I knew it was going to be a good day when I got on the Dan Ryan to go to the Cell -- something I almost never do when driving to the South Side ballpark, but it looked like traffic was moving -- and I got there in 20 minutes from my house in Lakeview, with no slowdowns.
During rush hour? That's unpossible, as most of you who live here know.
After the first two innings, though, I began to wonder whether Monday night might, in fact, be the night where the Cubs' not-being-no-hit streak would end. They had gone out meekly to Gavin Floyd and the White Sox scored three times in the first inning off Carlos Zambrano. Even that was an improvement over last year's Z appearance at the Cell, where he gave up four in the first. Two of them were on a home run by Paul Konerko, his fifth lifetime off Big Z. The Cell's videoboard then "helpfully" posted a list of all of them, with dates and distances. Cubs fans in the crowd -- maybe a third of the total -- didn't need to see that.
But then the Cubs started hitting. Geovany Soto led off the third with a single, and the Cubs manufactured a pair of runs using a Tony Campana sacrifice, a walk, and a Starlin Castro single. Castro didn't score then, but did manage to steal second base -- on a pitchout.
Big Z settled down. Those aren't words you read around here, or anywhere else, too often. From the second through the eighth inning, he allowed just four singles and a pair of walks. Only two Sox got past first base during that time. It really was an outstanding display, not just of pitching, but of control, from Z. Overall, he got nine outs on ground balls and after Konerko's homer, only four White Sox hit the ball out of the infield.
Meanwhile, the Cubs broke the game open in the sixth with two home runs.
No, I am not making that up. Starlin Castro hit his first home run since April 16 to lead off the inning, and after a single and a walk, it looked like Carlos Pena had grounded out to first base, with the two runners advancing.
But that ball was ruled foul, and three pitches later, Pena deposited a ball into the right-field seats to make it 6-3 Cubs, which wound up the final score.
Even at 115 pitches after eight, Z was cruising. I wonder if, had the Cubs scored a couple of runs in the ninth, Mike Quade might have let him finish. No Cubs pitcher has thrown a complete game in a victory since Z threw a two-hit shutout against the Giants in San Francisco on September 25, 2009. (Ryan Dempster threw one in a loss in Seattle on June 22, 2010, an eight-inning CG.) No Cubs pitcher has thrown one in Chicago since Sean Marshall was credited with a rain-shortened five-inning CG on May 26, 2009 at Wrigley Field and the last Cubs pitcher to throw one in Chicago of a full nine innings was Dempster, against the Atlanta Braves on June 11, 2008.
Complete games aren't the be-all and end-all of pitching in the 2010s -- the Cubs and Padres have none this year and five other teams have just one -- but with the Cubs having an overtaxed bullpen, it wouldn't be a bad thing to give them a night off once in a while. Carlos Marmol gave up a pair of hits in the ninth inning, both of them good pieces of hitting by A.J. Pierzynski and Alex Rios, before getting Juan Pierre to ground out to end it.
This is a strange time in the Cubs/White Sox rivalry. Large swaths of empty seats could be found at the Cell in the right field and left field corners and in the bleachers in left field; the announced crowd of 36,005 was nearly 4,000 under capacity. I believe this was the first Cubs/White Sox game since interleague play began -- the 79th overall -- that was not a complete sellout. The crowd was somewhat subdued, too; Cubs fans have been subdued most of the year watching this team, and White Sox fans appeared to be anticipating the worst, even after the Konerko home run. In the left field corner where I was sitting, there were no incidents and only the smallest amount of yelling back and forth between fans wearing opposing colors, almost as if it wasn't worth the effort to do so.
Ozzie Guillen got himself tossed in the sixth inning after Alexei Ramirez hit a ball that Ozzie (and Alexei) thought was tapped foul at the plate; Geovany Soto picked it up and tagged Ramirez and plate umpire James Hoye ruled Ramirez out. Ozzie put on quite a show, stomping up and down and kicking dirt over the plate; he later admitted that Hoye was correct. It was reminiscent of Lou Piniella's calculated tirade at Wrigley in 2007 on a play that Lou later admitted the umpire made the correct ruling. Maybe Ozzie was trying to fire up his team in the same way. Maybe it'll work, although at the time Lou did that, he had only been managing the Cubs for two months, not in his eighth season as Ozzie is.
Whatever Ozzie's motives, the Cubs narrowed the all-time gap between the teams to 41-38. The overall run differential is 385-364 in favor of the White Sox, pretty close for 79 games. Perhaps the Cubs can cut into that again tonight.