted tomorrow morning.