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Take Your Finger Off The Panic Button

Now that was more like it, wasn't it?

There are a lot of good things to take out of the Cubs' impressive 7-0 win over the Reds today:

  • Rich Hill was getting squeezed all over the minuscule strike zone today; despite issuing four walks, he had enough good stuff (particularly that nice, nice curveball) to keep his team in the game for seven innings, allowing no runs
  • The Cubs executed a perfect squeeze bunt (take that, Dusty Baker, and had Cesar Izturis not fallen down in the batter's box, he might have beaten it out, too)
  • Derrek Lee, working on a ten-game hitting streak, cleared the bases with a double that put the game out of reach
  • Ryan Dempster, not working in a save situation, put the Reds away on ten pitches (nine strikes) in the ninth inning, ensuring that he could still be available for save duty tomorrow
  • And best of all, on a frigid 46-degree day when the sun peeked out for a few minutes and then thought better of the idea, the teams played in a snappy two hours and twenty-four minutes.
Mark accompanied me for the first time this year, and this kid, who would walk out of the house in a T-shirt and shorts in this kind of weather if I'd let him, had to have me buy him a Cub knit cap, and admitted that he could "hardly bend his knees" walking back to the car. We collected about 150 scratch-off cards for today's second-chance giveaway of an iPod Nano, but, sad to say, we did not win. I did see a group of women down near the entrance scratching off cards, getting all excited when one of them did find a card that said "You are a winner!" So, yes, people actually do win these things -- one of the better giveaways at the ballpark. And, not a single one has yet shown up on eBay, either.

I'm betting that some of tomorrow's giveaway -- a Lou Piniella bobblehead -- will be a popular item on eBay by the end of the day.

I was one of Rich Hill's biggest detractors last year, as most of you know. I'm on the bandwagon now -- I'm one of his biggest backers. He's been the best pitcher on the staff, not only so far this year, but for the last six weeks of the woebegotten 2006 season, too. Something happened to him during his two months in Iowa last year, and he has managed to translate the dominance he showed for two years in Triple-A to the major league level. Today, he didn't have his best stuff (and was getting squeezed) but still threw well enough to win, and that is the hallmark of a good major league pitcher. At 95 pitches (the scoreboard said 97) he probably could have come out to start the 8th inning, but with a lead that large, why bother?

I was also pleased that the Cub offense, which has really been struggling, took advantage today of every opportunity the Reds gave them -- of the five runs in the eighth, all were unearned against the team. However, the single run charged to Jon Coutlangus was earned to him, in a quirk of the rules -- because Coutlangus walked a hitter and he scored, the run is earned to him, but because the third out should have been registered before he came into the game, all the runs are unearned to the team; this is why you will occasionally see a total of unearned runs to a team, not add up to the same total as the unearned runs for all its pitchers.

Bad today: Alfonso Soriano. OK, so the guy had two hits and his first RBI of the year (on an infield single, of all things). And then, after being sacrificed to second, he got himself picked off. For the third time this week. This sort of thing has got to stop -- obviously, today it didn't mean much, but someone who's been in the major leagues as long as Soriano has, and is generally considered a good baserunner -- I can't figure out how he could have been so badly fooled so many times, so early in the year.

The announced crowd of 38,598 was late-arriving, partly because of the cold, and partly because of the continuing construction on the CTA Red Line. They are making announcements at the ballpark that people leaving the game and going north on the Red Line should walk three blocks to the Sheridan stop, and those going south should use the Addison stop. This makes sense, and will help speed things along after games are over. If you are arriving at the ballpark on the L this summer, allow yourself extra time, particularly later in the year when crowds are likely to be larger. In the house today it appeared to be about 30,000, although the bleachers were pretty full -- including quite a few green T-shirt-clad people whose shirts read on the back "Drew Wilkin's Bachelor Party", and on the front "Don't Do It Drew", which drew the ire of a woman sitting in front of us who wanted to go have a word with them.

Also sitting in front of us was a large contingent of Reds fans who were also Notre Dame students (we knew this because of the ND hats and sweatshirts they were wearing); at one point they tried to get a "We Want Samardzija!" chant going.

They'll have him soon enough. In the meantime, I think our club has found a new staff ace, and not a moment too soon.