Just when we were starting to worry about the Cub offense getting untracked against mostly mediocre Houston pitching, the first seven batters reached base and by the time those Houston pitchers got six outs, the game was basically over. The Cubs scored eight runs in the first two innings en route to an easy 11-6 win over the Astros, winning the series and starting out the road swing well.
You can sum up the Astros' pitching woes in two words: Russ Ortiz.
When Ortiz was announced, I thought, "Russ Ortiz?!?!" The guy the Diamondbacks let go three years ago, eating almost $20 million in salary, because he was so horrific? This is their long reliever? What does that say about the rest of the Houston staff? Ortiz' first pitch, to Mike Fontenot, was smashed for a three-run homer; of course, only Fontenot's run was charged to him, the rest, and seven in all, to the record of Brian Moehler -- the Astros' #3 starter. Ortiz wound up allowing two more runs on four hits and four walks altogether, at which time the Cub offense decided to take the rest of the night off against four other Houston relievers.
As is sometimes the case in games like this, where you take a huge early lead, Cub pitching got a little sloppy. Ted Lilly will probably tell you that it wasn't his best outing, after he allowed four homers, including a two-run shot to Ivan Rodriguez that briefly put the Astros sort-of close at 8-4. David Patton also allowed a homer, to Hunter Pence, the first major league batter he faced, but then retired the next six in order; it was a good day for him to make his major league debut. Carlos Marmol and Angel Guzman threw scoreless innings to finish up. All told, seven homers left the yard at the Juice Box last night, probably helped some by the 14 MPH wind blowing out (you could see the players' uniforms blowing around).
Perhaps the best news of the day was Kosuke Fukudome's fine day at the plate -- he had four hits (two singles, a double and a homer), only the second four-hit game of his major league career (here's the other one, from May 1, 2008), drew a walk and scored four runs. He looked comfortable at the plate and this game has to give him a huge boost in confidence. I'm very happy to see this happen so early in the year, and more importantly, the Cubs need him to be productive. If he hits like this and Reed Johnson does what we already know he can do vs. LHP, the Cubs will have one of the best CF arrangements in baseball.
Fontenot and Aramis Ramirez (surely, you can come up with a caption for the photo above) both had four RBI and Ramirez joined Dome in the four-hit parade. Sixteen hits and six walks produced the 11 runs, and better yet, Cubs pitchers issued NO walks. It's a little too early to start a "walk watch" as I had last year, but the Cubs have drawn 11 walks in the three games so far (3.67 per game, or a pace of 594 for the season); the patience they showed at the plate a year ago appears to be continuing.
And stop worrying about Geovany Soto -- he'll be examined by the team orthopedist today in Chicago, but he says he's fine:
"According to [athletic trainer Mark] O'Neal, it's not serious, and [Soto] should be OK in a few days," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Wednesday. "We'll hold him out tonight, and we'll hold him out tomorrow. We'll see how he is on Friday. After today, he'll be day-to-day."
Soto said he had a similar problem a few years ago in the Minor Leagues. At that time, he woke up one morning and couldn't lift his arm. Four days later, he was back behind the plate and the discomfort went away. He said the problem now is not "close" to that.
Off to Milwaukee, then, for the first showdown with our rivals up I-94 (it's their home opener on Friday; Rich Harden will face Braden Looper), and remember how we seemed to play the Pirates every week last spring? This year, it's Houston's turn to play "weekly opponent"; the Cubs will see them eight more times before June 11. The way the ballclub hit today, that's definitely a good thing.