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Near Masterpiece: Cubs 5, Reds 1

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Two plays.

One ball hit by Jeff Keppinger that Aramis Ramirez couldn't handle, and which went under his glove for a first-inning error.

And another, one bad pitch from Carlos Zambrano to Adam Dunn that was deposited into the center-field juniper bushes for a brief 1-0 Reds lead in the second.

Other than that, Carlos Zambrano was perfect last night, retiring all 20 batters he faced after the Dunn HR. So what would you have done? The Cubs had, thanks to a Ramirez HR and some other timely hitting, extended the lead to 5-1 (which would be the final, a 5-1 win over the Reds, the Cubs' third in a row), and Z was at 103 pitches. Do you leave him in to finish what would have been the first CG one-hitter of his career?

There are conflicting reports. Bruce Miles writes that Lou felt 100-105 pitches was enough:

"He wanted to go out and finish it, but it was only his second time out since being off the DL, and we were on a game plan of 100-105 pitches," Piniella said. "We let him hit (in the eighth). That appeased him a little bit."

But, even Z himself acknowledged, in Carrie Muskat's cubs.com recap, that taking him out was the wise thing to do:

"I was thinking about that," Zambrano said about going the distance. "It's been a long time since I pitched a complete game. But not in this situation. I came off the DL one start ago, and it's too soon. Hopefully, in the second half of the season, I will have a chance to throw a complete game."

It was a near-perfect weather night, too, the kind you want to bottle up and let out on some blustery January day when you think it's never, ever going to get warm again. Unlike Tuesday night, the wind had pretty much died completely not long after game time, and just a few clouds on the horizon made the sunset pink and orange over the Yard. While Z was firing blanks at the Reds -- and in his best 2003-style form, not trying to blow hitters away, but instead getting ground balls, eleven of the twenty consecutive outs being on the ground -- the Cubs were methodically putting up runs. Dunn's HR was matched in the bottom of the 2nd when Jeff Keppinger's error on Mark DeRosa's grounder allowed Geovany Soto to score.

Later, Ramirez homered to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead, and then in the seventh, the Cubs batted around and extended it to 5-1 on RBI hits from Kosuke Fukudome (double), Derrek Lee (single), and A-Ram again (double). It could have and should have been more -- Z had attempted a sacrifice bunt after Reed Johnson led off the inning with a single, and replays showed that Z was safe after Cueto double-clutched. (It wasn't even close; 1B umpire Eric Cooper must have taken his eyes off the play.)

But that last is nitpicking. This isn't: we hope Carlos Marmol isn't hurt. He got the first two outs in the 9th easily, including one on a spectacular stop by D-Lee on Paul Bako's grounder past 1B, but appeared to have been spiked. He took a few warmup tosses and stayed in the game, getting the second out (a fly ball from PH Corey Patterson, who was roundly booed), but then on a similar play to Bako's, Jay Bruce was ruled safe (that one, unlike the one on Z, appeared to be a correct call). Then Marmol fell apart, throwing a wild pitch and walking the bases loaded, forcing Lou to summon Kerry Wood to finish it off.

Which he did, running the club record at Wrigley Field to -- how many more superlatives can you find? I can't -- an absolutely stunning 35-10, the best home winning percentage in baseball in a year when many teams have played exceptionally well at home.

Finally, after his news conference welcoming him to Chicago, new Cub Rich Harden (who will start on Saturday vs. the Giants, despite the headline on Bruce Miles' article that says "No word yet on Harden's first start") came out to left field to throw a few pitches in front of Larry Rothschild and a couple of his teammates:

Welcome to Chicago, Rich!

Photo by Tim Shockley. As Tim said in his email: "We told him to take it easy and not throw so hard..." Amen. (Click on photo to open a larger version in a new browser window)

Finally, the Cubs picked up a game on both Milwaukee and St. Louis -- the Cardinals lost Mark Mulder again after 16 pitches, and the Brewers lost a pitching matchup (Ben Sheets vs. Glendon Rusch) that "on paper" was a no-brainer for them. But that's why they play the games. Today's pregame thread will be up at 11:30 am CDT.