As I stood at the corner of Sheffield and Addison last night, waiting for my friend Mike to cab it down from Evanston, I expected chaos.
The crowd milling around Wrigley Field was noticeably large -- much larger than the skeletal masses who attended the two games I witnessed in late September of last year. In addition, aside from a few clouds, the weather was picture perfect. Not too warm, not too cold. Perfect drinking conditions.
Plus, the Cubs were coming off yet another aggravating, exhausting extra-innings, one-run loss. And as the Milwaukee Brewers continue their well-predicted yet nonetheless astounding ascendancy in the NL central, patience would seem to be in short supply.
On the contrary, after Mike arrived and we made our way up the ramp to the bleachers with tickets I procured from a surprisingly short stay in that dank hellhole known as the "virtual waiting room," I sensed a remarkable calm among the crowd.
It was a calm that Jason Marquis would mirror on the mound that night, treating me, Mike and the rest of the blue-tinged faithful to what I believe will be regarded as a momentous event in the 2007 Cubs season.
I should warn you, if you're looking for a pitch-by-pitch summary of the game, you won't find it here. Mike and I ambled into the Friendly Confines about three minutes before first pitch, and, by that time, the bleachers were pretty much packed. In fact, Mike noted that they appeared oversold, an observation I quickly agreed with.
So, being the easy-going dudes we are, we scored a beer and reclined against the back railing behind the bleachers in straightaway center -- a.k.a. the Tobacco Zone. We had a good view of one of the rather small monitors the Cubs provide, and I was all smiles when Marquis gunned down two of the first three Pirates he faced.
We also had a great view -- of the monitor -- when Soriano belted his lead-off homer into the left field bleachers. It was cool to hear the roar of the crowd at least. Little did we suspect it would be the only run scored all game.
More beer. A decent foot-long hot dog. Mike and I conversed about a variety of topics, including the impending 20-year reunion of our high school class, as the vibrant yet peaceful crowd -- and the innings -- slid by.
By the time we braved the throng to try to find a place to actually watch the game, we were both rather aghast to learn it was the fifth inning! Curse you, Jason Marquis and your Maddux-like efficiency! (Kidding -- I do not curse you. Rather, I praise you. More of that shortly.)
We eventually settled for a couple standing-room-only spots immediately behind the railing just to the right of the centerfield bleachers. (Right in front of the massive centerfield concession area.)
A couple more quick innings and the beer sales closed down before we could get a last round. Damnit! Don't they usually make an announcement?
No biggie. By that point, I was laser-focused on the game. Could it be true? Would I be treated to a one-run victory in regulation? I mean, given the Cubs' struggles in close games this year, how momentous would that be?
But things were getting interesting. The Pirates were starting to hit the ball with a little more authority and late-inning collapses have been all too prevalent this year. (Uh, and last year, too. Oh, and the year before...ah, forget it!)
Fortunately enough, the pitching and defense held up. In fact, I'd like to take this opportunity to note that our "valueless, weak-hitting, poor fielding" right fielder made a great running catch in the eighth inning. Oh, and he also went 2 for 4. But he has no value. And he has red hair.
And then we have Jacque Jones. His second bases loaded opportunity had Mike and I both regarding each other with nervous glances and sputtering out exasperated phrases such as, "C'mon, show me somethin'!"
Alas, it was not to be. Jacque's hot streak is clearly over for the moment, which doesn't mean he should be benched or traded or forced to read the Collected Works of Carrie Muskat. He's just overmatched against left-handed pitching to begin with and clearly struggling to see the ball. Kudos to the Pirates for finding ways to pitch to him in key situations. (And by "kudos" I mean, "Screw you, you mediocre bastids!")
Which brings us to the top of the ninth. And here, loyal readers, I have to make a confession. This isn't easy for me, and I could lie and not bring up the issue at all, but I'm going to say it: I thought Jason Marquis was Ryan Dempster.
Hey, gimme a break, I was about a zip code away from the pitcher's mound. And I was so focused on where the pitches were landing and whether the opposing hitters were making contact, I just assumed that Lou brought in Demp to close out the game. It would be a confidence builder after blowing the save last night and, I mean, who pitches a complete game anymore anyway?
Jason Marquis, that's who.
Also, as Mike and I discussed at Murphy's after the game, Marquis and Dempster do have very similar pitching motions and a somewhat similiar pitch repetoire. Ahem. I'm an idiot. I know it.
In any case, the end of the game was sublime. Sinker to the plate. Cub Killer Jason Bay's flailing swing. The bounce in the dirt. The tag. The out. The ecstasy of a Cubs win.
Yes, my friends, there was indeed a calm about the ballpark last night. Sure, maybe it was exhaustion following the preceding evening's prolonged defeat. Or perhaps it was the inherent peacefulness of being at one of the most beautiful places on the planet on a picture-perfect mid-Spring evening.
But I think it was the guy on the mound. This pitcher mocked by fans of his former team for being emotionally unstable (and I ask all Cubs fans to never utter the mean-spirited nickname they gave him ever again). This gentleman who elicited a loud chorus of groans from many dedicated, knowledgable Cubs fans when he was signed during the off-season. This gritty dude from New Yawk City.
Sure, he might regress to his career norms in jarring fashion. Yeah, he might have us slamming our palms into our respective sweaty foreheads on a hot summer day when the wind is howling out to left.
But maybe he won't.
And on this beautiful evening, he gave us momentous calm.