All of you know that Jacque Jones was the hero of today's sweet 2-1 win over the Cardinals, which has put the Cubs in a tie with the Brewers for first place and (Let's Go Reds!) perhaps in first place by themselves after tonight.
Jones smacked a two-run HR off Braden Looper in the last of the sixth inning after Albert Pujols' HR in the top of the inning off Rich Hill had given St. Louis a 1-0 lead. This was one inning after he made a fine running catch on a warning-track fly ball hit by the Cardinals' Brendan Ryan, who wears his socks about as high as any major league player today.
What you don't know about Jacque Jones is what a standup guy and hard worker he is, so I'm going to tell you what I've learned about him. He had a tough first half, not knowing exactly when he was going to play or where, and at the All-Star break was hitting .233/.294/.335. A lot of guys could have phoned in the rest of the season, thought, "Hey, I'm getting paid anyway, who cares?", especially when he was getting ripped in the media, in the bleachers, and here at BCB by many of you.
But he didn't do that. From everything I've heard he was the first guy in the clubhouse every day, working hard in the weight room, taking extra BP, and finally, re-learning how to play CF on a regular basis, something he hadn't done in nearly seven years.
The hard work paid off, as he has had a spectacular second half, and after having hit only two HR in the entire first half, has now hit three in the last seven games. I was gratified once again to hear several loud ovations for Jones, the first after his great catch, the second after his HR, and the third when he came up to bat in the 8th inning, even though he grounded out in that at-bat.
We like you, Jacque. We really do like you, and as long as you keep working hard and playing like this -- and don't forget, Jones has been on three playoff teams -- I think you're an integral part of this Cub run, which, just perhaps, we can now be forgiven if we see playoff dreams dancing in front of our eyes.
Yes, there are still forty-one games left, and yes, first place is still not ours, not alone, anyway. But this was a -- well, we've decided not to use the term "must-win" here any more, and if anyone wants to compile the suggestions in yesterday's recap, I'll pick a dozen or so of the best ones and post a poll for the Official BCB "Must-Win Game" Replacement -- "statement game", if nothing else, and especially with the Cardinals coming in riding a five-game winning streak, and the usual several thousand red-clad fans of theirs up from various parts of the Midwest, today's win is even more sweet.
Kudos also to Rich Hill, whose stat line -- 7 innings, 3 hits, two walks, one run, seven strikeouts -- isn't indicative of how he struggled, going to full counts often, thanks to plate umpire Angel Hernandez' weird strike zone (thankfully, that's it for Hernandez behind the plate in this series, because he's about the worst ball/strike ump in the game). With Hill at 100 pitches through six innings and scheduled to lead off the last of the sixth, I was surprised when Lou left him in to bat -- and he nearly pushed a bunt past Looper for a hit. Then he slogged through 15 more pitches in the 7th. 115 may hurt him in his next outing, but it saved the bullpen, as only Bob Howry, who had pretty good stuff today, and Ryan Dempster, who threw only nine pitches in notching his 18th save, had to pitch in relief. Carlos Marmol got up briefly in the 7th, but didn't throw too many pitches in the bullpen. The game might not have even been close enough for that sort of bullpen work had it not been for two very nice sliding/diving catches by Cardinals LF Ryan Ludwick, on Mike Fontenot's leadoff line drive in the third, and a similar drive by Matt Murton leading off the fifth. For his efforts, Ludwick wound up out of the game in the 8th on a double-switch after Chris Duncan batted for Looper.
All of this was done in front of a huge throng of 41,634, including Jessica (in from NYC), her sister and nephew (in from Boise), and Krista, who came to keep Jeff company and also to see the Thunderbirds, who kept the gathering entertained with their practice show, which often is better than the Saturday "real" airshow. They'll get the show in tomorrow, though they'll probably have to do the "low" show due to the forecast of increasing clouds during the day. Fortunately, that forecast holds off rain tomorrow until evening:
Saturday Night: Rain and thunderstorms likely. Some of the storms could produce heavy rainfall. Cloudy, with a low around 64. East southeast wind around 15 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70%.
The crowd was festive and, for a while, not into the game, as there wasn't that much action in the early innings. But as tension picked up later, so did the energy of the crowd, and I didn't see nor hear of any incidents in the stands today. We may want to beat the Cardinals every time out, but I know for me at least, I have a respect for all their fans, who love their team and know the game.
Weird play of the day: Albert Pujols being called out at first base on a pickoff/steal attempt, when Scott Rolen swung and missed at strike three in the fourth inning. Umpire Hernandez ruled that Rolen interfered with Jason Kendall's attempt to throw Pujols out. As a result, the putout on Pujols was credited to Kendall (even though Derrek Lee at 1B was the nearest fielder), giving Kendall an unassisted DP. In the bottom of the fourth, a nearly identical play occurred when Lee struck out while Jones broke for second; Jones was ruled safe, which brought Tony LaRussa out for a lengthy discussion with Hernandez. In past years, this sort of thing would have rattled Dusty Baker into making some sort of bonehead move, but Lou Piniella, I think, is too smart for LaRussa's antics.
In any case, round 1 of this huge series to the Cubs, and now we all become Reds fans for the next three days. Savor this well-played win and let's go get those Cardinals again tomorrow.