Playoff Atmosphere? In April? You Bet! - Cubs 8, Cardinals 7

There was more intensity in today's ballpark crowd than during game one of last year's NLDS.

Strange but true: we are only ten games into the 2009 season and already, we have had several close and intense games and today, perhaps the most intense of all, with three lead changes and several more changes of momentum. The result, an 8-7 come-from-behind Cubs win over the Cardinals, was pleasing to everyone (except the handful of Cardinals fans who had sneaked onto our bench when Jessica wasn't looking, and who slinked away in defeat after the game-ending double play).

There were many heroes today -- not only Alfonso Soriano, who hit the game-winning homer in the eighth inning (with five homers in ten games so far, Soriano is off to his best start as a Cub and, presuming he stays healthy, maybe off to a banner year), but Micah Hoffpauir, who drove in the first run with a double; Geovany Soto, whose RBI single in the fifth tied the game after the Cardinals had gone ahead in the top of the frame; Kosuke Fukudome, who walked, doubled and hit a sacrifice fly, and who is off to a fine start (we can ignore the couple of helicopter swings that looked really bad for the moment, anyway).

And Carlos Marmol, who was going into the game regardless of the 9th-inning score -- he was the only one warming up -- throwing his first six pitches out of the strike zone (a walk and a hit batsman excited the Cardinals fans but scared those of us in blue), and then settling down and striking out Ryan Ludwick, who had already homered twice (Dave was surprised Tony LaRussa wasn't bunting with Ludwick, considering how often TLR goes against the "book") and getting pinch-hitter Khalil Greene to bounce into that DP.

Ten games into the season, you can't call this a "must-win". However, winning a game like this after all the mental mistakes of the last couple of days, and coming from behind after the Cardinals kept pounding homer after homer has to put some good feelings in the Cubs clubhouse tonight. The Cubs could have put this game away in the first two innings, when they had P. J. Walters, making his ML debut, on the ropes, but failed to cash in for more than two runs in the first despite having four consecutive men reach base, and after having the first three reach base in the second, only one run scored. Nevertheless, win any way you can.

Yesterday, I wrote that the Cubs starters have to start going seven innings. Not that Lou would listen to me, but Carlos Zambrano did manage seven today, with a reasonable pitch count of 109 (73 strikes, a good sign), and besides Ludwick's two bombs and the mistake he made to Brian Barden in the 6th when he homered, Z threw well today. It saved the rest of the bullpen -- Aaron Heilman had an efficient inning -- and even though Kevin Gregg got up when Marmol put the first two hitters on base in the 9th, he wasn't up very long, because the K and the DP came in quick order.

Other good things today: Aramis Ramirez went 3-for-4, raising his early-season average to .364; Geovany Soto looked bad in his first two AB's, but after the single he worked a walk and appears to be getting his timing back after missing a few days. Derrek Lee had a pair of singles and scored twice; while he is still hitting only .225, I'm not worried about him. (Yet.)

The crowd of 40,250 is the largest in the four home games thus far; that will likely be surpassed tomorrow. There were far fewer Cardinal fans than you would see in a midsummer series, likely because of the weekday starts and the Sunday night game; with schools not out it was likely that not that many St. Louis fans would make a weekend out of it and still be able to make it back to work or school on Monday. Oddity: enormous lines for the bleachers on the Sheffield side before gate-opening, with hardly any people waiting on Waveland. The likely reason: Sheffield's in the sun at 11 am, while Waveland isn't. With temperatures at that hour of only 48 degrees, Waveland was likely cold!

Nice to see BCB readers mrcubsfan and dfrancon, who are both in town for the weekend. Glad you -- and everyone else -- saw an important win today.

Finally, a bit of shameless promotion: if you didn't hear the WGN radio broadcast today, Pat Hughes, who was gracious enough to write the foreword for us for "Cubs By The Numbers", gave us a plug during the fourth inning. Click here to hear the clip (link opens .mp3 file).

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