I got back from Toronto late this morning, so with photos to edit, posts to write, and a lot of dirty laundry piled up, instead of heading over to Wrigley Field, I settled in for the baseball fan's version of Afternoon Delight: a sunny Sunday afternoon game on TV.
And what we got treated to was a tack-sharp Rich Harden, who lead the Cubs to a 5-2 win over the Reds. The win gave Chicago not only the three-game sweep, but coupled with the Phillies beating down the Cardinals 9-2, sole possession of first place in the NL Central.
This team will try your soul. As will many of the players on it.
Take Rich Harden. After weeks of debate on when, where, how, and if to pitch Harden, what you got Sunday was a start that should at least settle the arguments for awhile. Making his 17th start of the season—which was my over/under—he put together the finest performance that I've seen from him this season, firing a one-hitter over six innings.
Like I said, tack sharp. His only mistake was a high fastball in the first inning that Joey Votto muscled out to right field for a solo homer.
The Cubs offense gave him some good run support, in a style similar to the 2008 team; taking walks, getting their extra-base hits, and not being afraid to take the extra base when it was there.
They picked up a run in the second on a bases-loaded Kosuke Fukudome walk, then again in the second on an Alfonso Soriano double off of Micah Owings, who left after three with shoulder tightness.
Just as an aside, am I the only one who thinks that Owing's highest and best use is as a hitter? I'm asking this seriously actually, because while I wouldn't go so far as to call him a bum as a pitcher, when your ERA stays above 5.50 in the senior circuit, maybe it's time to think about doing something else. And he can definitely swing the bat.
Anyway, the Cubs were happy to tack on against the overworked Reds 'pen, picking up a run in the seventh, and a pair in the eighth, when Koyie Hill tripled—no, seriously—past a diving Chris Dickerson. Dickerson would leave the game, apparently injured on the play, with his status undetermined.
That wasn't the only incident in the eighth though. The Reds would actually load the bases with one out against Angel Guzman, only to have pinch-hitter Jerry Hairston Jr. fly out to center. Edwin Encarnacion would tag up on the play and be called out at the plate by umpire Laz Diaz, in what might have been the worst call in recent memory. I mean, he was safe by a mile, which resulted in both Encarnacion and manager Dusty Baker coming undone, and deservedly so.
That's how things go though in baseball. When they're going bad, as with the Reds in their now six-game losing streak, you can't catch a break. And when you're going good, as with the suddenly resurgent Cubs, you can do little wrong.
It's four in a row now, with a big set coming up this week against a dangerous Astros team. Things just got interesting.