Swashing the Pirates, Buckling Mesa
ESPN Boxscore - Cubs 3, Pirates 2
Well I never. The Cubs dragged themselves up and out of a batting slump by their bootstraps on Wednesday, taking advantage of a lucky break and bringing their record in 1-run games up to a reasonable 8-9, effectively a 50-50 situation.
You live by the 9th Inning, you die by the 9th Inning in the case of the Pirates, who until Tuesday's 4-3 loss had won something like 40 straight when leading after 8 innings. This was in no small part due to the efforts of their hard-throwing goateed Jose Mesa, whose efficiency had him without a blown save since last August.
On Tuesday, Derrek Lee was the hero with 2 home runs and all 4 Cubs RBIs, but yesterday, with the 8th Inning on the wane, the heros were a different quartet entirely. Their efforts were just what the Cubs needed, and temporarily lifted any discontent from LB and the Cubs' faithful as to their abilities.
1. NEIFI PEREZ
His 8th Inning 1-out sacrifice fly to center field gave the Cubs a lifeline, ruining an otherwise excellent afternoon by Pirates' starter Kip Wells (8 IP, 4 H, ER, 3 BB, 6 K). Mike Fontenot, pinch-running for Ben Grieve, scored the run, and the Cubs were back in the hunt at 2-1.
2. TODD HOLLANDSWORTH
In a difficult 9th Inning spot, pinch-hitting for the ineffective Jason Dubois (0-2, BB, 2 K) with one out and runners on 1st and 2nd, he drilled a 3-2 fastball right at 1B Daryle Ward who couldn't make the play. The ball ricocheted off his glove and body into shallow right field, allowing Barrett to score from 2nd and pushing Patterson (intentionally walked with 1 out and 1st base open.... the right move in that situation?) to third.
3. JOSE MACIAS
The next batter up in the 9th, starting due to Aramis' ongoing back problems, hit a 1-0 pitch high to deep right field, allowing Corey to score on the sacrifice fly. Cubs 3, Pirates 2. Ramirez would then pinch-hit for LaTroy Hawkins, striking out swinging to end the inning.
4. RYAN DEMPSTER
The new closer, he struggled early, allowing a lead-off double from PH Tike Redman and walking another PH Rob Mackowiak. Barrett left the game and Blanco came in to catch. The next batter, Sanchez, bunted to Dempster who got the force-out at third.
The next man up, Matt Lawton, hit the first pitch straight to JHJ in the 2B hole. It bounced awkwardly and Hairston, dreaming of making the game-ending double play, bobbled, and all runners were on-base safely. No play.
1 out, bases loaded, and Pittsburgh's best hitter on the day, SS Jack Wilson (3-3, R), wasted no time, grounding sharply to Neifi who was able to turn the game-winning double play, short-to-second-to-first, and Dempster got his 2nd save of the short week.
4 of the game's runs came from sacrifice flies, 2 for either team, and the Cubs scuttle home to prepare for a weekend intra-league series with their city rivals, the White Sox.
The Sox are on a tear so far this season, 29-12 and 12-5 in May so far. It will be a challenge but one that the Cubs always seem to be ready for - in 42 meetings between the two teams since 1997, the series split is 22-20 in favour of the White Sox.
1997: White Sox, 2-1
1998: Cubs, 3-0
1999: White Sox, 4-2
2000: Tied, 3-3
2001: White Sox, 4-2
2002: Tied, 3-3
2003: White Sox, 4-2
2004: Cubs 4-2
Zambrano will miss his start on Friday afternoon due to tennis elbow in his throwing arm, but (and I love it when the 'but' precedes good news) after a solid bullpen throwing session during yesterday's game, he will move back only one day in the rotation to participate perhaps the most winnable game for the Cubs, facing the 1-1 Jose Contreras in the afternoon sun.
It might be a bit much to expect blown saves from the Southsiders this weekend given their "bullpen by situation" stance, with anyone from Dustin Hermanson (9 SV, 0 ER in 19 1/3 IP), Shingo Takatsu (8 SV, 5,56 ERA) or Damaso Marte (2 SV, 2.25 ERA -- gave up the GW walk to Todd Walker on July 4 last year, their last meeting)
Pitching Matchups for the Weekend
CWS: LHP Freddy Garcia • 3-3, 4.02 ERA in 2005 • Did not face CHC in 2004
CHC: RHP Greg Maddux • 2-1, 4.15 ERA in 2005 • 1-1, 8.68 ERA in 2004 vs. CWS
CWS: RHP Jose Contreras • 1-1, 3.52 ERA in 2005• Did not face CHC in 2004
CHC: RHP Carlos Zambrano • 3-2, 4.09 ERA in 2005• 1-1, 3.65 ERA in 2004 vs. CWS
CWS: RHP Orlando Hernandez • 5-1, 3.91 ERA in 2005• Did not face CHC in 2004
CHC: RHP Mark Prior • 3-1, 2.93 ERA in 2005• 1-0, 1.80 ERA in 2004 vs. CWS