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Cubs Find Their Thrill...

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... with Rich Hill.

Look, I don't WANT Hill to fail; far from it, I'd love it if the Cubs could develop a pitcher who wasn't originally highly touted, and could sustain the dominance he's had at Triple-A at the major league level.

In ten starts before last night, he hadn't even come close.

Last night's 9-3 Cub win over the Diamondbacks was sure a step in the right direction, though. Hill spotted his curveball quite well, and what I thought was the most important adjustment he made was this: he missed a few times, as he has done in the past, with the curve that the Triple-A hitters flail away at.

In the past he'd then get a fastball or fastballs up, and either issue too many walks or get pounded. This time, he mixed in what looked like a decent offspeed pitch and got the Diamondbacks to hit the ball into the ground. Best of all, he only walked one, and although he did give up a home run to Eric Byrnes, it didn't matter because it was 9-2 Cubs at the time.

The Cubs kept the electronic side and under-the-main-scoreboard boards off last night to conserve power (they weren't the only team to do this; the Yankees did it, too, on a 96-degree night in New York), and so we were unaware of Hill's pitch count, which was 110 -- that's a bit high, but he seemed to be throwing so effortlessly, I thought he should have been given a shot at throwing a complete game.

Now wouldn't that have been the irony of ironies in this bizarre season? To have a guy who had sucked so badly throw the first Cub CG of the season? Here's how bad the Cub starting staff has been: Hill's performance was only the seventh time all year a Cub starter had gone eight innings (Carlos Zambrano, five times, and Greg Maddux, one). The major league record for fewest CG in a season is one, held by the following teams: TB, 2001 and 2005; NYY, 2004; COL, 2002; HOU, 2003. The Cubs' club record is three, set in 2004; the last Cub CG was thrown on September 27, 2005. By Greg Maddux. In a loss.

Am I wrong about Hill? We don't know yet. Let's see if he can do this sort of thing again, and then again, as he's done in Triple-A. He'll pitch again on Sunday against the Pirates.

It was 70's Night last night, the annual ridiculous promotion in which people think they need to wear stupid-looking Afro wigs and multicolored clothes to be "70's". Meanwhile, Mike wears pretty much the same stuff he wore to the ballpark in the '70s and he never wins any prizes. Here's the other thing I learned last night: there was a TON of bad music in the 70's (and I lived through it), including the song by David Cassidy, last night's 7th-inning guest (and I am in complete agreement with this diary -- it's time for this "tradition" to go. It has absolutely run its course), the awful Partridge Family tune "I Think I Love You". Mike took the opportunity, on hearing that song, to tell me that it was written in a minor key and what the difference is between that and a major key.

Who says you can't learn stuff at the ballpark?

Other stuff I learned: Cesar Izturis is going to be a fan favorite if he plays as he did last night. He got several warm ovations, first on being introduced, then again after doubling in his first Cub at-bat; he made a couple of slick plays in the field, though I should point out that Toni Ginnetti's article in the Sun-Timew was incorrect in saying:

Izturis, newly arrived from the Dodgers for pitcher Greg Maddux, made himself at home with a 2-for-4 night, cheered by the 38,970 fans for his offense and in the second inning as he turned an unassisted double play.

Um, nope. It wasn't an "unassisted DP". He stepped on second and threw on to first -- yes, he didn't get an "assist" by throwing to Neifi at 2nd, but an "unassissted DP" is one where both outs are recorded by one player.

Most of the rest of the scoring last night was courtesy of four Cub homers -- Aramis Ramirez (who, despite further rumors that he might opt out of his deal, I believe will stay, likely signing an extension), Michael Barrett, Jacque Jones, and Matt Murton's fifth (and first since May 29), which originally looked to us as if it had bounced off the bottom of the basket -- but replays apparently showed it had bounced off the hand of a fan in the first row, and for what is likely the very first time in his 36-year career, Bruce Froemming, the umpiring crew chief, reversed a call in favor of the Cubs.

Notes:

  • courtesy of Kasey Ignarski, Cub uniform number expert, I learned that
    with Izturis coming over and taking #3 from Ryan Theriot, Theriot becomes the 1st player since 1965 to wear 3 different numbers (55 when he was called up, changed to #3 on May 12th, and now #7). In 1965 Roberto Pena wore 7, 28 and 41.
  • Last night's crowd of 38,970 put the Cubs over the 2 million mark; they are averaging 39,873 and will easily draw 3 million again this year. Unless the team makes significant off-season acquisitions, I do not expect this to continue in 2007.
  • Jerry Crasnick at ESPN.com notes some players who will clear waivers and might be dealt in August; Phil Nevin's name isn't on his list, but Glendon Rusch is. Let's hope he's right.
  • Finally, either a spell-check or an uninformed editor put this example of poor word usage in Paul Sullivan's notes column today:
    Baker will have to make due with two Double-A pitchers in his rotation in Mateo and Carlos Marmol, and Triple-A rookie Rich Hill.
    No, no, NO! It's "make do", not "make due".
Thank you. English class is now over; we now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.