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Explain This One To Me, Please

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I'm kind of half watching the game in the early innings, and this is why: my daughter asked me to download a couple of songs for her. (Yes, legally.) It was only after I did so that I learned they were in a "protected" format so that I could not put them on her iPod.

This is a big learning curve for us guys who are parents of almost-teenagers.

Anyway, that's not the point. The point is, I happened to glance up while the telecast was in a commercial break, and I see a bunch of happy, smiling people on beaches, etc., and I'm thinking it's a promotional spot, and then I see California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his way-too-skinny wife, and I'm thinking "California Tourism".

Right?

No, wrong. It was a spot for Southwest Airlines.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but what's an elected public official doing in a commercial spot for a publicly-traded company? Doesn't that scream conflict-of-interest to you?

OK, soapbox over. And this is a non-partisan rant, incidentally.

I can afford to be jolly today. The Cubs crashed out of the gate early, just like yesterday, but today, the pitching was on cruise control and thus, a first-inning lead became an easy 7-1 win over the Reds, splitting the series and again evening up the season record at 7-7.

I was going to try to post the lineup again today, like last night, but the MLB.com scoreboard didn't post it quite as early as they did yesterday, and when I turned the TV on, I thought -- this is why. Dusty's gone completely mad. Corey Patterson batting second? Neifi Perez batting seventh? Jerry Hairston in right field?

Darned if it didn't work. Patterson smacked a homer to right in the first -- and I keep thinking, this is the worst thing that can happen, because he's going to keep thinking he's a home run hitter. And if he's going to do this, he ought to be hitting sixth, not first or second. Then he smacked into the outfield walls twice in the bottom of the first, catching long fly balls.

And that was the worst Mark Prior allowed tonight. After that he shut the Reds down, allowing only an unearned run when, after two were out, Wily Mo Pena doubled, and when that darned Rich Aurilia sent an easy inning-ending grounder Nomar's way, he airlifted it way over Derrek Lee's head. That's the only run the Reds could muster.

Lee also homered. So did Michael Barrett, and that was gratifying, because he had been in an 0-for-26 slump before a fourth-inning single, and the homer was a towering shot to left field.

Neifi! didn't have any hits today -- dropping his average to only .344 -- but he did have an RBI groundout.

Thanks to Dave Geiser and my buddy Mike, we know tonight that the Cubs are now 5-0 on dates on which a new pope is elected. This is, as Josh commented earlier tonight, the most trivial bit of trivia in Cub history. Yes, it's silly, but in case you missed it, here are the previous four:

8/9/1903 Pius X, beat Pirates 4-3.

9/3/1914 Benedict XV, beat Reds 7-0.

6/21/1963 Paul VI, beat Pirates 6-5.

8/26/1978 John Paul I, beat Reds 8-6.

So logically, today should have been a one-run win over the Pirates. Or a 7-0 shutout of the Reds (the last time a pope named Benedict was elected).

However, this will do.

For those who doubted Prior's health, tonight should put all those questions to rest. Prior was dominant in his seven innings (a reasonably efficient 98 pitches), striking out six, walking two and allowing just the one unearned run, and became the first of our ballyhooed starting rotation to record two wins. Cliff Bartosh threw two uneventful innings to finish up -- yes, he looks gawky, and that motion screams out "Elbow injury!", but he's been, for the most part, effective.

We have now seen flashes of the pitching that's supposed to take us to the playoffs. We are less than ten percent into the season -- I did say this was a must-win game, and while you could make a case that a game played on April 19 isn't a "must", I repeat that you simply cannot let games like this get away. And, the way the ballclub came back from a very difficult and strange loss last night, is a good sign, this early in the year.

On, then, to St. Louis. Again, I say at least a split of these two games is imperative, especially considering the way St. Louis beat the Cubs with impunity last year, and also the fact that since 1998, the Cardinals have a 62-45 edge against the Cubs. It's important to make an early statement. Z will pitch tomorrow, and Ryan Dempster on Thursday afternoon. Both games will be on ESPN.

A reminder to everyone -- join John Sickels of Minor League Ball for an All Questions Answered thread for one hour beginning at 1 pm CDT tomorrow.