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Nearly Perfect

Today was the day that Carlos Zambrano really arrived as a force in baseball.

Up to now, we've seen flashes of brilliance. But today he was indeed nearly perfect -- the only blemishes were two harmless singles, a hit batsman (leading off the ninth inning), and an error by Ramon Martinez, with the runner promptly erased on a double play. Another double play ended the game, so Zambrano, who also walked no one, faced only two over the minimum, and the Cubs' bats exploded for the second day in a row and they annihilated the Rockies 11-0. It's Zambrano's second career shutout and the lowest-hit game of his career.

The Rockies, for their part, are a really bad team, having now supplanted the Mets and the Indians as the worst team I've seen so far this year. They started only three players who could be classified as competent major leaguers -- Todd Helton, Charles Johnson and Jeromy Burnitz, who is way out of place in center field, considering he's wearing his age (35) on his back.

Anyway, they came in only three games under .500, but that was 4-9 on the road, and 8-7 in the rarefied air of Coors Field, which is pretty typical for a Rockies team. It may be true that the Rockies, due to the differences between playing at altitude and not, might never be much better than a .500 ballclub.

One of those four road wins was on Opening Day in Phoenix, when Shawn Estes outpitched Randy Johnson.

Rockies manager Clint Hurdle must have been waiting for that Estes to show up today, because he left him in for 70 pitches in a little over two innings, and had Sammy Sosa, the last batter he faced, scored, Estes would have allowed ten earned runs. As it was, the nine he did allow put his ERA up nearly two full runs, from 5.60 coming in, to 7.34. He walked five and struck out nobody and reminded all of us of the Shawn F. Estes we came to know and loathe in a Cub uniform last year.

I don't want to seem overconfident, but there's absolutely no reason the Cubs shouldn't sweep this series, and they could use a sweep heading out to the West Coast next week, and then to a tough stretch of games which includes series with the Giants and Cardinals, and then the first visit to Houston this year.

Dave said today that sometimes a team that hits like the Cubs do will do it in streaks -- they had a great hitting homestand in April, then got cold on the last trip, now have scored 11 runs on consecutive days, and with the wind likely to be blowing out the next two days with forecast highs in the 70's, we could see a lot more offense, especially against the terrible Rockies pitching staff. Today was cold again, with the wind blowing in, though some predicted rain for the afternoon passed the area by, making it now an unheard-of 14 consecutive games in April and May without a single rain delay. Oddity: today's crowd of 37,307 was the smallest announced attendance of the season, and due to the cold weather, there were a fair number of no-shows. It appeared that there were around 30,000 in the park, but many left after the 7th inning.

Today's 12-hit attack featured only two extra-base hits -- doubles by Michael Barrett and Corey Patterson, and I am going to take Patterson to task for his. He smacked a ball to left-center with the bases loaded that Burnitz ran down but dropped as he slammed into the metal doors (and it's amazing that he suffered absolutely no injury making this play). Patterson's a bit lazy. He pulled into second after realizing that he had driven in three runs. Had he been running, he could have at least had a triple, and maybe even an inside-the-park homer.

While I'm in the criticism business, let me also give a little gentle chiding to Wayne Messmer, who has a great voice and sings the national anthem beautifully, but was woefully behind on keeping up with the lineup changes today. Several Colorado changes were made and he missed a couple entirely and didn't mention a double-switch that was made. He missed it too when the Cubs put Todd Hollandsworth and Damian Jackson (wearing #19, in case you are interested) in the game.

Paul Friedman, who is the PA announcer for weekend and night games, always gets these things right, not only announcing the replacements, but their batting order positions as well. Look, there are those of us who like to keep score, and without a scoreboard that gives these changes (and no, I'm not suggesting I want one!), we rely on the PA. There was so little help today I thought I was back in Mesa, where you can't even hear the announcements, when there are any at all.

My friend Mike from Los Angeles called me just before the game to ask about last night's tragic shooting death across the street from the ballpark at Clark & Addison, just outside the Cubby Bear. Unfortunately, breathless news reports make it seem like it's now "unsafe" to hang around the ballpark after games, which is simply not true. Things like this could happen anywhere, sadly. It was a traffic altercation that escalated, and with the wide availability of guns, that's how these kind of things sometimes end. I don't want to get on too much of a political soapbox here, since this is about baseball and the Cubs, but there has to be a way to eliminate this kind of mindless violence. If these two were armed with knives or fists or even the kind of miniature baseball bat that started the whole thing, instead of a gun, a young man would not be dead today.

Sermon over. Now, we root for the Braves this weekend to beat up on the Astros. In a baseball sense, of course.