Yesterday, I sat watching a taut pitcher's duel, huddled up in sweatshirt and balaclava over my head.
Today, in the sunshine, with the wind blowing out to RF and the temperature in the 70's (officially 67 at game time, but when I got back to my car the thermometer inside said it was 77), we saw six home runs leave the yard, four of them by the Cubs, and they hung on for a 7-4 win over the Pirates, despite an implosion by Bob Howry that allowed the Bucs a three-run eighth and made an appearance by Kerry Wood necessary for his ninth save of the season. More on that in a moment.
During the 2006 football season, then-Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green said in a memorable postgame news conference, regarding the Bears' comeback against his team, "They are what we thought they were!", and then angrily left the podium. We don't have to be angry, but the fact is -- Alfonso Soriano is what we thought he was. He's a maddening player. There are times when he doesn't even look like he should be in a major league uniform... and other times when he gets hot and can carry a team. He appears to be in the latter mode this week; in this homestand he is now 15-for-32 (.469) with 5 HR and 12 RBI in the eight games so far on the stand. He's got 22 RBI for the season despite missing two weeks; after 42 team games in 2007, during which he missed a similar amount of time, he had 9 RBI.
So we have to take the bad with the good. The Cubs wouldn't have won the NL Central last year without Soriano's hot September; it'd have been nice if he carried that over into last October, but that's Soriano. Maddening. Let's hope his hot streak continues for the... well, for a while, anyway.
Sean Gallagher picked up his first major league win today. He struck out only three and during his appearance at the postgame news conference, that I heard on the radio driving home, said that after he got the big lead he could concentrate on throwing strikes and putting the ball in play and letting his fielders catch the ball, which they did. The Pirates did hit Gallagher pretty hard, but virtually everything was right at somebody -- kudos to Mark DeRosa for a tumbling catch on the warning track in right field to end the fifth inning. It won't be the last win for Gallagher, either. I like the way he approaches the game. He'll need to develop a good changeup to go with the good curveball, though.
Bob Howry was... bad. He slogged his way through a mediocre 7th inning and then the Pirates teed off on him in the 8th, hitting two home runs, including one by Doug Mientkiewicz, who had come into the game hitting .237 with no homers at all this year. Howry threw an alarmingly large number of pitches -- 39 -- and this made the score 7-4 and necessitated a save-situation appearance by Kerry Wood.
Wood, like Gallagher, realized that he didn't have to blow hitters away, especially since the first two hitters he was facing were light-hitting PH Luis Rivas and Jason Michaels, and he got Rivas to fly to right and Michaels to pop up, and then Freddy Sanchez lined right to Aramis Ramirez to end the game -- Kerry threw only ten pitches, so he should be available tomorrow if needed for the third day in a row.
Say, I've been complaining about the schedule-makers a lot, but could they arrange it so the Cubs could play the Pirates every day? Now 7-0 for the season against Pittsburgh, the Cubs have Carlos Zambrano ready to go tomorrow, to make it a good shot at 8-0. Z got a chance to pinch-hit today, and as I predicted to our group when he was announced, to a loud ovation, he'd probably try to hit a 900-foot home run. He did just that on the first two pitches, then hit a comebacker to Tom Gorzelanny to end the sixth inning.
Gorzelanny -- who can explain it? He has now thrown three times against the Cubs this year, 11 total innings, 21 earned runs allowed for an ERA of 17.18 against them. His ERA in his other five starts is 2.73.
In any case, revel in this. The Cubs are 18-7 at home, at this moment the majors' best home record (Arizona is 17-7 pending their game tonight at home vs. Detroit). They're two games in first place, pending Houston's game vs. Texas -- yes, the Astros muscled their way into second place yesterday ahead of the Cardinals... and St. Louis lost Jason Isringhausen today when he suffered a cut on his hand when he hit a TV in Tony LaRussa's office. I'll be keeping an eye on their series with Tampa Bay this weekend, because that ought to give us a good idea about the futures of both those teams (and remember, the Cubs have to play the suddenly-hot Rays in Tampa next month).
We were joined today by BCB reader sparkles721 -- who hasn't posted much here lately because she's been busy with school, but is now home for the summer. And Crane Kenney, who spent the day in the bleachers talking to people, stopped by to say hi and explained a little more about the fan lunches that will begin next month. He told me that they'll select 30 people at random from season ticket holders for each session, and that he feels really strongly about listening to fans, particularly season ticket holders, who are the Cubs' best customers. Incidentally, today's attendance of 40,537 pushed the season total to 1,000,892, an average of 40,036 and the earliest ever that the Cubs have passed the million mark in attendance (25 dates).
This franchise is turning around before your very eyes. Can you see it? Can you feel it? Until tomorrow.