Split decision: Your first-place Cubs?

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Split decision: Your first-place Cubs?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Posted: 9:15 p.m. Updated: 10:55 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

At the end of a 13-hour shift, Mike Quade collapsed into a chair in the interview room. What was left to say?

The manager had just watched 20 innings of baseball. He had promised that his team would grind it out and play the game the right way. Really, he couldnt complain after the Cubs split Wednesdays doubleheader against the San Diego Padres.

The Cubs can sleep in Thursday and wake up tied for first place, the first time theyve been there since Aug. 6, 2009.

Im a race-track guy they dont pay anybody at the 16th pole, Quade said after a 5-4 loss to the San Diego Padres. Weve got to work some things out. We still have to get better. But Im just so pleased with the effort.

Were doing enough good things that I am still very optimistic for down the road.

At these prices, you should still expect more.

And if momentum is the next days starting pitcher, the 9-9 Cubs will keep stalling like this: Theyve hit the .500 mark nine different times already. Its the first time in franchise history theyve started the season that way.

First pitch for Game 1 was at 1:21 p.m. It ended at 5:20. Game 2 began at 6:07. Thats 47 minutes of turnaround time.

The buzz from a walk-off win faded almost immediately. Ryan Ludwick drove James Russells 73 mph curveball into the left-field bleachers for a two-run homer in the second inning.

Russell could be a nice situational reliever for this team, as he was last year, but the 25-year-old left-hander is miscast in the rotation.

It doesnt matter, he said. Whatever they want to use me as, Im here for it."

The Cubs never sold this as anything more than two spot starts. Quade has been upfront: In my heart of hearts, hes a bullpen guy. Russell needs to improve his changeup and could use more experience to matchup better against right-handed hitters.

The damage from Russells two starts, both losses: nine runs on 14 hits across 5 23 innings. It looks like the Cubs still need to identify a fifth starter until Randy Wells andor Andrew Cashner get healthy. Will Russell get another shot next week?

Thats a great question, Quade said. Right now Im so baseball-ed out. I honest to God havent even had a chance to think about it.

Whoever gets this opportunity will need more run support, because the Cubs wont win every one-run game. Reed Johnson ended Game 1 with a walk-off homer and went 3-for-4 in Game 2.

But afterward he was being asked about getting thrown out at third on his RBI double in the fifth. If there were no outs or two outs, or if it was later in the game, he wouldnt have gone. It interrupted the flow and then the Cubs starting hitting. They came away with only two runs that inning.

If I had a crystal ball and I knew that three guys behind me were going to get base hits, Johnson said, I would have just held up. But I got around second and knew I was in trouble.

Teammates love Johnson, the image of the entire front of his uniform covered in dirt after that slide. He remembers how it was in 2008, when that 97-win team turned every home game into a Wrigleyville block party.

The Cubs announced Wednesdays combined attendance as 70,639. That figure doesnt come close to the number of actual bodies in the seats, or the seagulls fighting over pizza crust one bird dropped onto the field in the middle of Game 1. (Umpire Phil Cuzzi picked it up and tossed it into the Cubs dugout.)

Fans in Cincinnati, St. Louis and Milwaukee can also say theyre rooting for first-place teams. The last time the Cubs won the division, they went 55-26 at Wrigley Field. Eventually theyll have to start closing out series to gain separation. But theres no doubt theyve earned Thursdays off-day.

Its like the old-school National League West, Johnson said. It used to be a .500 team was leading the division, but thats not going to be the case. There are too many good teams in the division.

Were going to have to capitalize on opportunities and hopefully when we get a team down 2-0 we can get some sweeps. Thatll be huge for us, especially at home. (In 2008) we werent really all that good of a road team either. But we just won so many games at home that we were able to make that cushion for ourselves.

Box Score

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Preview: Cubs open series with Pirates tonight on CSN

Preview: Cubs open series with Pirates tonight on CSN

The Cubs take on the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Catch first pitch at 6 p.m. with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Kyle Hendricks (15-8, 2.06 ERA) vs. Chad Kuhl (5-3, 3.73 ERA)

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David Ross helps Cubs edge Cardinals in regular season home finale

David Ross helps Cubs edge Cardinals in regular season home finale

CHICAGO — David Ross got fired up when Cubs manager Joe Maddon walked to the mound with two out in the seventh inning, ready to argue for Jon Lester to stay in the game.

Maddon and Lester had a different plan.

"Joe looked at him and said 'Have you ever been a part of where the catcher gets taken out of the game before the pitcher?'" Lester said, describing the scene with a big grin. "You can just see him, it's like the kid at the candy store when you tell him he can pick out whatever he wants.

"It was just like the disbelief in his face and slams his mask back over his face and all he can say is 'I love you guys. I love you guys. I love you guys.'"

Ross then walked off to another standing ovation from a raucous crowd of 40,859 at Wrigley Field, part of a heartwarming Sunday night for the backup catcher in his last season. He also hit his 10th homer and teamed with Lester for another scoreless performance, helping the Cubs to a 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

"It was an amazing night," Ross said.

Ben Zobrist had three hits and scored two runs as Chicago finished with a major league-best 57-24 home record. It's the most home wins for the Cubs since they went 58-19 at the West Side Grounds in 1910.

The Cardinals lost for the third time in four games, wasting a chance to improve their playoff positioning. They remain a half-game back of San Francisco for the second NL wild card after the Giants lost 4-3 at San Diego earlier in the day.

"I think we're in a good position right now," pitcher Carlos Martinez said through a translator. "I also think we have a great shot at winning the World Series."

Ross, Lester's regular catcher, was greeted with a long standing ovation when he came to the plate in the second inning. St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina walked halfway to the mound, forcing the unassuming Ross to take in the moment, and he took off his batting helmet to acknowledge the cheering crowd.

Ross then struck out, but he got another chance in the fifth and drove Martinez's second pitch over the wall in left for 1-0 lead. Ross clapped his hands as he rounded first on his 10th homer and the cheers continued after he reached the dugout, prompting a curtain call.

"It was just fitting that David would hit a home run, isn't it?" Maddon said. "I mean it had to have happened tonight."

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Lester (19-4), one of the top candidates for the NL Cy Young Award, struck out seven in 6 2/3 innings. The left-hander allowed three hits and walked one while improving to 10-0 with 1.34 ERA in his last 13 starts.

It was Lester's idea to pull Ross in the middle of an inning.

"He's like a brother to me and for him to give me that was pretty cool," Ross said.

The Cardinals pulled within one on Jhonny Peralta's two-out RBI single in the eighth, but Brandon Moss flied to center with runners on the corners. Willson Contreras responded with an RBI single in the bottom half and Aroldis Chapman worked the ninth for his 16th save with the NL Central champions and No. 36 on the year.

Martinez (15-9), pitching with a heavy heart after the death of Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, allowed two runs and six hits in six innings. He struck out six and walked four.

"He had lots of juice," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's probably the hardest sinker I've ever seen him throw. A couple of those were 97 (mph). He was locked in. He wanted it bad today, and he was good enough for us to win."