ATLANTA -- Lightning danced across the sky all evening, though no storm ever hit Turner Field, and the Braves put on their every-Friday-night postgame fireworks show last night as well, a fine ending to a very nice evening.
But the real explosions came off the bat of Alfonso Soriano, who hit home runs on the first two pitches he saw, another one four pitches later in his third at-bat, and the rest of the Cubs were showing off fireworks, too, totalling fifteen hits and four walks, leading to an easy 9-1 win over the Braves, the Cubs' fifth win in their last six games, and with the Cardinals blowing a 4-0 lead at home and losing 10-6 to the Angels, the Cubs take over second place in the NL Central, five games behind Milwaukee, who lost to the worst team in baseball, the Rangers, 9-6, four down in the loss column.
I had been warned by some of you about traffic, especially on a Friday night. You were dead-on. My friends and I left at four, arrived at six, after making a couple of stops and driving through some pretty heavy downpours. The field was covered when we arrived, but it stopped raining about an hour before game time, at which time we were sitting in the 755 Club; I had gotten passes along with the 13th row behind the Braves on-deck circle tickets I'd bought on eBay (probably the closest I've ever sat to the field for a regular season game). The club is similar to the .300 Club at Miller Park, though a bit larger, with the tables not squeezed so close together. The food there was pretty good, but by the time we finished eating, there wasn't time to walk around the Ted and explore, which I intend to do tonight.
Anyway, those are really nice seats, and we had close-up views as Soriano smashed ball after ball off Braves pitching as if it were batting practice. I'm guessing Bobby Cox won't be using Lance Cormier in his rotation any more, as in his first two starts off his rehab assignment, he's 0-2 with a 15.26 ERA and 7 HR allowed in 7.2 IP -- all done by the Cubs. The Cubs, for their part, would probably love to face him every single day. Everyone hit last night -- Felix Pie reached on a dropped third strike, had a sac fly, a walk, two hits and three RBI; Atlanta-area native Michael Barrett also homered off Cormier (that one brought out an irritated-looking Cox to yank Cormier from the game); even the much-maligned Cesar Izturis had two hits, a single and a double, and scored twice.
Soriano had three tries to make history by hitting a fourth home run. The first time, he was intentionally walked on a 3-0 pitch, to the annoyed boos of a fair amount of the crowd, even Braves fans who wanted to see baseball history made, although even Sean Marshall agreed with that strategy:
Soriano then grounded out in the 7th, and in the ninth hit a solid single to left, upon which he inexplicably decided to try to stretch it into a double; he was thrown out by Braves LF Matt Diaz by twenty feet.
I guess that's the kind of thing you can do when your team is leading 9-1 and you're hitting .565 (13-for-23) with four HR in the five games on the road trip.
Props, too, to Marshall, who didn't have his best stuff but was good enough for six innings, allowing only four hits and a couple of walks, and should have had no earned runs tagged to his record; the only run scored after Kelly Johnson had tripled just out of Derrek Lee's reach down the 1B line, and then Yunel Escobar hit a ball that Cesar Izturis fumbled, allowing the run to score and Escobar to reach. The play should have been made; it should have been an error to Izturis and a RBI for Escobar, but was ruled a single, thus an earned run.
But that's a quibble. Here's another one: why didn't Sean Gallagher throw the last inning or two? With a 8-1 lead in the 7th, that would have been the perfect time to give him a couple of innings to get his feet wet in the major leagues in a non-pressure situation. Instead, Will Ohman, Carlos Marmol and Michael Wuertz finished up, all efficiently (two hits over three total innings), but what if any of those pitchers is needed tonight?
The Cubs, who had a sizeable (I'd guess maybe 5,000-7,000 of the 37,123) contingent of fans at last night's game, seem to be clicking on all cylinders. Tonight's game ought to produce a closer pitching matchup -- both Tim Hudson and Jason Marquis got off to great starts, but have struggled a bit in their last few outings.
Note: Cliff Floyd has been placed on the bereavement list (if you're not familiar with this, players can go for several days to be with ill family members, in Floyd's case his dad in Chicago, or in the case of a death in the family) and Mike Fontenot, who turns 27 today, will be with the club at least through the weekend.