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We May Never Pass This Way Again, and Open Thread: Cubs vs. Astros, Thursday 7/20, 1:20 CT

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This afternoon, the Cubs will face the Astros again, shortly after their 4-2 loss to them last night -- so this post will serve both as a game recap, and your open discussion thread for today's contest.

The Cubs do have one more series against Houston this year -- in Houston on August 14, 15 and 16 -- so it is possible that Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens will match up one more time before one, or both, hang up their spikes forever.

But if they don't, savor the memories of last night's game, because it was two masterful pitchers trying to get everything out of what's left of their games, muscle memories of years gone by.

Clemens doesn't throw in the mid-90's any more, but he threw hard enough to strike out five Cubs and allow only three harmless hits and a walk. Maddux, who frankly hasn't been very good since the end of April, nearly matched him -- until that one bad inning that's pretty much been the story of the Cubs' season bit him in the butt. Preston Wilson's double in that sixth inning drove in two runs, after Maddux had made a slick fielding play and gotten Mike Lamb out at third base on an attempted sacrifice (after Lamb had stolen second), and that was enough to make the difference in the game.

Maddux had put on a fielding clinic early on, snaring grounder after grounder, balls that most pitchers would wave at as they bounced into center field. He had seven assists in seven innings, which led Mike & me to wonder what the record was for such things. Mike looked it up last night:

Record for pitcher in nine-inning game is 11, seven times, last in 1941 (Rip Sewell). 12, twice in extra innings, including Leon Cadore in the 26-inning game in 1920.
Seven, though, seems a large number for today's game, where most pitchers don't get past the sixth or seventh inning.

The Cub offense was provided by Todd Walker, who didn't start (prompting more speculation that he had been traded), but entered the game in the sixth inning and homered after his fellow trade-bait Phil Nevin had walked. The Walker trade possibilities, incidentally, according to my sources are still on the table, and after the Blue Jays rather bizarrely DFA'd one of their best hitters, Shea Hillenbrand, last night, perhaps they'd be in the market for Phil Nevin... maybe the Cubs could offer Scott Williamson to Toronto, under the condition they also take Nevin.

Just sayin' -- I have NO information that leads me to believe this has been discussed, it's pure speculation on my part. Hillenbrand, who is 31 and hits righthanded, is probably not a useful guy to think of acquiring -- he plays 1B and 3B (the latter, not very well), although he can hit. If he could play the outfield it'd be worth thinking about (especially because he hits lefties very well), but he has never played the OF in his major league career.

Local weather radars were lit up in bright colors yesterday afternoon, giving rise to conjecture that the game might be rained out -- but it never did rain, except for a couple of pre-game sprinkles, and a five-minute shower in the eighth inning that did prompt raising of my umbrella. Mark said "I'm not sitting under that!" but I made him, because I wasn't about to take him home looking like a drowned rat. He was pleased with last night despite the result, because he took home a record haul of FOUR baseballs -- two Aramis Ramirez BP HR's, one he "found under a bench", and one that Ryan Dempster threw to him.

And that, as you know, can be heaven for an eleven-year-old.

The Cubs played fairly well last night in losing, and again, if they'd have played like this all year, they might be nosing around the .500 mark -- which would get them within shouting distance of a wild card in this goofy NL season.

Greg Maddux needs five more wins to get to 10th place on the all-time list. If the Cubs had a better offense, he'd have a better shot at doing that. He has now lost six straight decisions and hasn't won since June 9 at Cincinnati. From what I can gather from my sources, however, it appears that Maddux will NOT be traded, and will finish his career this year in a Cub uniform. For sentimental value, it'd be nice if they could arrange the rotation so he could start the last game of the season against the Rockies.

Now, on to today's game, which could also be threatened by rain:

Today's Starting Pitchers
Carlos Zambrano
C. Zambrano
vs. Andy Pettitte
A. Pettitte
9-3 W-L 8-9
3.23 ERA 4.99
131 SO 102
72 BB 45
14 HR 18
vs. Hou -- vs. Cubs
Z has accounted for one-quarter of the Cubs' team win total of 36. He has won six in a row and gone at least six innings in his last fourteen consecutive starts (and gone at least six all but twice this year). If he were playing for a better team people would be talking Cy Young; instead, he's about all that stands between the Cubs being the Royals.

Andy Pettitte used to have a tough time against the Cubs, but has beaten them twice this season and lowered his career ERA against them from 4.55 to 3.50 with those two wins (14 IP, 2 ER).

Finally, after his late-night arrest Tuesday night on DUI charges, 3B coach Chris Speier was placed on "leave" yesterday, with a return date not mentioned. Iowa manager Mike Quade (which is pronounced "QWAH-dee") will join the team today to coach 3B, while "roving instructor" Bobby Dickerson will manage at Iowa for the time being. Without making any judgments on Speier's guilt or innocence, this cannot be a good sign for his future with the club, especially after, according to this Mike Kiley article:

Police reports said Speier, 56, allegedly told the arresting officer he was a coach with the Cubs and asked if he could "give him a break," but he didn't persist or cause a scene, police said.
Enough. Really, enough.

Discuss amongst yourselves.