Marquis Madness: Cubs 9, Mets 5

It's kind of weird, this week's worth of "meaningless" games. For one thing, they're not completely meaningless -- the Cubs are facing teams they could possibly face in October, so this gives them a chance for firsthand scouting, in addition to showing they can still beat the Mets and Brewers.

The weirdness is compounded by the fact that by beating the Mets, the Cubs could knock them out of the playoffs entirely -- and the Mets appear to be the team with whom they match up the best. Obviously, they won't lay down, and of course we all want the Cubs to win every day. For one thing, there's still a chance to win 100 games -- a 5-1 mark would do it. Yesterday's 9-5 win over the Mets clinched the best record in the National League, and thus home field for the first two rounds of postseason play.

Jason Marquis -- clearly the best fifth starter in the majors this year -- threw into the 7th inning again, the sixteenth time he has done that in his 28 starts, and was yanked only when he ran out of gas and gave up a homer to David Wright in the 7th. No shame there, as Wright is one of the best power hitters in the game, having 33 homers. Marquis had already one-upped that, hitting his first career grand slam (and second HR of the season) in a six-run Cubs fourth inning that put the game out of reach. It was the first grand slam by a Cubs pitcher since Kevin Tapani connected in Atlanta on July 20, 1998. Derrek Lee also homered, his 20th; the Cubs have five 20-homer men for only the second time (1958 and 2004 were the others) and if Jim Edmonds can hit two more, that'd make six for the first time in club history (Edmonds has 19 HR, but one was with San Diego).

Jeff Samardzija threw well in another possible audition for a playoff spot. But please tell me Gordon Wittenmyer is joking about this:

Outfielder Felix Pie, who made last year's postseason roster for bench speed and late-inning defense, and the Cubs' minor-league player of the year, first baseman/outfielder Micah Hoffpauir, seem to be the front-runners for that opening. Infielder Casey McGehee also is in the mix.

Hoffpauir and McGehee? Those guys shouldn't get into a playoff game without a ticket. To me, it's a no-brainer; Pie appears to have changed his hitting approach during his time at Iowa this year, he can play all three OF positions, and runs the bases well. Neither of the other two have that sort of versatility (or ability, if you ask me).

So the Cubs continue, and if they somehow can run the table and win all six remaining games, they'll have considerable influence on the Mets/Brewers wild card race.

I've spent most of this year trying to avoid the mass media's obsession with the "hundred years" thing. But today is a significant date and worth remembering: it was 100 years ago today, September 23, 1908, that the famous "Merkle Game" took place between the Cubs and Giants. Here's how it happened, as I wrote it in the top 100 profile of Johnny Evers last year:

Evers himself played an important role in the famous September 23 "Merkle's Boner" game that helped win the Cubs the 1908 pennant. From the Evers website:

The Giants apparently beat the Cubs 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth. Fred Merkle, who was on first base, trotted off the field toward his dugout when Evers realized he never tagged second. Evers got the ball and touched second, Merkle was called out and the game was tied up. The Cubs would eventually end up winning that game. Evers was aware of the rule that stated a runner on first still must tag second even on the winning run for the play to be over. Merkle failed to do this and was called out.

The website doesn't do full justice to this play, or Evers. This single play shows all of Evers' competitiveness, abrasiveness, knowledge, and leadership, all produced at the most critical moment. There was, in fact, at the time, some dispute about whether the ball that Evers had used in the play was the actual ball, or was another one that had been thrown to him from the Cubs' dugout.

There had been another play exactly like it earlier that same month -- in the SABR BioProject biography of NL umpire Hank O'Day, it's explained:

In a [September 4] game involving the Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates, a Pirate runner [Warren Gill, who, oddly enough, never played again after the 1908 season] failed to touch second on a game-winning hit. When Evers tried to inform O'Day of the decision, O'Day said he did not see the play and could not do anything. However, the play remained in O'Day's mind.

It's further elaborated upon in the SABR BioProject biography of Evers:

Evers, standing on second, called for the ball and demanded that umpire Hank O'Day rule the play a forceout, which would nullify the run and send the game into extra innings. Gill's maneuver was customary in those days, and O'Day refused to make the call that Evers was seeking. "That night O'Day came to look me up, which was an unusual thing in itself," Evers recalled many years later. "Sitting in a corner in the lobby, he told me that he wanted to discuss the play. O'Day then agreed that my play was legal and that under the circumstances, a runner coming down from first and not touching second on the final base hit was out." Evers' account may not be trustworthy, especially given O'Day's exceptionally reclusive nature and the lengthy period between the event and the retelling, but the incident undoubtedly had a pronounced effect on the umpire, as was demonstrated by subsequent events.

O'Day thought he was mollifying Evers by saying if it happened again, he'd give it to him. Well, guess what, and guess who was the umpire. The play not only wound up helping the Cubs win the pennant and World Series in 1908 (since the September 23 game was ruled a tie, it had to be replayed at season's end, and the Cubs won the replay 4-2), but it resulted in an official rule change, requiring the umpire(s) to make certain that all players touch their required bases on game-ending plays. It is arguably the single most significant play in Cubs history.

Until this postseason, when perhaps another play will top it.

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