It's West Coast week -- for four days, at least -- and that means the rest of you are going to have to fill in the blanks, because I had to go to sleep (sure, I'll take one for the team, but not when I have to get up at 3 am for work) after the third inning last night.
Had a good feeling, though, even when I turned the TV off -- it looked like Ted Lilly had good stuff and good location, and the Cubs had already started waiting Barry Zito out and had capitalized on a Giants error to score the first run of the game. And they kept on scoring, thanks mostly to two Mark DeRosa home runs, the second a grand slam that put the 9-2 win over the Giants out of reach.
This was an important win for a number of reasons. A four-game losing streak, the first of the year, isn't that bad, but if you let it get to five it might snowball into something truly long. Snapping it on the road and getting back to winning when two of your best hitters aren't in the lineup is the first notable thing -- this is how the Cubs have succeeded all year, with different heroes every day.
Last night it was DeRo, with a 6-RBI night; Matt Murton, in a rare start, with a two-run double, and Lilly, who threw his best game of the year, even while running out of gas one inning short of a CG shutout. Kerry Wood, pitching for the first time in five days, finished up, but not before allowing a couple of consolation runs for the Giants.
Lilly, who has jokingly suggested that he bat somewhere other than 9th (the disease seems to be spreading -- the Pirates are now the third team in the NL Central to bat their pitcher 8th this year, doing it last night while losing to the Reds), struck out all five times he batted. That's the first time a pitcher has done that since San Diego's Clay Hensley did it at Wrigley Field against the Cubs on May 14, 2006 (Hensley also won that game, by a 9-0 shutout.)
As I suggested in last night's preview, the Cubs helped get to Barry Zito by waiting him out, and his control was poor -- he walked five, and the Cubs drew nine free passes in all, their most in a single game this season. Five Cubs who walked also scored; three of those alone on DeRosa's grand slam after Billy Sadler had walked the bases loaded. Fun like this could be had throughout this series, because the Giants pitching staff leads the National League in walks issued with 338 and the Cubs are the most patient team in the major leagues, having drawn 340 walks, more than anyone else.
Read that again. The most patient team in the major leagues. When did you ever think you'd read those words about a Cubs team? This comes only two years after the hackmaster, Dusty Baker, had his team dead last in baseball with only 395 walks for the entire season (comparison point: that year, the league leader, the Phillies, had 626 walks and the Cubs had 64 fewer walks than the next-lowest team, the Pirates). This year's team will pass that 395 total in 14 more games, presuming they keep up their present average of 4.1 walks per game.
That's just one of the reasons this team, and this year, feels different. The Cubs are 19-5 against the NL West, the worst division in baseball (only the Diamondbacks' 6-3 win over the Brewers last night prevented the entire division from going under .500), and that's what good teams do against bad ones, beat up on them. There are only nine games remaining against the West (the three in this series, three against the Giants next week at home, and three at Arizona later this month). So keep up the good work! Onward to tonight.