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Sweep! Part Deux

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I was invited to a picnic along the lakefront after the game today, which is why this recap is delayed a few hours.

Painful stretch of a segue coming:

The Cubs picnicked on the Astros again today, winning 7-6 and sweeping a three-game series against Houston at Wrigley Field for the first time since... ready for this?

May 18-20, 1984. Twenty-three years ago.

It didn't start out that way, on a picture-perfect day with the wind gently wafting in over the right-field wall (this would help later in the game, when Luke Scott hit a ball that Mark DeRosa caught Willie Mays-style, back to the infield, that the wind blew back from the bleacher boxes in RF; otherwise Houston would have taken the lead on a three-run HR). Jason Marquis was bad today. Was this what all the Cardinal fans had warned us about, his second-half failures?

Maybe. Only time will tell. But Wandy Rodriguez, who shut out a good-hitting Mets team in his last start, was just about as bad, after Marquis had been hit hard and often in the first three innings, allowing seven hits and six runs, capped by a Mike Lamb HR. After another hit and two walks in the fourth, Lou had had enough -- Marquis could have been in even more trouble had he not made a slick grab of a comebacker in that fourth inning and turned it into a 1-6-3 DP -- and having spent 82 pitches to get 12 outs, Marquis was done, short of throwing enough innings to earn the win.

That led to a "scorer's discretion" awarded victory; since the starting pitcher left the game and the lead didn't change, the scorer was allowed to credit the win under MLB Rule 10.17(c):

The official scorer shall not credit as the winning pitcher a relief pitcher who is ineffective in a brief appearance, when at least one succeeding relief pitcher pitches effectively in helping his team maintain its lead. In such a case, the official scorer shall credit as the winning pitcher the succeeding relief pitcher who was most effective, in the judgment of the official scorer.

Thus, the win went to Michael Wuertz, although it could have gone to Carlos Marmol, in my opinion. Anyway, the bullpen did a fine job in relief of Marquis today, throwing five innings of three-hit, three-walk, seven-strikeout ball. Bob Howry had an uneventful 11-pitch save, ending it with a fly to left to Alfonso Soriano, who caught it with what seemed to be an extra little happy step in the little hop he makes before every routine catch.

Down 5-0 after only an inning and a half, the Cubs came back. This can be viewed two ways: either the team is extremely resilient, not even caring that it went down that far, or... the Astros just aren't very good.

I think it's a combination of both. This team does seem quite resilient, not quite on the level of the '84 team (which, even when it went down 1-0 or 2-0 in the first inning, you just knew they were going to come back, and often did), but seemingly gaining more confidence with each day. And again today, new heroes were made. Angel Pagan smacked a two-run homer, and after singles by Marquis and Ryan Theriot, Derrek Lee at last ended his 126-AB homerless streak, sending a no-doubt-about-it screamer into the left-field seats, giving the Cubs the lead at that moment.

I could just see Lee, rounding third and scoring, greeting Marquis, who scored ahead of him, at the plate, saying, "Hey, man. Got you off the hook!"

After Marquis let the Astros tie it up, Theriot really got him off the hook with his second HR of the season, and hitting leadoff today (with Soriano fifth, where he's apparently going to bat against LHP, not a bad idea), he had two hits and played a fine SS and also 2B, where he shifted in the fifth inning, as Lou tried to save his bench by double-switching Mike Fontenot out of the game.

Props also to Aramis Ramirez, who had a quiet day at bat (1-for-4, a single), but who also got Marquis off the hook, making an acrobatic snag of a screaming line drive by Carlos Lee with two runners on in the fourth, Marquis' last batter of the game.

After that fourth inning -- who would have guessed there'd be no further scoring the rest of the day, and only five more hits combined? Not any of us, even though the game went by at the pace of the glaciers receding from Europe; there were no fewer than four mid-inning pitching changes, nine walks, and one Lou Piniella strut out to second base when he thought (and so did we) that Theriot had tagged Hunter Pence out on a steal of second in the fourth inning (replays, apparently, were inconclusive). That got the crowd going -- and shame on you 13 people who didn't buy standing room tickets today! The crowd of 41,757 was that many people short of breaking the three-game series attendance record set only two weeks ago.

Among those in attendance, to my surprise, was a man in a blue T-shirt with a small red-headed boy in tow who came by and introduced himself. That was my first meeting with Chuck from Ivy Chat. Nice to meet you, my friend. Come on by again and stay for the whole game. And yes, your kid really does look like Matt Murton's little brother.

The Brewers, as you surely know, kept their 3.5 game lead by holding off the Rockies 4-3 this afternoon. So the Cubs gained one game this weekend -- and that's been the way they've made up ground, gaining five games on Milwaukee since they were 8.5 games out on June 23, with a record of 34-39; since then they are 13-4 (15-4 since the beginning of the White Sox series on June 22). Nicely done, and more than that, this team has been a pleasure to watch over the last six weeks. Keep it up!

Onward to the Barry Bonds circus tomorrow. Go Diamondbacks!