Sunday, April 19, 2009

Chicago goes 4-0

What a great day to be a Chicago sports fan. We're not only baseball fans here at SBW, you know, so it was a great pleasure to start off a sports-stuffed Saturday by seeing the Chicago Bulls swipe a Game 1 victory from the World Champ Boston Celtics, 105-103 in OT. Derrick Rose was phenomenal: 36 pts (breaking M.J.'s franchise rookie play-off record), 11 assists, 12-12 on free throws.

Next up: The Cubs toiled and sweated out their own OT (11 innings) win against the Cardinals, 7-5. Aramis Ramirez ended it with a 2-run walk-off HR. It was the most predictable at-bat of the afternoon: Even though A-Ram was 0-5, he was given a favorable match-up in a lefty pitcher (Dennis Reyes), who, with a man on 1st base and one out, was just trying throw something low and over some portion of the plate to induce a double-play grounder. But, unless you can make that pitch tail away as it arrives, throwing a knee-high ball over the plate to A-Ram is like teeing it up for Tiger Woods. The predictable result was a left-field bleachers blast that everyone knew was gone the moment bat smacked ball.

Still, the Cubs were pretty fortunate in this one. The Cards have about four closer-quality relievers with which to out-last many teams in extra innings, but the Cubs managed to survive all of them. Both teams went to their set-up men early in the game, as Cards starter Kyle Lohse exited in the 6th inning and Ryan Dempster was gone after 6.

This game was fairly ugly at times, as Dempster struggled early, with 4 BBs in his first 3 IP, and gave up a 2-run single to new Cub-killer Ryan Ludwick in the 3rd inning. With the Cubs up 5-4 at the start of the 7th inning, Neal Cotts came in and immediately created another mess, walking the first two men he faced (including lefty Skip Schumaker!). That called for an early appearance by Carlos Marmol. Cotts can't be long for this squad--Lou Piniella had no patience last year for Scott Eyre ("Stevie Ire" to Lou, World Champ Philly to the rest of us), so you've got to think Jim Hendry already is shopping for southepaw relievers.

Marmol got out of the 7th unharmed, but let a run in on back-to-back doubles to open the 8th inning, tying the game 5-5. That called for an early showing by closer Kevin Gregg. In his best appearance yet as a Cub, Gregg shut down the Cards in the 8th and pitched a scoreless 9th inning. Aaron Heilman let the lead-off man on in the 10th and Angel Guzman did the same in the 11th inning, but the Cards failed to score both times. With his scoreless inning Guzman got the win--that's right, after all this time, his first career victory comes in extras.

At the plate, the Cubs scraped their runs together as Derrek Lee had 2 RBIs on his only hit, former Card Aaron Miles drove in a run on a high-bouncing grounder that traveled no more than 10 feet. Fortunately, Ryan Theriot had tripled just before and was running hard on contact. Mile had another RBI later, and Kosuke Fukudome stayed active, doubling in a run (He's already got 6 doubles this year). Fukie (2-5) and Theriot (3-5) were the only Cubs with more than one hit yesterday. Joey Gathright continues to be useless thus far, having whiffed with the bases loaded in the 10th inning. The Cubs and Cards get the ESPN Sunday night game tonight, and the starters, Ted Lilly and former Cubs Todd Wellemeyer, better be ready to provide quality starts and then some.

So, Chicago was 2-0 heading into the evening slate, which featured the White Sox at the Rays, and the Calgary Flames against the young, resurgent Chicago Blackhawks. The Sox did their part, beating the Rays 8-3, taking a 2-1 series lead at the dreaded Trop. The Sox continue to play long ball a little more often than small ball (yes, I know it's a mixed metaphor), but this game featured some of both. Carlos Quentin homered yet again, and is now tied with Ray carlos Pena for the Major League lead with 6. Paul Konerko also homered and had 3 RBIs to continue his own hot hitting. Corky Miller contributed an RBI, and so did Jermaine Dye.

The small ball part was interestinng. The first two batters in the line-up, Brent Lillibridge and Josh Fields, managed 4 BBs between them--Lillibridge had 3--and accounted for 3 of the 8 runs. The Sox actually started the game by drawing 3 straight walks. Lillibridge then scored on a double play off the bat of JeDye, and a Paulie double that scored Fields. That's 2 runs on 1 hit, for you small-ball freaks. I would have liked more after starting the game with the bases jammed an no outs, but I'll take what I can get. Lillibridge now is batting only .067, but continues to draw walks and create havoc when he's on base. He needs to do more hitting at some point, but I'd keep him leading off against the lefty pitchers like last night's Scott Kazmir.

The Sox seem much more at ease this season so far against Rays pitching, which frustrated them last postseason. They drew 2 BBs in this one off annoying Aussie Grant Balfour, who they couldn't touch last year. It doesn't mean so much now, but it's still nice to see.

Other notes from this one: Mark Buerhle was workman-like again for 6.2 IP and just 2 ER, giving the Sox what they needed. The bullpen avoided big damage against a usually productive offense.

Also, Alexei Ramirez unfortunately continues to slump, going 0-5 in this one. Unlike Lillibridge, he's not drawing any walks. The Sox are sticking with him, perhaps because he started so slowly last year before transforming himself into "The Missile," but I wonder if Lillibridge may get a spot start or two at short in upcoming games.

Chicago 3, Bad Guys 0.

I know next to nothing about hockey, but have been enjoying the Blackhawks' return to classic form. In their Game 1--the franchise's first play-off game in 7 years--they looked very nervous in teh first two periods before coming on strong in the third and winning it in OT. That same thing seemed to happen in Game 2, as Calgary surged to a lead, but the Hawks came back and went up 3-2, before locking down on the Flames in the third period. I would be more analytical if I know more about this game, but it was fun to watch anyway, and what I really care about is the great day for our city's sports teams.

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