I had just turned the radio on to the postgame show to hear Lou Piniella discussing the merits of winning a lot of games at home and breaking even on the road, which is a nice little combination.
Wrigley Field is providing one of the best starts in club history at home -- 20 of the first 28, a .714 winning percentage which would result in a club-record-tying 58 home wins (set in 1910, a pennant year) if they could keep it up (most likely, of course, they can't)... and if they could just keep up the bargain on the road, this could be a special season.
Coming home off two disastrous losses in Pittsburgh, the Cubs once again clicked on all cylinders in defeating the Dodgers 3-1 this afternoon in front of a festive holiday crowd of 41,583, third largest of this young season, on a day which hinted of the nice summer weather to come -- a bit humid, in fact, somewhat uncomfortable since I didn't have time to change into the shorts I had brought from work, because parking was nearly impossible to find today.
Like you care, right?
What you do care about is Ryan Dempster's 11th good start of the season. Yes, all 11 -- look at his previous game log and you'll see that although he had a couple of "not-great" starts, he hasn't been blown out of any of them, and has gone six or more innings in 10 of 11. Today, after getting out of a first-inning jam he caused himself by walking the nearly-unwalkable Juan Pierre by a nicely-executed rundown of Pierre trying to score (my friend and BCB reader bison texted me from California, where he had scored it from home 1-6-4-5-2-3-4), Dempster settled down and retired nine of the next ten hitters he faced, finally running into trouble in the fifth when Mark DeRosa couldn't handle an infield popup and had no play as Matt Kemp, who had doubled, scored LA's only run.
Dempster got himself out of another jam in the 6th, after he had loaded the bases with two singles and a walk to Kemp, and again in the 7th, when no one was warming up, a testament to how overworked the bullpen was in all the extra-inning games in Pittsburgh. Dempster threw 117 pitches, 71 for strikes, and Bob Howry had to do the same thing in the 8th. We couldn't figure out why Scott Eyre, warmed and ready, didn't come in to face two lefty hitters in James Loney and Delwyn Young. Lou explained during the news conference that he thought Howry was throwing better, and it appears he wanted to give Howry a confidence-builder.
That's a risky way to win games, but it worked. Howry struck out Loney and got Young to fly to Jim Edmonds (the ball, not too far away from Alfonso Soriano, had us yelling, "Let Edmonds take it!" (We were threatening to ask the Cubs to put those beeping sounds you hear from trucks backing up near the wall so Alfonso would know when he's getting close to it, either that or yellow crime-scene tape.)
Did you ever think you'd be a Cub fan and be yelling that? Yeah, me either. Edmonds does, for all his flaws, still play a good CF -- his range isn't what it used to be, but he catches whatever he can get to. He also singled in trying to get a rally going in the 7th inning; 1-for-3 today, he has at least earned some more playing time. I, for one, am tired of all the Hoffpauir-whoever talk for the outfield; Lou seems obsessed with a LH power bat out there, and though I think Edmonds is done, I'd be happy to be proven wrong.
Derrek Lee provided the only runs the Cubs needed with his 12th HR after a walk to Ryan Theriot in the first. Aramis Ramirez hit his 9th in the 8th inning to give an insurance cushion to Kerry Wood, who very nearly hit Juan Pierre leading off the top of the 9th. I'm not sure what can be done about this, but really, that's the only thing stopping Wood from becoming an elite closer. If he can get past the yips of that first batter, he's fine. He gave up a seeing-eye single to Andre Ethier and then struck out Russell Martin and Chin-Lung Hu to end it (we all had to hold our tongues when Hu pinch-ran for Jeff Kent and all the "Hu's on first" jokes came to our collective minds in the LF corner). And for once it was the other guys stranding runners -- the Dodgers left twelve men on base today.
I don't have too much to say about Alfonso Soriano today... oh, never mind, yes I do. He handled two chances without incident, walked twice and hit a ball out to Waveland, just foul, which was caught by BCB reader ballhawk (that's your cue, Ken -- let's hear about that!).
One discordant note: remember how I've been saying Kosuke Fukudome never has a bad at-bat? He had at least three of them today, striking out twice and getting badly fooled and hitting into a 1-2-3 DP with the bases loaded and the Cubs with a chance to blow the game open in the 6th. The pitchers may be catching up to him. He has to start making adjustments. I think he's smart enough to do so -- but we'll see.
In any case, a game like this is how they should all go. Home cooking feels real good, and after 51 games, just short of 1/3 of the season, the Cubs still have not lost more than two games in a row.
Finally, former Cub pitcher Geremi Gonzalez was killed when hit by lightning yesterday in his home country of Venezuela. I remember Gonzalez well as a top pitching prospect in the mid-1990's -- he never panned out, but did have a nice 11-9, 4.25 season for a terrible Cub team in 1997, then hurt his arm and was never the same. He also played for Lou Piniella for two years at Tampa Bay and Lou remembered him fondly in some postgame remarks. For more discussion about this, see Galvan316's FanPost.