For many reasons, Friday night's 3-2 victory over the Houston Astros was the most significant.
ltem - Mad Dog beat the Rocket. Even tho it was pointed out in yesterday's blog that Maddux's record against Houston was more exemplary than Clemens' against the Cubs, Roger had been almost perfect in his previous starts this year. While neither had his best stuff, each were able to pitch through some tough spots and Maddux was a hair better. The psychological implications of beating the best cannot be dismissed. Reflected Maddux, "Looking back, years from now, it will be a special game. I was going to do whatever it took tonight to win this one.'' And he did.
Peter Gammons speculated earlier this week that if the Astros keep up this anemic pace, we could very well see Clemens back in pinstripes by August.
Item - Credit Dusty Baker in his handling of pitchers, knowing when Greg's night was finished. Garner wasn't as astute with Clemens. He also lifted Ohman after his only walk and wasn't afraid of putting Hawkins in at a crucial moment, despite his many detractors. If I was Dusty, I wouldn't read the papers and I would definitely stay off the internet.
Item - LaTroy Hawkins was splendid. If he needed a confidence booster, this was it. Hawkins earned his fourth save of the season in a tight one-run game. For the year this fellow Hoosier (he's from Gary) has a whip of .90 and has 9 k's compared to 3 walks. It was reported during the telecast that Carrie Muskat, reporter for Cub.com, asked the number crunchers at STATS to compare LaTroy's figures against the league for the last ten years and he is right where everyone else is in terms of blowing a one run lead (the average is less thn 50% saves) and Hawkins is better than the league in saving 2 and 3 run leads. But Cub Fans are fond of imitating Chicken Little. We wouldn't be Cub Fans if we didn't. Well done, LaTroy.
Jeromy Burnitz came through big time as he needs to do early and often this year if the Cubs are going to be a serious threat. Three big hits, including the decisive home run in the 7th, capped off a 5 game surge that has seen him hit .368 with three home runs and nine rbi's and only one strikeout..
Item: Todd Hollandsworth put smiles on his loyal if not misunderstood fan club by slamming two doubles and a run batted in to increase his BA to .250.
Item: Player of the Month Derreck Lee (if he doesn't get it, I demand an investigation) walked, doubled, scored and was thrown out at the plate by centerfielder Willy Taveras. If this kid ever learns how to hit, he will wear out batteries all over baseball. He is fast, even beating out a pitchout and what an arm to gun down Lee.
I am also impressed with Astro rightfielder Jason Lane who had two sensational catches. The Cubs have caught him and the rest of the team at a good time. Lane was hot at the plate early but has cooled off, going only 2 for his last 22.
Item: The team rebounded from lost opportunities. An irritating tendency so far has been so many missed chances to capitalize on men in scoring position with less than 2 out. Second inning. The first four batters reach safely. Two runs are in and there are men on second and third with nobody out. Clemens settles down and it looks like the second inning is going to cost the Cubs dearly again but Jeromy's clout in the 7th takes care of that.
Item: Aramis Ramirez collected 2 hits and scored. Good to see him starting to get back in form.
Item: Nifty Neifi and Hairston Jr. contributed with a snappy double play to get Maddux out of a spot in the 6th.
Item: A solid game from Kerry Wood tonite will close off April on a high note. And then we have Prior for Sunday. Houston is a shadow of its former self. This should be a sweep on the road.