Now, I'm not saying that last night's impressive 4-0 Cubs win over the Nationals is necessarily the indicator of anything, other than adding one to the "win" total in the standings.
But for one night at least, the Cubs had outstanding starting pitching, got timely hitting, and did it all efficiently and without the mental and physical mistakes that have plagued this club for the last three weeks.
Except for one thing, and I'm going to mention this first and get it out of the way. In the fourth inning, having scored a run already and with the bases loaded, Ronny Cedeno hit a ball into the gap in left-center that Alfonso Soriano speared on the run. Jacque Jones got doubled off second base.
This is the third time this month that Jones has made a bad baserunning play. Fortunately, it was the only down note on an up night. Unfortunately, a couple of idiots decided to throw a ball at Jones when he came out onto the field for the ninth inning:
Now, back to baseball. Carlos Zambrano struggled a bit in the early innings, but after Ronny Cedeno made yet another error in the third (Mike & I both sensed that he was trying to look slick, and overran Jose Vidro's grounder), no one reached base until Wiki Gonzalez singled in the seventh. By that time the Cubs had built a 4-0 lead, having loaded the bases on an error, a finally successful Juan Pierre bunt, and another bunt on which Matt Murton reached when Nats pitcher Livan Hernandez tripped over his own feet trying to pick it up. A Todd Walker single and Aramis Ramirez double scored three runs, and it could have been more, but Michael Barrett's screaming line drive up the middle was snared by Hernandez, who doubled Walker off first. This was a forgivable DP, because the ball looked like it was headed up the middle for a hit.
I did like Dusty Baker's lineup last night -- Ramirez seemed to respond by being dropped to fifth, and Murton hitting second, I believe, helped both him and Juan Pierre. This lineup, along with John Mabry starting at 1B (he made a couple of nice plays on foul popups too) and Ronny Cedeno hitting 8th, ought to be used for at least the rest of this series.
What I didn't like was Baker leaving Z in, in the 8th inning, after he'd thrown 114 pitches, with two runners on, only one out, and a lefthanded hitter up in Nick Johnson. Sitting right behind the bullpen, we could see both Bob Howry and Scott Eyre standing hands on hips, as if to say, "We're ready! Get one of us in here!" With Johnson up, the obvious choice would have been Eyre, but Baker never moved out of the dugout.
He got lucky, and so did Z, when Johnson hit a ball that seemed headed toward LF for a hit. Z deflected the ball right to Cedeno at 2B, and he turned it into an inning-ending DP. If you didn't see it, Mr. Excitable Boy then hopped and skipped off the mound toward the dugout, shaking his fist happily.
So were we all. There was actually energy in the crowd for the first time in what seemed like years, standing up for rallies and on two-strike pitches for Z. Mike & I (and Brian's friend Jimmy and his friend Michelle) were the only ones there last night -- I told Mike it felt like 1995, after the last strike, when a few people who had sat with us then abandoned baseball forever and we spent many days out there, just us.
Other notes: I can see why Alfonso Soriano doesn't want to play LF. He looks tentative out there, seemingly giving longing looks toward his old position at 2B. What's puzzling is why the Nats would have even dealt for him, knowing they'd likely have to move him off 2B. Soriano is tentative in LF, despite making the nice running DP catch I spoke of earlier.
I got my first BP ball of the year, and first ever in the new section, last night. This was early in BP, with very few people in the stands, and that's usually the way I get 'em. It bounced up the aisle next to me, rolled around for a bit, and I just walked over and picked it up.
Could have made up a better story about diving for it, but that's not how it happened.
Stat note from the other night, via my SABR mailing list: the game Sunday, where Brian Giles walked five times and Clay Hensley struck out five times, is a unique occurrence (for a nine-inning game) in at least the last fifty years, according to Retrosheet.
I also met BCB reader Shawn from Seattle, who I spotted wandering around near our section; eventually he came over and introduced himself.
I'm not going to put this in big text again. But not a single thing has been done about the blastingly loud PA speakers. These aren't U2 concerts. They are baseball games. We can hear the announcements at lower levels. I'll lower my plea volume, Cub management -- how about lowering YOURS?
Mike & I also spent part of the evening scoreboard-watching, particularly the Yankees' 14-13 comeback win over the Rangers, won by a Jorge Posada walkoff -- only the fourth time in Yankee history they'd come back from nine runs down, and the largest lead the Rangers had blown since moving to Texas in 1972. The last time the Cubs came back from nine runs down was this memorable 1989 game with the Astros.
It shows you that comebacks can be made when things seem bleakest. Last night's game doesn't mean the Cubs are on the way toward anything except another game tonight. But you've got to start somewhere.