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Pair of aces

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Jake Peavy, the new ace of the White Sox pitching staff (even though Mark Buehrle still officially holds that place in the rotation) and Carlos Zambrano, the old ace of the Cub staff (the new one is Ted Lilly) both pitched last night like it meant something, like their respective teams still might have a chance to make the postseason. This is not true of the Sox, and only barely mathematically-supportable for the Cubs.

Peavy through 7 shut-out inning and put his superior National League fielding stuff on display in a 2-0 Sox win over Detroit, which is still in 1st place but looking susceptible to a last-minute surge by the Twins. (How would Sox fans like it if prevailing in this weekend's final home series against Detroit actually helped the dreaded Piranhas move into 1st place? Honestly, I would rather the Sox roll over this weekend--Detroit sucks, yes, but it deserves a little uplift, if only for Ernie Harwell's sake.)

Peavy gave the Sox a glimpse of what could have been had he not suffered from lingering injuries the last couple months, as well as a glimpse of what is to come. Let's hope his mental toughness can inspire the Sox bats to wake up next year, too. His effort last night was saved only by a two-run homer from Gordon Beckham. Peavy will provide a nice foundation for next year, but the Sox will need a busy off-season and tough spring training to build on that foundation.

Zambrano pitched a 3-0 complete game victory against a legitimate play-off contender, the Giants (though their hopes are fading fast), and with Cy Young winner (reigning and possibly still champion after this year's votes are tallied) Tim Lincecum throwing for the Giants. It was Zambrano best game since his no-hitter against the Astros more than a year ago. Yes, once in a while, Big Z keeps his alter ego, Zammy the Clown, at bay and shows you what he is truly capable of: Complete-game shut-out stuff on the mound, including 8 Ks, 1 BB and just 2 hits allowed; and success at the plate--2 RBIs out of the Cubs' 3 total, including a run-scoring double and a tremendous effort to beat out a throw at 1st base, which thwarted what would have been an inning-ending double play and allowed a run to score.

But, is it enough to see this version of Zambrano just once or twice a year? He says he wants to stay in Chicago, but has never been able to remain composed enough to show us a performance like this on a consistent basis. Will next year be the year?

Perfection!

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Opening Day: Hits and misses

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Well, because the White Sox postponed (perhaps prematurely) their opener by one day, I am left on the bench, unable to make the trip down to the Southside because of a prior work commitment. It's the first time I will fail to report for a Sox opener since, I think, 1999.

Too bad for many reasons, but also because today is about as nice as early April weather gets in Chicago. Brightly sunny, high 40s. I'll be watching out of the corner of my eye later on, but it won't be the same.

The Cubs started off on time and according to plan last night in Houston, winning 4-2 behind a surprisingly effective Opening Night performance by Carlos Zambrano. We got Big Z, the effective dominator, rather than Zammy, his rodeo clown evil twin. By mid-game, Zambrano had struck out 5 of 7 batters and looked about as good as he did during his no-hitter against the Astros last September in Milwaukee.

Still, Piniella pulled him after he put the first two men on in the 7th inning. The bullpen was good: Aaron Heilman limited the damage to a run, and Neal Cotts finished off the 7th; Carlos Marmol pitched through a walk in the 8th; and Kevin Gregg started his tour as a Cubs closer with two hits and a sacrific fly, but settled down and locked down the win.

Offensively, there was both power and efficency, as Alfonso Soriano led off the game (and the Cubs season) with a home run, and Aramis Ramirez later led off the 2nd inning with a solo shot. Why do pitchers--and especially a pitcher as effective and experienced as Roy Oswalt--throw so many fastballs to Soriano? Maybe it's the old adage that you need to establish the fastball and your location before doing anything else, but it's the top reason why Al-So has so many game-starting HRs. It doesn't make much sense to have him lead-off--never has and never will--but every time he starts a game with a homer, he makes it harder to argue the case against moving him.

Mike Fontenot also had three hits and scored a run on a sacrifice fly from Ryan Theriot--that was the efficiency part. Zambrano's win was his first career Opening Day win--we are looking for signs already...

We are having technical difficulties

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I tried to post after yesterday's amazing comeback, extra-inning victory by the Cubs, and last evening's complete breakdown by the Sox, but kept getting errors when I tried to save. Just as well, because I might have been over-reacting to both events at the time.

The Cubs 7-6 win happened after the Cubs had been four runs down in the mottom of the 9th with two out. I was literally in the act of changing the channel as A-Ram took his first swing and saw the ball trip through Ryan Braun's legs before it the channel actually flipped over. I turned back to the game, of course, and had almost no chance to think about the possibilities before Geo tied the game 6-6 on a three-run no-doubter HR. At that point, I refused to entertain the idea the Cubs would lose this one, even after Woody had put two men on in scoring position with no out in the 11th. D-Lee came through in the 12th, and like that the magic number when from stuck at 4 on down to 2.

Piniella joked with reporters afterward about tying one on after the game, and from the looks of today's peformance, which I unfortunately witnessed live, everyone tied one on last night. Zambrano, in his first appareance since his no-hitter, was awful, the worst he could possibly be, and I'm not just talking about his pitching. He was charged with eight runs in less than two inning, and looked the polar opposite of the guy who no-hit Houston less than a week ago. But, the worst part was that as Piniella came to remove him, he stormed off the mound before his glacially slow manager made it all the way out to the mound. Piniella looked absolutely livid and pointed Z back to the mound. It looked like Z Big Cry Baby had a few more words for Piniella before departing and ripping at the buttons on his jersey.

Reportedly, Zambrano's grandmother just passed away, and no one can blame him for feeling bad about that, but at this time of all times, the Cubs needed him to handle that pain, and his apparent disappointment in himself, like a grown man. The Cubs will clinch the division, hopefully this weekend, but this is the last kind of distraction anyone needs. How could this guy go from unhittable and gracious on Sunday night to awful and immature on Friday afternoon? Grow up now, Z, because the postseason is not for big babies.

The Cubs went on to lose 12-6. Most of the starters played like they were hung over (though I'm sure they are all too professional to let that happen), but the scrubs (Casey McGeehee?) tried to make a game of it. Tune in tomorrow to find out if the Cubs are ready to win this thing.

The White Sox rolled over and played dead last night, and just when you thought the Piranhas would help out again as they started a series vs. the Amazin' Rays, they actually won and cut the Sox lead to 1-1/2 games.

Vazquez was not as bad last night as Zammy was today, but he was not good, and left in the 4th inning down 4-1. The bullpen let that lead build to 7-1, and the cause not helped by a key error by the Missile, who is great and everything, but really needs to concentrate a bit better sometimes. The bullpen overall was better than Vazquez, but is really starting raise concerns.

Meanwhile, Paulie took most of the season to start hitting, but now he's the only one. He had a run-scoring double and homer last night. The Sox have failed to fully take advantage of a recent tailspin by the Piranhas (I know, the metaphor doesn't work), and had better be ready to play some very important games next week in Minnesota.

No-no means YES! YES!

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We've all seen the footage from Milt Pappas' no-hitter for the Cubs in 1972--will Big Z's highlights now replace the shoestring catch, Milt's anger at his perfect game being ruined by a walk with just one out remaining, and the images of early '70s fly-away hair and tight uniforms. I have always adored Jack Brickhouse and prefer his call of practically anything to most Cubs announcers since, but have come to really enjoy Len Kasper's enthusiasm and and even-handed exchanges with Bob Brenly.

Kasper's call of the final out of Zammy's no-hitter was just about perfect, though his "Oh, baby!" tagline was mocked by ESPN today and my get a little tiresome sooner rather than later. In any case, he reminded us that the Pappas no-hitter was 36 years (and 12 days) ago. It was the last during a four-year period that was especially fertile for Cubs no-nos--they had four no-hitters in the span of four season from 1968 to 1972, two of them by Ken Holtzman (Why do we never get to see that footage? Was it on TV, or no?) It was also the second of 1972, after Burt Hooton's on April 16. Those 1972 no-hitter were the best that a good, but not-good-enough Cubs team had to offer on the way to second place behind the Pirates.

The 5-0 no-hitter victory also was marked but timely two-out hitting by the Cubs, with 4 of their runs scoring in that manner. now, let's hope Big Z's big moment is just one more fine moment building toward the best possible moment.

The White Sox had their own amazing (good and bad) moments last night, predictably lost in the background of Zambrano's performance. They swept the Tigers 4-2 and 11-7 to stay 1-1/2 games up in first place after a loss by the Piranhas. The amazingly bad moment was when the Tigers tied the score in the 8th inning of the second game, 7-7, on a grand slam by Marcus Thames. It was the culmination of a 7-run implosion by the bullpen after Danks left in the 7th with the Sox up 7-0. The amazingly good moment was just an inning later, when DeWayne Wise (!) sent the Sox ahead 11-7 with his own grand slam. A surprising hero gave the Sox a great end to a horrible, rainy weekend in Chicago that didn't give the Sox very good conditions to work in, or a very large live crowd to support them

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