The hearts of all Cubs fans and everyone in the Cubs family were with Ron Santo on Wednesday evening, as a statue in his memory was dedicated in front of hundreds of fans who forced Sheffield Avenue to be closed during a pregame ceremony. (Honestly, it would have been better to have the ceremony inside the ballpark, so more people could have seen it.) About half of the team traipsed across the outfield grass to sit in on the ceremony wearing the "PASS10N" shirts designed in Ron's memory.
The statue is perfect; it captures Ron's spirit and passion for the game. And in honor of the dedication, the Cubs played a nearly-perfect game, defeating the Nationals 4-2, and, as Ron might have done, smacked some home runs in doing so.
Reed Johnson (who tied a career high with four hits), Geovany Soto and Alfonso Soriano all homered, and Soriano drove in the fourth run of the game with a pop fly double to right field in the fourth inning. Soriano, in hitting his 20th home run of the season, accomplished two things:
- He is the third active player (David Ortiz and Albert Pujols are the others) to hit 20 or more home runs in 10 consecutive seasons
- He is the third player (Hack Wilson and Andre Dawson are the others) to hit 20 or more home runs in their first five years as a Cub
So there's that, then. Soriano is on one of his hot streaks; he's hit six home runs and driven in 14 runs in his last 16 games. It may not mean much, but perhaps there's some value left in that contract.
Otherwise, the Cubs got yet another decent pitching performance out of Rodrigo Lopez -- 5.2 innings with just one earned run. I keep hoping that some scout will be watching him and take him for some desperate contending team and give the Cubs back a better prospect than they traded away for him. A pipedream, I suppose. The unearned run off Lopez scored when Starlin Castro made his first error in a month on an ill-considered cross-body throw trying to get a force play at second base to end the first inning. Instead, the ball went all the way toward the right field bullpen and a run scored. Mike Morse was the hitter -- he's not fast; Castro needs to learn these situations. He could easily have retired Morse at first base.
Castro tried then to get a hustle double on a clean single to left field to lead off the bottom of the first; he actually made it but then his hand came off second base and he was tagged out. A hustle play like that can be forgiven since the team won, but if you're going to do that, you should make sure you stay on the base. Castro thus extended his hitting streak to 11 before striking out three times the rest of the day.
Props to the bullpen (Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol) for 3.1 shutout innings. Marmol posted his 25th save, striking out the side to end it.
And has there ever been a Cub with the peculiar skillset that Tony Campana has? Campana went in to pinch-run for Soriano after he walked in the eighth inning. Twice he easily made it back to first base on Nationals pitchouts, and then was halfway to second base before Henry Rodriguez could even deliver a pitch, stealing it with no throw. As I've said before, if Campana could learn some plate discipline, he could be a useful bench player, because any time he gets on first base, there's a chance he could wind up on second.
Curiosity about Soriano: Wednesday night was his 1567th major league game. It's only the 42nd time he has both homered and drawn an unintentional walk in the same game.
Wins are nice. Ron Santo would have appreciated this game. The statue is a great honor; winning would be the thing Ron would want more than anything. Let's hope the Cubs take the series Thursday afternoon in his honor. Today's game preview will post at 11:30 a.m. CDT.