Just before Ted Lilly stroked his RBI single up the middle, I said to Howard, "Man, he has about the worst swing I've ever seen." Howard agreed. Lilly had fouled a couple of balls off and flailed rather wildly at the pitches, looking like he had never stepped in a batter's box before.
And then, suddenly, with runners on first and second, Reed Johnson having been intentionally walked by Dan Haren to get to Lilly, Ted sliced a ball through the infield to score the Cubs' first run and score Mark DeRosa, who had doubled with two out and no one on (love to see that!), to tie the game. Alfonso Soriano hit the next pitch down the left-field line for a double, scoring Johnson, and as it turned out, that was all Lilly needed in the Cubs' impressive 3-1 win over the Diamondbacks. I'm not sure where Lilly learned to hit -- he hit only .137 in 2007 -- but he's now 3-for-11 this year (.273) with a double and two RBI.
You could call this a "statement" game if you wish, but it may be too early to say that. Remember, though the D'backs have looked great in posting, before today, a 23-12 record for the best mark in the major leagues, a year ago at this time the Brewers were 24-10 and a lot of you were wailing, "The Cubs will never catch those guys!" And yet, they did. And though Arizona is playing well, today the Cubs and Lilly and Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood shut them down.
Lilly was outstanding -- he mixed up his pitches really well and struck out ten while walking only two and allowing only three harmless hits. OK, let's call it two harmless hits (one of which, a triple by Stephen Drew past a diving Johnson, might have been caught by Felix Pie if he had been out there), because the first one was a HR by Chris Young in the first inning -- and I was so glad to not see Lilly slam his glove down as he did in the NLDS last October. In the last ten games Young has played against the Cubs (the six regular season games last year, the three in the NLDS and today), he has homered five times. Enough, already.
Fortunately, Lilly shut down the rest of the D'backs lineup, and left it to Marmol and Wood. Marmol caught a break in the 8th when, after allowing a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Augie Ojeda, he struck out Eric Byrnes while Ojeda tried to steal second. The throw came in over DeRosa's head and he had to leap to stop it from going in to CF. The umpires correctly ruled that Byrnes had interfered with Geovany Soto and thus Ojeda was out. No other D'back came near to getting on base after that, and Kerry Wood threw nine pitches, all strikes, in getting a 1-2-3 ninth for his sixth save, after Derrek Lee had hit his ninth HR to give a little more breathing room.
The crisply played game (two hours and 31 minutes) was played in crisp weather more suited to the last time the D'backs were in Wrigley Field, last October 6 (when it was 85 degrees), an official temperature of 46 at gametime, with a wind blowing in. That didn't stop the HR of either Young or D-Lee, though, and I'm sure most of the crowd of 40,236 (probably about 5,000 no-shows today) appreciated the fast pace. I know I did, along with fellow BCB readers mrcubsfan, ihatethecards, and Drew in attendance in the bleachers. Mrcubsfan and ihatethecards introduced me to a man who said his last trip to Wrigley was sixty years ago when he was fourteen years old, to which I said: "It's about time you came back!" And he got to see a nicely played win on his return, too.
Just like that, this team that looked so sloppy on the road the last couple of weeks played a sharp game today. It is possible to have a very successful season playing, say, .600 ball at home (that'd be 49 or 50 wins) and .500 on the road -- do that and you've won 90, which would likely give you the division title. This one snaps a five-game losing streak against Arizona (including the NLDS) and I'm sure the players are happy to have that proverbial monkey off their backs. And with Lilly, Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano all throwing well, can we stop stressing so much about the starting pitching?
Remember: tomorrow's game is on Fox, and the starting time has been set at 2:40 CDT. I'll post a list of cities tomorrow in the game thread -- double bad news: it's only going to 37% of the country and the announcers are Kenny Albert and Mark Grace. (Ugh.) Incidentally, I had to visit the men's room and the timing had it during the 7th-inning stretch. There's nothing stranger than hearing the disembodied voice of Mark Grace coming through the men's room speakers while visiting the troughs. Or maybe that's strangely appropriate, I don't know which.
Finally, I see that a couple of you posted game threads in the FanPost section -- and I'm not sure what happened to the main page posts. If someone could quickly summarize in the comments, I'd appreciate it.