Since tonight's 5-1 Cubs win over the Pirates took only two hours and thirty-one minutes to finish, and the hour is still relatively early, I thought I'd weigh in this evening with a recap rather than wait till morning; tomorrow morning I'll post the usual gameday thread for the deciding game of this series.
Carlos Zambrano needed to step up bigtime tonight and he did so, allowing only two hits in six-plus innings, leaving only when he finally lost some control and loaded the bases with nobody out in the top of the seventh. Carlos Marmol came on and didn't have his best stuff -- although I thought he was getting squeezed by plate umpire Sam Holbrook on some of his best sliders -- but he managed to get the Cubs out of the inning with only one run scoring, on a sacrifice fly, and when Jacque Jones' eighth-inning triple scored Mark DeRosa with an insurance run, Ryan Dempster was able to relax and throw an uneventful, non-save-situation ninth inning, dispatching the Pirates with only 13 pitches (ten strikes).
I couldn't figure out why Len Kasper kept saying the Cubs should have scored ten runs in this game. Yes, there were two deep fly balls caught at the wall in center field by Nyjer Morgan (and about the only thing I can figure about that name is that maybe one of his parents is from New York and the other from New Jersey? Makes sense, even though Morgan himself was born in San Francisco). But they were outs -- one hit by Alfonso Soriano, the other by Aramis Ramirez -- and so I'm not sure where the "ten runs" comment comes from. Sure, if they HAD been home runs, that might have been true.
Ian Snell kept dodging danger until Soriano finally hit a ball that went over the wall -- just barely, appearing to bounce off the glove of LF Nate McLouth before landing in the first row for a two-run homer.
But the story tonight was Z. He had his emotions mostly under control, even when he went into the dugout after being removed by Lou, 112 pitches into his outing. He stayed there to cheer on his teammates. And in the first six innings, he gave up only one hit -- a first-inning single -- and a couple of walks, before the seventh-inning single and two more walks loaded the bases for Marmol. So while Z's overall line -- six innings, two hits, one run, five walks, eight strikeouts -- maybe wasn't that great, he did show the dominance with which he pitched over the months of June and July. The win was his first since July 29 in Cincinnati, and remember back then? We were talking about a 20-win season for Z.
Now, I think it would behoove the Cubs to switch the rotation around a bit, because clearly, Z throws much better on the road than at Wrigley Field. He's now 10-4, 3.43 in 99.2 IP on the road, and 5-8, 5.18 in 90.2 IP at home.
This makes no logical sense, and except for last year, Z had in the past pitched better at Wrigley Field. But here's a suggestion, first broached by Len and Bob on the telecast tonight:
Instead of throwing on his normal rest, which would make his next start Thursday in Houston, why not push him back a day to pitch in St. Louis on Friday? Then he could throw the last game of the Cincinnati series at Wrigley Field on Wednesday the 19th, followed by the first game of the road trip in Florida the following Monday, and then -- if they really needed him to -- again in Cincinnati on the final day of the regular season.
That'd give him four starts, three of them on the road. Sean Gallagher or Kevin Hart or Sean Marshall could be slotted in against the Astros to push Z back a day.
It's worth considering, anyway. Z also got a hit tonight, and fortunately, he was pretty much anchored to first base with two out, and didn't have to worry about paying attention to Mike Quade. The last out of that inning was Soriano's long fly to CF, and had it gone out, Z wouldn't have had to bother looking at a third-base coach.
Unfortunately, the Brewers have just finished a come-from-behind win, 4-3 over the Reds, so the division lead remains tied between the Cubs and Brewers. You can use this thread to discuss the Cardinals/Diamondbacks game, currently going on in Phoenix. Here's the Gameday link for that game.
Keep the faith. Till tomorrow.