Welington Castillo and Starlin Castro of the Chicago Cubs celebrate after an RBI double scoring Castro and then Castillo scored himself on a fielding error by catcher Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field on August 31, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
The Cubs began the day 25½ games worse than the Giants in this year's NL standings, and at the tail end of one of the worst months in team history, 7-21 before Friday, and 4-10 since the Astros left town on August 15.
The Giants began the day 4½ games in first place in the NL West, with the most wins they've had in any calendar month this year (18), having just swept the Astros in Houston and winners of 10 of their last 13.
Whoops if you did, because the Cubs defeated the Giants 6-4 behind solid pitching from Volstad and another good offensive day from Alfonso Soriano. Soriano launched a two-run homer onto Waveland Avenue, and also singled. He drove in three runs, giving him 82 for the year; he's just six short of his best total as a Cub (in 2010) and has a shot at his first 100-RBI season in seven years. He's now tied for fourth in the NL in that category with the Giants' Buster Posey.
In fairness to the Giants, they had a night game in Houston Thursday that ended at nearly 10:30 p.m. Given the time it takes to shower, dress and get on a bus to the airport in Houston -- which isn't anywhere near the stadium -- then fly to Chicago, they probably weren't in their hotel rooms until 3 a.m. The team bus didn't pull up to Wrigley until after 11 a.m. Normally, only a handful of players are on the team bus, along with broadcasters; most players take cabs. This day, almost 20 players got off the bus, looking pretty tired. The Giants did not take batting practice.
I'm sure they sent Bumgarner, today's starter, ahead so he could get proper rest, but who makes schedules like this? The Giants and Astros should have played an afternoon game Thursday; it's not as if Houston's drawing that well anyway. Simple fairness.
Anyway, Volstad took advantage and had his second straight solid outing, giving up just a pair of runs before he tired in the sixth inning on a sweaty, hot, very humid afternoon. Another one like this and he'll have his ERA under six (it's now 6.06); his ERA in six starts in August covering 36⅓ innings (averaging more than six per start) is 3.71, perfectly serviceable for a fourth or fifth starter.
The Giants made it close in the eighth when they scored two runs off Shawn Camp, who was making his 68th appearance -- most of any pitcher in the major leagues, and on pace to tie the Cubs team record. Camp seems to be running out of gas on that so-called rubber arm of his.
Anthony Rizzo also homered today, his first since August 5; the umpires reviewed it after it bounced back on the field, but it clearly hit over the yellow line of the left-center field basket. Another Cubs run scored on a weird play when Welington Castillo doubled in Starlin Castro, went to third on the throw to the plate and then scored himself when Buster Posey couldn't hold on to the throw and was charged with an error.
Go figure. It was the Cubs' first win over the Giants this season, after being swept in a four-game series in San Francisco in June. It's weird.
Weirder was the clash of yellow and orange in the stands; Iowa Hawkeyes fans were strongly in evidence Friday afternoon, as they're all in town to see their football team take on Northern Illinois at Soldier Field Saturday. The yellow didn't go well with the orange of thousands of Giants fans who made the trip in, disappointed at their team's defeat, but at one point out-yelling Cubs fans with chants of "Let's go Giants!"
On the other hand, bad teams do this with more frequency than you might think. In 1966, the Cubs traveled to San Francisco in early September buried deep in last place and more than 30 games behind the Giants, who were in a tight pennant race. That Cubs team took three of four from San Francisco -- on the road, where they almost never won that year (27-54). The Giants finished just 1½ games behind the Dodgers that year -- so the Cubs, by winning three of those four, singlehandedly knocked San Francisco out of the race.
That likely won't happen now. That late-season '66 team was pretty good, and had four future Hall of Famers on it. This year's squad isn't, and doesn't. Weather permitting (the Hurricane Isaac remnants are supposed to be here Saturday), the teams will meet up again Saturday -- and a reminder, Saturday's game time has been changed; original schedules show 3:05 p.m., but it has been moved to a 12:05 p.m. CDT start, and will be televised on WGN.