(with all credit to the late Jack Buck for the headline)
Walking down Sheffield back to my car, I ran into a man wearing a BCB shirt -- sorry, I didn't even get your name -- and we shook hands and hardly even knew what to say about the Cubs' incredible, dramatic, awesome, breathtaking, electrifying, exciting, gripping, intense, moving, riveting, sensational 7-6 win over the Brewers. (Yes, I got all those from thesaurus.com.) We marveled over the comeback, the ups and downs, and he walked one way and I walked the other... and I still almost can't believe it.
There have been quite a number of incredible comebacks this season -- the comeback from being down 9-0 to Colorado on May 30 comes first to mind, along with being down 5-0 to the Marlins in the third on July 27 and winning 9-6. There are others. But I don't think I have ever seen, ever, in all the years I've watched baseball, a last-of-the-ninth comeback that good -- two out, nobody on base, down four runs, and having it capped by a three-run, no-doubt-about-it, first-pitch homer by Geovany Soto. He was the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year anyway; I suspect that clinches it, and it might get him some MVP votes, too. But as Lou said in his postgame press conference, "Let's knock two more numbers down, then we can talk about awards." (And let's stop talking about when we 'want' the Cubs to clinch, too -- just do it!)
Amen, Lou. And here, I was getting ready to write a scathing criticism of Lou for the way he mismanaged the sixth inning into a four-run rally for the Brewers. Not for putting Jeff Samardzija in the game -- although Samardzija didn't have much, it was Mark DeRosa's error that opened the door for the four unearned runs, and that's a play DeRo makes 99 times out of 100. No, it was for not bringing in Neal Cotts to turn Ray Durham around, after Mike Cameron had driven in the first run of the inning. Durham's hitting .305 lefthanded and .224 righthanded this year. Why wouldn't you want a lefty pitching to him?
Lou seems to have an aversion to the LOOGY idea -- and I'm not married to it, like Dusty Baker was -- but this was absolutely, positively the situation to use it. Instead, Samardzija was left in, and predictably, Durham singled in a run. It took two more hits and a walk before Lou finally yanked him for Randy Wells. Wells walked in a run before ending the carnage.
And then it started turning around. Wells retired the next seven hitters he faced; give the guy credit. He's not really a prospect at age 26, and he won't be on any playoff roster (at this rate, neither will Samardzija), but he kept the game close and then, after Cotts finally got into the game in the 9th, he gave up a leadoff double to Prince Fielder -- that's when good defense helped the Cubs out... the Brewers ran themselves into two outs on the basepaths, setting up the incredible bottom of the ninth.
Dave said he had never heard the ballpark that loud -- and that's with about 20% of the crowd having left early, too.
The game moved on, with neither team being able to capitalize on opportunities. Carlos Marmol threw a 1-2-3 tenth, and Kerry Wood had excellent stuff in striking out the side in the 11th -- then he ran into trouble in the 12th, but got out of it in a way you hardly ever see (and having thrown 33 pitches today, won't be available tomorrow. Marmol threw only 12 pitches, and so will likely close on Friday if needed). I hate the pulled-in infield, because so many times you'll see a ball that would ordinarily be an out with normal defensive positioning get through for a hit. Today, two balls were hit right to fielders, one for an easy 4-3 play, the other catching J. J. Hardy off third base in a rundown. The Cubs had a shot at it in the last of the 11th with the winning run on third -- Felix Pie, forced in to pinch-hit after Jim Edmonds was tossed -- but Soto's ball didn't quite have enough to get over Mike Cameron's head.
And that set up D-Lee's heroics, following a leadoff walk to Daryle Ward (it almost didn't seem as if he knew he had walked, with no signal from plate umpire Ed Rapuano. This crew did a horrendous job the entire series -- to assign a crew with two umpires as bad as Joe West and C. B. Bucknor to a series like this was a real, real bad decision by MLB schedulers), and Jason Marquis, pinch-running, scoring the winning run on Lee's single. Before that, D-Lee had gone 0-for-5 and hit into his 26th DP of the year, one short of Ron Santo's dubious 1973 team record. It's nice to see him get a huge hit like that and it just shows, once again, how much of a team this is, with every single member contributing to victories.
All of this was hours after Rich Harden threw an alarming 115 pitches in five innings, having good stuff but absolutely no command, walking six, but giving up only one hit, a double to Durham in the fifth, and walking in a run in the first inning. After having watched Harden throw 29 pitches to the first five hitters, Larry Rothschild went out to have a word with him. Whatever he said turned on a switch, because Harden retired the next ten hitters he faced, at one point striking out five in a row, and though the Brewers loaded the bases in the fifth, he got out of it with an easy fly to right.
There really are no further superlatives I can write -- I'm all out of 'em. Last winter, sort of on a lark, I did a "top 20 Cub HR of all-time" list. Geo's no-doubt-about-it, first-pitch blast today would jump into the top five. In one week I've been lucky enough to be in attendance at my first Cub no-hitter and the most dramatic last-of-the-ninth rally I've ever seen. And it has to be a devastating blow to the Brewers' wild-card hopes, even with them playing the Reds and Pirates the next six games. At this writing the Mets have a 3-0 lead over the Nats in the 3rd inning; the Mets could take a 1.5 game lead over Milwaukee (or even take over the NL East lead if the Phillies lose).
Ain't this great? Press this one in your memory books forever. Now, on to clinching in the next two days, and getting the job done in October.