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Ted Lilly brilliant as Cubs blank Rockies 4-0
When Ted Lilly entered the seventh inning of the Cubs' home opener Monday with a no-hitter intact, the remnants of the 40,077 human popsicles who ventured out to Wrigley Field were starting to think they were witnessing history.
Lilly had been untouchable, and with a strong wind blowing in from the east and a light mist in the air, conditions seemed ripe for the left-hander to join Willie Smith and Tuffy Rhodes in the ranks of Wrigley's home opener heroes.
It wasn't meant to be, as Garrett Atkins spoiled the no-hit bid with a sharp single to left with two outs in the seventh.
Lilly exited one batter later but managed to get the victory in a 4-0 win over the Rockies.
Would manager Lou Piniella have left Lilly, who threw 104 pitches in 62/3 innings, in to the end if the no-hitter was still intact?
"It would've been a tough decision, because it's early in the season to let a pitcher go much more than what he pitched," Piniella said. "You're looking for problems."
Lilly knew he was throwing a no-hitter, though he said it never got to the point where the chance to make history took away from his focus.
"I was still trying to focus on making quality pitches, and not so much 'How am I going to protect the no-hitter?' " he said. "I just wanted to make good pitches, and felt if I did that, I like my chances.
"And I knew there was still a lot of work to do. There were a lot of outs to get."
Lilly allowed just the one hit and two walks while striking out eight. It was almost as if Lilly (2-0) had entered a parallel universe from the one he had been in during spring training, when he allowed five home runs in 11 innings, and his first start, when he served up four homers at Houston's Minute Maid Park.
Before the game, Piniella said Lilly just had to work on a few adjustments, adding: "Before long, you'll see him at his best."
But even Piniella couldn't have imagined that Lilly would be at his best in Monday's miserable conditions. The game was delayed by rain for 1 hour 12 minutes and it was 36 degrees.
"It was a cold, raw day, and Lilly really mastered the weather," Piniella said. "He threw strikes, changed speeds, got his curveball over … really an outstanding pitching performance."
A makeshift lineup without Milton Bradley (groin), Geovany Soto (shoulder) and Aramis Ramirez (stiff back) managed to get the job done as well, though Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez was his own worst enemy with six walks in 32/3 innings.
Jimenez forced in a run with a bases-loaded walk to Koyie Hill in the second, and the Cubs added two in the fourth on a throwing error that scored a run and Derrek Lee's RBI single. Kosuke Fukudome's single drove in an insurance run in the eighth.
The Cubs left 13 men on base, but in the end it didn't matter. The large turnout didn't get to see history, but most of them stuck around to the bitter end on a pretty ugly day.
"I was rather impressed," reliever Aaron Heilman said. "We had almost a packed house to start the game and it was still very full when we ended. There's no doubt about the fact Cubs fans are very die-hard, and there certainly aren't a lot of fair-weather fans around here."