This and every weekday a.m., let's rise and shine together with the most recent and decent major league happenings. Today's NL Roll Call starts on Mt. Vesuvius — pardon — in Chicago, where the season cannot really start until Cubs manager Lou Piniella goes off in a press conference. After the Brewers scored three in their last at-bat to win, Piniella is grilled on why Alfonso Soriano and his sore leg, instead of Reed Johnson, played left field in the ninth.
Game of the Day: Brewers 4, Cubs 3
Splinter group: His team down 3-1 in the 9th and facing Kerry Wood, Sweat Hog 4-Life Gabe Kapler drove a double over Soriano's head to put some sizzle in the Bratwurst. Soriano, who's been battling a sore leg for, oh, ever since he signed his $136-million deal before last season, said his legs are good and that the "wind took" the ball. Some believe he misplayed it, and that Johnson, who recently made a filthy catch at Washington, would have had a better shot at it. Except Piniella had taken out Johnson and replaced him with Felix Pie. A curious move.
Thar he blows!: So, a reporter asks Piniella, "Did you think about Johnson over in left?" Piniella responds, "You're damn right I thought about it. You think I'm stupid or something? God, darnit." Video of the exchange can be enjoyed at Chicagosports.com. The presser ended with Piniella muttering unprintables under his breath out the door.
Brauny: Wood, who had hit the leadoff batter, continued to unravel and finally lost the lead on Ryan Braun's 2-run double. Braun drove in 7 in the series. A night after the Cubs score 19 runs in front of prospective buyer Mark Cuban, Wood blew his third save in seven chances (nixing a strong Carlos Zambrano outing) and the Cubs tumbled out of first place. Eric Gagne, another spotty closer, picked up his 9th in 13 chances. And, to answer your next question, sure, Carlos Marmol could be named the closer at any moment. Lou gets impatient sometimes. That doesn't mean it WILL happen, just that it could.
SI cover jinx update: Kosuke: 4-for-4 with a caught stealing (aww) and two outfield assists, nailing both guys at the plate (nice).
Feelin' rundown (Thursday's other games)
Dodgers 5, Marlins 3 — Rafael Furcal walks to lead off the ninth, Juan Pierre bunts him to second base and Matt Kemp lines an opposite-field RBI single for a 4-3 lead. Joe Torre critiqued it as well as the Dodgers executed it: "Fundamentally sound baseball — it sounds simple and boring, but you put yourself in position to win a game." Kemp's strikeout/walk ratio drives me batty — it's 6-to-1, for cry-aye — but I find myself liking him anyway. Same with Andre Ethier, who has a great K/BB rate but who also has a name which sounds like it could be that of a bench player for the Spurs. For Florida, Burke Badenhop came in with an 8.36 ERA and remains winless, but he pitched well in front of a crowd largely of comprised of youth groups, which led to his funny quote: "I knew with all the little kids in the crowd, I wasn't going to get booed too bad."
Phillies 3, Padres 2 — Ryan Howard hits a go-ahead solo shot in the eighth, and Philly finds itself in first place in the NL East, something that took them six months to reach in 2007. Howard, still struggling with a .184 average, 6 homers and 14 RBIs, has the Bud Black Seal of Approval: "He's eventually going to get hot and maybe this is the start of it. It's just a matter of time before he gets to .200 then .250. He's just too good of a player to be kept down too long," Black said.
Tom Gordon, who picked up a hold, has had a fascinating career. Twenty seasons, beginning as a swingman with the Royals, for whom he was a little better than average. Goes to the Red Sox and throws two complete games and gets 11 saves in the same year before being converted to closer in his 10th season, which is one of the best seasons any closer has ever had: 46 saves (in 47 opportunities), 2 homers allowed, 1.01 WHIP, .191 BA against — with Fenway as your home park. And he's since settled into one of the more consistent middle relievers/sometimes closers in the game. Consistency is the hardest thing for any reliever. Also lived in a Stephen King novel — The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. What stories to tell the grandkids.
Nationals 3, Pirates 2 — Manny Acta had some real nice things to say about Austin Kearns, who came in stuck in a 2-for-29 slump but drove in the go-ahead run with an eighth-inning single: "There's so much more to Austin Kearns than the expectations that the outside world has put on him," Acta said. "The expectations were, you know, 40 home runs, 120 RBIs, this and that, and I felt they were very high. I think a lot of people underestimate what Austin brings to our club. On the field, he's one of the best in right field. He can field, he can throw, he's accurate. He plays hard, no one can accuse him of lollygagging here, ever. He works extremely hard and if you do that, we have a tendency to believe in them, that they're going to come out of any kind of slump they're in."
Photo of the Day: Whoops, my cap is shrinking — just like the economy!
Fed chairman Ben Bernanke analyzes the Pittsburgh Pirates ("OK, OK — they're in a recession") as the Bucs brace themselves for a 3-2 win by the Nationals
Braun (Brewers) 3-5, HR, 3 RBI
Being an OF and not a 3B, unless he slugs .630+ again, would obviously and sadly curb his roto value for '09
Alfonso Soriano (Cubs) 0-4
Just not a good day at the office.
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"It's easy to try to do too much right there, and sometimes I've been guilty of that. So just trying to keep it simple." — Kearns, on his big hit.