Starting pitcher Paul Maholm of the Chicago Cubs delivers in the first inning against the Houston Astros at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
The Houston Astros had to be dead tired, having played a night game in Houston Thursday that didn't end until 10:30 p.m.; they likely didn't arrive in Chicago until after 2 a.m. Friday.
The Cubs are currently having their annual family picnic on Wrigley Field, where families of players and employees have an enjoyable evening after a game.
So it's no wonder both teams played as if they had a train to catch. Before some delays during the late innings when Houston's Carlos Lee briefly sat on the infield dirt after landing wrong making a throw, and then the usual lengthy Carlos Marmol ninth-inning appearance, this game looked like it might end in less than two hours, something that hasn't happened at Wrigley Field since 2001.
Even at that, and with a 55-minute rain delay, the Cubs sent their fans home happy with a 4-0 win over the Astros that ended just past 4:30 Chicago time.
After a storm that blew through from about 11:30 a.m. until almost 1 p.m. that featured impressive lightning and had the Cubs clear the bleachers and lower boxes, the weather cleared and it turned into a pleasantly warm day with sun by the late innings.
And we got there quickly, thanks to Paul Maholm, who breezed through the first seven innings -- the seventh, in fact, was finished on just five pitches. Through seven, he allowed a pop-fly single that fell just in between Starlin Castro and Alfonso Soriano. A left fielder with better legs probably would have caught it, and then we'd have had a bit more late-inning tension. Maholm gave up one more hit in the eighth and was given the chance to finish the shutout by Dale Sveum. He's just the third Cubs starter to pitch in the ninth inning this year; Jeff Samardzija did it April 8 vs. the Nationals and Matt Garza April 12 vs. the Brewers, the infamous game where he threw a ball into about the 10th row of seats on what would have been a play that finished a complete-game shutout.
When Maholm gave up a one-out double in the ninth to Lee, he was done after 98 pitches and left to a warm ovation. Carlos Marmol... well, he did immediately follow up that hit with a called strikeout of J.D. Martinez, but then he hit Chris Snyder to load the bases, and ran the count to 2-2 on Chris Johnson before getting him to hit a hard line drive right at Luis Valbuena to end it, posting his sixth save.
Meanwhile, the Cubs were playing longball. Valbuena hit his third home run -- in just 45 at-bats with the Cubs -- to make it 1-0; Steve Clevenger smacked his first major-league home run, with a runner on, in the fourth, to make it 3-0. Clevenger's blast landed in the right-field party patio in a group of people wearing strange red clothing. I hope they got the ball back for Clevenger.
Soriano finished the scoring with a drive onto Waveland in the sixth, his 15th of the season. He might even be having a good enough year to make the All-Star team:
Sveum to recommend Castro and/or Soriano for the All-Star Game, if he's asked.— Doug Padilla (@ESPNChiCubs) June 29, 2012
Well, someone has to go. Why not Soriano?
Anyway, it was a fun afternoon -- also had a chance to meet and talk to BCB'er Gibbon Jockey, nice to meet you -- and wins are rare enough these days, we'll take it. Don't get too used to this, though; consider that the Astros are now 9-26 on the road. These two teams will go at each other again Saturday afternoon, presumably more rested, at 3:05 p.m. CDT.