LANSING, Michigan -- Traffic was terrible!
That's what I get for staying till the end of today's excruciatingly exciting 3-2 Cubs win over the Braves; I didn't hit Lake Shore Drive till 5:30, which meant running into some of the departing ballgame traffic as well as rush hour; that combined with a stop to eat and a couple of wrong turns getting off I-69, didn't get me in to my overnight stay here in Lansing till after 11 local time.
That's just the beginning of what I hope will be a fun road trip, with some more victories by the team which has now had a better start than all but five other Cub teams (see the box on the right sidebar).
But back to this hot and humid afternoon's fun, which began with no Cub batting practice but watching the just-recalled Micah Hoffpauir and Eric Patterson standing in left field, in their high-socked throwback uniforms, taking fungo after fungo hit by Alan Trammell. Truth be told, neither one of them looked that good, but Patterson got the start. He did get his first hit of the season, but otherwise had an uneventful afternoon.
The rest of the Cubs -- well, we had yet more new heroes this afternoon; the once-hated Jim Edmonds received an enormous ovation when he tied the game in the bottom of the ninth inning with his one-out HR off Blaine Boyer. And then, Reed Johnson won it by -- doing nothing except standing there and taking a pitch off his back leg with the bases loaded, the only pitch thrown by Braves reliever Jeff Ridgway. On WGN on the postgame show, Johnson said he'd been watching Ridgway in the bullpen and said that Ridgway had been trying to warm up by throwing what would have been inside pitches, busting him low and inside, so Reed was on the watch for exactly what he got.
Smart, winning baseball. What a refreshing change, isn't it? I'm sure there have been other games that have ended this way, but I personally recall (and witnessed) only one other -- this one on August 26, 1972, when Joe Pepitone took one for the team and won a game 10-9, where the Cubs had blown a 7-4 lead.
The throwback events were fun -- I know it must have been just as much fun to see the black & white TV images for the first two innings, and I understand (but have not yet heard) Len Kasper made a nice tribute to Jack Brickhouse calling Edmonds' HR in the 9th inning. They didn't have to go all the way back, however, and make the PA system go out -- as it did in the 10th inning, preventing "Go Cubs Go" from being played for the 11th consecutive home game. Even the Lakeview Baseball Club rooftop on Sheffield got into the fun, changing its sign to read AC000239 (I hope to have a photo of this to post tomorrow morning). Some of the other team employees, including ushers with old-style hats and vendors wearing bowties and white shirts, joined in the festivities.
It was also an old-fashioned pitchers' duel for seven-plus innings; Z threw pretty well, making only one mistake, the two-run HR hit by Jeff Francoeur. I said to our group (which today included BCB reader sparkles721, and also a couple other BCB readers, and I apologize for forgetting your names, stopped by to say hi) after that happened, "Two runs won't win this game". Turns out I was right, but I was thinking about the wind howling out about 25 MPH, not an extra-inning walkoff HBP. There were some other fly balls, but nothing near the bleachers until Edmonds' blast. Tim Hudson matched Z, finally getting yanked in the 7th inning when the Cubs cut the lead in half on a sac fly by Edmonds (yes, I had the requisite visit to the men's room in the middle of the 7th inning, a new tradition any time the Cubs are trailing at that time). I was surprised at a number of strategic moves in this game, not the least of which was allowing Z to bat in the 7th, once that run had scored, with a runner still in scoring position. Hey Z: you're a good hitter, but that situation really cried out for Micah Hoffpauir. Hoffpauir, for his part, wound up being wasted in the 9th, when with two out he was announced, at which time Bobby Cox countered with Will Ohman (who entertained the bleacherites before the game, as was his routine when he was a Cub). Lou sent Ronny Cedeno up to face Ohman -- we figured the game was over, but instead Ohman struck him out.
The real stars of this game, apart from Edmonds and Johnson, were the members of the Cub bullpen -- all of them. Every single man who relieved Z, from Scott Eyre (who REALLY looked 1948-ish in that baggy uniform) to Carlos Marmol to Neal Cotts (who looks 2005-vintage since his recall) to Kerry Wood, who was throwing absolutely filthy sliders, did their jobs; although a few baserunners were allowed, each of them got out of their respective jams, and the Braves stranded fourteen runners.
Each day brings new heroes, new ways to win, and another victory on the way to what seems, to me, to be the most special season I can remember. This is the best Cub team since at least 1984, and perhaps many years before that. As I have said before, enjoy each moment, each victory, each piece of the story as it is written.
Onward to Toronto. More in the morning or early afternoon after my arrival.