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In Our Eyes

In your eyes, the light, the heat
In your eyes I am complete
In your eyes, the resolution
Of all the fruitless searches
-- Peter Gabriel

Maybe this is the resolution of all our fruitless searches, as today WAS complete.

A complete game! The crowd almost didn't know how to react -- I mentioned to Mike, this was the first time all year that the home crowd had had a chance to applaud a Cub starting pitcher batting in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Rich Hill -- yes, the guy I maligned till his recall in August -- threw the best game pitched by a Cub all season, a two-hit shutout, and the Cubs beat the Reds 4-0, damaging Cincinnati's fading hopes to win either the wild card or the NL Central (they fell another game back in the Central when the Cardinals beat the Giants 6-1 this afternoon.).

So many "last times" fell this afternoon. Before today, the last Cub pitcher to throw a complete game was Greg Maddux -- in a loss on September 27, 2005, the second-to-last home game last year. The last Cub pitcher to throw a CG in a WIN was Carlos Zambrano, nine days earlier in St. Louis. The last time a Cub pitcher threw a complete-game shutout was June 14, 2005 against the Marlins -- the pitcher was ... remember this? SERGIO MITRE.

And the last time a Cub ROOKIE pitcher threw a complete game was August 4, 2002, when a kid named Mark Prior, making his fourteenth career start, threw a 126-pitch CG against the Rockies at Wrigley Field.

Finally, and you won't believe this one, the last Cubs rookie pitcher to throw a CG shutout did so on August 29, 1999. Go ahead and look. I'll save you the trouble -- Kyle Farnsworth. It was his only CG and only shutout.

This was Rich Hill's eighteenth career start and perhaps the culmination of all he's worked toward since he was drafted by the Cubs, the culmination of everything that all of you saw in him in the minor leagues, that I saw too but didn't think he could take to the next level.

He's done it. More power to him -- he proved the naysayers, myself included, wrong. Today, he was absolutely outstanding. He mixed up his pitches well, had good velocity, used the bender of a curveball to his advantage and brought the offspeed pitch he's been working on out quite a bit more often than he has up to now. The only hits were a booming double in the second inning by Brandon Phillips off the LF wall, and a ground ball to deep short by Nelson Hopper (sorry, but that is a name that should be in a spaghetti Western with Clint Eastwood, not in baseball) that the speedy Hopper beat out. Hill walked only one (now has 73 strikeouts and 35 walks in 87.1 IP, ratios that I didn't think he'd touch if he pitched another 100 games), and threw 85 strikes in his 118 pitches, and allowed just one other baserunner, Royce Clayton, who he hit with a pitch in the eighth.

Bob Howry warmed up briefly in the 8th inning, and Ryan Dempster and Scott Eyre were up in the 9th, but even though Hopper fouled off several pitches before flying to right, there was no way Hill was coming out of the game unless he allowed a baserunner, and not only did he dispatch the Reds 1-2-3 in the ninth, but ended it with a flourish, striking out Edwin Encarnacion to end it.

Outstanding. There's no other way to put it. Hill will get two more starts, likely next Friday in Cincinnati against these same Reds, and then the following Wednesday at home against the Brewers. Next Friday will be an interesting test, seeing the same team twice in a row, and in a better environment for hitters. The wind blowing out today at 20 MPH didn't seem to help anyone, except perhaps Jacque Jones, whose home run in the 8th inning seemed as if it had a little boost to make it into the first row in right field. Since Hill made the two-inning relief appearance in the 18-inning game in Houston, getting the win, he has dropped his ERA from 7.23 to 4.12. The word "impressive" doesn't begin to describe it; this was probably the MOST impressive game I have seen a Cub starter throw in more than five years, since Jon Lieber and Kerry Wood threw their back-to-back one-hitters.

The day couldn't have been better -- a sun-kissed late-summer afternoon, with the sun ducking behind the upper deck in the late innings, giving us shade in our left-field perch. The San Diego Smooth Jazz Man called early in the day and said he could join us; he was thus witness to two more attempts to start the Wave, one in the CF bleachers, one in the LF section right next to ours. Both attempts failed. The announced crowd of 40,526 (likely the last 40,000+ crowd of the season) didn't have that many no-shows, perhaps 5,000 or so. They saw the best game of the year.

Scoreboard follies: the under-the-upper-deck boards were scrolling college football scores in addition to baseball scores, and one read:

And so we figured, of course a team full of temps couldn't beat Minnesota.

It's frustrating in a way, when you witness the ballclub play this well (and with another makeshift lineup that had Henry Blanco at 1B again -- and he made a couple of fine defensive plays there, too -- and Geovany Soto catching, and he had two hits), you wonder, "Where has this been all year?" These ARE major league players, and they CAN, at times, put a nine-inning performance like this together, and of course it helps when your starting pitcher energizes everyone by throwing as well as he did today.

Today was also the Cubs Wives food drive; with a donation of food or $20, you received an autographed photo of a Cubs player. So, I paid $20 for both Mark and me, and they allowed us to select a photo from a box filled with envelopes. Fearing I'd get Freddie Bynum, I chose carefully... and wound up with a lovely signed photo of Jacque Jones. OK, not bad... and Mark got one of Michael Barrett.

Carlos Zambrano got medical clearance and so will start tomorrow's series finale against the Reds, pushing Sean Marshall back to Monday in Philadelphia. That link also contains this note:

Left-handed pitchers Rich Hill and Donnie Veal were named the organization's Minor League Players of the Year. Hill, 26, who started Saturday, split the season between Triple-A and the big-league team. At Iowa, he ranked second in the Pacific Coast League with 135 strikeouts and was 7-1 with a 1.80 ERA. Veal, who turns 22 on Monday, was 11-5 with a 2.16 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 28 starts between Class A Peoria and Daytona in his second pro season.

Well deserved on both counts, and for Hill, perhaps a portent of big things to come as he becomes one of the mainstays of the 2007 Cub starting rotation. Two slots -- Hill and Z -- are now locked in. Time to go out and get people to fill the other spaces.

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