PHILADELPHIA -- I think yesterday's game was a prime example of what Jim Hendry envisioned when he put together the 2009 roster.
Never mind that two of the starting players yesterday (Jeff Baker and Koyie Hill) were either not on the team or were backups when the season began; the Cubs had 13 hits and drew nine walks off six Philadelphia pitchers and cruised to a 10-5 win over the Phillies, ending Philly's 10-game winning streak and finishing off a 5-2 road trip, the best trip of the season to date.
Baker had a two-run double in the four-run fourth inning and on the play, the ball got away from Phillies 2B Chase Utley, allowing Alfonso Soriano to score. All of this happened right after BCB reader Connecticut Cubs Fan came by to say hi -- risking his life to get past the ushers at Citizens Bank Park, who won't let you go and visit friends in another section. By Wednesday they had gotten used to me being in section 141 so several BCB readers (sdurst, wrigley12 among others, and sorry if I left you out!) were able to stop by and say hi.
I'm being too hard on the CBP employees -- in general, they were friendly and efficient, and even when chasing people away from the fence two rows in front of me they were nice about it. Remember that in general, Philadelphia hasn't been a place used to everyday sellouts; this is the sixth year of the Phillies' new ballpark and yesterday was their 40th sellout of the season (in 48 home dates). Despite that, there were quite a few empty seats and it emptied out even faster when the Cubs raced out to 4-0, 5-1 and 8-3 leads, even though there were tons of neon-T-shirted kids groups there. Those kids were lined up completely around the park when the game was over for the "Kids Run The Bases" promotion -- they were probably doing that for at least an hour after the game ended.
Despite the 8-3 lead in the seventh inning, the Cubs just had to make the small contingent of Cubs fans nervous. By that time Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had been ejected after Paul Bako was called out on what plate umpire Dan Iassogna said was a foul tip caught by Koyie Hill. In the bottom of the seventh Carlos Zambrano, who had sailed along with little trouble, loaded the bases and had to be yanked as he reached 115 pitches. Sean Marshall, who has been outstanding all year at stranding inherited runners, allowed a two-run single to Greg Dobbs, one of the few times he's failed since being moved to the bullpen.
The Phillies threatened again in the eighth when Aramis Ramirez -- who probably should have gotten the day off, a hot, humid day after he played all 13 innings the night before -- committed an error on a ground ball that he usually handles routinely. Two outs and a walk later, Lou had to summon Kevin Gregg for a more-than-one-inning save for the second time on the trip. With two runners on, he walked Utley before getting Ryan Howard on a weak grounder, and then finished off the Phillies easily in the ninth inning after the Cubs added two insurance runs in the top of the frame. I'm not sure who took over for Charlie Manuel after he was tossed, but whoever it was apparently wanted to make the most of his temporary managerial status. Granted that Brad Lidge was getting hit pretty hard, but why on Earth would you bother changing pitchers with two out in the ninth inning of a game on a sticky, humid day, after playing 13 innings the night before? (Maybe Lou gave them the idea.)
With the Astros' 4-3 win over the Cardinals last night (only the second blown save for Ryan Franklin), the Cubs move to within one game of first place, tied with Houston. I'm a little concerned about the Astros, though I wonder how they've gotten this far with that pitching staff. Houston also has a negative run differential -- and you know teams that have winning records with that kind of differential generally can't keep that up for an entire season. Let's hope they cool off before Monday, when they'll begin a four-game series at Wrigley Field.
The 2009 Cubs are a flawed team and, as we know, have played well in only fits and starts this season. Nevertheless, the current run -- seven wins in the last 11 games -- is a nice base to build on. There are moves likely to be made in the next few days; there's no way this team can continue with Koyie Hill as, essentially, their only catcher (since Geovany Soto's injury, Hill, starting every day, is hitting .119, 5-for-42). Either Geo has to recover quickly or the Cubs have to make a deal for another catcher. We'll also soon find out whether the B.J. Ryan experiment is going to work (if so, that will really help the bullpen, either giving a second lefty, or allowing Sean Marshall to start again), and it appears that Ryan Dempster may be able to start as soon as Sunday, as long as an X-ray taken today comes out well.
Flawed? Yes. In contention? Definitely. Hang in there and enjoy the off-day.