If today's Carlos Zambrano is the one we'll see the rest of the season, good things are going to continue to happen.
Z was dominant, striking out 12 (tying his career high), and perhaps more importantly, not issuing any walks (even in his great start last Saturday, he walked five), and the only real mistake he made was a HR allowed to Paul Konerko (who's hit Z hard in the past), and the Cubs beat the White Sox convincingly today, 5-1.
Sox fans, about 60-65 percent of the crowd, seemed really muted today, undoubtedly due to their team's poor performance (they dropped to 11 games under .500 at 29-40, the first time they've been that low since May 29, 2001, more than six years ago), and Cub fans had a lot to cheer about from the game's very first hitter, Alfonso Soriano, who ran the count full and then homered, his 36th career leadoff HR. Cub hitters worked the counts all day vs. Mark Buehrle, who was throwing quickly, as is his style, but who still racked up 113 pitches in his 7 innings. Z, for his part, threw 116 in 8, and I believe if he had still had a one-hitter going (as he did until Konerko's HR in the 7th) he might have been allowed to finish.
As it was, Ryan Dempster had been warming up to go in during a save situation, as the Cubs nursed a 2-1 lead into the 9th, but then we Cubs fans got a first-hand look at how bad the Sox bullpen has been -- Nick Masset, Ryan Bukvich and Matt Thornton combined to allow the Cubs three runs in the top of the 9th, and the 5-1 lead led to a mass exodus of Sox fans before they even batted in the last of the 9th. As Ozzie Guillen came out to make two pitching changes in the 9th inning, you could almost see his frustration with his team in the way he trudged back and forth to the mound. Meanwhile, Dempster wasn't as sharp as he has been in his last few outings, but still had a 1-2-3 inning, even though he threw 21 pitches and thus, might not be available tomorrow.
Aramis Ramirez, who came off the DL today without a rehab assignment, had a productive day, homering and singling as the DH, and though he seemed to run the bases just fine, it wouldn't hurt to keep him in the DH role through the weekend.
The day was Z's, though -- and he seemed to have his passions channeled properly, as was his arm angle. Everything went right today for Z, and now with 8 wins and his ERA down to 4.27, he's again on pace to have a 17 or 18 win season with an ERA in the mid or low 3's (if he keeps up his recent performances), right in line with his seasons of the recent past. The 12 K's today give him 86 for the season, and now rank him fifth in the National League.
Darin Erstad made a diving catch on Mike Fontenot's sinking liner after Soriano's leadoff HR -- a really nice grab that was applauded by both Cub and Sox fans. And he must have hurt himself on the catch, because he was removed for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the first. This is yet another reason I wouldn't ever have wanted Erstad as a Cub, as some of you had wanted during the off-season. Erstad plays hard and does have talent, but all the injuries he's had have ruined what might have been a better career.
The atmosphere was pretty subdued most of the game, without a lot of the taunting back-and-forth that usually goes on during Cubs/Sox games at the Cell. There was a pretty good fight in the right-field upper deck in the later innings that many, bored with the action on the field, decided to watch instead. Security, after a short delay, took care of that incident. I also saw quite a few "mixed couples" -- couples where one wore a Sox shirt, the other a Cub shirt -- many more than I've seen in previous series. Right in front of me were sitting two sisters, one a Sox fan, one a Cubs fan. They mumbled something about "one of them being raised right", but I wasn't sure which one was being referred to, so I didn't pursue this any further.
And, I met for the first time, and had quite a long talk with, BCB reader timeforachange, who despite some of his posts criticizing management (many of which are justified), retains some of the same optimism that I do. Nice to finally meet you, my friend, and if the team can just start building on how they played today -- good things can happen. Yes, I know the first game of the Rangers series, and the first game of the Padres series, also provided this hope, and it didn't happen.
As long as there's this much baseball (90 games) yet to be played, I retain this hope. Till tomorrow. Go Royals!