Before I say anything about last night's 3-1 Cubs win over the Dodgers, I have a question.
Was there some basketball game on TV last night?
I swear, if I had seen one more split screen or one more update on the NBA finals, I was about to throw something at the TV screen. Talk about shameless promotion. Don't these people realize that if people wanted to watch the basketball game, they'd probably already have switched channels to do that?
And don't even get me started about the bleatings of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. I was trying to keep track of all the mistakes and platitudes put on the air by Morgan and Miller, but I lost count, there were so many (I am SO sick of hearing Miller do the "politically correct" pronunciation of foreign players' names -- I mean, really, "Chaaaahn Ho Park"?).
Having gotten that out of the way -- what a fine, fine performance by our favorite team last night. Apart from Geovany Soto's throwing error on Juan Pierre's first-inning steal, which allowed Pierre to go to third and score on an infield out, the Cubs were nearly flawless in front of the national audience. Jason Marquis -- see, I knew he had this kind of talent, as Mark DeRosa said:
"I think sometimes he becomes his own worst enemy," DeRosa said. "He sometimes doesn't realize how great his stuff is. When he's on, he's tough to hit. He has a good sinker, he had good command of his slider and his split. He's a good pitcher. He's been a good pitcher in this league."
Exactly. Marquis threw strikes last night and had terrific movement on his pitches. If he hadn't run into trouble in the 7th inning, Lou might have let him finish, as he had thrown only 89 pitches when he was removed, but taking him out in favor of Carlos Marmol was the right thing to do. (Incidentally, the last Cub CG thrown in a victory was by... Marquis, when he shut out the Pirates 1-0 on May 9, 2007. The Cubs have had one CG since then, by Carlos Zambrano in a 1-0 loss to San Diego on June 16, 2007, the day Chris Young and Derrek Lee had their brawl.) Marquis' 6.1 innings without allowing an earned run dropped his ERA by almost half a point, from 5.02 to 4.54.
More outstanding play: Marmol had his nasty slider working last night, though he went to 3-2 counts too often for my tastes (and Lou's, too), throwing 36 pitches (good thing the Cubs have today off), and he and Derrek Lee combined on a slick fielding play to end the last real Dodger threat in that 7th inning.
And then Kerry Wood came in and slammed the door -- he seems more comfortable in the closer's role with every appearance, having saved 18 games, struck out 40 in 34.2 innings, allowed only one HR (to the Pirates' Jason Bay on April 9, in a game the Cubs won anyway) and walked only seven. (Wood's hit almost as many batters -- six -- as he has walked, though only one in his last nine appearances since that disastrous HB in Pittsburgh led to a loss -- in those nine games he has thrown 8.2 innings, allowed five hits and two walks, struck out 15, allowed no runs and registered eight saves.)
Even more outstanding play: hitting hero of the night was DeRosa, who homered (yet another HR that landed just beyond the Dodger Stadium wall that didn't seem to be hit that hard at first), singled in the second run and scored the third on an Aramis Ramirez double. All of this was off Brad Penny... who appears, to be charitable, way out of shape. He's a big man, yes... and I don't really want to be politically incorrect and say he's "fat"... well, yes I do. Penny looked fat last night, and maybe that's why he's been off to such a bad start.
It was a nearly flawless performance that ended the Cubs' first winning road trip of the year. The 14-16 road record the Cubs sport doesn't look that good -- until you look at everyone else's road record. Only three teams in all of baseball -- the Cardinals (17-14), the Phillies (18-13) and the Angels (21-12) have winning records on the road. Nineteen teams have road records worse than the Cubs'. This is unusual -- normally, the home-field advantage isn't as strong in baseball as it is in other sports, particularly the NBA (Say, was there a basketball game going on last night?), and I'm at a loss to explain why this is so. Fortunately for the Cubs, they come home for another of those goofy three-game homestands to face a team with the worst record in baseball on the road, the Braves, 7-21 away from Atlanta, and having to play for at least a game or two without their best hitter, Chipper Jones, currently hitting .420 but out with a slight tear in his right quad.
One other bit of news: Lou is considering skipping Sean Gallagher's turn, given the off day today, and starting Carlos Zambrano on Thursday; the idea is to give seven starts before the All-Star break to the top three starters (Z, Lilly and Dempster) and six to Marquis and Gallagher. Sounds good to me.
So enjoy this off day -- again BCB reader gary varsho has posted an off-day fun post to discuss our favorite bad Cubs -- and relax while the Cubs rest, still with the best record in baseball, and check out the sidebar box ranking this year's team after 64 games with the starts by other teams in Cub history. It's right up there. This is already a special season, and Kerry Wood, who has been on three Cub postseason teams, was asked how this year's team compares:
"It's different," Wood said. "It's a different feeling here. We all know we have something special. We're trying to take advantage of it."
Amen, Kerry. Keep it going. Onward.