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In Ramirez' Absence, Total Team Effort Lifts Cubs Over Padres, 6-2

Be happy this morning -- not just for the Cubs' 6-2 win over the Padres, but for many members of the team, especially two I'm thinking about in particular.

Milton Bradley got booed after striking out in the fourth inning -- totally unjustified, I think. It's not as if Milton hasn't been trying, in fact, perhaps he's been trying too hard -- he even said so the other day -- and so I was really happy for him, not to mention the team, when Milton hit a home run that might still be going. If you saw it on TV, you never saw where it landed, because the cameras lost the ball -- it left the park and landed on Sheffield, just to the right of the center field bleachers. It was estimated in the park as 436 feet, but it had to be 460 or 470; I haven't seen a homer that long at Wrigley Field since the bomb that Sammy Sosa put onto Waveland during the 2003 NLCS. The Padres outfielders never budged, nor turned around to watch it.

Be happy also for minor league lifer Bobby Scales, who smacked his first major league homer in the seventh (giving the Cubs what Lou termed in his postgame press conference "one of those tack-on runs") and then raced around the bases in what seemed about five seconds. Scales is a nice addition to the Cubs; he'll never be a star, but as a switch-hitter with a little speed and a little pop in his bat, he will be a useful addition to the bench.

Rich Harden started out the game as if it wasn't going to be his day. By the time he had faced three batters, two of them had extra-base hits and the second of those, a homer by the Padres' one legitimate hitter, Adrian Gonzalez, gave San Diego a 2-0 lead. But then, Harden settled down and retired 14 straight hitters and left the game after six innings having allowed only two more hits, both singles, and a walk. He didn't strike out that many last night -- only five -- and maybe that can be more of a key to his success than blowing away hitters. He mixed up his pitches well and this was by far his best start of the year.

The beleaguered bullpen threw three scoreless innings in relief of Harden, and best of all, only one walk (by Carlos Marmol) was issued after Harden left the game. Even Aaron Heilman, who has been walking everyone in sight, managed 10 strikes in his 17 pitches. Marmol only threw eight in 16 pitches, but had enough to get out of his one inning with some good breaking stuff.

And, it wasn't just the homers from Bradley and Scales providing the Cubs with offense; Kosuke Fukudome kept up his hot hitting with three hits (including two doubles) and a stolen base, raising his average to .333. Alfonso Soriano matched Fukudome with the doubles and a single, and even Geovany Soto appeared to get out of his struggles with a single and a walk. But, Geo? Don't drop your bat at the plate when you think it's ball four. Let the umpire tell you to take your base. Umpires hate being shown up that way. (And you're more likely to get the benefit of the doubt on close calls if you don't do that.)

We are, this year, having actual spring weather, with temperatures neither scorching nor freezing, and last night was pleasant. The nice evening brought out a fairly large assortment of people who were ejected for underage drinking -- some before the game even started. The rest of the crowd greeted ex-Cub Henry Blanco with some warm applause when he was introduced in the lineup; after that he was treated like any other opponent. This was appropriate, I think, for the contributions that Hank White made while he was here. Blanco, incidentally, had a two-homer game earlier this year and has three homers in all -- but only three other hits, all singles, and is hitting .162.

Meanwhile, since Jake Peavy actually appeared in this game, you will hear more from me about him than you've heard all winter. He got a bit of applause from those who think he might eventually be a Cub, but was also treated like any other opponent. Peavy, usually a decent hitter, has no hits this year but hit two balls hard right at fielders. His 2-5 record reflects the fact that his team has scored only 22 runs in his seven starts, although his 4.30 season ERA is a run higher than his career ERA.

The win, combined with the Pirates' win over the Cardinals, moved the Cubs to within 1.5 games of first place (though they still must jump over both Milwaukee and Cincinnati, both one game out). The Cubs really ought to sweep the Padres if they are going to contend without Aramis Ramirez; last night's team effort was a great step in that direction.