Carlos Pena of the Chicago Cubs slides safely into third base with a triple as third baseman David Freese of the St. Louis Cardinals applies a late tag during the fourth inning at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
Really, it's just nice to win games against the Cardinals in general and help knock them farther out of playoff contention. With the Cubs' 3-0 win over the Cardinals and the Brewers' wild win over the Mets in New York, 11-9, Milwaukee extended their lead over St. Louis to 8.5 games; St. Louis would also be 8.5 games out in the wild card race if the Braves win their game Saturday evening.
Matt Garza was the story today. He had a shaky first inning in which he gave up a leadoff double to Jon Jay. Then, with a 3-0 count on Albert Pujols, Mike Quade gave the signal from the dugout to put Pujols on intentionally. Garza clearly was unhappy with this decision, but did as he was told. After then walking Lance Berkman to load the bases, he got out of it with a 6-4-3 double play.
After that 23-pitch first, Garza shut down the Cardinals on just a pair of singles through the sixth, getting out of the fifth with a DP he started himself. There! Good defense isn't that hard, is it, Matt? He had trouble in the seventh after Aramis Ramirez threw a sure DP throw high to Carlos Pena, making the guy who's probably the slowest man in baseball, Yadier Molina, safe at first. He struck out Ryan Theriot to end the inning.
Edwin Jackson started out just as well for the Cardinals, giving up just a walk in the second before Garza bunted into a double play. In the fourth, though, the Cubs scored all their runs on a Starlin Castro single, a line-drive home run by Aramis Ramirez, and then Carlos Pena tripled.
That's not as unusual as you might think -- it's his second of the year -- and then Marlon Byrd doubled him in. Thanks to some solid relief pitching by Sean Marshall, Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol (29th save), Garza had his sixth win of the year. In so doing he lowered his season ERA to 3.62 -- if he can hold that level or lower, it will be a career-best -- took over the team lead in strikeouts (151, tied for seventh in the NL with Zack Greinke), and dropped his ERA at Wrigley Field to 2.61. So much for everyone who thought his ERA would balloon, going from a pitcher's park at the Trop, to a hitter's park at Wrigley. Garza has also cut way down on his home runs allowed, just 11 so far in 146.2 innings, compared to 28 last year in 204.2 innings.
Since the Cubs reached their low point of the year, 23 games under .500 at 42-65, by losing to the Cardinals in St. Louis on July 30, they're 14-5 -- all but one of those wins in a 13-5 August, by far their best month of the year. They had only one winning month in 2010 (September), so that would be a welcome break from all the bad baseball so far this season.
All of this happened after a drenching thunderstorm blew through Chicago just before noon; by about 1:30 the sun had come out and it was shining brightly all afternoon in front of the largest crowd of the year, 42,374. It looked like there were very few no-shows today, too. The Cubs will draw well tomorrow, undoubtedly -- then we'll see how things go with the Braves in town for three night games when a lot of suburban schools and colleges are back in session.
Two wins don't solve all this club's ills, but they are nice nonetheless. Looking forward to a possible sweep on Sunday.
I know many of you have turned your attention to the GM vacancy and who might be considered for that spot. I'll write about that sometime soon; for now, just trying to enjoy the fading baseball season. Though it's been a tough one, we'll still miss baseball when it's gone for the winter.