Ted Lilly put on a pitching clinic today at Wrigley Field, as the Cubs won their second straight over the seemingly hapless Astros, 9-3.
Lilly didn't have his best stuff, and it showed after he struggled through a 25-pitch first inning in which Cliff Floyd strained his left shoulder diving after Chris Burke's leadoff popup, which ended up being a triple (and had Burke realized it was going to drop, perhaps even an inside-the-park home run). Burke did eventually score, but Lilly settled down after the first inning and in three key at-bats -- Lance Berkman's ending the first inning, Hunter Pence's ending the second, and Berkman's again ending the fourth -- he reached back and threw his best fastball, and in each case the batter swung and missed for strike three.
That's how a veteran pitcher wins when he doesn't have his best stuff, and the Cubs made it easy for him in the middle three innings, exploding for all nine runs and twelve of their thirteen hits in those innings, including a RBI single by Lilly (who really does look uncomfortable hitting, though he's now hitting .146 with three RBI this year). Before that Roy Oswalt had set the Cubs down in order in the first three innings, but again, Lilly kept the ballclub close, retiring ten in a row after walking Carlos Lee in that first inning, and had one of his best outings of the year, striking out seven and allowing only three harmless singles after Burke's goofy triple leading off the game, winning his ninth against four losses.
Meanwhile, the offensive explosion was triggered by a one-out single by, of all people, Cesar Izturis (who had two hits and a walk, and we kept thinking, "Good! Put him on the next plane to Baltimore!") Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez doubled, giving the Cubs the lead -- Ramirez hit a ball that Pence held up his hands as it hit the ivy, and it was ruled a ground-rule double. Didn't matter, as Mark DeRosa had an infield hit advancing Ramirez to third, from where he immediately scored when Brad Ausmus threw the ball halfway to Sheffield Avenue past a diving Mark Loretta, playing the somewhat unfamiliar (to him, anyway) position of first base.
Two innings later, after three singles, including Lilly's, gave the Cubs another run (the crowd booed when DeRosa didn't score on Jacque Jones' single, but that was only after the relay was botched -- how could they have known? Anyway, Lilly scored him moments later), and then Alfonso Soriano emphatically ended the Cubs' ten-game HR drought with a blast into the LF bleachers, sort of into the side of the teeth, anyway, of a 22-MPH northwest wind which was blowing mostly left-to-right all day. I was surprised that more left-handed hitters weren't able to take advantage of the wind; Soriano's HR was the only one today, among twenty combined hits.
In addition to Soriano and Lilly, props to Ramirez, who had a two-run double and a two-run single, the latter coming in an at-bat where he didn't appear to be totally comfortable, but found a pitch that wasn't totally driveable and wound up finding the hole that the Astros defense consistently left on the left side, even against righthanded hitters (it was such an extreme shift that it surprised all of us), a fine piece of hitting. Frankly, I was surprised after that, with the Cubs leading 9-1 going into the 7th inning, that Ramirez wasn't given the rest of the day off after that, to rest his knee, having already gone 3-for-4 with four RBI. In the 9th, when Michael Wuertz gave the Astros a couple of consolation runs, Ramirez was finally removed for Angel Pagan, who went to RF as DeRosa went to 3B, his third position of the game (he'd started at 2B and went to RF when Floyd got hurt).
Which only goes to show the value of DeRosa (who also had two hits) to this team, and makes some of us, who spotted several people wearing blue Cub T-shirts saying "THERIOT 2" on the back, wonder what DeRosa has to do to get his own T-shirt?
Perhaps that will come with the recognition that DeRosa richly deserves.
And that's yet more evidence that this team is pulling together as a team. Mike Fontenot, who replaced Floyd in the lineup, and who has been a hot hitter, went 0-for-4, striking out three times and looking bad doing it. Didn't matter, as the rest of the team picked him up, including Jacque Jones, who had another hit today and made a nice sliding catch on Craig Biggio's pinch-popup in the 8th (replays indicated it might have been trapped, but with the score 9-1 at that point, Phil Garner seemed disinterested in arguing). I'm hoping scouts were intently watching both Izturis and Jones today -- maybe they can both be dealt for some bullpen help.
Or, maybe the bullpen help will be on the way with the injury to Floyd. Lou Piniella, in his postgame news conference, said of Floyd, "It doesn't look good," and that likely implies a DL stint, which means Billy Petrick could be recalled. Fortunately, the bullpen has had it fairly easy the last two days and so a 12th pitcher is, at this time, not imperative. If Floyd is DL'd for a 12th pitcher, though, that leaves on the bench: Daryle Ward, the two catchers who aren't starting, and two of the following: Theriot, Fontenot, and Izturis. This isn't exactly the deepest bench, and one of the catchers will, obviously, have to go soon.
I was delaying posting this partly to have dinner, and partly to get you an update on the Rockies/Brewers game, at this writing led by Colorado 1-0, and the big news being the injury to Ben Sheets, who left the game with some sort of finger injury. I wish no injury to any opposing player, but I can't say I'd be sad if Sheets had to miss some time. You can use this recap as a Brewers/Rockies game thread, if you wish.
Finally, our little group was a bit distracted today by a very large bachelorette party that sat down both in front and across the aisle from us. I say "distracted" not in the way you might think -- it's "distracted" in this fashion: most of the bachelorettes simply spent their time drinking and taking each other's photo. I doubt any of them knew the score, what inning it was, or indeed, perhaps even who the Cubs were playing today. We also spotted a man wearing a cap with a bridal veil. If that's the guy the "Foxy Bride" (that's what she called herself, trying in vain to get herself on Fox-TV today) is marrying, that union could be doomed before it begins.
As for the Cubs, they continue to play well, now 24-12 since the low point of the season on June 2. Onward. Go Rockies!