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Commencing Countdown, Engines On

For you Greg Maddux fans out there (and who isn't, these days?), here is, barring rainouts or injury, his schedule of starts through the end of August:
Tuesday, July 27 at Milwaukee
Sunday, August 1 vs. Philadelphia at home (first chance at #300)
Saturday, August 7 at San Francisco
Friday, August 13 vs. Los Angeles at home
Thursday, August 19 at Milwaukee
Tuesday, August 24 vs. Milwaukee at home
Sunday, August 29 vs. Houston at home

And darned if he's not looking exactly like he's going to have a repeat of his spectacular second half last year. In his second start since the All-Star break, Maddux put on another show, walking no one, making several really nice plays in the field, allowing only four hits (two of them nearly identical foul-line-scraping homers by, of all people, .182-hitting catcher Javier Valentin), and the Cubs' bats woke up and they beat the Reds in a no-brainer, 13-2, Maddux' ninth win of the year and 298th of his career.

Greg worked quickly, which is his trademark, and that was a good thing, with the forecast of rain by mid-afternoon. We saw ominous clouds building to the south all day -- Howard, who wasn't at the game, called me and said it was pouring at his office on the near south side, and looked even darker to the south, but it didn't start raining at the ballpark till the 8th inning, at which time it got so windy it inside-outed my umbrella, which is one of those double-hung jobs that's supposed to be resistant to winds like that. However, with the help of Bill the security guard and a couple who sat in front of us with their son (and the dad kept score in a very neat fashion the entire game), I managed to get it bent back in place, only to find that the fabric had been ripped off one of the ribs. Off to the repair shop tomorrow!

Before the rain began, it was the hottest day of the year at the ballpark -- though game time temperature was reported as 89, it was getting cloudy by then, but when the gates opened at 11:20, it was sunny and humid, and hard even to put the sunscreen on, it was so sweaty. After the clouds rolled in (and some off to the south, as Howard said, looked like the kind of clouds that produce funnels) and the wind shifted from east to west, the oppressive heat ended.

With Howard having to work today, I decided to walk over to the Jimmy John's near the ballpark and get my own sandwich, and perform the tomato ceremony myself. It landed across the fifth and sixth innings, but it could have been anywhere today, as the Cubs scored in six of the eight innings, including homers from Moises Alou in back-to-back innings (the 2nd and 3rd) and the grand slam by Aramis Ramirez that put the game away in the sixth. This was one batter after Derrek Lee had been hit by a Ryan Wagner pitch. The benches had been warned an inning earlier after Cory Lidle (for you numerologists out there, this is the second consecutive start where Maddux has faced a pitcher wearing #15, and that will become three in a row when he faces Ben Sheets again in Milwaukee on Tuesday) had floated a breaking ball that headed toward Moises Alou's head, but I think the umpires realized Wagner was just wild, plus, with rain coming, I think they felt that ejecting him would have simply made for an unnecessary delay to warm up a new pitcher, and with the score at that time already 8-2, I think they made the wise decision to let the game continue.

By the middle innings nearly everyone on both teams was swinging away at the first or second pitch, knowing that the rain was coming and it was getaway day. Had there been a delay, I probably would have left -- I cannot imagine the umpires would have continued a 12-2 or 13-2 game after the required 75-minute wait.

Sammy Sosa drove in the final run of the day, in a moderate rain, after a Jose Macias single and a wild pitch, prompting this e-mail from Mike:

An RBI single for the 13th run?! Must've been a drizzle.

Well, it pretty much was, right at that point.

Jeff felt ill this morning and decided not to come, and the Cubs are now 5-0 in games he has missed this year. No, he's not going to be allowed to skip the rest of the season. This has to be saved for special occasions.

One of the weirder things of the day was looking up at the scoreboard and seeing eleven day games listed (and there was a twelfth played today, SD & SF, that wasn't on the board) -- that's the most I can remember on a weekday in probably 20 years. It's certainly due to the odd two-game series schedule this week and the fact that it was getaway day for just about every team in baseball. Among the other obsessive things that I do, I like to keep track of out-of-town scores, pitching changes, etc. on the back of my scorecard where the teams and pitchers are listed, and it was a busy day with several high-scoring games.

I can't say enough about Maddux, who threw even fewer pitches today (92) than he had in his CG on Saturday. Just to show you how competitive he is, he slammed his bat to the ground after popping up a bunt with runners on first and second and nobody out in the fourth and the score only 3-1 at the time. I imagine he felt lots better when Mark Grudzielanek hit a three-run homer on the very next pitch.

This is the first time Maddux has thrown back-to-back complete games since September, 2000, and the only other Cub who has thrown a CG this year is Carlos Zambrano, who threw a two-hit shutout against the Rockies on May 7.

Maddux' comeback couldn't come at a better time, and neither could the offensive explosion. The Cubs have now started what was the envisioned opening day lineup for four days in a row, and everyone got a hit today, even Paul Bako. The pitching matchups for this weekend, which will be the Cubs' first and only visit to Philadelphia this year:

Friday: Kerry Wood vs. Brett Myers
Saturday: Carlos Zambrano vs. Paul Abbott
Sunday: Mark Prior vs. Eric Milton

all favor the Cub bats, and based on half a season's results, (Insert Corporate Name Here) Park in Philadelphia is a launching pad for homers -- it ranks fifth in most homers per game, or fourth among all parks not located in Denver.

Incidentally, late today both Zambrano and LaTroy Hawkins were suspended for their tantrums earlier this week, Hawkins for three games and Zambrano for five. The Hawkins suspension seems justified, given that he was about to attack an umpire. The Zambrano suspension seems overblown. Both, obviously, will be appealed. Incidentally, Kerry Wood has yet to serve his suspension from April.

For now, never mind that. It's time to build this two-game winning streak into something big.