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Perfect 10: Hits keep on coming
In a strange season where nothing seems to make sense, a huge Cubs' inning Thursday at Wrigley Field made perfect sense to everyone involved.
The enigmatic Cubs offense managed to score 10 in the fourth inning of a 12-3 victory over St. Louis, looking much like the model everyone expected in spring training.
"You had the feeling that eventually had to happen," second baseman Todd Walker said. "We have a pretty good offense here, even without Sammy [Sosa] in the lineup."
Walker had one of 11 hits in a pinball-like performance against emergency call-up Dan Haren, helping to salvage a 5-5 record in the season's longest homestand. The Cubs scored nine runs with two outs on nine consecutive hits, including Moises Alou's three-run home run off Haren and Derrek Lee's two-run shot off Cal Eldred.
The 11 hits in the inning tied a club record set against Philadelphia on Aug. 25, 1922, which occurred in a club record 14-run fourth. The nine consecutive hits was one shy of the major-league record held by seven teams, including the Cubs, who did it against the Boston Braves on Sept. 29, 1929, also in the fourth.
"It was one of those innings where everything was going our way, especially with two outs," shortstop Ramon Martinez said.
Carlos Zambrano (7-2) carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning but lost a bit of his intensity after taking part in the 10-run outburst in the fourth. Asking Zambrano to sit still in the dugout for such a prolonged stretch is like asking a bee to stop buzzing. But he wasn't complaining afterwards.
"It's the first time I've spent a lot of time in the dugout," Zambrano said. "It was good. But it's tough to come back and keep the same emotions you have, keep the same rhythm."
Zambrano wound up allowing two runs on five hits in eight innings, solidifying his status as the Cubs' most consistent starter. He wound up throwing 121 pitches, the most he has thrown since a 122-pitch shutout against the Cardinals on May 2.
Manager Dusty Baker said the 10-run lead after six wasn't safe enough in cozy Wrigley Field and added that he wanted Zambrano to go long to save his bullpen during a stretch of 17 straight games.
Umpiring crew chief Rick Reed said Wednesday the series finale would be monitored closely because of the recent history of animosity between the two teams, including a bench-clearing incident Wednesday when Derrek Lee ducked away from a high-and-tight Matt Morris pitch.
Asked beforehand if there was good reason for the added scrutiny, Baker replied: "I guess so. Especially if Tony [La Russa] says my guy [Lee] overreacted."
But the game turned out to be controversy-free, just as Baker expected all along.
"We played them a whole bunch of times before this and nothing came close to an explosion," he said. "Boys will be boys, and it's summertime. That's when tempers get short. Your tempers get shorter in heat than they do in the cold, right? And we've played them a lot in a short period of time, which doesn't help the situation.
When things do happen, there's not much cool-off time."
The Cubs begin interleague play Friday in Anaheim, where Baker returns to the scene of one of his longest lasting nightmares. The last time he traveled to Anaheim, his San Francisco Giants blew a 3-2 lead in the 2002 World Series, collapsing in Game 6 and losing Game 7 in his final game as Giants manager.
"It's not just Dusty," said Martinez, who played on that Giants' team. "We want to go out and beat them. It's going to be a great series."