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Nothing's Ever Easy

... or is it?

After getting into trouble repeatedly in the first few innings, including three hit batters by Carlos Zambrano, emptying the benches and the bullpens and drawing warnings from the umpires (which came to fruition when Mike Johnston hit Todd Walker in the 9th, leading to an entertaining cap-to-cap yelling match between Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon and plate umpire Jack Samuels), the Cubs tore the game open in the last three innings, scoring eleven runs, including a seven-run ninth, and won the final game of the roadtrip easily, 12-1 over the Pirates. In doing so the Cubs leapfrogged back over the Brewers into a third-place tie with the Cardinals, as Milwaukee lost to the Padres 5-2. I trust this will be the last time this year that the Cubs will trail the Brewers in the NL Central standings.

It got so bad that McClendon brought in infielder Abraham Nunez to get the final out of the top of the 9th, a lazy fly to right by Corey Patterson, after the Cubs had scored seven unearned runs off various Pirate relievers. Though the Cubs have used distinguished infielders such as Doug Dascenzo and Gary Gaetti as pitchers over the last couple of decades, I cannot remember the last time a non-pitcher threw against the Cubs.

Zambrano toughed it out today. He walked three and gave up eight hits in addition to the three hit batters, and threw 110 pitches in a laboring six innings. But each time he was in trouble he reached back for a strikeout (eight) to get out of it, and the Pirates stranded twelve runners, which we're awfully used to, as the Cubs have been maddeningly doing this in recent days.

It was an awful road trip -- one win in six games, but at least the losing streak was stopped at five, before it got to epic proportions.

There were many heroes today, including seven consecutive men reaching base in the ninth after two were out: Ramon Martinez singled, Jose Macias doubled, Walker was hit by the aforementioned Mike Johnston pitch (maybe this was revenge for the Pirates making Johnston wear the Tweety Bird backpack at Wrigley Field in April as part of his rookie hazing), Moises Alou singled, Aramis Ramirez doubled, Derrek Lee tripled (good to see him break out of his slump, as it's just about June and time for him to start hitting), and Michael Barrett singled to finish the scoring. All told, the Cubs smacked out 17 hits and drew six walks and even with all the runs, left 13 other men on base.

And, even Joe Borowski had one of those "confidence-builder" appearances, being sent in with an 11-run lead and dispatching the Pirates in the bottom of the ninth on only 5 pitches (all strikes), though the outs were all medium-deep fly balls.

I didn't do a whole lot else today, having been at the wedding last night fairly late and then getting up early for work, so I'll just say that it certainly is going to be a happy plane ride home tonight (and I think it's very odd scheduling, to have a 3:05 game tomorrow, and then a night game Tuesday; with the return from the trip, it would have made more sense to play tomorrow night).

The pitching matchups for the Houston series:

Tomorrow, a rematch of last Tuesday, Roy Oswalt vs. Greg Maddux
Tuesday, Andy Pettitte will miss his start and ex-Phillie Brandon Duckworth (who has a 1.50 lifetime ERA vs. the Cubs in two starts, 12 IP) will face Glendon Rusch, going on three days' rest.
Wednesday afternoon should have been the Kerry Wood/Roger Clemens rematch, but instead, Clemens will face the man who's one letter behind him in the MLB player listing alphabetical order, Matt Clement.

Bring it on.