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Steve Stone, Broadcaster Extraordinaire

Here's yet another example of how good Steve Stone is, in case you didn't see last night's otherwise boring 5-0 Cub loss to the Astros.

Stone and Chip Caray were discussing some long-ago game or games from the mid-1970's, when Stone was pitching for the Cubs and one of his teammates was Burt Hooton, now the Astros' pitching coach.

Stone was talking about how bad a hitter he (Stone) was as a player, and how Hooton was nearly as bad...

And right at that time, one of the WGN cameras happened to be on a fairly tight close-up of Hooton, in the Astros dugout, picking his nose.

After what must have been a very tense moment, Stone broke it by saying, without really missing a beat, "And the key to hitting, was that Burt always picked a good pitch."

There was a bit of a silence after that, and you could almost hear both of them trying to stifle hysterical laughter.

Incidentally, Stone was right. Burt Hooton was a .123 lifetime hitter, which is pretty bad even for a pitcher. So was Stone himself -- he hit .100, with no homers and 92 strikeouts in 219 career at-bats.

Stone's been broadcasting now for over 20 years, and despite his relative youth (for a broadcaster, anyway -- he'll be 57 in July), I'd love to see him win the Ford Frick Award, the award that a broadcaster can win that gets him Hall of Fame recognition. He's that good.

Not that good were the Cubs last night; they've never done well against Roy Oswalt, who is now 6-2 lifetime with a 3.05 ERA in 65 innings against them, and just as last Tuesday against Jason Schmidt, I doubt anyone could have hit Oswalt last night, he was that much on his game.

Carlos Zambrano wasn't, and he was laboring through the first four innings. Even at that, the Astros only had a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth, and that's when Stone had another prescient comment when Lance Berkman came to bat... he said, "You've got to keep the ball down against Berkman, because otherwise this game will be 4-0."

The next pitch was slammed over the yellow line in left-center field for a two-run homer, making it 4-0. It was at that point where I figured, "This game is over, they'll never score four runs off Oswalt," and started getting ready to go to sleep (it was about 8:25 CT) so I could get up for work this morning.

I did get a glance at Zambrano smacking the Gatorade cooler on the dugout bench, to which Stone said, "He has to learn not to hit that with his pitching hand," which would indeed be a good lesson to learn. This is why I think Zambrano really is the age he claims to be (turns 23 next Tuesday), because first of all, he was born in Venezuela and unlike many from the Dominican Republic whose ages have not only been questioned but changed, there has never been this kind of doubt about Venezuelans, and second, sometimes people that age don't have the maturity to deal with setbacks.

And sometimes ballplayers just get mad and want to smash something. But Carlos, use your left hand, OK?

Here are two good things that happened last night, and I'm really reaching here:

* Paul Bako stole a base. This was only the fourth of his career, and his first since 2001.

* Michael Wuertz threw 2/3 of a scoreless inning, lowering his ERA... below 10.

Tonight should be better. The Cubs beat the living daylights out of Andy Pettitte last year at Wrigley Field when he was a Yankee, and the Cubs' right-handed power seems well suited to hit a guy like this at the Juice Box. Pettitte's home ERA so far in three starts there reflects this: 6.06.

I'll be well satisfied with a split.

According to today's Tribune, the rotation for the next two series lines up as follows:

Friday, DH at Pittsburgh: Mitre and Clement
Saturday at Pittsburgh: Rusch
Sunday at Pittsburgh: TBA
Monday vs. Houston at Wrigley Field: Zambrano
Tuesday vs. Houston at Wrigley Field: Maddux
Wednesday vs. Houston at Wrigley Field: Clement

And, thus, Mark Prior against the Pirates Friday, June 4.

Mr. TBA would probably be Jimmy Anderson or Jon Leicester, called up from Iowa just for the one game, replacing Michael Wuertz, who would be inactive for just that day, and then Wuertz (or better yet, another hitter for the bench) would return for the Houston series, then to be replaced by Prior.

This makes too much sense, so it probably won't happen that way.