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That Was Fun, BUT...

Here's a sobering statistic. Since the All-Star break, a total of 36 games, the Cub won/lost record, sorted by games in which they have homered or not, is:
With a home run: 20-8 
Without a home run: 0-8
In fact, the last game the Cubs won without the benefit of a home run was the 6-2 win over the White Sox on July 2, 42 games ago -- oddly, 42 games in which the Cubs have gone exactly 21-21.

I'm being a party-pooper of sorts here. Sure, today's 11-6 annihilation of the Astros in Houston (one of those "not as close as the score indicated" games) was a lot of fun (though in the last of the 9th, it bored WGN's graphics people enough that they didn't even bother noting the base-advance taken by Lance Berkman), and it wasn't all home runs, either, with four different players -- Corey Patterson, Todd Walker, Sammy Sosa, and Michael Barrett -- all having two hits, and a team total of twelve hits and four walks. I'm being a little unfair to the Cubs here too, because though this seems extreme, I haven't done any further research to find out whether other teams have similar splits.

The Cubs are on pace not only to break the club record of 220 homers (set last year), but the league record of 249, held by the 2000 Astros. Homers are fun, but this team isn't going anywhere if they can't find other ways to score. Homers don't win you playoff games or series.

Fortunately, pitching does, and the Cubs do have plenty of that, coming into today only one run behind the Dodgers for fewest runs allowed.

And I shouldn't complain about a 4-2 road trip, raising the Cubs' road record to 34-31, fifth-best in the NL, and now the Cubs are on another one of those mini-rolls that we wish could grow into a huge streak, winning five of their last eight games, and winning six of the nine games in Houston this year.

It was so good today that it appears that Dr. Tightpants has been assigned a role: mopup pitcher in blowout wins, which he did both Friday and today. Actually, given that role, let's hope we see a lot more of him, even with the homer he allowed.

Kerry Wood was throwing pretty well, allowing only a scratch run driven in by Jose Vizcaino (how the heck he went 4-for-4, I'll never know), and a homer by Mike Lamb, when he hit Jeff Kent on what was clearly NOT a purpose pitch with one out in the bottom of the fifth and a 10-2 lead, which earned him an automatic ejection.

Why? Well, both benches had been warned after Houston starter Roy Oswalt had hit Barrett with what clearly WAS a purpose pitch right after Aramis Ramirez' big three-run homer. Oswalt was immediately ejected and the usual milling-around of bullpen pitchers ensued.

Wood, who had hit Jason Lane in the second inning, later hit Carlos Beltran on a pitch that replays showed hit the dirt first, though Beltran was immediately awarded first base (didn't matter, as he didn't score). Despite the warnings, plate umpire Bill Hohn didn't toss Wood, and Steve Stone went into a long discussion of how the automatic-ejection rule handcuffs umpires, doesn't allow them to make judgment calls, and Hohn put himself on the line to make this call. When Phil Garner came out to argue, I'd imagine Hohn told him that if Wood hit anyone else, he'd toss him, which is exactly what happened in the fifth.

Stone then said, again correctly, that there's no way a pitcher like Kerry Wood would do such a thing, two outs from registering a win in a blowout game. And he's right, and I'm sure Hohn told Dusty Baker that he felt his hand was forced. Dusty, for his part, did a good job of keeping Wood calm so that he didn't earn another suspension.

The bottom line here is -- pitchers need to pitch inside to establish that part of the plate, but they've got to draw a fine line, and there's no place in baseball for intentionally hitting anyone -- look at what happened to Sammy Sosa when he got hit in the head last year. Steve Stone is right, also, about the impossible position an umpire is put in with the automatic-ejection-after-warnings rule. Give Bill Hohn credit for stretching that rule once, and also correctly figuring he couldn't stretch it twice.

Luckily, this had no effect on today's result.

Worrisome: Nomar didn't play today, for the second day in a row. We knew he'd have to rest from time to time with the sore Achilles, but missing two games, and missing an obvious slot to put him in as a defensive replacement last night, which would have moved Ramon Martinez to third and perhaps saved the win, is something that the club just has to deal with.

Let's hope he's ready to go tomorrow night when the Cubs play their sixty-third game against the Brewers this year -- at least it seems like that many.

Faith and hope.