PITTSBURGH -- A gentle rain fell for most of today's 4-2 Cubs win over the Pirates, but it didn't stop Derrek Lee, who hit a pair of homers for the second time in three days, his 30th and 31st of 2009. In so doing, he achieved his fourth 30+ homer season (and third as a Cub). Maybe -- and I'm only joking here, really -- Lee and his wife Christina need to have more kids. The birth of D-Lee's son Dylan seems to have energized him since his return.
Let's not forget Ted Lilly's performance, either; in six solid innings he gave up only two hits, a home run to Andy LaRoche and an RBI double to Brandon Moss, accounting for the only two Pirates runs. Had Lilly not uncharacteristically issued three walks -- his control has been outstanding this year -- he might have thrown a one-hitter.
That is, if Lou had let him go farther. Lilly was pulled after only 87 pitches and six innings, even though he was cruising. That made the Cubs fans -- maybe 40% of the 14,673 at PNC Park today -- a little nervous, but the pen was outstanding today. John Grabow (more on him below the fold) and Angel Guzman had eight-pitch innings and Carlos Marmol looked like the Marmol of 2008, dispatching the Bucs easily with 11 strikes in 13 pitches.
The rest of the team did just enough to beat a dispirited-looking Pirates team (one sign seen today read: "I Wish I Were A Detroit Lions Fan"); Milton Bradley accounted for the other Cubs RBI with a single. The rain, not much more than a mist most of the afternoon, sent most of the crowd out of the exposed seats to the concourse or seats underneath the upper-deck overhang.
Which, fortunately, was where my seat, behind first base was located, and now you'll find out why I said "more about John Grabow below the fold". I happened to find myself sitting right behind Grabow's wife and several members of her family, including some extremely cute small kids (nephew & niece, I think) wearing black Pirates Grabow jerseys and Cubs caps that had been embroidered with "#43" on the side. I gave them a BCB card and asked one of the relatives to pass it along to Grabow. So John -- if you're reading here, welcome, outstanding game today and you've done a really nice job since the trade. We hope you stay.
I have been to PNC Park before, in 2003, so I'll save my longer exploration of the park for tomorrow night and post about it Wednesday morning. Suffice to say that I was surprised to learn the crowd was as small as it was -- I thought it would have been announced as at least about 20,000 tickets sold, though it couldn't have been much more than half that in the park. The weather certainly had something to do with the small turnout, but so does the Pirates' performance and their constant shipping away of any young stars they have. I spoke to a man around my age who had a couple of 8 or 9 year olds with him -- he said they come mainly for the experience of baseball, not to expect the Pirates to win. That's really sad -- they are turning off the next generation of fans completely. I'd expect less than 10,000 announced tomorrow night, particularly now that the Cubs' win today has clinched a losing season for the Pirates, setting a North American major league sports (not just baseball, but all four major sports) record of 17 consecutive losing seasons. I'd expect that record to be extended by at least four or five more years. (The Bucs were also mathematically eliminated from the NL Central race today.)
For the second day in a row there was a foul ball in my section; yesterday, it glanced off my wrist and was picked up by, of all people, a guy wearing a White Sox jersey. Today, it bounced off a seat in front of me and landed a couple of rows in front. Luck? Who knows? What I do know is that in the other two years I have seen the Cubs play in Pittsburgh -- 1984 and 2003 -- they made the postseason both times. It's still a longshot, but at this writing the Reds lead the Rockies 3-1; a Cincinnati win means a game gained. Don't give up. Not quite yet.