It would be easy with all the home runs the Cubs hit to break out of their slump tonight to overlook the job Jason Marquis did, but considering the shape the Cubs' rotation is in right now, there might not have been a more important performance in breaking the losing streak.
In fact, he has quietly been one of the most important pitchers for the Cubs since the All-Star break -- contrary to his recent career trend -- and with increasing importance the past few weeks as Carlos Zambrano has struggled and reported problems with his shoulder and as Rich Harden has come up with a shoulder question himself.
I thought I was paying attention to the numbers of all the guys pretty well but was a little surprised when I looked at Marquis' monthly splits and saw ERAs under 4.00 for both July (3.81) and August (3.90) -- a bigger contrast to his past 2-3 seasons than I even thought.
And during the height of the rotation's problems the past week or so, he has three of the Cubs' past five quality starts. Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly have one each in that span.
For a guy who has probably been the most criticized Cub of the past two seasons -- certainly among the pitchers -- that's pretty impressive.
He disclosed recently he had begun working with a sports psychologist since last season. And he ranks up there with Dempster among the physically hardest working players on the team. Whether either or both of those have been the biggest cause of his late-season success this year, Marquis has won four of five decisions and seems to only be getting stronger -- going 2-1 with a 1.77 ERA in his past three starts.
And the way he handled a weird fourth-inning sequence tonight might have underscored the mental/emotional difference in the guy this september compared to the past few.
With the score still just 2-0 and the bases loaded and two outs, Chris Dickerson took a 3-0 pitch and stood there as though he knew it was a strike. But the umpire sent him to first, and Marquis was visibly angry.
But Piniella went to the mound to basically tell him not to worry about it and not to tick off the ump. And Marquis came back calmly and got Jeff Keppingter on a fly ball four pitches later for the final out of theonly real threat he faced.
``I still had other guys to worry about,'' Marquis said matter-of-factly after the game.
Maybe they could use this guy in October this time around?