In the middle of the season, you can't really point to any single game as "must-win" (though I have been guilty of saying that in the past)... because there are plenty of games remaining, the Cubs are in first place, and they come home (at last!) for a homestand beginning Tuesday, after playing 16 of their last 19 on the road.
Nevertheless, there has to be a sigh of relief among all the Cubs players, not to mention all of us, that the Cubs beat the Cardinals convincingly 7-1 this afternoon, winning the series and extending their NL Central division lead back to 3.5 games. The road trip (which, remember, included the three games at the Cell last weekend) thus ends with a 4-6 record -- not great, but it sure sounds better than 3-7, and since it started 0-3, winning four of their last seven gives them a good basis to start another winning streak when they return home to the Confines that have been extremely Friendly this season, to the tune of a 33-10 home record. And, one of the most important things the Cubs take out of this series is that they have split the six games so far with the Cardinals this year -- all of which have been played in St. Louis. There are nine games left with St. Louis, six of them at Wrigley Field, including the final three games of the home schedule. That bodes well for the head-to-head play for the rest of 2008.
Everything worked right today -- Sean Marshall threw six solid innings in notching his first win of the season; Neal Cotts threw another scoreless inning and is beginning to look like the 2005 version of Cotts who was a key part of... well, you know, some team that won the World Series.
The Cubs scored in fine Chicago fashion today -- early and often, in six of the nine innings, and in many different ways, from an early Mark DeRosa single (DeRo's next RBI will give the Cubs four men with 50 or more), to three RBI from Aramis Ramirez, to a D-Lee RBI double, once on a Cardinal error, and just to prove they could do it, a home run (from All-Star starter Geovany Soto, his 15th).
And, the happy Cub caravan will head home knowing that seven of their number have been selected to go to New York for the All-Star Game on July 15 -- Soto, Kosuke Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano as starters, A-Ram as a backup, and three pitchers: Z, Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood, who joins Dennis Eckersley, Rich Gossage and John Smoltz as pitchers who have gone in recent years both as starters and closers (Hoyt Wilhelm also went as both a starter and reliever, but that was long before the current concept of "closer" came into being).
Many of you will say you'd rather see those guys get the time off, and for the rest of the team, rest will be well-deserved. But the honor is deserved also, and the seven representatives (eight, including Lou Piniella) is the most-ever for the Cubs (of course, All-Star rosters are larger than they used to be, too). We all hope none of them gets hurt -- that's a given. But the NL has not won the ASG since 1996 -- wouldn't it be cool if several Cubs contributed to the first such win in 12 years?
For those of you not watching the CSN telecast, Len mentioned the 14th birthday of Jenna Shaw, a friend of my daughter's who was mentioned on this site two years ago when she created a project for her Bat Mitzvah, selling autographed balls she had acquired on eBay to raise money for a couple of worthy causes (incidentally, the final total was over $3500). Jenna's mom took her to see the Cubs in St. Louis for her birthday.
Enjoy the off-day. You can bet the Cubs will. Till tomorrow.