What does it mean when a team strands 15 of its 17 base runners and still pulls out a victory?
Four words: Jon Lieber was pitching.
Joe Girardi said.
The same Lieber who won 20 games last year and continues to fire strikes without fear.
Lieber was nearly flawless Tuesday in the Cubs' 2-0 victory over the New York Mets. He gave up only two hits and two walks over eight innings before closer Antonio Alfonseca nailed down the team's first victory at Wrigley Field this season.
Lieber has three career shutouts, but manager Don Baylor said he was not tempted to let the 32-year-old right-hander go for a fourth. Baylor had all but promised to use Alfonseca, who was on the verge of getting rusty after making just one appearance in the season's first week.
Baylor kept his word even though Lieber allowed only one runner over his final five innings and retired the side in the eighth on four pitches. He threw 106 overall.
Did Lieber want a shutout?
"No doubt," he said. "My goal is to finish every time."
But Alfonseca was equally effective, striking out Jeromy Burnitz and Mike Piazza to earn his first save.
"He has a great sinker and he kept the ball down," Girardi said of Alfonseca.
"With the thick grass, Wrigley should be a great place for him."
The Cubs' superb pitching masked another maddening offensive performance.
When the Cubs left 14 runners on base in their season opener at Cincinnati, it was worth noting that they played 162 games last season without stranding more than 12.
Already the Cubs have broken their own mark. And they needed only eight innings to do it.
Shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who entered the game batting .556, left nine runners aboard Tuesday.
Outfielder Roosevelt Brown flied out with the bases loaded in the first and struck out with three men on in the seventh. He's batting .182 after going 1-for-4.
"He's missing fastballs he normally hits," Baylor said.
Brown is not alone. The Cubs are 3-for-32 with runners in scoring position in their last four games.
The Cubs broke a 0-0 tie in the fifth after Delino DeShields beat out a three-hopper to third.
Corey Patterson, who looks more impressive each day, drove in DeShields when he whacked an 0-2 fastball the opposite way for a double. The Patterson of last season likely would have taken strike three or tried to pull the ball.
"Look at all the good hitters," Patterson said. "They can go the opposite way."
The Cubs doubled their lead--"a pot of gold really," Baylor joked--in the seventh after two walks and a misplayed sacrifice bunt. Augie Ojeda, in his first at-bat of the season, hit a sacrifice fly to foul territory in right field.
Burnitz elected to catch the ball but couldn't throw out a hustling Sammy Sosa.
"It never crossed my mind to let that ball drop," Burnitz said.
CUBS 2, METS 0