Game Recap: Cubs 5, Astros 1 -- A Grand Way To Stay On Top
When the Cubs failed to score in the bottom of the 12th, I was thinking the top of the 13th would be a breeze.
"What they should do here," I said to myself, "is let the NL leader in stolen bases take first on a base hit to lead off. They'll waste an out on Kaz calling for a bunt. Then we walk Tejada, because everyone knows Carlos Lee sucks in the late innings against young pitchers who rely too much on their fastball! Easy DP."
To continue my lengthy soliloquy, I pondered, "Now what would make the most sense for the bottom of the 13th? Lee, Ramirez, and Bradley are due up... They'll probably figure out a way to get on base. What I really want to have happen is for Soriano, the guy with three strikeouts and another out on a bad hustle play, to have to win this game. Naturally, I can expect him to hit a grand slam home run to put the game away and give the Cubs another night in first place."
It made sense then, and it makes sense now.
At times, it seemed as though the Cubs were trying to give this one away. In the bottom of the 9th, Lou seemed to overthink a bases-loaded, one-out situation. Rather than use Jake Fox to try to bring the winning run home, Lou played The Handedness Game, putting in a lefty (Fontenot) to face Valverde.
Things looked more or less fine, until a 1-1 pitch from Valverde went outside. Fontenot tried to bunt, but couldn't get the bat on the ball; at the same time, Milton Bradley broke from third. The squeeze was foiled, and the game slogged on.
Excellent outings from the bullpen regulars. Heilman, Marmol and Marshall were shutdown. On top of that, the Jeffs (Stevens and Samardzija) contributed 3.2 scoreless innings, giving the Cubs every chance to win.
And win they did, in grand fashion. After failing to capitalize on early opportunities, the Cubs finally broke through the Astros bullpen and, after loading the bases with no outs, Alfonso Soriano hit the game-winner in grand fashion.
I saw that one coming, too -- or at least, I entertained the possibility when I noticed the bases were juiced. "It'd just be fitting," I told myself, "for Soriano to not only win the game with a hit, but to win it definitively." Granted, I was in an empty room at the time, and talking to one's self out loud and later admitting to it on a blog is probably on the wrong side of the crazy line, but I was right.
This was one of those games that could mean more than a simple W in the standings. Not that the Cubs necessarily need it -- they've already seemed to find the momentum they've been lacking all year long. But consider that the Astros have been even hotter than the Cubs this month, and yet the bullpen managed to hold them to 0 runs for 6 innings. Then, consider that Soriano has turned a cold streak into a career move, but last night's grand slam is the icing on top of a great month for him.
This was a gutsy win, and a much-needed victory that helps Chicago keep pace in the NL Central. Tomorrow, the Cardinals face Chad Billingsley, while we get Roy Oswalt, and a thin Astro bullpen. Guzman and Gregg should be available for the Cubs.
One random thought on the Cubs-Phillies Games
In the ShoutBox yesterday, one reader suggested that it's difficult to really get excited because the Cubs got beaten by the Phillies not too long ago. But consider the facts...
The Cubs lost two games out of three on the road against one of the best teams in the NL. Their first loss -- a blow-out -- occurred in part because it was Ted Lilly pitching for the Cubs. Lilly has since then been placed on the DL with a sore shoulder and had his knee scoped. Might it be fair to suggest that on most days, Lilly and the Cubs do not surrender 10 runs to the Phillies?
The second game, which they also lost, took 13 innings of play. The Phillies didn't exactly win with authority.
And the third game was a Cubs route. Just saying -- with a healthy Lilly on the mound, the Cubs may not have lost two games there -- and even the loss that came "honestly" was one that also came in extra innings.