Back at Wrigley Field for the first time in 12 days, Cubs hitters saw the wind blowing out at a reported 9 MPH (that boxscore number is wrong -- the wind was howling out a lot stronger than that), and cranked up the longball.
Mike Fontenot, Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee and Jeff Baker (his first as a Cub) all homered and the Cubs hung on for an 8-5 win over the Reds when Lou insisted on using Kevin Gregg in the 9th inning again in a non-save situation -- even though Jeff Samardzija had gotten up to throw when Lee's homer gave the Cubs an 8-3 lead. Again, Gregg stood in the bullpen as if to say, "Get me out of this situation!" Samardzija could have kept warming up and the Cubs could have sent Carlos Marmol out to loosen up on the mound, then the Shark could have come in ready to go.
Instead, Gregg managed to get two outs sandwiched around a single, but then gave up two more hits and a walk, leading to two Cincinnati runs and bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of Cub-killer Joey Votto, who has hit 10 of his 41 career homers against the Cubs. Gregg got Votto looking, and all's well that ends well, I suppose, even though Gregg had to throw 22 pitches to get through that ninth inning.
It was especially nice to see A-Ram have his big day; 4-for-5 with two doubles and a homer, and he drove in runs in his first three at-bats. This is what the Cubs have been missing, Ramirez's big bat in the middle of the lineup, the only one that opposing pitchers really fear every time up. I think that makes the entire lineup better -- there's no statistical evidence to prove that, of course, but today the Cubs pounded out 14 hits and drew three walks and generally looked good in just about every inning. The only real mistake made was by Randy Wells in the second inning. Seriously -- you're facing Aaron Harang, a man with 389 career AB, a .087 batting average and four extra-base hits, all doubles. Why would you give him any pitch he could hit? Harang slammed a three-run homer; fortunately, Wells settled down after that and gave the Reds only two singles for the final four innings he threw.
The biggest news today, however, was made off the field.
I know there's been a lot of angst thrown around here about the Cardinals' trade for Matt Holliday, sending their top prospect, Brett Wallace, and two other good minor leaguers to Oakland. Frankly, this doesn't worry me as much as it would have if the Cardinals had picked up Roy Halladay -- which, now, they can't do, since Toronto would have wanted Wallace as a centerpiece. Holliday's a good hitter, but to expect him to put up the numbers he did in Coors Field is a mistake. Plus, I suspect the Cardinals, who are facing the Phillies and Dodgers in their next seven games, will find that a little tougher run than beating up on the Nationals, as they did last night.
Further big (and bad) news was revealed today -- Ted Lilly will miss his next scheduled start and is likely headed to the DL, as mentioned by Lou in his postgame remarks -- Ted will have a MRI tomorrow and then they'll decide. Kevin Hart will move up to throw tomorrow, and Rich Harden on Sunday -- which isn't good news because you all know his record in day games. Carlos Zambrano will go Monday, and Ryan Dempster will return from the DL to pitch on Tuesday. Dempster was throwing off flat ground in the outfield before today's game and looked fine, not favoring the toe at all, so I suspect the Tuesday date will be just fine.
Also heard today that the Cubs are working on a deal to get some pitching help (without revealing who, I think we'll all be very happy if this deal gets completed) and are also still in the market for a catcher. The injury to Lilly, I would assume, may press the pitching-possibility deal into high gear (that's my speculation).
There were a ton of Reds fans in attendance today, seemingly more than usual, including a group of college-age men and women who spent much of the game trying to get the attention of Reds LF Jonny Gomes (why, I have no idea). The steady stream of people at the day-of-game ticket windows made today's paid crowd 41,406, the second-largest crowd of the year (the largest, also on a Friday afternoon, was 41,509, June 12 vs. Minnesota).
Despite the injuries and turmoil, the Cubs could pull to within 1/2 game of first place if the Phillies can beat the Cardinals tonight. They have won 8 of their last 12, dating back to the St. Louis series before the All-Star break. Keep the faith, everyone. The race is just now heating up.