You'll excuse me for borrowing the nickname of my favorite childhood Cub -- Billy Williams -- for Alfonso Soriano's single swing last night that turned what could have been a real ugly loss into a 6-5 win over the Brewers instead.
The value of hits like that cannot be overstated. This recap was going to be pretty snarky -- had the homer not been hit, not only would the Cubs have gone down to their third one-run loss of the season, but it would have been because the bullpen couldn't stop walking people. Angel Guzman and Neal Cotts walked the bases loaded and though Aaron Heilman eventually retired the side, it wasn't until after he allowed two of those runs to score on a J. J. Hardy single, making the score 5-3 Brewers. Not only that, but after having loaded the bases with nobody out in the 7th, Micah Hoffpauir, with a chance to be a hero, struck out on three pitches and looked bad doing it. (Yes, I know. It's one at-bat. But that's exactly the situation Hoffpauir is going to have to do well with if he's going to fill his role on this team.) The Cubs did score one run in the inning, but could have had three or four.
This was after the Cubs had fought back to erase a 3-1 deficit. Carlos Zambrano didn't pitch too badly, but the Cubs did nothing with Dave Bush, a guy they usually hit hard. The only Cub who did much off Bush was Kosuke Fukudome, who doubled and homered. While it's way too early to say Fukudome has "figured it out", he's looked pretty good in the season's first five games (except for the opener). "Keep up the good work" would be my advice to Dome.
There were many, many more Cubs fans in audible evidence on the TV broadcast last night than there were on Friday and they were especially loud after Sori's homer, and again in the bottom of the ninth when Carlos Marmol slipped a gorgeous slider past Prince Fielder for strike three to end it. Lou Piniella had told Marmol, and the media, that Carlos would get some save opportunities even after he anointed Kevin Gregg closer, and last night was the perfect time to do that -- Gregg threw more than one inning on Friday, and not very well. Lou elaborates:
"[Kevin] Gregg is still our closer," Piniella said. "I can't get them both up [in the bullpen]. I said that the other night in Houston. I can't afford to get them both up, because I lose [both of] them. We got Marmol up just in case we tied or went ahead, and that was the end of it.
"I said when the season started there will be opportunities for both of them, but believe me, tomorrow, if we get into a similar situation, Gregg will be the closer."
As long as Gregg doesn't have meltdowns like he did on Friday, the Cubs will have two good pitchers they can go to in the late innings.
Here's a final note on Friday's game from Bruce Miles:
Had a chance to talk with both Ryan Theriot and bench coach Alan Trammell today about the last play of yesterday's game, when Theriot just missed throwing out Rickie Weeks at the plate. I'll have both discussions in tomorrow's paper (and online), but Theriot said there was no way to get a double play. Trammell agreed, saying second baseman Mike Fontenot would have been wiped out by the baserunner, Corey Hart.
I completely agree. Theriot's only play was home -- and Weeks is a good and fast baserunner. They just barely missed getting him. Here's more on this play from Bruce.
So instead of being in a position where they have to win tonight just to salvage one game against their I-94 rivals, the Cubs can win their second straight road series with a victory; Ryan Dempster will face Jeff Suppan. If any BCB'ers will be at Miller Park tonight, I'll be in section 225, behind third base.
It's a little too early to call this a momentum-changer; but it's definitely one of the games that, presuming the Cubs do go on to the 2009 postseason, you could look back on this fall and say, "That one really meant something."