And Now, We Wait: Cubs 3, Cardinals 2
The Cubs have now played four straight one-run games. Last night's heartstoppingly exciting 3-2 win over the Cardinals evened their one-run game record at 21-21, gave them their first series win in two weeks, expanded their division lead to 5.5 games over the Brewers, who lost 6-3 to the Phillies, and reduced their division title magic number to Don Kessinger.
Yes, I think that's how I'll refer to the magic numbers from here on out, and that's who is currently appearing on the right sidebar, the best Cub to wear #11 since the last pennant in 1945.
There were many heroes last night -- Rich Harden threw a solid six innings, though as Bruce Miles tells us, his velocity was down to the low 90's. It didn't matter because Harden changed speeds extremely well, something that is the key to victory for almost every pitcher. From Bruce's article:
"I don't know why everybody puts so much on velocity," Harden said. "Location's always the most important thing, change of speed."
That's a moment where you picture a lightbulb over Harden's head suddenly going on, or watching him hold his hand out flat and then smacking his forehead really hard. It took him this long to figure that out? Note that I'm not criticizing Harden, who has been an effective major league pitcher, when healthy, over the last few seasons. But there's more to that quote from Harden in Phil Rogers' column:
"I used to rear back and try to put everything I had on every pitch."
Obviously, that's a recipe for disaster, if not injury, and maybe that's why Harden has always been hurt. If he really has learned the "changing speeds" lesson, not only will he stay healthy, but he will be a much more effective pitcher.
The game was won in the 8th inning when, with a 3-2 lead, the Cubs turned two outstanding defensive plays; first, a tumbling catch by Alfonso Soriano on a line drive hit by Albert Pujols, and then, with two runners on base, a leaping grab by Kosuke Fukudome of a Felipe Lopez blast to the wall in right field, that would have easily scored both runs had he not made the catch. There may not be another right fielder in baseball who could have made that catch; if Dome's offense is still moribund, he has value to this team as a plus defender. Carlos Marmol then struck out Josh Phelps to end that threat, and in the 9th, Kerry Wood did his best Mitch Williams imitation by allowing two hits; the Cubs got a break when Brendan Ryan overslid third base on a sacrifice attempt and was tagged out by Aramis Ramirez, and then Wood got Pujols to pop up to end the game.
And now, we wait. The Cubs returned to Chicago after last night's game, instead of flying on to Houston, where Hurricane Ike is going to make landfall sometime late tonight or early tomorrow, and they will have a workout at Wrigley Field tomorrow and wait... and wait... and wait... for someone to make a decision on how and where and when the three-game series against the Astros will be played.
I understand the desire for Astros management to play the games in Houston; they were expecting three sellouts, probably 125,000 paid admissions, and the Astros have a good home record (43-29) while they are under .500 away from the Juice Box (37-38). But I cannot imagine that the city of Houston will be in any shape to host major league baseball on Sunday or even Monday -- even if there is no damage to the ballpark itself, there may be flooded streets, power failures, and damage in other areas which might prevent team employees from getting to downtown Houston for the games.
Obviously, no one has control over such a dangerous storm, and though it may put the Astros at a disadvantage, at least two of the games should be played at a neutral site. Atlanta or Washington would be the best choices, as those stadiums are at least somewhat familiar to both teams. As noted in Chanman25's FanPost, there is an event at Nationals Park Saturday night -- a simulcast of the opera "La Traviata" on the stadium Jumbotron. But that doesn't mean they couldn't have it ready for a noon doubleheader the next day. Atlanta makes some sense, since the Astros are heading to Florida for their next series. My suggestion: play a Cubs-Astros doubleheader in Atlanta on Sunday, then hold the third game till the end of the season and play it in Houston on September 29 if it's needed to determine anything for the postseason. That, I think, is the best compromise; it allows the Astros a game in Houston, played after hurricane cleanup, and keeps the off-day for both teams on Monday.
We await developments. I may open a front-page thread for everyone here to discuss the Brewers/Phillies game later this afternoon.