A group of friendly Yankees fans -- who had been in town for their series with the White Sox and stayed Monday just so they could come to Wrigley Field for the first time -- sat in the section just to my left last night in the bleachers.
They left town with an unexpected souvenir -- Carlos Zambrano's home run ball. If you missed it last night, here's the TwitPic I tweeted from the ballpark (yes, somehow they let a Mets fan in with their group).
Z threw well into the sixth inning and allowed only one unearned run and hit his 21st career home run, and the Cubs pounded out 18 hits and sank the Pirates 14-2. The win mathematically eliminated the Pirates from the NL Central race.
Z has now homered in eight consecutive seasons. The only other pitchers who have had at least one home run in that many or more consecutive years are Warren Spahn (17, 1946-62) and Dizzy Trout (11, 1942-52).
I know I've been in the "Z must go" camp since his suspension and placement on the restricted list in June. He pitched very well again last night, despite not having his best stuff, lowering his ERA to 4.36 by allowing just one unearned run and evening his W-L record at 6-6. Since returning to the rotation he has posted a 1.86 ERA in 29.1 innings, allowing 24 hits and striking out 22. There are still too many walks (four last night, 20 since returning), but I will admit to being interested in the possibility that Z might have, at last, figured out how to just pitch (instead of all the extracurricular activities) and could be a key part of the 2011 rotation.
Curious thing about that unearned run. Andrew McCutchen led off the game with a ground ball that Jeff Baker butchered. Baker was charged with an error; later, it was changed to a hit, which was duly announced by Paul Friedman on the ballpark PA. That play was clearly an error. The play which resulted in the one unearned run that Z allowed -- a high, arching fly ball that Alfonso Soriano simply overran -- was ruled an error on Sori even though he never touched the ball; it bounced away from him and Neil Walker wound up on third base, from where he later scored.
The Cubs had fun hitting last night, giving Mike Quade a win in the first game he managed at Wrigley Field. They pounded out 18 hits, including nine doubles; Starlin Castro had two of them and now, with enough PA to qualify, ranks fifth in the NL at .313, three points behind Martin Prado of the Braves for fourth. Aramis Ramirez drove in four runs and even Koyie Hill joined in with two hits and two RBI.
The nine doubles is the most the Cubs have had in one game since July 20, 2003, when they also had nine in a 16-2 rout of the Marlins at Miami. It was the first time a Cubs team had nine doubles in a game at Wrigley Field since a 14-4 win over the Giants on August 16, 1979. The team record (since 1920) is 10, set in a 17-13 loss to the Cardinals in the second game of a DH on July 12, 1931.
Fun stuff. It happened in front of the smallest crowd of the year, 29,538, and that number was likely only as "large" as it was because of the ceremony honoring recent Hall of Fame inductee Andre Dawson. There had been about 27,000 tickets sold before yesterday, which meant the Cubs got a small walkup sale, but only 1100 total tickets were sold for the bleachers, which felt quite empty last night. They won't have that many tonight; the paid attendance was the smallest since September 7, 2006, when it was announced as 27,105. The last time the Cubs drew a crowd smaller than that one was on September 26, 2002, when the announced paid attendance was 20,032.
Regardless, the Cubs have had trouble beating the Pirates this year and doing it in convincing fashion was fun, even in a season as dismal as this one. Let's do it again tonight.