Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Split doubleheader nets 6-5 homestand; Cubs within shouting distance at the break

Sunday, Game 1: Cubs 7, Cardinals 3

Prior to the game, Pujols accepts his mission from the baseball gods.

Ted Lilly is awarded his 2009 All-Star jersey.

Hoffpauir celebrates his three-run homer in the first.

Zambrano revels in his go-ahead (and game-winning) home run.

For some unknown reason, I love when this happens. Deuces wild.

The Cubs Quintet serenades the fans.

Hey, they're right--the Cubs did win today!

Sunday, Game 2: Cardinals 4, Cubs 2

This was the sign at Murphy's Bleachers in between games. Why it says Dan Brown blows, I have no idea.

For some odd reason, Jake Fox brought out the lineup card.

First pitch. We had a sweet view.

Jake Fox catching. And we didn't even get hit with any wild pitches!

Sean Marshall, after moving from pitcher to left field in one of the stranger double switches you'll ever see.

And now Marshall's back on the mound.

So there's the photographic recap of Sunday's doubleheader; here's the written one:

Every time you go to the ballpark, there's a chance you're going to see something you've never seen before. In Game 1, that was Albert Pujols popping one up on the infield, seeing it get dropped by Theriot, then heading for second only to have Jeff Baker pick up the ball with his barehand, spin around and--after getting over his surprise at seeing Pujols about 10 feet away from him--tagging him out. From a pop-up to an error to an out, all in about 15 seconds.

Pujols did his damage in Game 1, going 1-for-4 with a 2-run double and a run. But Hoffpauir's 3-run blast (his first since June 25) off just-returned-from-the-DL Kyle Lohse got the Cubs out to an early lead, and Zambrano's third home run of the year gave the Cubs the lead for good. It was a close game the whole way until errors by both members of the Cardinals' right side of the infield allowed three unearned runs to score in the 7th inning (and the 7th errors of the year for both Schumaker and Pujols, weird).

The win guaranteed that the Cubs would be no further back in the standings at the end of this 11-game homestand than they were when it began: 3 1/2 games out. The home runs and the Cardinals' errors allowed the frenzied Wrigley fans to ignore the fact that the Cubs were 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position. A win over the Cardinals on a sunny, 75 degree day washes away just about any negative elements. For at least the next four hours, it was "Go Cubs Go."


Game 2 didn't start off quite so well. The 1st inning home run this time went to the Redbirds, as Ryan Ludwick absolutely unloaded off of Randy Wells to put the Cubs in a 2-0 hole. The Cubs got one right back in the bottom of the inning as back-in-the-lineup Fuld notched his first of two hits, and Lee drove him in after Theriot bunted him to third.

Both Wells and Wainwright continued to hold serve until the 6th, when--after Wells had retired Pujols for the third consecutive time--Ludwick smashed another 2-run homer to make it 4-1. Bradley would drive in Aramis Ramirez with a hard-hit double (batting lefty!) in the bottom of the inning, but alas, that would be the end of the scoring for both teams on this night. It was not, however, the end of the story.

First, Fukudome pinch-hit for Koyie Hill in the 7th, which meant we were destined to see Jake Fox strap on the catcher's gear in the 8th. He did just fine behind the dish, blocking a couple balls and never having to attempt to throw out any base stealers.

The other Cubs player who found himself out of position in Game 2 was Sean Marshall. When Piniella went to take Marshall out of the game after he'd loaded the bases in the 9th, everyone at Wrigley (including Marshall, presumably) was perplexed to see Marshall walking out towards left field. Soriano left the game, and Heilman came on to pitch.

Brendan Ryan (who was probably doing everything he could to hit it to left field just to see what would happen) struck out, and Piniella emerged from the dugout to make another pitching change. And lo and behold, Little League-style, Lou summoned Marshall from left field back to the mound, and he was replaced in left by Reed Johnson. Marshall then struck out the Cardinals' version of a Hoffpauir (Jarrett), and then got Colby Rasmus to fly out to left (though I understand from my TV-viewing friends that Johnson's catch was questionable at best).

So the Cubs got out of the bases-loaded, nobody out jam with one of the most clever and most risky managerial moves I've ever seen. If you count Game 1 and Marshall's two pitching stints in Game 2, he essentially pitched three separate times on Sunday. Once again, you don't exactly see that every day.

The split doubleheader left the Cubs 3 1/2 games out at the break, exactly where they were before The Homestand. They sit right at .500, 43-43, an underperforming team with a surprisingly good chance of sneaking to the top of a weak division as the second half unfolds. We've seen glimpses of the team we expected heading into the season, and we've seen performances and statistics more appropriate for RFK Stadium than Wrigley Field. Everyone but Ted Lilly will take a few days off and prepare for 76 more games, starting with the Nationals on Thursday (who, by the way, just replaced Manny Acta with former Cubs manager Jim Riggleman). The Cubs are tied with the Brewers and just one behind the Cardinals in the loss column, so here's to a second half that goes exactly like the first ... was expected to go.

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