- Doug Padilla, ESPN Staff Writer
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HOW IT HAPPENED: After a 55-minute delay at the outset to let a storm pass, the Cubs then provided more lightning. Luis Valbuena, Steve Clevenger and Alfonso Soriano all hit home runs in support of starter Paul Maholm. The Cubs’ left-hander was brilliant, backed by a solid defense. He gave up four hits and left the game in the ninth inning with runners on second and third while still holding on to a shutout. He got defensive help early in the game from a highlight play up the middle by Starlin Castro to get an out at first base and a catch against the center field ivy by David DeJesus.
WHAT IT MEANS: Rarely have the Cubs witnessed the solid starting pitching-power hitting combination like they received Friday. When the season started, it was going to have to be one of their keys to winning, but below-average relief help and low power numbers from guys like Soriano and Ian Stewart killed those chances. With Anthony Rizzo now in the fold and Soriano on the rise, power numbers could be up as the summer continues. Solid starting pitching will be the challenge, especially if guys like Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster are traded.
OUTSIDE THE BOX: Maholm was two outs away from the complete game shutout, barely over a year since his last one, which came in the same venue. On May 28 of last season while with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Maholm blanked the Cubs in a 10-0 victory. The least amount of hits he ever allowed in a complete game was a two-hitter April 27, 2008 against the Philadelphia Phillies.
OFF BEAT: You never know who will catch your first major-league home run. In Steve Clevenger’s case it was a guy with the name “T-Bone” across the back shoulders of his red long johns. The home run rattled around the new Budweiser Patio in right field and into the arms of “T-Bone,” who was actually in a group of eight guys wearing identical long johns. If he wants the ball back maybe Clevenger can trade a shirt and a pair of pants for it.
UP NEXT: The Cubs will send right-hander Garza (3-6, 4.06 ERA) to the mound Saturday in the middle game of the three-game series. He will be opposed by Astros left-hander J.A. Happ (6-7, 4.83) in the 3:05 p.m. start from Wrigley Field.