On September 30, 2004, as the wild-card contending Cubs were melting down, they had to, absolutely had to, beat the Reds at Wrigley Field to keep any sort of postseason hopes alive (after having lost the previous day, they had fallen half a game behind the Astros).
And in the twelfth inning, after Mark Prior (can't even call him The Former Employee here -- it was one of his finest Cub moments) had pitched nine magnificent innings, striking out sixteen, Javier Valentin stood in the batter's box against Kyle Farnsworth with two out and a runner on second base. Valentin smacked a double down the right field line, breaking a 1-1 tie, and the ballpark fell silent; though the Cubs did get the tying and winning runs on base in the last of the twelfth, you just knew the fight had gone out of them. The 2-1, 12-inning loss finished any realistic hopes that Cub team had of the postseason, and since then Valentin has been a particular nemesis of the Cubs; his lifetime averages against the Cubs coming into today's game are .303/.384/.566 with 6 HR and 20 RBI in 99 AB, his best marks against any team that he's faced for more than 28 career AB.
So when Valentin stepped into the batter's box at Wrigley Field today with two out and a one-run Cub lead in the ninth against Kerry Wood, one of only four Cubs remaining from that 2004 team, I worried.
No worries! Wood caught Valentin looking, his second strikeout of the inning, posting his 26th save in a 3-2 Cubs win over the Reds, putting them back at 29 games over .500 and registering their seventh consecutive series win, done in two hours and fourteen minutes, the fastest game of 2008 -- and maybe that was because of the little rainshower that had the umbrellas up and down most of the game, reminiscent of the rain that fell during Wood's 20K game on May 6, 1998. It never rained very hard, but maybe the players picked up the pace a little bit because they didn't want to be out there too long if it did begin raining any harder.
The Cubs scored all their runs in the first three innings off Josh Fogg -- whose ERA went down despite giving up three runs in four innings -- one at a time, scoring on another DP-Lee ball. Part of the reason for the 24 GIDP for Lee is Ryan Theriot's .394 OBA -- if there are more people on base ahead of a hitter like Lee, he's going to hit into more DP. The major league season record holders in GIDP -- Jim Rice and Henry Aaron -- are good hitters, as is the club record holder, Ron Santo (27 in 1973, and that's probably going to fall soon).
Mark DeRosa hit a solo HR in the 2nd, increasing his career-best season total to 15 (DeRo is only one RBI short of tying his career best set in 2006 with Texas, and also made a slick defensive play today, saving a first-inning run), and then Z slammed his fourth of the year and 16th of his career, putting him one ahead of Mike Hampton as the leader among active pitchers, and tying him with Jim Kaat, Schoolboy Rowe and Jim Tobin for 15th place on the all-time pitcher home run list. (Note: both Rowe and Tobin hit other HR not as pitchers.) Z's season average went up nine points, from .357 to .366.
The Reds chipped away with a Jay Bruce HR in the sixth and then Joey Votto hit a Carlos Marmol pitch somewhere into orbit -- OK, just onto Sheffield, but it was quite a blast, making it 3-2. Marmol got hit pretty hard today; fortunately, all but Votto's ball were caught.
Z threw pretty well today; his command was shaky in the first three innings, when he issued two walks, but he settled down and gave up only six hits in all and four walks, including one to the nearly-unwalkable Corey Patterson (11 walks in 274 PA coming into today's game). He and Lou both said in the press conference that they were satisfied, but that Z would continue to work on mechanics. The win today was his first in August in almost two years, since August 24, 2006.
Today was my son Mark's 13th birthday and his personal record moved to 11-1 (yes, he will be at all three games of the Nationals series). Also, nice to meet BCB reader SteveABQ, in from (as you might have guessed) Albuquerque for three games. He told me he's always lived there, never in Chicago; he's one of the many of you who became Cubs fans because of the nationwide reach of WGN. Cubs Nation celebrates tonight, 5.5 games in first place. Onward.