Alfonso Soriano has to be the most infuriating player in the major leagues today.
At times, he looks like he's not even paying attention; at times he makes lackadaisical or bonehead plays in the outfield.
And then there are times like today, when he did all of that -- but later alertly took an extra base after stealing second when Javier Lopez's pitch got away from Ryan Doumit. This, after Geovany Soto (who is leading the NL in OBA) drew a walk, put him in perfect position to score the winning run easily on Xavier Nady's pinch-single.
That's right, I said Xavier Nady's pinch-single -- in his last six games Nady now has four RBI, and this one won the game for the Cubs, a 4-3 win, at last, over the Pittsburgh Pirates. For those of you who thought the Cardinals were "running away" with the division, their loss to the Reds today puts them in second place. Care to restate that?
Just to show you how numbers can be manipulated to tell us anything, on the WGN postgame show Judd Sirott mentioned that the Cubs are now 15-5 "when they score four or more runs". That doesn't sound quite right, but it's true -- but they are 5-18 when they score four runs or fewer, which has been the problem, failure to win games when the pitching staff has held the opposition down.
It looked like that was going to be the case again today; Ted Lilly had one bad inning, started when Doumit's bouncer down the line ate up Aramis Ramirez for a gift double. Ted then issued a walk; a couple of hits and walks later the Pirates had their third 3-0 lead of the series. But Ted settled down and gave up only three more singles before getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning.
And until the Cubs started, uncharacteristically, getting hits off an opponent's bullpen, it looked like it would be yet another wasted quality start. But Derrek Lee took advantage of a Ronny Cedeno error (hooray! one of those that actually benefitted the Cubs!) to drive in the tying run after a wild pitch had scored Mike Fontenot with run #2.
The Cubs bullpen was outstanding today; Sean Marshall threw a solid eighth inning and was rewarded with the win, and Carlos Marmol threw only fifteen pitches (ten strikes) in registering his sixth save. Marmol has now thrown 18 innings this year -- 54 outs. 35 of those outs have come by strikeout (two today). The only pitcher who is an exclusive reliever who's even close to those K numbers is Hisanori Takahashi of the Mets, who has 30 -- in eight more innings pitched.
Does this win solve all the Cubs' problems? No. But again, this is a strange year in the National League. Most of the teams -- as many as 14 of them, including the Cubs -- are in a big bunch separated by only about seven games. It will take some changes and having guys like Lee, who had a big hit today, and Ramirez, who hit the ball hard today and was robbed by some good Pirates defense, to keep going; eventually, they will hit as they have in the past.
On a day that was originally forecast to be cloudy with late-day rain, the sun was out over the ballpark all afternoon, making for a pleasant day in the bleachers for Len Kasper and Bob Brenly, who broadcast the game from center field and who stopped by to say hi as they walked by on their way to their temporary perch.
Today's win was the 1800th of Lou Piniella's managerial career. Perhaps that milestone might prompt him to "step aside"? Just a thought.
Finally, congratulations to the Blackhawks on their exciting Game One win in the NHL Western Conference finals. Go 'Hawks, and go Cubs. Build back one win at a time.