MILWAUKEE -- Just as Sean Marshall was about to deliver what turned out to be the final pitch of the Cubs' 9-4 win over the Brewers Wednesday night, a loud cheer rang out from what remained of a smallish crowd at Miller Park (far short of the usual sellout when the Cubs come to Milwaukee).
I knew it couldn't be for a Cubs victory -- because it hadn't happened yet. I turned to the press box -- where all the writers' attention was turned to a large plasma screen showing the Stanley Cup Final game between the Blackhawks and Flyers -- and saw several Blackhawks embracing, and knew the cheer was for the Hawks win in overtime, clinching their first Cup in 49 years.
Seconds later, Marshall's pitch to Ryan Braun came right back to him as a ground ball; an easy flip to Derrek Lee finished off the Cubs win. May that be a sign of things to come, that the Cubs won a game in the same moment as the Hawks won the Cup.
Obviously, the importance of one Cubs victory in a season that's looking pretty bleak at the moment pales in comparison to the Blackhawks' momentous win. Congratulations to the Blackhawks, a team comprised of excellent young players who should be Cup contenders for many years.
The Cubs, meanwhile, brought their home run shoes to Milwaukee. Geovany Soto and Marlon Byrd both had two-homer games -- the first time the Cubs had a pair do that since Lee and Todd Walker did it on July 18, 2005. D-Lee, for his part, added to the fun by hitting his 300th career homer as the first of a three-homer fifth inning that put the game away.
Carlos Zambrano gave up only two hits, but his command was off; he hit Rickie Weeks in the first inning. That followed the first Milwaukee hit of the game, a leadoff single by Craig Counsell. The Brewers scored their first run on a pair of groundouts. Z wound up walking four in five innings, but didn't give up another hit until Brewers pitcher Randy Wolf (who is a pretty good hitter) slammed a ball to deep center field that Byrd barely missed catching. That produced a pair of runs after two walks, but Wolf was out of the game in the next inning after Soto's second HR of the game ended the Cubs' homer party. The game was a pitching rematch of Z's no-hitter over the Astros in the same ballpark on September 14, 2008.
The crowd of 30,326 -- slightly larger than Tuesday's and still with a large number of Cubs and Chicago fans, many wearing Blackhawks garb -- was one of the smaller ones for any Cubs/Brewers game in Miller Park in recent years. With both teams struggling, that's not surprising, although I'd expect a bigger house for today's game as the Brewers often draw well for weekday afternoon games.
Before the game, as Bruce Miles writes in the Daily Herald, Lou issued an ultimatum:
"Look, the amazing part about this thing is we're going to play the people that deserve to play," Piniella said. "That's it. Period. In a nutshell.
"Whoever's playing the best is going to get the playing time, and that's it. I've been very patient. And look, I appreciate the effort that everybody's giving. We're just not playing baseball games. I'm going to play the people that I feel give us the best chance to win that particular day, and that's the end of it."
Notwithstanding the word "look", which seems to be part of any Lou quote, and his mangled use of the English language ("the amazing part of this thing"?), we have heard him make pronouncements like this before and then go back to his old ways a day or two later. Let's hope he sticks to this. The Cubs are playing a little better -- win today and that would make three of four to end the trip -- and the Cardinals, who, according to some, would "run away with this division", just got swept by the Dodgers in Los Angeles for the first time since 1988. At 6.5 games back, the Cubs lurk around the edges of contention. A return to solid pitching by Z would help.
A couple of final words about the Blackhawks' playoff run and championship. In Game 5 of the first round, the Hawks nearly lost, only to tie the game on a shorthanded goal with 13 seconds remaining and win in overtime at home. If they lose that game, they might have been eliminated by Nashville in the first round. Instead, they went on a 13-4 run that has them Cup champions this morning. Lesson: anything can happen once you get in any sport's postseason. Just get in. The Cubs have work to do if they are to get in to this one, but it can still happen.
And the Blackhawks' parade and rally will begin at 10:30 am on Friday. It would be really cool if, after that's over, the players would bring the Stanley Cup to Wrigley Field, where fans of both the Cubs and White Sox will be awaiting the start of tomorrow's 1:20 pm interleague game. It would be a neat way of uniting Chicago sports fans in victory.
The pregame thread for today's afternoon game will post at 11:30 am CDT.