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Gut-Check Time

A day after the entire bullpen stunk it out in an ugly loss to the Dodgers, Kerry Wood, who's supposed to have been doing this all year, stepped up big-time and beat LA almost singlehandedly.

What didn't he do? He hit his first home run of the year (and seventh of his career -- he's always been a good hitter). He struck out seven, including a virtuoso performance against MVP candidate Adrian Beltre in the eighth inning with the bases loaded, ending the inning and his day on his one hundred and twenty-first pitch.

The Cubs shut out the Dodgers 2-0, the fifth Cub blanking of an opponent this year, on a day when the clouds that have lowered our sky all week finally broke for a gorgeous blue sky. With the wind blowing straight in again, it figured to be a low-scoring day, which makes Wood's homer even more impressive.

But more impressive than that was that Beltre vs. Wood showdown, so let's examine it a little bit further.

I suspect many people were shaking their heads, wondering why Dusty didn't come and get Wood in that situation. It's the most pitches he's thrown so far this season, but even with that, he had three 1-2-3 innings in which he threw almost effortlessly; 82 of the 121 pitches were for strikes, and he took Beltre out with sliders that slid down, down, and downer, the last one almost scraping the ground for strike three, after Beltre had fouled off a couple of good sliders and what the scoreboard said was a 99 MPH fastball -- though I wonder about the accuracy of that reading.

Now, let's talk a little about Mike Remlinger, who got his first save in almost three years today.

You know, for as good a pitcher as LaTroy Hawkins is, sometimes he goes out there to close a game and his body language is just terrible. Remlinger, on the other hand, strode to the mound as if to say, "I'm not wasting any time here -- you guys are simply going to make outs." And they did, though Alex Cora lofted a single in between the three groundouts, the last one a comebacker. As Mike said to me, that's the way the Cubs have been closed out of losses in recent weeks and it's about time they did the same to an opponent.

I wouldn't be opposed to using Remlinger permanently as closer instead of Hawkins. So what if he's lefthanded? Other lefties (Billy Wagner, Eddie Guardado, though he's hurt right now, and in past years, John Franco and Randy Myers) have been successful closers. It wouldn't hurt at all to put Hawkins back in the role where he's most successful -- setup -- and let Remlinger close until Joe Borowski is back, which based on the simulated game he threw the other day, may not be too far off.

Howard's in Boston tonight, and the gates opened before Jimmy John's does, so I decided to buy a Wrigley Field hot dog and use their tomato piece for the reinstated Tomato Inning. Mike chose the piece and held my scorecard while I dropped it, and -- well, suffice to say that the Cubs won today. It landed on the seventh inning, a 1-2-3 inning. We'll take the win, thankyouverymuch.

Tomorrow is a critical game in re-establishing this starting rotation as the one we thought we were getting before the season started. If Mark Prior can dominate the way Wood did today, I think that could start a long winning streak. The Dodgers will counter with Jose Lima, who's on about his fourth resurrection and is 11-3, but with a 3.89 ERA, and this is just the guy for Sammy Sosa to resurrect himself -- Sosa is 13-for-34 with seven home runs lifetime against Lima.

Today, they were selling limited edition Greg Maddux photoballs, limited to 300, so I went down to find some -- got the last two, one for me and one for Mike. They're not numbered, but they're attractive baseballs anyway, and one day I'll hope to get Greg to sign mine. Tomorrow before the game, the Cubs will honor Maddux with a ceremony commemorating his 300th win. We all agreed if it were up to him, he probably wouldn't even show up, he's that modest.

Finally, Jeff and I got into a disagreement on whether the Cubs will be able to re-sign Nomar Garciaparra. I say yes, Jeff says no. After a couple of really nice picks on grounders today, particularly starting a 6-4-3 DP in the sixth inning, I said, "Can we have the contract ready for him when he gets back to the clubhouse?"

I figure they can pay for it with the proceeds from all the Nomar T-shirts and jerseys they have sold in the last two weeks.

NOTE: To all of you who tried to read this blog between about 11 am CT and 5 pm CT today, there was a configuration error made by my web hosting service. It's been fixed. Apologies!