A good start.
The Cubs badly needed one, and they got two of them Thursday night.
The unofficial second half of the season got off to a good start for the Cubs, as they beat the lowly Washington Nationals 6-2 at Nationals Park.
Although the Cubs took advantage of some sloppy play by the Nats, the victory was keyed by a strong starting performance by pitcher Rich Harden.
Harden worked 6 strong innings, giving up 3 hits and an unearned run. He improved to 6-6 overall and to 4-1 with a 2.17 ERA away from Wrigley Field, where he is 2-5 with a 7.59 ERA.
"It's nice to have a couple of days off and kind of regroup," Harden told reporters, referring to the all-star break. "(It) kind of helps put things behind you, put the first half behind you. There are a lot of games left. It's almost like you're starting over."
Harden, who had lost his previous 2 starts, retired the first seven batters he faced before giving up a one-out triple to Alberto Gonzalez in the third. But Harden bore down and struck out pitcher John Lannan and got Nyjer Morgan on a groundout.
The Cubs scored an unearned run in the top of the inning after third baseman Ryan Zimmerman threw the ball away on Koyie Hill's leadoff grounder. Ryan Theriot eventually drove Hill home with a double.
Derrek Lee hit his team-leading 18th homer in the sixth. The Nationals got a run in the bottom of the inning, but the Cubs got an RBI single from Reed Johnson in the seventh before they scored 3 runs (2 unearned) in the ninth.
Relievers Angel Guzman, Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg helped to preserve the victory for Harden.
Cubs manager Lou Piniella was happy about the victory, which raised the Cubs' record to 44-43. He also was beaming about meeting President Obama earlier in the day during a White House visit.
"We didn't talk about baseball," the Cubs' Web site quoted Piniella as saying. "He was very personable with my grandkids and my wife and children. I was very appreciative."
Former Cubs manager Jim Riggleman, who took over has interim manager of the Nationals this week, had his debut spoiled with the loss.
Bruce Miles' game tracker
Still Job 1: Rich Harden turned in the Cubs' 56th quality start of the season. That leads the major leagues. The Cubs are 35-21 in those games, and the starters have an ERA of 2.34 in the quality-start games. Harden gave up 3 hits and an unearned run in 6 innings.
Streaking: Shortstop Ryan Theriot extended his hitting streak to nine games with a third-inning double. He added a sacrifice fly in the 3-run ninth. Theriot is 14-for-35 (.400) in the streak.
Still too many: Reliever Carlos Marmol walked one in a scoreless eighth inning. Marmol has 43 walks in 43 innings. He walked 41 in 871/3 innings last year.