Where was this all summer long?
Not only the baseball, but the great weather. Under a perfect, cloudless sky with low humidity and a light breeze blowing off Lake Michigan, Ted Lilly threw the best game of his All-Star season. Limiting the Astros to just four hits -- and two of them were dink hits that wound up being scored as doubles -- Ted threw eight scoreless innings, walking no one, and made Derrek Lee's two-run homer in the fourth inning stand up for a 2-0 Cubs win over Houston, maintaining the slim wild-card playoff hopes for another day.
D-Lee's bomb gave him 90 RBI with 31 games remaining, matching his total from all of last year, and giving him his fifth 90+ RBI season. He's driven in 100 only once, in his great 2005 season (107, which, thanks to Don't-Clog-The-Bases-Dusty, is the second-lowest RBI total for anyone who had 45 or more HR in a season. Only Troy Glaus, with 47/102 in 2000, had fewer), and is on target for his fourth 30+ HR year. Despite having playoff teams each of the last two years, the Cubs didn't have a 30-100 hitter on either one. The Cubs' last 30-100 man was Aramis Ramirez, who had 38 HR and 119 RBI in the lost 2006 season.
Just goes to show you that team effort is required for postseason play, and the Cubs had that today. They didn't hit much, but didn't need to, given Lilly's outstanding pitching performance, and in spite of a little shakiness from Carlos Marmol in the 9th, he settled down and registered his eighth save. Lou Piniella seems to have a pathological aversion to complete games -- the Cubs have only two nine-inning CG since he's been managing -- and even though Lilly had 105 pitches (69 strikes) through eight, I think I would have given him a shot at finishing.
Lilly was also helped out by some outstanding defense. Mike Fontenot made a diving catch of a Kaz Matsui foul popup in the sixth inning, and Andres Blanco made two great plays, a spear of a Jeff Keppinger line drive in the third, and ranging far to his left to stab a Miguel Tejada ground ball in the fourth. I don't think I need to say -- but I will anyway -- that Ryan Theriot wouldn't have made either of those plays.
In addition to his fine defense, Blanco slapped a double down the LF line and scored on Lee's homer, and laid down a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt in the sixth. That's one game's worth of good performances by Blanco in the field and at bat. Has Aaron Miles done all of those things in his entire season's worth of work? Tell me again why Miles needed to be on this team in the first place? Blanco could have given better production (he's got a .620 OPS, which is pretty bad, but it's almost 170 points higher than Miles') and better defense for a small fraction of the money spent on Miles.
Lesson learned, we hope, for Jim Hendry: sometimes the answer you seek is right in front of you.
I must make a Milton Bradley comment today -- he didn't run out a ground ball to short in the first inning, which led to some boos. Those, I felt were deserved -- you've got to run out every ball. What if Tejada had thrown the ball away?
Today was, apparently, senior citizen busload day at the ballpark; this was the last of the "value dates", with ticket prices relatively low, and many buses pulled up on Waveland discharging groups of seniors out for a nice outing on a beautiful early September day. As you may have seen via tweets from BCB's ballhawk, bleacher tickets were available on the street for as low as $5 (or maybe free by game time). The bleachers did eventually fill up, and the announced crowd of 39,192 had only about 5,000 no-shows; the park was reasonably full, and those who did attend enjoyed not only the win, but the quickest nine-inning game by time all year, two hours and fourteen minutes.
So -- time grows shorter. Keep winning, and hope the teams in front of you lose. Go Mets, Marlins and Phillies tonight, and let's beat those White Sox in the makeup game tomorrow afternoon. Keep the faith.