The US Air Force Thunderbirds entertained the largest paid crowd of the year, 41,619, with several very low and loud flyovers at Wrigley Field this afternoon, as they prepared for tomorrow's and Sunday's Chicago Air & Water Show.
The Cubs bats were nearly as loud, pounding out 18 hits and a season-high 17 runs and sending the Pirates -- who really are not much more than a Triple-A team -- to a 17-2 blowout.
The 10-run second inning was the Cubs' first since they scored 10 off the Cardinals in the fourth inning on June 10, 2004, and according to this game recap, the Cubs accomplished something today they hadn't done in 103 years:
The last time Chicago scored 14 runs in the first two innings of a game was June 7, 1906, against the New York Giants.
It was hot and a little bit sticky -- the temperature in my car when I got in after the game was 93 -- and the wind was blowing out, but the Cubs accomplished all of this with only one home run. Kosuke Fukudome's 10th of the season, equalling his total from all of last year, was a three-run blast nearly to the back of the bleachers in right-center, but he wasn't the biggest hitting star. Derrek Lee drove in a run with a single, walked with the bases loaded in the second, came up again with the bases loaded in that 10-run second and doubled in three, and then cleared the bases with yet another bases-loaded double in the fourth before being given the rest of the day off. Had he been left in, he'd have come up with three on in the eighth; the Cubs had loaded them with two out on a Geovany Soto pinch-hit double, a single by Ryan Theriot and a walk to Sam Fuld. Mike Fontenot, who took over Lee's batting order spot, flied deep to center.
You will say, "Well, it's only the Pirates." However, you have to play the schedule you are given and win the games you play. The Cubs looked bad against the Phillies and Rockies without Aramis Ramirez in the lineup, and then came out and pounded out all these hits with a lineup without Ramirez, Milton Bradley and Soto. So -- what's the answer? The Cubs have 47 games remaining and only eleven of them (four with the Dodgers, three with the Cardinals, four with the Giants) are against teams who currently have winning records. Doesn't matter who you beat to get to the postseason, just get there. I remind you again: the 2005 White Sox, in the regular season against the two teams they faced in the AL playoffs, the Red Sox and Angels, went 6-10, including getting swept at home by the Angels in September in games with very similar scores to the ones the Phillies just took from the Cubs. (Don't believe me? Look here.) In the postseason they went 7-1 against those two teams.
Randy Wells didn't have to do too much today except go out there and "pitch to contact", as the saying goes; he allowed a pair of runs in six innings and still is one inning short of qualifying for the league ERA leaders. His 2.87 ERA would rank him ninth, and his ninth win of the year ties him with Ted Lilly for the team lead.
Here's where I give my one criticism for the day. What on Earth is Lou Piniella thinking, using John Grabow and Kevin Gregg in a blowout like this one? Granted, neither one of them had any work lately, but they might be needed tomorrow and this isn't spring training, where you slide a pitcher in for an inning every now and then just to give them work. This was a perfect opportunity to save every arm in the pen except that of Esmailin Caridad. Caridad threw a scoreless seventh, but there was no reason not to leave him in to finish the game (had he done so, he'd have registered a save). This is exactly why you have that 12th guy in the pen -- for a game just like this one. Grabow threw 21 pitches on a hot day -- he might be spent for tomorrow. Gregg, with 11, could probably work tomorrow. Let's hope for another blowout and they won't be needed.
Ramirez, whose car was the first one in the players' lot today, was expected to start but didn't -- not due to his shoulder injury, but supposedly because he has a cold. Hopefully, he'll be available tomorrow; fortunately, he wasn't needed at all today.
Carlos Zambrano was throwing off the bullpen mound during batting practice today. He appeared to have no issues with his back and after throwing for about 15 minutes, he had a long discussion with someone from the training staff and Larry Rothschild before leaving the field. His car was long gone from the players' lot by the time the game ended.
Anyway, this sort of game was exactly what this team needed -- loosen them up, give the regulars a bit of a breather and realize, "Hey, we are still a good baseball team." Keep up the good work -- tomorrow will be a lot tougher vs. Zach Duke.
And go Padres.