After yesterday, not to mention his own last few outings, Mark Prior came to the realisation that he simply can't trust his bullpen. So he went the distance himself and averted a potentially very embarrassing sweep by the White Sox in our own backyard.
In the end, thanks to Jason Dubois and the return of the much-missed three-run shot, Mark Prior didn't quite need to throw that perfect game I was speaking of earlier, though he did retire the first ten hitters he faced with ease, effectiveness and efficiency, four of them by strikeout. A solo home run by Tadahito Iguchi though tied the game at one (Henry Blanco had put us ahead!), and Mark Prior, as is becoming slightly unnervingly common, fell apart a little. Aaron Rowand doubled, Paul Konerko followed with a walk as Prior started to pull his fastball down and away from right-handers as he does, and AJ Pierzynski hit a line drive. Derrek Lee saved the day and the tie by leaping to snare the ball and then throwing to second for the double play.
That at least made up for his horrendous earlier error that cost the Cubs a run. Lee, who had been at first, paused at second on a Burnitz double upon the say-so of Juan Uribe, who alledged the ball had gone foul. By the time Lee realised he'd been duped, he could only make it to third, where Ramirez stranded him by lining out to left. Ramirez made some good contact today, two lineouts, a warning track shot and a walk, and his .233 batting average on balls in play won't last, so don't worry about him too much.
The tie didn't last though. Jermaine Dye put a good swing on a fastball to lead off the fifth, and Prior didn't truly settle down again until he managed to strike out impressive debut pitcher Brandon McCarthy on a full count. A 1-2-3 sixth for Prior followed, the pitch that got Podsednik on strikes (again) being particularly nasty. Podsednik reached just once, and his speed had no influence on the game as a result. You can't steal first base. Well, not today at least.
The Cubs last year were supposedly a team overly reliant on the home run, far too inconsistent in their run-scoring, a dozen one day but not very many the next. That's changed so far this year, or at least of late, with the Cubs instead being very consistent, just scoring not very many runs at all every time out. Jason Dubois was obviously a bit fed up with that, so he launched a Luis Vizcaino offering to deep right-center, his natural power alley, and for the first time in what seems an age, the Cubs had a lead of more than a run. Prior kept it that way by pitching his way out of jams in the seventh and eighth, getting a pair of critical pop-ups and a big double play respectively. By the time Konerko hit the third home run of the day off Prior in the ninth to halve the deficit, it was too little too late. Cubs win, Cubs win!
The Cubs have a critical seven days coming up. Three against the Astros and four with the Rockies, all at Wrigley. 5-2 would put them back at .500. Let's do it!