A Look Back at Chicago Cubs 2008: Getting Off to a Strong Start

Neil FinnellCorrespondent IDecember 29, 2008

From Kosuke Fukudome's dramatic home run on Opening Day to Reed Johnson's catch to Jim Edmonds to sweeping the four game series against the Brewers at the end of July to Carlos Zambrano's no-hitter in Milwaukee against the Astros, it was truly a magical summer for Lou Piniella's crew.

The Cubs posted 97 wins, the most for any Cubs team since 1945, won back-to-back division titles, featured eight all-stars, the NL Manager and Rookie of the Year and the most patient team at the plate that the North Side had seen since...

The summer of 2008 was full of firsts and since but unfortunately the ending was not what anyone expected. Over the next several days the CCO will take a look back at the season that was and a team that should be remembered as one of the best to ever put on the blue pinstripes.

March, April, and May - Statues, Bananas, Patience, 10000 wins, the Catch, Fukudome Mania, and a Former Cardinal.

Cubs Record in March and April - 17-10 - Tied for first place in the Central Division with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs set a franchise record with 17 wins in the month of April.

The 2008 season began with a ton of expectations on the North Side of Chicago. Jim Hendry and Lou Piniella, on paper, had a very good team in what many predicted would be a rather weak National League Central Division. With the Cubs lopsided schedule, Lou Piniella preached the importance of a strong start all spring.

After dropping their first two games of the year, Lou Piniella's crew won 17 of the next 25 games. The Cubs solid start proved to be key because when it was all said and done, the division ended up being the best in the Senior Circuit...only the American League East proved to be a better division in all of baseball.

Kosuke Fukudome's Debut - March 31, 2008 - One of One Hundred and Sixty-Two

Ernie Banks' statue was unveiled in a ceremony prior to the game ahead of the bulk of the rain that lingered throughout Chicago all weekend and threatened to postpone the first game of the year. The Cubs new field, and drainage system, was put to the test on the very first contest of the season.

After a 40-minute rain delay, Carlos Zambrano and Ben Sheets equaled one another pitch for pitch. Zambrano tossed a gem, a rarity on Opening Day for Big Z, before leaving the game with a cramp in his forearm after two outs in the seventh inning.

Kerry Wood made his debut as the Cubs closer in a non-save situation. In what would become problematic throughout the season, Wood hit the first batter he faced and allowed a two-out, two-run double by Corey Hart in the nineth that put the Cubs in a 3-0 hole.

Kosuke Fukudome was the Cubs offense on Opening Day but the Brewers won the game in the 10th after a leadoff double by Craig Counsel and a sacrifice fly to center by Tony Gwynn, Jr....the final score, 4-3.

The Faithful was treated to a tremendous performance on the first game of the year despite the loss to Milwaukee. Kosuke Fukudome marked his arrival to the big leagues with a dramatic game tying three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth off of Eric Gagne. Fukudome reached base in all four trips to the plate in his debut on a very cold, rainy day at Wrigley Field.

After appearing to be a lock early in the year to win Rookie of the Year honors in the National League, Kosuke Fukudome appeared on the cover of SI...and Fukudome Mania took hold of the City of Chicago. However, Fukudome began struggling at the plate shortly after and continued to slip offensively as the season wore on. By the end of the year, Fukudome barely resembled the player that began 2008 on such a positive note.

Ryan Dempster Notches First Win, Kerry Wood's First Career Save - April 3, 2008 - That's More Like It

No one could have predicted the season Ryan Dempster put together in his return to the starting rotation. Dempster was Lou Piniella's most consistent starter throughout the year and in the Cubs third game of the season, he posted his first win as a starter in over three years.

The Cubs beat the Brewers 6-3 and salvaged the final game of the first series of 2008. Aramis Ramirez hit his first home run of the year and Alfonso Soriano drove in a pair with a walk and a single.

The Cubs walked six times on the afternoon and provided a glimpse of the patience at the plate that would become a trademark in 2008. Kerry Wood picked up his first career save in the win.

Alfonso Soriano Hops His Way to the DL - April 15, 2008 - The Power at Wrigley Field

The Cubs beat Aaron Harang for the first time at Wrigley Field and ruined Dusty Baker's return to Chicago. Ryan Dempster notched the win in a 9-5 defeat of one of his former teams but the Cubs lost Alfonso Soriano to the 15-day DL.

Soriano injured himself on a routine pop up to shallow left off the bat of Ken Griffey, Jr.

Dempster walked five batters, Adam Dunn three times, and gave up four runs on five hits in six+ innings. Derrek Lee hit his fifth home run of the season and was three-for-five on the night with two runs scored and three RBI. Lee's power appeared to be back at the beginning of the year...he did not hit his fifth longball of 2007 until June 1st.

Felix Pie made a game-changing catch in the fourth with the Cubs down 3-2 and robbed Paul Bako of at least a double.

Cubs Forever - April 21, 2008 - The Cubs are on WGN

WGN aired the two-hour special on a Sunday night in late April after the Cubs completed a three-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cubs beat the Pirates for the ninth time in a row and outscored the Bucs 29-9 in the weekend series.

WGN's program highlighted 60 years of Cubs' baseball on WGN, Channel 9.

The Ronny Cedeno Show - April 22, 2008 - A Grand Sweep

The Cubs won the second game of a quick series against the Mets at Wrigley Field and Ted Lilly picked up his first win of the year after a 0-3 start. But the day belonged to Ronny Cedeno who appeared at the time to be turning the corner on his big league career.

Cedeno drove in five of the Cubs eight runs in an 8-1 defeat over Ron Santo's favorite team. Cedeno hit his first career grand slam in the eighth and doubled in Kosuke Fukudome with the Cubs first run.

Reed Johnson drove in a pair with a single to left and the Cubs improved to eight games over .500 with their 14th win in 18 games.

10,000 Wins and Counting - April 23, 2008 - A Milestone

Lou Piniella's crew posted the 10,000th win in the organization's history with a 7-6 win in 10 innings over the Rockies at Coors Field. Kerry Wood was the winning pitcher in the come-from-behind victory.

Aramis Ramirez gave the Cubs the lead in the ninth with a two-run shot to left. Kerry Wood gave up the tying run in the bottom of the ninth after a two-out pinch-hit single by Scott Podsednik and a triple by Ryan Spilborghs.

Geovany Soto led off the 10th with a single and Ryan Theriot singled in pinch runner Mike Fontenot with the game winner two outs later.

The Cubs 10,000th win was also Lou Piniella's 100th as a Cub.

The Catch - April 25, 2008 - Opportunity After Opportunity

The Cubs lost the game to the Nationals 5-3 on a Friday night in D.C. after Bobby Howry served up a two-run homer to Wil Nieves in the bottom of the ninth....his first career home run. But the game will be forever remembered for the catch made by Reed Johnson in left center to end the bottom of the fifth inning.

Reed Johnson robbed Felipe Lopez of an extra base hit as he dove diagonally into the base of the wall. Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood could not believe what they saw after Johnson laid out to make one of the best catches of the year. Ron Santo described the catch as one of the best plays he'd ever seen.

Johnson's effort will be replayed on highlight reels for many years to come and should be featured in the kickoff video for the upcoming Cubs' Convention.

17 and Counting - April 30, 2008 - A New Cub Record

In a summer full of firsts and since, the Cubs set a new franchise record with a 19-5 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. Ryan Dempster picked up his fourth win of the season and the Cubs scored six runs in the first inning.

Geovany Soto hit a pair of three-run home runs and drove in six of the Cubs' 19 runs. The Cubs offense walked nine times and pounded out 17 hits and at the time set a season-high with the 19 runs scored.

With the win, Dempster became the first Cubs' pitcher to start the season 4-0 at home in the month of April.

Cubs Record in May - 18-11 - Overall Record for 2008 as of May 31st - 35-21 - First place in the Central Division 2 ½ games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals

Misplays and a Mount Lou Explosion - May 1, 2008 - A Misjudged Meltdown

May began with the Cubs activating Alfonso Soriano from the 15-day DL and optioning Matt Murton back to Triple-A Iowa and his rust cost the Cubs the first game of the new month...and led to Lou Piniella's first meltdown of the season.

The Cubs lost to the Brewers 4-3 after Kerry Wood blew his third save of the year. But it was a misplayed ball in left field by Alfonso Soriano, after another hit batsman by Kerry Wood that led to the loss.

Lou Piniella exploded after the game, took out frustrations on a water cooler and asked reporters during his press conference if they thought he was stupid or something about not switching Reed Johnson defensively for Alfonso Soriano late in the game. Soriano misplaying balls in left field would become a habit in the coming weeks...

The Brewers also lost Yovani Gallardo for the majority of the season on the afternoon.

Rich Hill's Last Outing - May 2, 2008 - 53 and 12

The Cubs optioned Kevin Hart and selected Chad Fox before their Friday night match-up in St. Louis...and little did anyone know that Fox would figure in the outcome of the game.

Rich Hill started the game and walked four of the first five batters he faced before departing in the first inning. Hill threw only 27 pitches and was optioned to Triple-A Iowa the next day. Could that be the last game in Rich Hill's big league career? Only time will tell...

Michael Wuertz took over for Hill and gave up a run in the second inning before turning the game over to Jon Lieber. The bullpen allowed one unearned run in relief of Rich Hill until a two-run homer by Skip Schumaker in the bottom of the 11th off of Chad Fox.

Aramis Ramirez left the game after being hit in the wrist by Adam Wainwright and Alfonso Soriano tied the game in the top of the ninth with a two-run homer off of Jason Isringhausen.

The Cubs lost the game 5-3 in 11 innings but could have lost a lot more in the process.

Three Game Sweep of the Diamondbacks - May 9, 2008 - All About Ted; May 10, 2008 - A Big Inning...A Big Win; May 11, 2008 - Sweeping the Snakes

The Cubs faced the Diamondbacks for the first time since being swept by Arizona in the first round of the playoffs in 2007 and put together one of the best weekends of the year on the North Side.

Ted Lilly took the mound in the opener against Dan Haren and picked up his third victory of the season in a 3-1 Cubs win. Lilly gave up a home run in the first inning to Chris Young but did not throw his glove again. Lilly settled down and turned in, what was at the time, his best outing of the season. Lilly gave up only the one run in 6 1/3 innings and struck out a season-high 10 batters.

Lilly drove in the Cubs first run of the game off of Dan Haren. Alfonso Soriano chipped in and drove in the second run of the game with a two-out double to left. Derrek Lee tacked on an insurance run in the 8th with his ninth home run of the year.

Ryan Dempster faced rookie Max Scherzer in the second game and neither pitcher figured in the decision. The Cubs won the game 7-2 after scoring six runs in the seventh inning. Scott Eyre picked up the win in relief and Daryle Ward drove in the tying run with a single to left.

Alfonso Soriano doubled in pinch runner Jason Marquis and the Cubs took over the National League lead in runs scored with 2005...in only their 36th game of the year.

Game three was supposed to feature a battle of the Bigs...as in the Big Unit versus Big Z. Carlos Zambrano was scheduled to face Randy Johnson but rain and possible delays caused both managers to scrap their starters.

Sean Gallagher ended up making his first big league start against Edgar Gonzalez on Mother's Day. Neither pitcher figured in the decision.

Daryle Ward drove in the winning runs with a pinch-hit two-run double to right center after Reed Johnson hit a two-run homer off of Juan Cruz in the seventh to tie the game. With the wind blowing in and a rather miserable day at Wrigley, Johnson's blast shocked everyone when the ball left the bat.

The win put the Cubs in a first place tie with the Cardinals at the time.

Jim Edmonds to the Cubs? No Way - May 12, 2009 - Edmonds to the Cubs?

Who would have thought it when the season began? But on May 12th reports began to surface that Jim Edmonds could end up in a Cubs uniform. To say many thought hell was freezing over would have been an understatement.

Edmonds ended up playing a big role in the Cubs success in 2008 and even caught the final out against the Cardinals that clinched the division for the Cubs in September.

Jim Edmonds officially became a Cub on May 14th. The Reed Johnson-Jim Edmonds platoon in center was one of the Cubs' strengths in 2008.

Edmonds' Debut and Ryan Dempster Out Pitches Greg Maddux - May 15, 2008 - The Name is Dempster....Ryan Dempster

Jim Edmonds made his Cub debut and went 1-for-4 on the afternoon. But May 15, 2008 will go down as the last start for Greg Maddux at Wrigley Field. The Cubs and Ryan Dempster beat the old professor 4-0. Dempster pitched a gem and came within two outs of a complete game shutout. Dempster set a new career mark with 12 strikeouts in the win.

Dempster drove in the first Cubs' run after a singles by Ronny Cedeno and Henry Blanco. Ryan Theriot drove in the Cubs' second run on a sacrifice fly and Derrek Lee broke out of a 0-for-12 slump with a two-run double to left center.

Greg Maddux would face the Cubs two more times on the season, once with the Padres in a win at PETCO and once in relief at Wrigley for the Dodgers in the NLDS...but the start in mid-May would turn out to be his last at Wrigley Field.

Soto's Inside the Parker and Vintage Edmonds - May 19, 2008 - A Good Start to the Trip

The Cubs won their first game of the year in Houston behind Ted Lilly, 7-2 but the highlights of the game came from a catcher and a centerfielder. Geovany Soto hit the first inside the park home run by a Cubs' catcher since Cal Neeman on June 17, 1959.

The ball hit off a spot above the wall in left center that was considered fair at the time and Soto lumbered around the bases for a rarity of rarities. The next day the Astros changed the piece of the wall and removed any further doubts whether a ball hit there was still in the field of play or not.

Jim Edmonds made his first highlight reel catch in a Cubs uniform. Edmonds robbed Hunter Pence of at least a triple with an over the shoulder catch in straight away center. Edmonds ended up on Tal's Hill and his catch changed the game.

OOHHH NOOOO!!!! - May 25, 2008 - Brant Brown Revisited

Alfonso Soriano's struggles in the outfield in May hit an all-time low on a Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh. The Cubs appeared to be well on their way to another victory over the Pirates but the second misplayed ball of the day by Soriano cost his team a win...and Jose Ascanio his first career big league victory.

Carlos Marmol issued a one-out walk to Freddy Sanchez but struck out Luis Rivas on a 3-2 pitch for the second out of the inning. Nate McLouth hit what appeared to be a routine fly ball to left on a 2-2 pitch. Soriano positioned himself under the ball before eventually losing it in the sun. The tying run scored and the Cubs lost the game 6-5 in 11 innings.

Bob Brenly's comments after the misplayed ball made headlines following the game.

One for the Ages - May 30, 2008 - Unbelievable

On a Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, Lou Piniella's crew put together one of the biggest comebacks in Cubs' history. The start of the game was delayed for 22 minutes and Ted Lilly was just awful. The Rockies jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the fourth inning behind Aaron Cook and led 9-1 in the top of the 6th.

Lou Piniella emptied his bench, which proved to be the right move for more than one reason. Micah Hoffpauir led off the bottom of the sixth with a double and Kosuke Fukudome followed with his third home run of the year.

Jim Edmonds shed his former image and became a Cub that afternoon. Jimmy Ballgame hit his first home run as a Cub in the sixth inning and cut the Rockies led to 9-4. Henry Blanco added a two-run shot of his own, the first longball on the season for Hank White. Jim Edmonds drove in another pair of runs with a double in the seventh and scored the tying run on Mark DeRosa's go-ahead two-run shot later in the inning.

The Cubs scored nine unanswered runs to complete the come-from-behind win with Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Geovany Soto on the bench.

Scott Eyre picked up his second victory of the season and Kerry Wood his 13th save of the year. The win improved the Cubs record to 13 games over .500 for the season....with one left to play in the month of May.

On deck: A Look Back at 2008 - Maintaining a Lead


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