NOTE FROM AL: Once again, the Cubs and Pirates played a swift game Wednesday night, so this recap was originally posted at 9:07 pm Wednesday ... I've moved it to the top of the front page this morning, for those who weren't online Tuesday night. (Again, that's why the "tonight" references.)
So this is all it took?
Benching Alfonso Soriano for a day and starting Sam Fuld in left field?
Fuld made the most of his chance, leading off the game with his first major league hit, a double (yes, Jessica, they saved him the ball and probably pulled the usual trick, where they scribble all over a fake ball and give that to him, then hold the real one for later). He also made two fine defensive plays, capped by his bullseye throw that caught Jack Wilson trying to score in the fifth inning.
And just to make it an all-Fuld night, he caught a fly ball for the final out of the Cubs' 4-1 win over the Pirates. Derrek Lee chimed in with his 12th homer of the year, and Kosuke Fukudome also went deep, his first homer since May 26. Fukudome also made a nice diving catch in center field tonight.
Is it too early to start beating the drums for Randy Wells for Rookie of the Year? Seriously, who else in the National League in his first season is doing what Wells is? (Colby Rasmus, maybe.) Wells has made 10 starts, thrown 63 innings, and if he had enough (it'd be 75 at this writing, equalling the number of games his team has played), he'd rank third in the NL with a 2.43 ERA. Wells won't appear among the league leaders, most likely, until after the All-Star break, but his seven strong innings today make him one of the most consistent starters in the league. He's had only one bad start among his ten.
All told, the Cubs put up five extra-base hits including a triple from Geovany Soto, only the third of his major league career. It was suggested in one of the comment threads not long ago that Soriano's travails the last two months might be because he is trying too hard to carry the team in Aramis Ramirez's absence.
There's something to this, I think. Soriano is an all-out kind of player -- all or nothing, as we have too often found out. If he thinks he has to carry the weight of two players, it's no wonder he hasn't been hitting. If this theory is correct, Soriano should take off on one of his hot streaks as soon as Ramirez returns to Chicago on Monday after his three-day rehab assignment this weekend (incidentally, anyone here who's going to the Kane County game on Friday, please take photos!).
I was out for a while tonight and was listening on the radio, and in between the usual "Gosh!" comments from Ron Santo, there was some cogent commentary from Pat Hughes about Fuld, who told the broadcast team that during his brief callup in 2007, he didn't feel comfortable because he hadn't been to major league spring training and didn't really know anyone on the team. This year, as a member of the 40-man roster who had some shot, at least, of making the club out of camp, he said he knew many of the current players -- and on the current team, there are five other players who spent significant time at Iowa this year and two others (Koyie Hill, Micah Hoffpauir) who spent much of last year there as a teammate of Fuld. Watching Fuld bat tonight, he looked completely different than that kid who endeared himself to Cubs fans with his crashing-the-wall catch that resulted in a double play on September 22, 2007 vs. the Pirates at Wrigley Field. It's one of those things you can't put a statistical measure on -- he looked more confident, as if he belonged on a major league field, whereas he didn't really look like that two years ago.
Me? I'd start him again tomorrow. Ride the hot hand. Lou likes doing that. And thanks for the show tonight, Lou -- that's his first ejection of the season, arguing a close call at first base where Wells almost beat out an infield grounder. (Replays were inconclusive to me, though Len & Bob thought he was safe.) Lou could sit Milton Bradley tomorrow and play Fuld in right field. (Thanks, Milton, for the pair of walks tonight, I guess -- though I thought we signed you to be a big bat in that cleanup spot. Glad you bumped up your OBA.)
In any case, the Cubs ended the road trip with a series win and crept back to within 3.5 games of first-place Milwaukee (two down in the loss column -- win three of four this weekend and they'd be tied in the loss column). Nice way to start a new month.