The Cubs started hitting almost the very second that the Pirates' Zach Duke took the mound and didn't stop all night, registering nineteen hits, scoring in seven of the nine innings and blowing out the Pirates 12-3 in a game that wasn't even that close. The Cubs now lead the major leagues in OBA and runs (runs by a wide margin, 279-267 over the 2nd-ranked Red Sox and Rangers), and are second in walks and OPS.
Yes, this is the Cubs we're talking about. You are not dreaming. This is really happening.
Everyone hit, and I mean literally everyone, with the exception of Geovany Soto, who went 0-for-4. (Hey, at least he picked a day when everyone else hit to have a bad day.) Who can we single out as a hitting hero of the night, when there were so many? Reed Johnson put the game out of reach with his three-run HR in the fifth, which made a 5-0 game into an 8-0 game. Johnson also had two doubles and totalled four RBI. Aramis Ramirez had three hits and scored three runs. Derrek Lee had two RBI.
It's clear that the injury that Alfonso Soriano suffered in April against the Reds wasn't totally healed when he came back, and still isn't totally healed. It may have been made worse during his first at-bat; you could clearly see him rounding first and hurting as he came into second base, and he left the game early -- I assume the club will say that was "as a precaution", but it would not surprise me to see Soriano have another DL stint. Micah Hoffpauir replaced him in LF, making one defensive play without incident. Speaking of players playing out of position, Mark DeRosa started in RF last night. I know he's played there before (and he had two hits and three RBI), but he misplayed one ball -- the one that hit high off the wall. Nate McLouth wound up on third. DeRosa went up high to try to catch the ball, but there's no way he could have; what he should have done, once he realized the ball was over his head, was to pull up and wait for the bounce. It didn't matter, as the runs would have scored anyway, and McLouth never did -- but this is what you'd see a lot of if Hoffpauir were to play RF on a regular basis.
So please, Lou. Don't. The team's winning the way things are. It ain't broke. Don't fix it.
Carlos Zambrano was outstanding last night. In addition to throwing seven strong innings, walking only one and allowing only the two runs that scored on McLouth's triple, he had a career-high four hits, driving in two runs and scoring once and raising his season batting average to .343. The best thing about Z's hitting last night was that he didn't try to smash home runs into the Allegheny River beyond the RF wall; instead, he had quality AB and took good swings and his four singles were quite productive. (It was also very smart of Z to run way out of the way in the fifth when Soriano hit into a double play.) Obviously, also, there's nothing wrong physically with Z, and he notes his changed pitching style this year as one of the reasons for his great start:
Zambrano walked one batter, and has cut down the number of free passes.
"The whole year, the key has been to throw strikes, first-pitch strikes, and be able to throw good pitches when I'm in trouble," Zambrano said. "That's the key all year long.
"When I feel good, I can challenge the hitter and I can throw my pitches for strikes and be ahead in the count," he said. "I'm not a machine, and sometimes I don't feel good and have to deal with neck pain or something, or my leg doesn't feel good that day, or I'm opening up too soon. I try to do the best to compete and do my job."
A-freakin-men, Z. Keep up the great work. Incidentally, believe it or not, that was the first four-hit game by a Cubs pitcher in almost 44 years -- since July 23, 1964, when a 37-year-old Lew Burdette had two singles, a triple and a HR in leading the Cubs to a 13-4 blowout of the Giants in San Francisco.
Jose Ascanio allowed his first run as a Cub, but still threw a decent inning, and Kerry Wood, who hadn't pitched since Sunday, had an efficient (10 pitches, 9 strikes) 9th inning, so he should be available today. The rest of the bullpen got another day off, good news for pitchers who have teetered on the edge of overuse this year.
Some of you who were there can probably tell me better, but it seemed as if it were a hugely pro-Cub crowd last night; the Pirates are 29th in MLB attendance, averaging only 15,583 before last night. The 32,656 announced last night more than doubled that, and I'd expect that to continue all weekend.
So enjoy. After 48 games the Cubs have still not lost more than two in a row this season, the mark of a team that can pick up and start winning again even after a couple of tough defeats like the last two in Houston. Yes, the schedule so far this year has been ridiculous, but I, for one, am going to miss the Pirates and their McDonald's worker jerseys after this weekend.