On a chilly night at Wrigley Field, with the wind blowing in at close to 20 MPH (it knocked down several fly balls, including one by Derrek Lee that was nearly an opposite-field home run), many of the announced 37,850 in attendance (probably closer to 27,000 in the house) left early, presumably to watch the Blackhawks clinch their first-round playoff series against the Predators.
Congratulations to the Blackhawks!
And congratulations to the Cubs, whose fourth straight win put them back at the .500 mark. They drew eight walks and defeated the Nationals 4-3 on one of them, a four-pitch, bases-loaded walk drawn by Aramis Ramirez off Brian Bruney.
The other run-scoring walk was also on four pitches, issued to starting pitcher Carlos Silva in the second inning. In addition to his fine pitching so far this year, Silva became the first Cub pitcher with two RBI on the season.
Silva was just as sharp as he had been in his first three starts, though some of the ground balls found holes; all seven hits he gave up were singles and the only really hard-hit ball was the last out he recorded, a fly ball to the deepest part of center field by Ian Desmond. This ball would have been a long home run on most days, but the strong wind held it up and Marlon Byrd caught it on the warning track. Silva walked one -- he now has walked only three in 26 innings -- and though his ERA went up, it's still a very good 1.73.
The real drama, before the Cubs' winning rally, came in the eighth inning when Carlos Zambrano was summoned from the bullpen with a runner on first and one out. He gave up another hit, that bounced just out of reach of Ramirez, and then turned on the Z we know. He got Adam Kennedy to pop up and then struck out Wil Nieves on a 3-2 pitch, with the remnants of the crowd on its feet cheering loudly.
You don't get that in the second inning, not that loud, anyway.
Z then retired the Nats in order in the ninth, although two of the outs were fairly loud fly balls.
The Cubs likely should have won the game in the last of the ninth. After Alfonso Soriano led off with a walk -- one of three he drew in the game; that's only the second time since he's been a Cub that he's drawn three walks in a game -- Lou sent Koyie Hill up to bat for Geovany Soto, obviously to bunt.
Now. There has already been a FanShot posted questioning this strategy, and I understand the questioning, based on Soto being one of the hottest hitters in the league and having already walked once in this game himself (his 15 walks rank tied for seventh in the NL with Derrek Lee). I suppose Lou's fear was that Soto would hit the ball on the ground and a double play would result. I can see both sides of this argument. It turned out badly when Hill put down a bunt that got to pitcher Tyler Walker too quickly; Walker threw Soriano out at second.
Or, at least that's what 2B umpire Gerry Davis said. In a season with many bad calls already made, this was one of the worst. Desmond's foot was pretty far off the base by the time Walker's throw got there -- Soriano was clearly safe. This would have been an excellent time to call for replay, if MLB would get its head out of the proverbial sand and approve its use for plays like this.
All wound up well when Bruney lost all control in the last of the tenth; give some credit to D-Lee, incidentally. After going 0-for-4 in the first eight innings with three groundouts (though his fly to right in the 8th would have likely been a HR on most days), he worked Bruney for a walk before Marlon Byrd blooped a single between fielders in short right, setting up A-Ram for his walkoff walk.
The Cubs remained 2.5 games behind the Cardinals, who came from behind to beat the Braves; apart from the Cardinals (12-7) and Pirates (7-12), the other 14 teams in the National League are all within three games (11-8 by the Phillies, Giants and Padres, to the 8-11 of the Braves and Reds). This will take a while to sort itself out; the Cubs can push themselves to the top of this heap with more wins at home this week. Meanwhile, the Pirates are probably looking forward to the day that they don't have to face the Brewers for a while. Come to think of it, maybe they should just forfeit the next two games in Milwaukee -- the "official" score of a forfeited game is 9-0. That would be closer than two of the four games so far between the two clubs (and not that much worse than the other two).