For the second consecutive game, the Chicago Cubs used a late home run to take down the rival St. Louis Cardinals. In both games, the Cubs didn’t play all that well, having control issues all night from pretty much every pitcher, but they found a way to get it done, helping them move percentage points ahead of the Redbirds for first in the NL Central.
The hero this afternoon for the Cubbies was the guy who has come to be known as Mr. Clutch over the past couple years: Aramis Ramirez. Ramirez was about as tough of an out as a player can be in late innings last year, getting big hit after big hit in big situation after big situation.
“It seems like every time there is a big moment in the game and Rammy is up he is winning the game for us,” Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot said, “He definitely has the flare for the dramatics and a knack to win games.”
This time, the big situation was with two outs in the bottom of the 11th inning against Cardinals pitcher Dennys Reyes, who, by the way, is very generously listed at 250 pounds. Aramis watched ball one go by before getting a pitch he could handle with a 1-0 count, driving it into the left-center bleachers for a two-run homer, launching Wrigley into a chorus of “Go Cubs, Go."
Ramirez, like Alfonso Soriano on Friday, was hitless on the day before doing his damage. All was forgotten after the big hit, though.
The parallels between Friday and Saturday don’t end there. Just like Carlos Zambrano on Friday, starter Ryan Dempster had to battle through the six innings he lasted—giving up four runs and walking four.
The Cubs ‘pen again bested the Cardinals, this time doing so in spite of repeatedly falling behind hitters and walking leadoff batters.
After the seventh inning, it looked like Carlos Marmol was going to be the hero. Marmol came in with men on first and second and no outs after Neal Cotts failed to throw a strike to the two batters he faced—no doubt drawing the ire of Lou Piniella.
Marmol coaxed harmless pop outs from Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick and a measly ground out from Albert Pujols after falling behind him 3-0.
The pitcher was brought back out in the eighth inning, still clinging to the 5-4 lead that Aaron Miles had given the Cubs in the bottom of the sixth by driving in Geovany Soto. Marmol quickly gave up consecutive doubles to Chris Duncan and Yadier Molina, before walking Khalil Greene.
Cubs reliever Kevin Gregg then came in to fix the same situation that Marmol had fixed just an inning earlier
Gregg looked better than he had in any of his previous appearances wearing Cubbie blue. He not only pitched his way out of the eighth inning jam, but also tossed a perfect ninth inning.
Aaron Heilman and Angel Guzman both pitched scoreless innings in spite of issuing lead-off free passes, with Guzman getting his first career victory.
Outside of Ramirez, the top performers at the plate were Ryan Theriot (3-for-5 with a run and a triple) and Kosuke Fukudome (2-for-5 with a double, 2 runs, and an RBI). These two guys looked to be possibly the weak spots in the Cubs lineup this year, but both are absolutely on fire, batting .400 and .375 respectively.
Reed Johnson, who is a quality outfielder, has been relegated to defensive replacement and pinch hitter status by Fukudome’s stellar play.
Lou Piniella entered this series saying he would NOT let Albert Pujols beat his team. Ryan Ludwick made the Cubs pay so far to the tune of seven RBI in the series, but Pujols is only 1-for-9 with four walks and no homers or RBI during the Cards' visit to the Windy City.
This bears watching tomorrow night, as the Cubs and Cards wrap up the four-game set under the bright lights of Sunday Night Baseball. Ted Lilly figures to challenge Pujols tomorrow (well, at least if the bases are empty), will Pujols stay quiet again on Sunday?