As the dark clouds gathered over Wrigley Field this afternoon, I kept yelling out, "Swing!" at just about every batter, Cub or Rockie, from the 8th inning on.
Worked like a charm. About ten minutes after the last out, the skies opened up for the second afternoon in a row, but the rain held off for the important event of the day, the Cubs' sixth straight win, 6-4 over the Rockies, and they have their first consecutive series sweeps since April, 2004.
Remember those heady days? When the Cubs were supposed to be rushing head-on into a championship season?
Well, we all know what happened then. And it's far too early -- and with, of all people, Damian Miller hitting a three-run walkoff to give Milwaukee a sweep of Houston, the Cubs remain seven and a half games out of first place -- to think that way in 2007, especially since they still need one more win to get back to the .500 mark for the first time since May 10 (16-16).
But the Cubs are now 16-8 in their last 24 games and in the last six, have looked, really and truly, like a team clicking at last on all cylinders, a team that, when one guy has to sit out and rest an injured knee (Aramis Ramirez, just getting a day off, which gives him two full days to rest with the off day tomorrow) and others taking 0-fers (new hero Alfonso Soriano, not so heroic today), others step up.
Remember I said in this morning's recap how much I'm getting to like Mark DeRosa and his great approach to the game, how he gets the absolute most of his abilities, how he does anything and everything needed to win? He did it again today, starting at 3B for Aramis, playing good defense, and smacking a three-run homer and a double. There aren't too many teams today that have a "supersub", a guy who plays almost every day at several positions, but DeRosa could and should be that guy. 2B, 3B, RF -- who knows, maybe even SS? -- I like the way he plays the game, he is fast becoming one of my favorites.
Despite the sunshine that kissed most of the afternoon, most everyone knew the rain was coming which is why I was a little nervous at the nine walks that were issued today (five by Rockies pitchers, four by Cubs pitchers), slowing down the pace, although the eventual 2:42 game time wasn't that slow, it felt slow. And even when Billy Petrick, making his major league debut, gave up a two-run HR to Garrett Atkins in the 8th, cutting the lead to 6-4, you just had the feeling that the Cubs were going to win anyway. Suddenly, the vulnerable bullpen has done a lockdown job (at least since the memorable meltdown of Monday night). Today, it was Carlos Marmol's turn to get his first major league save, and he did it efficiently, 13 pitches (nine strikes). I have long felt that Marmol, if he can harness his control, could be a lights-out closer, as he consistently throws in the 94-95 MPH range. With this save, perhaps Lou will try him in that role while Ryan Dempster is on the DL.
I liked what I saw of Petrick -- big moose of a guy, just turned 23, 6-6, throws 94+, and made only one mistake, the HR to Atkins after a two-strike walk to Kaz Matsui, and that might have been thanks to plate umpire Dan Iassogna, whose strike zone was all over the place today; at least it was inconsistent for both teams.
Carlos Zambrano wasn't as good as he was in his last couple of starts, throwing only six innings and 107 pitches in the sticky, humid air; he did allow only two hits (and two walks) through five innings, bailing himself out of one of them with a slick 1-6-3 DP, and then got into trouble in the 6th, partly by his own inability to field Cory Sullivan's bunt quickly enough. A 27-pitch inning resulted in two runs on a pop-fly single, and that was it for Z; he was lifted for Jacque Jones, perhaps making his final appearance in a Cub uniform, if Jim Hendry can, at last, figure out some sort of deal for him on tomorrow's off-day. Jones bounced out meekly to first base.
And so, on Friday begins the biggest series the Cubs have played since September, 2004, and I don't think it's overhyping a June series against your division leader to say so. The Brewers are a good team. They're on a 90+ victory pace. I'd love to say the Cubs will sweep them, but that's a tough, tough thing to do to any team, even a struggling team like the White Sox, or a team like the Rockies that was playing well until they hit Toronto last weekend. The one factor that does give some hope that the Cubs can, at the very least, win the series (yes, I know, cutting a 7.5 game deficit to 6.5 isn't great, but there IS still half a season remaining) is that the Brewers are not a good road team (16-19, compared to 30-13 at Miller Park). The Cubs, until this week, hadn't been good at home, but now look like they actually know how to play to win at Wrigley Field.
Note: the Monday, July 16 game vs. the Giants has been changed to a 6:05 CT start, and will be carried on ESPN, good news for those of you outside Chicago, since that was to be a WCIU-only date.
Till tomorrow. Should be a terrific series this weekend. Enjoy the off day.