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Carlos Zambrano, You Drive Us Nuts! Cubs Win 2nd In Row, 3-1

WASHINGTON -- Carlos Zambrano had a terrible game last night -- he threw a ridiculous 40 pitches in the first inning and by the time the inning was over, he had issued three walks. He had bored his infield so much that Ryan Theriot committed an error on what should have been an easy, inning-ending grounder, and the Nats had a 1-0 lead.

Carlos Zambrano had a terrific game last night -- he struck out five from the second through fifth innings, gave up only three harmless singles in that time, and smacked a two-run double down the right-field line that gave the Cubs the only runs they'd need in their second straight win over the Nationals, 3-1 Friday night.

In addition to Z's good and bad performance, two more highlights of the game were provided by Micah Hoffpauir, who bulled his way past both some grabbing fans and a frightened ball girl to make a catch of Willie Harris' foul popup to end the third inning, and Aramis Ramirez's first home run since his return from injury. That ball wound up halfway up the LF seats, and this just after A-Ram had noted yesterday that he wasn't going to try to hit homers and that we shouldn't expect any.

It rained off and on much of the afternoon in Washington (with heavier rain skirting the capital to the south), but it was dry at game time. A little shower came through during the early innings, raising a few umbrellas for about ten minutes. After that skies partly cleared out and the humidity dropped, perhaps killing both offenses; following the active first three innings, in which all the runs were scored, both teams combined for only five hits the rest of the way, and the 2:39 game time was identical to Thursday night's.

Four Cubs relievers gave the Nats only a pair of hits after Z departed; this is very good news, as you well know, the Cubs' bullpen has been a source of much yelling and screaming the first half of the season, most of it not printable on this blog (at least not by me, anyway). Aaron Heilman had a nice inning, striking out two, and the good Carlos Marmol showed up last night -- even though it drives me nuts when managers do this. Sean Marshall had a good rhythm going and after he had retired Adam Dunn for the first out of the eighth, why not leave him in to finish the inning? It all worked out fine, and Kevin Gregg finished up without major incident, but this is how relievers get overworked.

There were even more Cubs fans in the crowd of 27,581 last night than on Thursday; I had expected a bigger gathering, but perhaps that will happen tonight. Nats fans seem so earnest about their team, but resigned to them being bad for the foreseeable future. Craig Stammen didn't have a bad game -- allowing only six hits and three runs in six innings -- but the Nats' offense, which is usually decent, couldn't get anything going. Cubs pitchers combined for 12 strikeouts Friday night.

About Nationals Park, I had a chance to walk around the place before last night's game. As many had told me, I found it very generic and shopping mall-like. The left-field entrance is the "main" entrance even though it's not behind the plate as you'd expect in most ballparks; this is likely because it's only a block and a half from the Washington Metro subway stop, the way most people come to the park because driving in DC is... well, just don't. Plus, official parking is $40, although I did see some lots charging "only" $25. Land has been cleared surrounding the park for what they must have hoped would be future development, but the recession has stopped that (and has also stopped some residential construction half-built). One entrepreneur has rented (I presume) a large lot right across from the LF entrance, set up tons of beer kegs and both live and taped music for an outdoor bar setup -- it was packed.

Inside, just off that entrance, you find a video game zone, a Build-A-Bear workshop, and other things you'd find at any mall. The concourse is very generic; it reminded me of the GABP in Cincinnati, and the Nats have placed banners honoring Hall of Famers on the concourse -- a nice touch, but what does it have to do with Washington? One thing that does is a history of baseball in DC timeline that's on the concourse wall, well done and interesting. The Nats also honor the old Washington Senators -- they fly their AL pennant flags, and in the inside wall of the PNC Diamond Club there's a linescore from Game 7 of the 1924 World Series, the only one ever won by a Washington team.

Food selections are mostly ballpark-generic and a bit pricey, but my friend Ken from the Wrigley Field bleachers, also here, recommended "Teddy's BBQ" in center field; good recommendation, as it turned out; they have BBQ short ribs, brisket and chicken sandwiches, excellent food. Speaking of "Teddy", as in Teddy Roosevelt, as you know, they have a "Presidents Race" at Nationals Park, with a giant costumed George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt racing a la the racing sausages in Milwaukee. Apparently, the fix is in: Teddy never wins, even when he has a huge lead as he did last night. This seems blatantly unfair -- I say, "LET TEDDY WIN!"

Speaking of people named "Theodore Roosevelt", the only slight glitch in the plan to do well in this series is a minor knee problem for Ted Lilly, which will push him back to Monday's series opener in Philadelphia; Randy Wells will go tonight and Kevin Hart will be recalled to start on Sunday.

The Cubs have now won four of their last six and, with the Reds' shutout of the Brewers last night, move into second place ahead of Milwaukee by fractions of a percentage point, still three games behind the Cardinals but down only one in the loss column. Keep up the good work and keep the pressure on the Cardinals!