Carlos Zambrano's smile, seen at left, is well-deserved. He threw seven strong innings and singled, doubled and hit his first homer of the season and the Cubs evened up their series with Arizona with an 11-3 blowout at Chase Field late last night. Meanwhile, the Reds, Pirates and Cardinals -- all of whom started last night ahead of the Cubs in the NL Central -- all lost Tuesday, so the Cubs picked up a game on each of them. And, St. Louis bats, as hot recently as Cub bats were last night, have now produced only seven runs in their last three games, going back to the Cubs' win over them on Sunday.
The Cubs could have had more than the three homers (Alfonso Soriano and Mike Fontenot, both for the second night in a row, in addition to Z). Several fly balls, including Soriano's to lead off the game, were warning-track outs; Soriano's was to the deepest part of the big ballpark in Phoenix.
I have a bone to pick with the mainstream media, who often -- and they did it again last night -- use the phrase "a triple short of the cycle" when describing a player who singled, doubled and homered in a game. Triples are hard to hit, never mind triples by pitchers. In the National League in 2008, there were 23,071 hits. 478 of them were triples -- that's 2.02% of all NL hits last year. Know how many triples were hit by pitchers in the NL last year? Six. One of them was hit by Z; he does have three career triples. Still, the phrase "a triple short of the cycle" implies that triples are easy to come by. They're not. Neither are cycles: while it may seem like everyone in baseball was having one earlier this year (there were three in one week earlier this month), there have been only 286 of them in major league history. That's slightly more than the number of no-hitters thrown in baseball history: 256. Also, there were 148 occurrences of "a triple short of the cycle" in the NL in 2008 -- in other words, 148 times a hitter had at least a single, double and home run in a game (to be fair, no pitchers did so in 2008, and Z is the first to do so in 2009), not so rare for a single season; on average, that means almost one per day. Thanks are due to baseball-reference.com's fantastic Play Index, which makes looking up data like this easy.
Rant over. I don't think Milton Bradley's return to the lineup caused the hitting explosion, but he joined it, with a pair of singles, and he appeared to be running the bases fine. Let's hope this is the end of the nagging injuries for Gameboard and he can stay in the lineup and produce the way we know he can. Koyie Hill, starting a game for the first time in two weeks, had three singles. Kosuke Fukudome had only one hit, but also walked three times -- his 16 walks rank fifth in the NL and his .482 OBA is third, behind Adam Dunn and Manny Ramirez.
Meanwhile, Z also threw a fine game, allowing only one run until the seventh when his pitch count got a little high (111, 70 for strikes) and three singles and a groundout produced the two final Diamondback runs. By then the Cubs had an 11-1 lead; last night I again had to turn the TV off in the fifth inning so I could get up at 3:30 am for work, but this time it was with the confidence that the Cubs seemed to have the game well in hand, leading 9-1 at the time. There was only one point at which Z could have gotten into trouble; the first inning, when he allowed a leadoff double to Felipe Lopez and a one-out walk; but he got out of the inning with a sharply-hit double play ball and was never really challenged after that. Angel Guzman finished up with a couple of confidence-building scoreless innings.
Nicely done, Cubs, and a game like this shows us what this team is capable of. Keep up the good work. This recap is fairly short because of today's afternoon game -- the day game preview will be posted at 12:30 pm CDT.