Playoff Tuneup: Cubs 9, Mets 6

Even when Z pitches poorly, they win.

Even when middle relief fails, they win.

I LOVE THIS TEAM!

Nearly four hours after last night's game began, Derrek Lee dinked a little popup down the right field line, just fair, scoring Ryan Theriot, who had singled and stolen second with two out, and then Aramis Ramirez put the exclamation point on the tenth-inning rally with a two-run homer, his twenty-seventh, and the Cubs beat the Mets 9-6, giving the Mets a body blow in their attempt to win the wild card. This entire series has been somewhat surreal because I think most of you would probably rather have the Mets as a first-round playoff opponent than the other possibilities (now basically reduced to the Phillies and Dodgers), and so the Cubs, having given the Mets two soul-crushing defeats in this series (and clinching the season series, leading 4-1), can turn around and help them get in by beating the Brewers in Milwaukee this weekend.

What a long, strange trip this has been. It may get stranger tonight if the rain that is forecast for the New York area gets there before the game is over -- and even if it doesn't, it looks like the Mets may have trouble getting their weekend series with the Marlins in.

That, however, isn't the Cubs' problem. What is the Cubs' problem is yet another pitching meltdown by Carlos Zambrano. Z threw two good innings before blowing up in the third, walking nearly everyone in the state of New York before giving up a grand slam to Carlos Delgado. Z gave up only two hits other than the homer -- a one-out single to Argenis Reyes in that third inning and another single to David Wright in the fifth, at which point Lou had had enough and yanked him.

The bullpen did OK until Jeff Samardzija decided to do his Z impression (maybe that Second City thing he did last week was on his mind and he's auditioning to be an impressionist?) and walk in a run. That tied the game in the 8th, and no wonder the game was so darn long -- there were sixteen bases on balls issued by both teams, nine by Cubs pitchers and seven by the Mets.

And darned if Bob Howry didn't help save the day by throwing a scoreless bottom of the ninth, getting out of a jam he started by allowing a leadoff triple to Daniel Murphy, setting up D-Lee's and A-Ram's heroics. Kerry Wood finished up with his 34th save.

All wins are good; this one, though it meant nothing to the Cubs in the standings was particularly impressive because it shows that they have maintained their focus even while playing out the string, and they beat a team that is desperately trying to hang on to a playoff spot, and one they may face next week. We can be a little worried about Mark DeRosa, who strained his calf and had to leave the game; he'll sit for a couple of days to rest it, although Lou was going to give him two days off anyway. And Bruce Miles tells us that Lou appears to be leaning toward Ryan Dempster starting game 1 next Wednesday -- and I'd agree with that assessment, and I'd probably go with tonight's starter, Rich Harden, in game 2, starting Z in game three on the road.

We, as always, await developments. Finally, one development you should know about: the games tonight in New York and tomorrow night in Milwaukee, originally scheduled for CSN, will now be on CSN Plus (CLTV in Chicago; if you watch via EI you will not be affected, but I know that some Chicago-area viewers don't get CLTV) -- the White Sox games, more important in the pennant races, have been moved to CSN's main channel.

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