Worth The Harden Effort: Cubs 6, Nationals 1

While Rich Harden was mowing down the Nats seemingly without effort this afternoon, the happiest Cubs player had to be Kosuke Fukudome, who hit a two-run, pinch-hit HR, his first since July 31 in Milwaukee, to put the Cubs' 6-1 win over the Nationals on ice, making the score 5-1; they would extend it to the final 6-1 thanks to some dubious Washington plays in the field... you can really tell how bad the DC team is by their lackadaisical defense, and the odd choice of manager Manny Acta to bring in Steve Shell to pitch to Fukudome, who had been announced as a pinch-hitter for Harden.

As soon as I saw Shell's slinging sidearm style, I said to Mike, "This ought to be someone Fukudome can hit", and two pitches later he took him deep with Mike Fontenot on base. Obviously, I didn't see the TV closeups, being at the game, but I understand Dome's teammates gave him a hero's welcome in the dugout and he had a huge smile on his face. Good for him, and I hope that maybe that big hit will start him on the road to a fine September.

All this on a day where yesterday's sticky humidity and rain were gone, replaced by gorgeous blue skies and the wind blowing in at about 10 MPH, and none of us in the bleachers thought anything at all would head our way. Wrong again! Four balls left the yard, including -- for the fourth time this year -- a solo HR off Harden (by Austin Kearns) that would wind up as the only run he allowed. Otherwise Harden was absolutely dominant, walking no one and striking out eleven (tying his career high), several of them on knee-bending sliders, and finishing his seven innings of work with a 95 MPH fastball, K'ing Ronnie Belliard for his 11th and last whiff. Harden's 162 combined strikeouts between the A's and Cubs now rank tied for seventh in the majors. Nats note: Jason Bergmann didn't throw too bad a game, but he is the worst hitter in baseball this year. After going 0-for-2 today, he is 0-for-38 this year with no walks and no sacrifices -- in other words, every one of his plate appearances has been completely worthless to his team. It may be the worst offensive year by a pitcher since Bob Buhl set the record for futility by going 0-for-70 in 1962, 0-for-1 for the Braves and 0-for-69 for the Cubs, although Buhl did walk six times, scored two runs and stole one base.

Historic notes like these are going to start happening more and more often as we get deeper into this memorable season, so take note:

  • The Cubs won their eighth straight series. They hadn't done that in 71 years, since 1937. (They're also 22-8 since Alfonso Soriano returned from the DL on July 23.)
  • Geovany Soto's 19th HR tied the club record for rookie catchers, set by Randy Hundley 42 years ago, in 1966.
  • At 80-50 the Cubs are 30 games over .500 for the first time since they finished 31 over on September 30, 1984. They were 32 games over at 90-58 that year and also a couple of times in 1969, the last on September 2. The last time the Cubs were more than 32 games over .500 was on September 30, 1945, when they finished that pennant year 98-56.
  • Speaking of pennant years, check out the "best starts" box on the right sidebar. At 80-50 this year's team is now better through 130 games than all but eight Cub teams since 1900 -- six pennant winners (1906, 1907, 1910, 1918, 1929 and 1945), the 1909 team that won 104 games and finished 2nd, and the 1912 team that started well but faded to third.

Really, I've run out of superlatives. We are witnessing things that entire generations of Cubs fans have lived and died without seeing. It's remarkable, it's enjoyable, it's tremendously satisfying, especially only two years after one of the worst years in Cub history and how Jim Hendry and Lou Piniella have completely remade this team in such a short time.

Incidentally, I'll give one bit of praise to one of the Nats -- John Lannan, the winner on Friday despite giving the Cubs five runs when the Cubs' bullpen collapsed. The Cubs didn't take BP any of the three days and the Nats loafed onto the field for a rather low-key BP session. But on both Saturday and Sunday, Lannan was the first Nat on the field, running laps in the outfield. He's got talent and obviously works hard, and at age 24 next month he might be someone that the Cubs could put their eye on to acquire for next year's rotation.

But that's for later. Now is to savor what's happening right in front of our eyes, things neither we nor our parents nor some of our grandparents have ever seen in Cub history. The Brewers won today in extra innings, beating the team the Cubs will face next, the Pirates (who had the bases loaded and nobody out in the top of the 12th and failed to score), so the Cubs' lead remains at 4.5 games... and as ever, if the Cubs take care of their own business it won't matter what Milwaukee does.

Onward. Relax till tomorrow night; tomorrow morning I'll have photos from both Saturday and Sunday's wins. And remember, the best is yet to come.

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