My friend Howard said he knew this was a big win because I stuck around for several minutes afterwards -- he's right, I usually duck out fairly quickly, to avoid traffic.
And oh, yes, was today's incredible 6-5 comeback Cubs win over the Brewers one to savor, and I'm still savoring it, as I am sure you are, sitting here in the quiet of my house, writing this recap. (And this is why it took a while to get this recap posted, since it took a while to get home, and to calm down a little!)
But before I describe the feeling and excitement of Aramis Ramirez' walkoff HR, let me give credit where credit is due: the much- and justifiably-maligned Cubs bullpen threw six shutout innings today, allowing three hits, two walks and striking out seven, in relief of Rich Hill, who had a horrific first inning reminiscent of the first inning the Cubs themselves had for Hill in Milwaukee in his first start of the year on April 6. Special props to rookie Billy Petrick, who in his second major league appearance shut down a pretty good hitting team on one hit, with two strikeouts, in his two innings (28 pitches, 21 strikes).
To be fair to Hill, two plays unhinged that first inning -- a ball just out of reach of Ramirez, which could have been a double play, and then a popup into right field that Mark DeRosa couldn't quite get to, which, after Johnny Estrada flied to right, could have ended the inning scoreless. Instead, the popup and Estrada's fly scored two runs, and with two men still on base, Kevin Mench -- who a lot of people here, myself included, thought the Cubs might acquire a couple of years ago -- smacked a three-run HR and the Brewers, shockingly, led 5-0. Many were afraid that the Crew from Milwaukee -- who had a very large and vocal contingent of fans driving the 90 miles south on I-94 on a coolish, 67-degree day, quite cool for late June, prompting me to not wear shorts today, and helping make this the largest crowd of the year so far, 41,909, and I'd expect tomorrow to exceed that number -- had made a statement.
But the Cubs chipped away. In fact, Hill, who threw an astonishing 45 pitches in the first inning, managed to get through the next two unscored-upon (and struck out the side in the second), but had to be yanked (as Lou Piniella said in his postgame press conference, "just as soon as we could get him out of there, we did") after three innings, having taken 92 pitches to get nine outs. (By contrast, Brewers rookie starter Yovani Gallardo also threw 92 pitches -- in SIX innings.)
Gallardo throws hard -- he struck out seven, including Alfonso Soriano twice. I was a little upset in the third, when Estrada dropped a third strike. Soriano didn't run -- but Estrada decided to embarrass him by throwing to first instead of simply tagging him out. Nothing happened as a result of this play, but I suspect the Cubs will remember. Despite the hard throwing, the Cubs chipped away, scoring twice in the fourth, the first on a weird play when Gallardo got in the way of Prince Fielder's play on Cliff Floyd's grounder to first; Derrek Lee was on third, holding up on the infield grounder, but scored as the Brewer fielders seemed confused. Then Aramis Ramirez, who had doubled and advanced to third on the goofy previous play, scored himself on a wild pitch.
So it went, 5-2 into the 7th, when Mike Fontenot singled in another run after a walk to Felix Pie (only his 11th of the year) and a pinch-single by Angel Pagan. Fontenot's getting so popular that this tongue-in-cheek suggestion by Cubs marketing head Jay Blunk might not be such a bad idea:
It's an awkward position for the Cubs, but marketing chief Jay Blunk had a solution that might satisfy everyone.
"We have a lot of our interns working on it right now," Blunk said Thursday. "They're painting all the bobbleheads to look like Mike Fontenot."
Yes, he was kidding, but if Fontenot keeps up the great work he's doing now, maybe he WILL get his own bobblehead day. The only question is, who'll be taller: Fontenot or his bobblehead?
And yes, I'm kidding too.
So it went into the last of the 9th, the bullpen still mowing down Brewers (only five hits from the second inning on), setting up the last-inning heroics, and give credit to Soriano and Fontenot for the base hits that set up Derrek Lee's sacrifice fly, scoring the fourth run.
Ramirez smacked the first pitch he saw into the left-field bleachers, and there was absolutely no doubt from the second it hit the bat that he'd hit a walkoff -- bedlam ensued, both in the stands and at home plate, where the entire team met in the now-traditional "group-jump" that accompanies events like this. Someone pointed out that the Cubs haven't lost since Aramis returned from the DL (even though he didn't play in one of the seven games), and maybe that's not a coincidence. He's hitting .346/.385/.692 in the six games since his return, with 6 runs scored, three doubles, two HR and five RBI, and has played well in the field too (made a great snag on a Ryan Braun line drive in the 4th inning today). As my friend Dave said when the Cubs had Soriano and Fontenot on base in the 9th and Lee and Ramirez due up, "These are the guys who have to step up."
Well, they did, bigtime, and the "statement" made today, if there was one, was by the Cubs, who are now 6-4 vs. Milwaukee this season, cut a game off the lead, coming to within 6.5 games, and reaching .500 for the first time since May 10. They're 17-10 in June and 17-8 since the famous Mt. Piniella eruption on June 2. Coincidence? I think not -- Lou's tirade was admittedly calculated, and suddenly this team is, as I've been saying all week, getting solid pitching (and good bullpen work on days when the starters fail, like today), excellent defense, and hitting when they need it, such as today, and also on Monday when the bullpen imploded in the 9th inning.
Finally, it was nice to meet BCB reader Jettero2112 and his friend, who had come up from Louisville for this game; we spoke for a while before the game and about the second inning (he sat across the aisle from us) we looked at each other and just shrugged our shoulders, as if to say, "Here we go again." But after the game, I said to him, "Bet you're glad you came to THIS one!"
And if you haven't heard any of the calls of Aramis' walk-off, BCB reader John M has posted links to them in this diary, including Bob Uecker's Milwaukee radio call. Relive it! I know I will, since I didn't hear any of them myself, being at the ballpark. What a day! Savor this one, and let's hope it spurs the club on to even greater things.