Things went so well for the Cubs in their 11-1 win over the Mets Tuesday night that Carlos Zambrano, who had been 2-for-28 with 14 strikeouts as a pinch-hitter in his career before last night, hit a two-run single in a four-run seventh-inning. It was his first pinch hit in over three years, since a single against the Cardinals on May 2, 2008.
Which was the third multi-run inning of the game for the Cubs, who appear to have found someone who's worse off than they are, the injury-depleted Mets. I confess that last night's Mets lineup contained the names of two players I had never heard of: shortstop Ruben Tejeda, and third baseman Justin Turner. Tejeda scored the Mets' only run of the evening after doubling off the wall in the fifth inning; but by that time the game was well in hand.
That happened courtesy of a five-run Cubs second inning which was highlighted by Lou Montanez's first hit as a Cub, eleven years after he was their No. 1 pick (third pick overall) in the 2000 amateur draft as a shortstop. Highly touted, Montanez hit really well in his first year in the Cub organization and then ... stopped. After the 2006 season he was signed by the Orioles as a six-year minor league free agent, played briefly for them in the majors from 2008-2010 (homering in his first big league AB) and returned to the Cubs this past offseason, again as a free agent. He's 29, not young and not really a prospect -- but he can hit lefthanded pitching and play outfield reasonably well; he went 2-for-4 with a walk in his Cubs debut and if he keeps this up, he could have a decent career as a fourth or fifth outfielder. Incidentally, have a look at the 2000 MLB draft's first round. Apart from Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Utley and Adam Wainwright, there are an awful lot of never-were's on that list.
Ryan Dempster was shaky in the first two innings last night and threw a lot of pitches, but after the Cubs gave him the five-run lead, he settled down and had perhaps his best start of 2011 to date, seven innings, allowing just five hits, the one run, with only one walk and five strikeouts. If he can keep this up, that will help solidify a rotation that has been very, very shaky to date.
In addition to Montanez's big day, Starlin Castro went 3-for-5 with a pair of RBI; Darwin Barney also drove in two with two singles; Koyie Hill went 1-for-3 with a walk and three runs scored and Reed Johnson, who went 1-for-4 with a walk, also made a spectacular diving catch in center field off the Mets' Jason Pridie.
Pridie -- there's another no-name Met. Granted that the Mets have two starting players (David Wright and Ike Davis) on the DL, but their lineup last night looked like a split-squad spring training game. Actually, the Cubs lineup looked pretty much that way too; the Cubs, though, pounded out 13 hits on a cold night and took advantage of three Mets errors. I said last night that the Cubs need to go 6-3 on this homestand to even have a possibility of a conversation about contending; this was a good start.
The cold kept about half of the announced crowd of 35,707 away from the ballpark and after the seventh-inning stretch, many of those who did show up left, presumably to watch the Bulls game. That one didn't end well, and tonight there's a 90-100% chance of rain with the possibility of thunderstorms and severe weather in the area.
Eventually, perhaps, it will warm up in the Chicago area and all this rain will come to an end, and maybe that will coincide with a Cubs winning streak. Casey Coleman will, weather permitting, face the Mets' Dillon Gee tonight.