TORONTO -- Whoever this guy is inhabiting Jason Marquis' body and uniform, don't let him give it back to the real Jason Marquis (the one we've been so frustrated with over the last year and a half).
This Jason Marquis was outstanding for the second straight start, allowing only one hit through seven innings, and though faltering in the 8th, the only run he allowed was through a rare Carlos Marmol loss-of-command moment, when Marmol walked the patient Matt Stairs with the bases loaded.
Between Marquis and former Blue Jay Reed Johnson, who smacked a three-run homer off Roy Halladay, the Cubs dispatched the Blue Jays easily 6-2 this afternoon. Marquis lowered his ERA to 4.24, nearly a run lower than it was before his start in Los Angeles last Sunday.
For all the Marquis naysayers, maybe it's too early to say this, but it looks to me as if Marquis has "figured something out", because the last two starts he's looked, I think, better than he's looked at any time since he came to the Cubs a year and a half ago. I'll reserve judgment until he does this for three or four more starts, but if he can keep up this kind of performance, the Cubs' starting pitching inconsistencies may be solved.
Marquis had, apparently, allowed a hit in the 2nd inning when Jim Edmonds dropped a Rod Barajas fly ball that he had in his glove, but it was later ruled an error (correctly, I think). That was it till Lyle Overbay led off the 5th with a line single to center, and then the three hits leading off the 8th which got Marmol in the game. The third of those hits was a line drive off Mark DeRosa's glove that was almost caught; that could have been a double play. Instead, Marmol got out of it, but not until he walked Stairs to force in a run.
Reed Johnson got the start in LF today against the RHP Halladay -- as it turned out, a savvy move by Lou, because Johnson came up after Ronny Cedeno's little bleeder of a ground ball had not quite been stopped by David Eckstein -- hometown scoring made it an error, making that run and the three that scored on Reed's laser of a HR after that all unearned. The Cubs hit Roy Halladay all over the yard, winding up with seven hits and a walk, and six runs -- only two earned, though I thought Cedeno should have had a hit on that ball, because Eckstein made "more than ordinary" effort to even knock it down. Johnson got another ovation when announced, and when he had his first AB, from the Jays fans who remember him fondly; but after the HR, when he came up in the 4th, that turned to booing -- after all, he's now the visiting enemy!
The error didn't really matter, because runs are runs and we'll take them any way we can get them, right? The Cubs, as well as they did today, could have blown out the Jays earlier, as they stranded ten runners, and then Bob Howry decided to make it interesting by allowing a triple to Kevin Mench that Jim Edmonds didn't play very well off the CF wall, and then a sac fly, and then a ringing double by Brad Wilkerson, before striking out Eckstein to end it. (I'm still worried about Howry.)
Before the game I took in the Hockey Hall of Fame, which is located in an old bank building that has been sort of merged into an atrium-type mall, right next to an outlet of that very Canadian company, Starbucks (I have been very surprised to see, unlike my last visit to Toronto five years ago, how many US chain stores are now here). And let me tell you, the hockey people save everything -- there are pucks from 1901, "sweaters" (what they call jerseys, and some of them really ARE sweaters) from the 1920's and 1930's, and relics from every era of the sport, organized by era, by team and player, and also a large exhibit of world hockey teams, including shirts from teams from Israel, Mexico and Turkey, countries you'd never expect to have hockey teams. The Stanley Cup is prominently exhibited, along with the metal bands of previous winners that have now been retired from the actual Cup. The one you see being held up by the winners is now on tour, and it's not even the original, although that is also on display, in an old bank vault.
Very cool tour, and there were quite a few other Cub fans going through the exhibits in the morning before heading off to the game, and the requisite souvenir T-shirt was purchased, at the unheard-of museum price of only $10.
Ran into my friends Tom & Ginger from the bleachers, and will be joining them for dinner later tonight, and their friends Joe and his girlfriend, and also former Cubs Vine Line editor Jim McArdle, who is working on a book about this season; we all had a few postgame drinks at Wayne Gretzky's restaurant near the stadium. They were among the large minority of Cub fans in the crowd of 34,048 today -- probably 7,000-10,000 Cub fans taking over Toronto. Now, let's take this series tomorrow, with ex-Jay Ted Lilly on the mound.
Click on photos to open a larger version in a new browser window. Photos by Al (except photo of Jason Marquis by Miriam Romain)