Next time, don't cheer when you hit him.The last 15 times the Cubs have played at PNC Park in Pissburgh, they have come away with 13 wins. This includes a loss on Saturday night when they apparently thought that Zach Duke was Sandy Koufax. Or, perhaps they were afraid Duke would convince his lacrosse team to rape them. Either way, after 11 games, the Cubs have seven wins and just four losses. Three of which still make you want to poke your eyes out with a golf tee.

The problem going into the series in Pissburgh was supposed to be that the pitchers in the series, Sean Marshall, Jerome Williams and Glendon Rusch were either too inexperienced or too fat to be trusted. But Pissburgh was the land of Jimmy Anderson after all, so Jerome and Glendon had to have felt right at home. As long as neither of them attempted to eat one of the racing pierogies, chances were the Cubs would be fine.

In true Cubs’ form, they got one excellent and two decently pitched starts and they lost the excellent one. Marshall was solid in his first road start and Rusch started the process of putting the wheels back on his season in wins over the Pirates, and Jerome was tremendous in his start, but lost because Ronny Cedeno threw away a run and nobody but Matt Murton could drive in a run.

The Cubs were down to their fourth string right fielder for most of the series. When your first stringer is Jock Jones, you can imagine how awful number four on that depth chart is going to be.

It’s this guy:
Who, me?

He has a Cubs’ uniform and everything. It’s pretty neat.

How did we get down to Freddie Bynum? The poor man’s Chone Figgins? So far, he looks like the destitute man’s Chone Figgins. But we got there when Jock pulled a hamstring, John Mabry ran into Sean Casey (taking Casey out for eight weeks) and sprained his neck and then Angel Pagan pulled a hamstring and may have torn up his knee in the process.

Hey, it could be worse. It could be Jose Macias out there.

In Friday night’s win, Mike Wuertz came into an 8-3 game and promptly gave up a pair of crushed home runs. He then got on a bus to Des Moines. The Cubs were bailed out by Scott Williamson who looked unhittable in getting six huge outs.

Bobo Super Novoa got the call from the cornfields to replace Wuertz on the staff, and it’s comforting to have his hulking, sweating, squinting presence back in the bullpen. It’s not quite as comforting when he’s on the mound hurling spheroids at the catcher, but that’s another story.

Then, yesterday, we got truly great news. There had been a lot of speculation that with Pagan’s disabled list trip a certainty that Felix Pie would be called up to make his Cubs’ debut. In an amazing coincidence, Jock Jones’ hammy started to feel better. Jock’s a lot of things, but dumb is not one of them. Big contract or no, he saw enough of Felix this spring to know that when Pie gets his hands on the rightfielder’s job, he just might not let go of it. With Jock “healed” the Cubs were faced with either calling up Felix to ride the pine or leave him in Iowa to play every day.

That decision, especially given that Felix missed so many games last year, was easy, even for the Cubs. So it came down to either recalling Mike Restovich to sit on the bench or calling up a pitcher.

Now, I never see any need to have 12 pitchers on a staff. I think 11 is a stretch, and 12 is ludicrous. But while I was confused that the Cubs called up a pitcher to replace Pagan, I was heartened to hear who it was.

It was The Barber himself, Dave Aardsma. Brother of a beauty queen, owner of a 97 MPH fastball, the first man alphabetically in the Baseball Encyclopedia…Aardsma’s arrival comes at a key moment in the Cubs’ season.

I have to admit that I like the current Cubs’ team. By like them, I mean that there are very few players whom I see on my TV that I want to strangle. It’s pretty much, at least for the moment, down to Jock and Will. I enjoy Neifi’s potbellied antics when he’s a bench player, as he is right now. I’m impressed with the work of anybody not named Wuertz or Ohman from the bullpen. Dusty has been surprisingly lucid so far this season.

I like how most of the hitters take pitches and even better, take outside pitches to the opposite field. I like how Dusty has not once run out a lineup without Murton and Cedeno in it, and he doesn’t seem to be the least bit anxious about it.

I have a relative fondness for each of the four men employed to describe the games for us on TV and radio.

Watching the games so far has been, in comparison to the last few years, a somewhat serene experience for me. It’s kind of nice, actually.

Oh, I still swear at them. Just like I found reasons to go off on the Bears during the big win streak last season. But I can’t say I “hate” any of them.

Of course, the Cubs have yet to lose consecutive games yet. Once that happens, look out.

But in the meantime, we get to enjoy an endless stream of Aardsma jokes.  If you’re wondering why we’re all so giddy over his arrival, you could spend lots of time on the Desipio Message Board figuring it out, or I could just tell you.


Fine, I’ll tell you.  Slaky decided this spring that Aardsma sounded like a verb.  So he set out to figure out what “to aardsma” would entail.  For some reason he decided that “to aardsma” was probably to dry shave another man’s…uh…um…Balzac.  You get the idea.

The other highlight of my weekend was E-ramis Ramirez’s reaction to getting hit by a pitch on Friday night.  It got him in the ribs and then bounced off and hit him in the wrist.  He wasn’t hurt, but the Pirates fans cheered.  Hey, they traded him three years ago, it’s time to get over it.

E-ramis probably would have come out of the game, since the Cubs had a big lead (though this was pre-Wuertz) but he stayed in, despite still nursing his sore butt muscle.  In his next at bat he gave it the old Sammy Sosa “I’m going to hit this 1,000 feet” and struck out.  Though he did reach base when Humberto Cota let the ball get away on the third strike.

But on Sunday, E-ramis hit a two run homer and you could tell he felt vindicated.  He didn’t even care that most of the fans who were at the game on Sunday, had little or no rememberance that he had been hit two nights earlier.  Revenge is a dish best served cold, and apparently 36 hours later.

Remember the other day when I linked to the RBI Baseball version of Game Six of the 1986 World Series?  Here’s more than you ever wanted to know about how and why that was created.

The playoffs in the NBA start this upcoming weekend and to the surprise of many, including themselves, the Chicago Bulls have been invited.  It really is an accomplishment to be proud of.  Given the dearth of a first round draft pick in last year’s draft and no money to spend on an impact free agent (if there had been one to sign) the Bulls were going to be hard pressed to duplicate their 2004-05 success this year.  Then the whole Eddy Curry thing blew up and just before the season started most of what wasn’t exactly an imposing inside presence was gone as Curry and Antonio Davis were sent to the Knicks for what amounted to be Mike Sweetney.

With big money coming off the cap this summer, the Bulls were left to muddle through this season with no outside help coming until after the playoffs were over.  They started poorly, and quickly showed that they had no size, anywhere.  Their guards are small, they have no power forward and Tyson Chandler’s like Ben Wallace without the mean streak and the afro at center.

It would have been easy to have packed it in, took their lumps, gone 31-51 and cashed in two lottery picks this summer.  But they didn’t do it.  They were 10 games under .500 less than a month ago and were headed nowhere.  But they’ve won 9 of their last 11 games and if things break right over the next three days, they could be the FIFTH seed in the East.  If the matchups fall right, they might even win a playoff series.  OK, that probably won’t happen.  But after all those years lost in the wildnerness following Tim Floyd and Bill Cartwright, the Bulls can fully appreciate two straight playoff appearances.  Even if it is the Eastern Conference.

Marlen Garcia looks back at the wild and unlikely road the Bulls took the playoffs.

Mark Bueherle got fined for treating the infield tarp like a big slip and slide.  Remember when Don Zimmer fined some of the ’88 Cubs for the same thing?  SI ran a thing in the scorecard last week about unusual baseball injuries.  Buehrle getting hurt sliding on the tarp would have assured him a spot on the list the next time they ran it.

What the Cubs have right now is one studly pitcher who hasn’t pitched (consistently) up to form, and old Hall of Famer pitching better than we have reason to believe he can keep up and three question marks.  The oldest of the three question marks finally got it together yesterday. 

In a close shave, Aardsma got the call over Mike Restovich.

Groucho’s next trade to save the Bulls?  Tyson Chandler and two number ones for Rashard Lewis and the Sonics’ number one.

Mariotti put down the doughnut to watch the Bulls on TV.

Ronny Cedeno’s got a great arm.  It’d be nice if he could keep the ball out of the dugout, though.

The Wizard of Roz says that Dusty seems calmer this year.  It’s early.  Very early.  But so far Dusty just seems more…competent.  That could change, though.

Ted Cox throws Milo Hamilton under the bus.  As always, Milo deserves it.

Peter Gammons from his Insider column on Matt Murton and Greg Maddux.

One of the things that has impressed the Cubs most about Matt Murton is that he has attached himself to Greg Maddux to learn about how pitchers think and approach hitters. “Murton wants to learn everything,” says one Cubs coach.

With Bruce Sutter entering the Hall of Fame in July having changed the sport with the split-fingered fastball he learned from Fred Martin, Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild asks, “Is Maddux the only pitcher to change the game by introducing two pitches?” Maddux throws a fastball in that runs back over the corner and an inside changeup. Probably not.

My one useless Matt Murton prediction?  Since last year, his average never, not for one day, not for one at bat, dipped below .300, I think he’ll never spend a day in the Major Leagues with a career batting average of under .300.  I love that kid.

Tyrus Thomas is going pro.

Sports Guy picks his NBA MVP.  Andres Nocioni gets screwed here.

There’s a good chance the Cubs won’t face Jeff Kent tonight.  He got hit by a pitch last night, right in the moustache.

Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback.

Ongoing proof that Hawk is a loon.

Check out the damning with faint praise in Ken Rosenthal’s latest.  Of Craig Biggio a scout says his arm strength has gone from “below average to nearly average.”  Huh?  Isn’t nearly average still below average?  Buck Martinez said he thought Michael Barrett was adequate defensively, but after the WBC he now feels he’s “more than adequate.”  Whoo!  Put that on his Hall of Fame plaque!

America’s finest news source says that Dusty is not discouraged by the Cubs’ hot start.