Pat got to make that call five times Tuesday night, once each to a ball hit by Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney, and twice for Alfonso Soriano, who now has eight home runs in his last 11 games and a pair of two-homer games in his last four. (For those of you who didn't think Soriano had another hot streak in him, think again.) Since June 23, Soriano is hitting .370/.386/.944 (1.330 OPS) with five doubles, a triple and those eight homers. You'd think scouts from other teams would have taken notice.
It was, however, Barney's three-run homer -- his fifth, and the first he had hit this year with anyone on base -- that put the game away in the sixth inning, giving the Cubs and Travis Wood a 6-0 lead. Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo completed the homer barrage, the first time a Cubs team had hit five homers in a game since June 18, 2012 against the White Sox. The Cubs thus cooled off an Angels team that had won 10 of its last 13 before arriving at Wrigley Field.
Wood, for his part, put together yet another quality start, his 17th in 18 outings this year, before running out of gas in the seventh inning on an extremely muggy evening. There had been dire weather forecasts for thunderstorms and severe weather, but after a brief shower about 4 p.m. Thursday that had the grounds crew briefly cover the field before batting practice, the sky cleared and it was just warm and very humid for the rest of the evening.
Albert Pujols provided the only run-scoring for the Angels with a two-run homer off Wood in the seventh, his 27th career blast at Wrigley Field, tying him for the all-time record among active visiting players with Adam Dunn. (The all-time record is 54, held by Willie Mays.) Pujols also hit a ball with two out in the first inning on which Julio Borbon attempted a diving catch; the ball hit Borbon's glove and bounced away. Nate Schierholtz picked it up and threw Pujols out trying to take second base.
Wood then retired the next 14 Angels before pitcher Joe Blanton hit a single to right field with two out in the sixth.
If the Pujols play had happened with two out in the sixth with no other hits yet, the official scorer might have ruled it an error; if a no-hitter's in progress that late in the game, scorers usually like the first hit to be a clean one. In the first inning, that's a really close call, error or hit.
You know something? This team is getting to be fun to watch, after at least a couple of years of really ... not being so. They're starting to hit, they're hitting with RISP (1-for-3 Tuesday night, Barney's homer), getting good starting pitching and relief work, and have now won four straight and 11 of 17. They now have a +1 overall run differential, giving them a .500 Pythagorean record, and it would appear to me that this team has enough talent to maybe make a run at that .500 mark overall for the season, which would be a considerable improvement over last year.
Compare that to the Angels, who the Cubs have now defeated two of three so far this year (and if not for a Pujols home run in Anaheim, might have won all three). The Angels look dispirited, disjointed, despite that 10-of-13 winning stretch; there's something not quite right about them and it goes beyond the mediocre performances of Pujols and Josh Hamilton, who was 0-for-4 Tuesday night. Perhaps the Cubs are headed in the right direction after all.
The complaint department should be closed after a win like that one, but I have one minor one, again about Dale Sveum's bullpen choices. Supposedly, the Cubs' bullpen is overworked, yet who got selected to throw the eighth with a five-run lead? Blake Parker, who pitched the night before. And after Mark Trumbo doubled with two out in the ninth and Pedro Strop ran a 3-1 count on Alberto Callaspo, the bullpen phone actually rang and Kevin Gregg got up. Really, Dale? With a five-run lead and one man on base? Fortunately, Strop struck out Callaspo to end it before Gregg could do more than throw a couple of easy warmup tosses.
Stop this man before he burns out any more relievers!