The first three games of this series have been pretty bland - so much so that on the way home the first thing I heard the Nats radio announcer say: "It is true - the Cubs-Nationals series is finally over."
Tonight's game, however, was a worthy payoff. The Cubs at last seemed to rise forcefully to the challenge of blowing a two run lead to take the series with a most satisfying 4-2 win. Since coming to town, the Cubs have picked up two games on the Brewers, and now are within 4 1/2 games of first place. Thanks to the largely accommodating (except yesterday) Nats, it's now on like Donkey Kong in the NL Central.
There were lots of individual notes from today's game, with most of the early attention going to the relatively "weak" lineup and the return of Jacque Jones from the witness protection program. I'll get to those, but more than anything else tonight I was struck by a very real sense of intensity and urgency watching the Cubs try to get back and hold the lead that I haven't felt watching a game in person for a long time. My subconscious seemed to be telling me in a way that my head (lobotomized from 30-odd games at RFK so far this year) had not that this game really mattered.
And the Cubs seemed to respond the same way after Sean Marshall - who had pitched pretty effectively up to that point - ran out of gas in the sixth, giving up an RBI triple(!) to new Cub Killer candidate Dmitri Young, who himself scored on a sac fly by the desperately slumping Austin Kearns.
There's been a lot of discussion about the apparent lethargy of the Cubs (win or lose) throughout this series, so it appeared that this would be the moment of truth. Would the Cubs come back, or would they fold? Well, they shoved it right back at the Nats to retake the lead with two runs, keyed by Mike Fontenot(!) and a Daryle ("the athlete formerly known as 'DFA'") Ward sacrifice fly.
Michael Wuertz then looked fantastic setting down the Nats on 5 pitches in the bottom half, but Carlos Marmol - who was filthy earlier in the series - really struggled tonight, loading the bases and putting Cubs fans in the house on the edges of their seats. While it wasn't an October atmosphere, he certainly had my attention up until he finally got Brian Schneider to line out. I honestly couldn't see what the problem was. If my scorecard is correct, he got ahead of the first four hitters he faced, yet gave up hits to two. In any event, whatever Marmol forgot tonight, he apparently passed it on to Howry, who had a very strong 1-2-3 ninth for the save.
Now, onto a couple of other quick individual notes. First, Jacque Jones.
Make of it what you will, and say what you will, but he had a nice night tonight with two doubles, as did Ward, who had two hits and two RBI. Second, and on the other hand, Jones' two doubles meant that he gave Koie Hill two opportunities to drive him in and Hill, of course, failed miserably. Barring quick improvement by Hill or Bowen, something has got to be done about the catching situation - the Cubs just can't be successful over the rest of the season building that many automatic outs into the lineup.
And - oh, yeah - the President was in the house tonight to watch the Cubs win. Tomorrow, it's on to Pittsburgh. Obviously, momentum demands that the Cubs take full advantage of the bottom half of the Pirates rotation, and to now root for our new friends the Nats to continue the Brewers tailspin. Let's keep the momentum going into the All Star break, because it's shaping up to be a race afterward.