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Significant Saturday

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I bought a new car today.

Well, not exactly -- I put a deposit down on a Toyota Prius, because with gasoline at $3 a gallon and no sign of it going down anytime soon, I decided to take some action to save money, not to mention helping the environment.

These cars are being sold as fast as Toyota can make them -- the current wait is anywhere from four to six weeks, so I guess I'll just have to wait it out, and grin and bear the $25 gas fillups. Better yet, and maybe this will convince some of you to take the plunge, if you buy a hybrid car that's been "certified" by the IRS before the end of 2005, you qualify for a federal tax deduction.

Sense of accomplishment over for myself this afternoon, I turned the game on the radio in the (old) car on the way home, and immediately it seemed to go wrong.

Mark Prior couldn't do anything right in the first inning. Both Pat & Ron were appalled at the frightening thirty-seven pitches Prior threw -- including sixteen balls and two walks -- but somehow, he got out of it allowing only two runs, and sometimes when a team has a quality starter on the ropes like that and doesn't put him away, that sends the momentum back to the other team.

It took a few innings, but Prior eventually did settle down and -- lo and behold, those two runs were the only San Francisco runs of the day, and the Cub offense, maybe not so surprisingly any more, consisted primarily of Henry Blanco, who had three hits including a tie-breaking two-run homer in the sixth, and the Cubs won their seventh game of nine so far on this roadtrip, 5-2 over the Giants.

Blanco's numbers since July 1 (granted, fairly small sample size, but impressive nevertheless):

70 AB, 10 R, 26 H, 5 2B, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 6 BB, 8 K

That translates to .371/.421/.600, and a 1.021 OPS, Derrek Lee territory.

Blanco also stabilizes the pitching staff. I like Michael Barrett's offense, but the difference between Blanco and Barrett defensively (and by "defense" I mean not only throwing out runners and blocking pitches, but calling games) is truly night and day.

Can you imagine Barrett settling Prior down the way Blanco did? Nope, me either. Prior did throw a fairly large number of pitches -- 122 -- but that means only 85 of them were from the second through seventh innings, as he managed to last long enough that the bullpen wasn't stretched too far. Will Ohman, Roberto Novoa (who stood on the mound for what seemed like several minutes with his cap off, looking to the sky, before he started pitching -- what's up with that?), and Ryan Dempster finished up uneventfully. Give Novoa credit for throwing a really nice slider to strike out Giants rookie Dan Ortmeier after he had put two runners on.

OK, so it's only a strikeout of a rookie up from Double-A. But, it counts just the same as any other strikeout.

Dempster registered his 26th save, and each one seems to get easier -- only twelve pitches to get two easy ground outs and to end the game on a called strike three to Randy Winn.

The Barry Bonds circus will bypass the Cub series -- after rumors that he'd be activated today or tomorrow, it was made official that Bonds will return from the DL on Monday as the Giants face the Padres.

Good thing, too -- I think Dusty Baker was planning to walk Bonds every time he came up. The Giants aren't that good a team, but if you put baserunners on, they have shown that they can score runs. They're a very different team with Barry Bonds in the lineup -- good, let San Diego deal with it.

Lee also drove in two runs today, establishing a new career high with 99. The radio and TV guys kept mentioning that if he gets to 100, he'll be the first Cub ever with 100 RBI, 100 runs, 40 HR and 40 doubles in a season, which is kind of a freak show stat, but he is having a special, special season, as shown by his NL rankings in the following categories:

AVG: 1st
Runs: 2nd
Hits: 2nd
2B: 1st
HR: 2nd
RBI: 5th
BB: 11th
OBA: 3rd
SLG: 1st
OPS: 1st
I know, I know, Albert Pujols and Andruw Jones are on playoff-bound teams and one of them will win the MVP award. But neither of them leads or is close to leading in as many offensive categories as Derrek Lee.

Whatever happens the rest of the year, the Cubs have had a terrific road trip, and tomorrow they'll face a guy who's been a Cub whipping boy most of his career (2-4, 4.95 ERA in nine starts), Brett Tomko.