At about 2:15 when it started raining, I wouldn't have given anyone very good odds that they would have gotten the game in, much less completed, much less played mostly dry until the 7th, when a very hard rain forced an hour's worth of delay, because the radars lit up with all sorts of pretty red and orange and yellow colors, rain fell delaying the start of the game, and even though the Thunderbirds did indeed finish their part of this day's Chicago Air & Water Show, it was mostly a water show at Wrigley Field this afternoon.
Good thing they slogged through it, because the Cubs won their second in a row over the Cardinals, 5-3, largely on the strength of Daryle Ward's first home run of the season, a fly ball that had just enough help from a wind blowing out to left-center (an odd wind direction, east-southeast, one you rarely see at Wrigley Field) to land in the basket for a grand slam, the third of Ward's career.
That's one of the great things about this team -- they pick each other up; there are new and different heroes every day, and Ward, who at least one commenter yesterday said he'd "hurl" if he ever saw him in RF again, not only hit the grand slam, but made a couple of nice catches in the outfield, or perhaps more properly, surrounded a couple of baseballs and found them landing in his glove.
That's unfair, really -- Ward's not a graceful outfielder, but neither is he completely useless out there. In fact, when the Cardinals got two on with nobody out in the sixth, Scott Rolen hit one of the four fly balls he hit Ward's way, and though he did advance Albert Pujols to third base, Ward made a nice throw, hitting the cutoff man, keeping Juan Encarnacion, for that moment, at least, at first base.
Later in that inning, Pujols tried to score when a Carlos Marmol pitch got by Jason Kendall, but Kendall retrieved it and flipped it right back to Marmol covering the plate. It did appear Pujols beat the relay, but replays showed he never touched the plate, and Kendall thus tagged him out -- plate umpire Ted Barrett made the right call. Even later that inning, yet another weird baserunning play by the Cardinals -- pinch-hitter Chris Duncan struck out and the ball got by Kendall. At first everyone froze in place, as if not knowing what to do, or as if the ball had been fouled off. Eventually Duncan realized that it had been a dropped third strike, and raced to first; Kendall's throw didn't beat him but Duncan was ruled out for running out of the baseline.
I've made more scorecard notes in these two games than I usually do in an entire month's worth of homestands. There was another one necessary earlier when Encarnacion dropped a foul fly ball near the right field line, hit by Matt Murton in the second inning, for which he was charged with an error (this led to a discussion between Mike and me, on a hypothetical situation: what if there were such a call in a perfect game? Is it still a perfect game? Answer: Yes, thus there can be a perfect game in which the perfect game pitcher's team commits an error). Murton obliged by flying out to Encarnacion anyway.
The Cardinals chipped away with three solo homers, by Encarnacion, Pujols and Brendan Ryan (who has hit four HR in his first 79 ML at-bats, and who seems in competition with today's St. Louis starter, Anthony Reyes, in the "Which Cardinal Can Wear His Socks The Highest" contest). With rain steadily increasing, the Cardinals got a man on in the 8th after Pujols' HR had made it 5-3 off Bob Howry, and with two out and two strikes on Duncan, the umpires finally stopped play for an hour.
When they began again, in front of a tiny remnant of another huge throng of 41,369 (hardly any no-shows, either, despite the weather), Carmen Pignatiello threw one pitch and got Duncan called out on strikes. Ryan Dempster finished up efficiently in the 9th (twelve pitches, after nine yesterday; he could probably go again tomorrow if needed), for his 19th save.
Sean Marshall was fine today, though Dave said to me that he was "driving him nuts" with his pitch selection -- I think Dave feels Marshall is too tentative and too nibbly, maybe a bit of a leftover from the Dusty Baker era. He kept wiggling out of trouble, but when Pujols singled to lead off the sixth Lou got him out of there, even though he had thrown only 70 pitches with 47 strikes, so he couldn't have been too "nibbly" today -- he walked only one, and batters were putting the ball in play, even though right to fielders; Marshall had no strikeouts, the first time in 40 major league starts where he failed to strike anyone out.
Doesn't matter if you win, right? This is exactly what the Cubs needed to do this weekend, make a statement by winning these two games -- and with Z on the mound vs. Kip Wells tomorrow night, there's a pretty good chance the Cubs can go up 3-0 in this critical series.
At this writing the Brewers are leading the Reds 6-1 in the 7th, so the Cubs' lead will likely remain at a half game, but the big win today stretches the lead over St. Louis to a more comfortable four games.
Finally, I'm sure most of you who live in Chicago or have watched much Chicago TV are familiar with the Empire Carpet Man. Why am I mentioning him? Because today, they had one of the goofiest giveaways in Wrigley Field history. Yes, the Empire Carpet Man now has his own bobblehead:
Yes, you're right. That's very strange. Hey, I don't make the news, I just report it. Till tomorrow, weather permitting.