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MESA, Arizona -- Some Cub guy woke up with back problems this morning, and that allowed the always-ready Glendon Rusch to step in.

This is something Rusch excelled at last year and perhaps this is his best role -- emergency starter. He threw five shutout innings and the Cubs breezed past the A's 5-2 this afternoon.

Before I continue, let me introduce you to the man who brought me to Bleed Cubbie Blue, Tyler Bleszinski ("Blez", as he is more commonly known) of Athletics Nation:




The jersey I'm wearing is my Kerry Wood jersey; I put it on this morning before I heard the news about him not making the start, and I figured I was already dressed, and it was about time to go, so why bother changing?

I was joined on the lawn today by Blez, and also Kos of the Daily Kos.

That's not an endorsement, it's simply a mention of friends who gathered for a ballgame, and I want you all to know that Kos is a HUGE Cubs fan; he showed up today in his 2003 NL Central Champions cap. He said he also has a Wood jersey somewhere; good thing we didn't both wear ours the same day!

We talked about everything from baseball to road trips to blogging, and both Blez and Kos, who were here on a whirlwind spring training tour, agreed that spring training is cool and they intend to come back for a longer visit next March.

About the game: Glendon Rusch did today what he did several times in 2004 -- step in in an emergency situation. Not only did he do this in a starting role, but he jumped in a couple of times when starters got blown out in the early innings and he kept games close.

This is a skill that not many pitchers have and it may be that Rusch can do this rather than be pigeonholed into one role on the ballclub, be it rotation starter, LOOGY, or setup man.

You may say that this is something that can't be planned for, and you're right. But it IS something that Dusty Baker can keep in mind.

Rusch was terrific. He allowed four hits and a walk in five innings, struck out four and probably could have gone longer. The only hard hit was a triple by Mark Kotsay over Corey Patterson's head (no, he didn't misjudge or misplay it, he was just playing too shallow). Kotsay was a Cub-killer in his Marlins and Padres days so I'm glad we don't face him this year, just as I'm glad Jason Kendall, a longtime Cub tormentor, is no longer in the NL Central.

Meanwhile, the Cubs were putting together some offense off A's starter Dan Meyer, including a Michael Barrett homer that I might have caught myself if I'd been a little quicker getting my butt off the lawn. Instead it became a souvenir for the two little kids (8 or 9 years old or so) sitting about 15 feet to my left.

Blez, Kos and I got into such spirited discussions that even your intrepid scorekeeping geek here lost track of some of the late-inning changes. It didn't help that the PA announcer never mentioned Renyel Pinto coming in to pitch in the 7th (wearing #95), and when the wholesale defensive changes were made in the top of the eighth (after most of the starters got four at-bats for the first time this spring), NONE of them were announced. I recognized most of them (Murray, Perez, Macias, Ransom), but when a speedy outfielder wearing #63 came into left, I had no idea who it was, even after he made two nice running catches in the 9th.

Turns out it was Adam Greenberg, who might someday make a useful spare-part outfielder at the major league level. He'll likely spend this year at double-A West Tenn.

Nomar had two more hits today but scared Kos and me when he made a pointless head-first slide into second trying to stretch a single into a double (he was safe), and then got up a bit slowly. No worries, he's fine, and he played two more innings in the field after that. But that turned into a discussion of why you shouldn't take such chances in exhibition games -- such a chance cost A's 2B Mark Ellis the entire 2004 season when he got hurt in a collision in a game vs. the Cubs that I saw last March.

Speaking of souvenirs, today the Cubs wives held their annual fund-raising raffle. They sold an "arm's length" of tickets for $20. I didn't partake of that many (I bought 3 for $5), but Jeff stretched his arms out and got 37 tickets, one of which won him an autographed Ernie Banks ball, pretty good ROI, if you ask me. Over $15,000 was raised today for the Paz de Cristo Community Center in Mesa, from another sellout crowd, 12,718.

The Cubs go back over .500 with this win and can breathe at least a small sigh of relief, knowing not only that Glendon Rusch is up to the task as he was last year, but that Mark Prior threw well in the bullpen today and may throw a simulated game in four days, and still could be on target to pitch in the San Diego series April 11-13.