One of the things that used to drive us most crazy about Dusty Baker's tenure as Cubs manager was his attitude toward the "innocent" (as he once put it during an ESPN broadcast he was commenting on) base on balls.
While he'd have his hitters hacking away, he'd also have his pitchers nibble around the corners of the plate. The results were, I suppose, predictable: by 2006, Cubs hitters drew only 395 walks, more than 60 fewer than the next lowest total, while Cubs pitchers issued 687 free passes, by far the most in the National League. This was a big reason the 2006 Cubs scored so few runs (last in the NL) and allowed so many (only the woeful Nats gave up more).
He's doing it again (yet one more reason why the "sexy" pick of the Reds to be a surprise team this year isn't going to happen). The Cubs drew seven walks last night (and now have 63, third in the NL to the Cardinals and Dodgers, despite playing two fewer games than both those teams), had two batters hit by Mike Lincoln (who threw only 10 strikes in 24 pitches, prompting me to tell Mike he was "the righthanded Cotts"; I received a message from a friend at almost exactly the same time saying exactly the same thing), had the bases loaded five different times and could have scored even more than the seven runs (11 runners were stranded) they did tally in cruising to an easy 7-2 win over the Reds last night.
The misty, drizzly rain finally came to a stop not long after game time, after which it was just cold and windy. About 20,000 of the announced 38,403 were actually in the park. The wind swirled but was mostly howling out to right field, which helped Jay Bruce's second-inning homer off Rich Harden, really the only major mistake Harden made. It gave the Reds a brief 1-0 lead which was matched by Micah Hoffpauir's first HR of the season, also crushed to RF. Micah also hit a ball to the warning track in the fifth inning with the bases loaded that was nearly a grand slam; he settled for a sac fly. Hoffpauir's second-inning shot occurred during the first Micah vs. Micah pitcher-vs-batter matchup in major league history; Micah Owings finally got yanked in the fifth after allowing a RBI single to Aramis Ramirez. That was when Lincoln came in and hit Mike Fontenot with his first pitch and then walked Geovany Soto with the bases loaded, prompting the Cotts comment.
Meanwhile, Harden was cruising, which led both Jessica (who you know isn't a Lou fan) and me to question why he was pulled for Joey Gathright (wake me up, please, when he actually gets a hit) after six innings of three-hit, eight-strikeout baseball. Having thrown only 92 pitches, he easily could have gone another inning. Aaron Heilman threw a scoreless inning, but then Cotts got into trouble, allowing a walk and a hit after getting the usual sarcastic cheer for throwing a strike, forcing Lou to use Carlos Marmol to bail him out. Cotts' ERA thus went down to 3.00, but he has not pitched well.
Harden now has 26 strikeouts -- one off Johan Santana's major league lead -- in only 15 innings.
Other good things from the Cubs' third win in a row (the second three-game streak of this short season): A-Ram's three hits and three RBI, Ryan Theriot continuing his hot start with a pair of singles, and more contributions from Kosuke Fukudome, who didn't have a hit but walked and scored twice. Dome's 11 walks are tied for sixth in the NL.
Finally, in the fourth inning while Joey Votto was batting, a brown, black and white cat (pictured, and thankfully not all black) scampered from somewhere under the LF bleachers and around the outfield before finally being corralled by a security guard. This prompted Mike to put a mark on his scorecard which he called a "cat-sterisk".
Enough of that. Onward to tonight, when the temperature should be at least a little warmer and the wind less a factor.