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About the time the Cubs were frittering away their early lead, I hied myself over to watch Mark's Park District Mariners face the Orioles.

Beautiful day, but they lost too, 8-4. Mark had a couple of hits and threw out a runner from behind the plate.

Watch out, Michael Barrett. (Who, incidentally, allowed two more SB today.)

The stars seemed aligned today. Albert Pujols out. Jim Edmonds at 1B. Greg Maddux, who had handled the Cardinals easily twice this year, on the mound. Jason Marquis walking everyone in sight early on.

I should have known it wasn't going to happen when the Cubs drew no fewer than three first-inning walks and scored only one run and left the bases loaded. Or maybe when they stranded runners in scoring position even after scoring four runs in the third to take a 5-3 lead.

That was with Juan Pierre at bat. Read these stats carefully:

Pierre, 228 AB, five RBI.
Bronson Arroyo, 32 AB, six RBI.

Yes, I know it's not Pierre's job to drive in runs. His job is getting on base. He's not doing a very good job at that, either, with a 2005-Patterson-esque .279 OBA. And he has averaged about 45 RBI per season; he's on pace to drive in fifteen this season The record for fewest RBI in a season of at least 500 AB is twelve, set by Enzo Hernandez, who was a 22-year-old rookie shortstop for a 100-loss Padre team in 1971 when he did it.

The makeshift Cardinals lineup teed off on Maddux (nine hits) and David Aardsma (who appeared in his last couple of appearances to be settling into a pretty good groove, but today gave up three hits and three runs in throwing only eighteen pitches). Maddux was uncharacteristically wild, too -- walking two, striking out no one, and throwing 76 pitches.

That's not a lot for Maddux -- except when he does it in five innings rather than his usual seven.

Good today: thirteen hits and six walks, including one by the nearly-unwalkable Jacque Jones.

Bad today: leaving twelve of those runners on base, including eight of them in scoring position.

Good today: Carlos Marmol making a successful major league debut, throwing two scoreless innings, walking no one and striking out three. I'm still a bit mystified why he's been called up as a reliever, since he's been starting in the minors for the last three seasons. But, he could wind up replacing Glendon Rusch in the rotation anyway -- Rusch's next turn would come up on Thursday, and Marmol threw 28 pitches in his two innings.

Still. The Cubs generated some offense today. The Cardinals aren't going to hit like this for the duration of Albert Pujols' DL time, which is now said to be "indefinite".

Also, another division rival of the Cubs' took an injury hit today. Roy Oswalt, who was to start today for the Astros, was scratched just before game time with back spasms; Oswalt also left his last start with hamstring trouble. The Astros started rookie Fernando Nieve, who did all right (5 IP, 2 ER), but Houston lost in extra innings 6-4.

Yes, the Cubs could have swept the series. They still won it, and have now won two straight series, and continue on to play those Astros in Houston, who have lost four in a row and eight of their last ten; the Cubs have been quite successful in Houston since Enron Field/Minute Maid Park opened in 2000, going 30-25 there.

About the Maddux trade rumors, discussed more fully in this diary -- it's still a bit too early to be thinking that, isn't it? And further, if Maddux keeps throwing games like this one, I imagine the interest in him might wane.

And, after Mark Prior's rehab start last night went fairly well, his next one will likely be for Iowa on Thursday... and that means he could be activated for the first game of the homestand on June 13 against the Astros.

Just sayin'.