In a very rare matchup, Major League Baseball fans were treated to a pair of 300-game winners going head-to-head. Greg Maddux took on Roger Clemens in Houston Friday night. The future Hall of Famers didn't disappoint. In an instant classic, Maddux tossed six solid innings, only giving up two runs. It was enough for the victory as the Cubs scored the game-winning run in the seventh against the Rocket.
The Clemens vs. Maddux duel wasn't the only marquee matchup of the day. The Cardinals and Braves had the second part to the double-feature as former Oakland Athletics teammates Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson squared off. The game didn't live up to its hype, though. Hudson surrendered four of his six runs in the first inning. The Braves fought back against Mulder with five runs, but couldn't plate enough men to claim the victory. The Cards won 6-5.
The Cardinals did have reason to celebrate Monday night, though. Boy, did they ever! In the biggest ninth-inning comeback in franchise history, the Cardinals scored seven runs erasing a 9-3 deficit. Danny Graves, who was burdened by a struggling defense, suffered the loss after giving up a three-run homer to Jim Edmonds followed up by the two-run, game-winning dinger by John Mabry. The NL-leading Cardinals were dancing in the clubhouse, while the Reds searched for answers.
Keeping it in the NL Central, Craig Wilson notably ended his slump Tuesday night with a 4-4 performance at the plate. After worries that cutting off his hair might have caused him to lose his strength, Wilson came through with his first home run of the season. He also drove in a late-inning, tie-breaking run with an RBI single.
But speaking of power slumps, it took Ken Griffey Jr. until the last day of April to hit his first home run of the season. This wasn't exactly cause to celebrate, though. It wasn't a typical Griffey bomb coming off that sweet swing. This one just barely snaked over the fence. His second homer came just two nights later, but this one was so close to being off the wall that the umpires needed to have a conference before they signaled Griffey to circle the bases. So don't be fooled by those box scores - Griffey's two homers are definitely not a sign that this power slump is going to end anytime soon.
Someone who has managed to forget the word slump is Cliff Floyd. With an improved lineup around him, Floyd is busting out this year. With a .386 batting average, 7 HRs, and 23 RBIs, he's set to bury his numbers from the past two seasons.
And speaking of busting out, Derrek Lee continues to tear it up. Lee carried home NL Player of the Month of April honors, as well as NL Player of the Week for April 25 through May 1. He has led the NL in almost every offensive category and has single-handedly kept the Cubs out of the cellar.
Lee wasn't alone in receiving well-deserved accolades this past week. Dontrelle Willis, who has an NL-best 5-0 record, took home the NL Pitcher of the Month of April award. The D-Train is speeding ahead as he leads a formidable freight train of a pitching staff. With A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett powering right behind him with three and four wins, respectively, the NL East leading Marlins are living up to the early-season hype.
If you haven't noticed, Craig Counsell is off and running this year, as well – but only after keeping a patient eye. Counsell is leading the NL in walks with 22 and stolen bases with 8. Compare those stolen bases with the 17 from 2004 and 11 from 2003 and you can tell he's trying to add another dimension to his game. He's only hitting .274 and his power numbers are non-existent, but that .431 OBP and his aggressiveness in swiping bases have put the veteran back on everyone's radar.
While Counsell is celebrating healthy life, the NL injury list continues to pile up. Kerry Wood finally landed on the DL again. His last start was shortened to a mere three innings as he was forced to leave with shoulder tightness again. After his evaluations, Wood landed on the DL, and the Cubs don't expect him back for at least three weeks. You have to wonder who was calling the shots when Wood took the mound for a three-inning outing after cutting his last one short.
The Phillies took a solid blow to their roster this week, as well. Kenny Lofton and Jim Thome both landed on the 15-day DL. Lofton is dealing with tendonitis related to his hamstring, and Thome is suffering from lower back pain. If the Phils want to keep pace with the rest of the NL East, they need Pat Burrell to continue on his fast April pace and for Bobby Abreu to drastically improve upon his .268 average.
But on new horizons, this week brought about celebration in the resurrection of Eric Gagne, Joe Borowski, and Lance Berkman. All three showed signs of life as they started making their comebacks. Gagne's timeline is a little longer than the other two, but that's good news for the Cubs and Astros, who desperately need their rehabilitated stars back up in the Bigs soon.
Got NL Beat questions, ideas, or comments? Email them to Pete at pete@CREATiVESPORTS.com