The near no-hitter that Carlos Zambrano threw last night, finally resulting in a one-hit, 8-0 Cubs win over the Astros, must have been REALLY important.
Why is this?
Because it managed to bump the 12,732nd Yankee-Red Sox matchup out of the lead story slot on YRSN (Yankee-Red Sox Network -- er, I mean ESPN)'s "Baseball Tonight".
If you didn't see the game, Len & Bob even mentioned this toward the end -- that they expected it to be the lead, and it was.
What was the best thing about Z's performance last night?
Was it the one hit in eight innings?
Was it the three-run homer? (His third career HR in Houston, incidentally.)
Was it the four RBI? (Oddly, that's the second day in a row a pitcher has had four RBI vs. the Astros -- Bronson Arroyo did so on Sunday.)
Nope. It was the fact that Z looked completely, totally in control. You could tell he was pitching with passion. But that passion was totally channeled into each and every pitch, rather than the antics for which he has become, unfortunately, famous.
Had he managed to complete the no-hitter -- and this is the second time in his career he's taken one into the 8th inning -- it would have been unique. Why is this? Because there were two plate umpires. Kerwin Danley, the original plate umpire, was hit in the collarbone by a foul ball and had to leave the game. He was replaced by 1B umpire Gary Cederstrom.
This came into play during the inning in which the no-hitter was broken up. Mike Lamb walked just before Preston Wilson's clean ground ball single to right.
He shouldn't have. Z threw a slider for a strike on a 1-1 count. Then he threw two more sliders to precisely the same location that were called balls. Lamb walked on the next pitch.
Again, this didn't faze Z -- he managed to get Wilson to a 2-2 count before throwing a good pitch that scooted just out of the reach of Todd Walker at first base.
Z finished the 8th with a flourish, striking out Brad Ausmus and Eric Bruntlett on 95-MPH fastballs.
He threw 126 pitches. Now, obviously, had Wilson not gotten the hit, it'd have been a dozen or so less -- but that still would have been a lot of pitches, even for Z, to go out there in the 9th in a game that the Cubs had an 8-run lead.
But Dusty Baker would have had to do it. No-hitters are, as you likely know, quite rare these days. The last one in the majors was Randy Johnson's perfect game on May 18, 2004. That is the longest such drought in baseball history. The last Cub no-hitter was, as you also likely know, thrown by Milt Pappas on September 2, 1972. I will always believe that should have been a perfect game, too -- it was also 8-0, with two out and a 3-2 count on Larry Stahl in the 9th. Bruce Froemming, then a second-year umpire, called a borderline pitch ball four.
But the point is, Pappas is now 67 years old. Only five players on the current Cubs roster (Henry Blanco, Scott Eyre, Greg Maddux, Phil Nevin and John Mabry) were even alive when that game was played.
It's funny. If you grew up in that era, you probably thought no-hitters involving the Cubs were commonplace. After the Fred Toney/Hippo Vaughn double no-hitter on May 2, 1917, the Cubs were involved in none until 1955. But then there were no fewer than seven between 1955 and 1972 (Sam Jones, 1955; Don Cardwell, 1960; Kenny Holtzman, 1969 and 1971; Burt Hooton, 1972 and Pappas', for the Cubs, and Jim Maloney and Sandy Koufax, who both no-hit the Cubs in 1965).
I was at four of those games. I missed the Holtzman and Pappas and Hooton no-hitters. The only one I've seen in person is this one, Jack Morris' no-hitter vs. the White Sox on April 7, 1984.
It is something special. Yes, even that one, in which Morris walked six, including walking the bases loaded in the sixth inning and getting out of it with a 1-2-3 double play.
I see I've digressed. The most important thing about last night's game, in addition to Z's dominance (it would seem he'll be the Cubs' lone All-Star selection, although Michael Barrett has a shot at it, too), was the fact that the Cubs had timely hitting -- and even though they scored eight runs, the rallies were quick and decisive, which I believe also helped Z by not making him sit on the bench too long.
Also, Mark had another game yesterday. He plays in a second league, which is made up mostly of teams from various schools, not necessarily all representing the school specifically. The "Wrigleyville Eagles" won their game 14-7 -- after blowing a 4-0 lead and trailing 6-4, they went into the bottom of the 5th inning tied 7-7. (These games run six innings.) They won with a 7-run rally, including a perfectly executed squeeze bunt. Today, they'll play in the championship game in that league vs. a team from St. Clement. Yes, a championship game -- and not far from Wrigley Field, either; it'll be at the lakefront diamonds at Waveland.
Finally, a couple of notes: we learn today from Mike Downey's column in the Tribune that Adam Greenberg was released at his own request:
Greenberg wants just one more day. Somewhere. Anywhere.
"Just let me go someplace to show what I can do," he said, so that the first time he played in the majors won't be the last time.
Finally, for many years a lot of us made fun of major league umpire Eric Gregg, for his weight, and for the perception that he wasn't really a very good umpire. But Gregg left baseball in 1999 when umpires' union chief Richie Phillips ill-advisedly told the umps to resign as a negotiating tactic. It backfired, and Gregg never returned, though he did get some money in a 2004 settlement.
Over the weekend, Gregg suffered a stroke, and yesterday he died, too young at 55. No matter what we might have thought of him as an umpire, he was still a human being with a family, and to them, my sincere condolences.