If you closed your eyes and listened to the crowd at Wrigley Field after Geovany Soto hit his tiebreaking homer in the eighth inning, just for a moment it felt like 2008 all over again.
OK, open your eyes now and look over the half-empty stands and realize that this homer, though it gave the Cubs a 5-4 win over the Astros, didn't mean all that much; all it did was move the Cubs to 18 games under .500 and pull them to within 4.5 games of... third place, behind the Astros. With the Brewers' loss to the Cardinals this afternoon, the Cubs are 3.5 games behind Milwaukee for fourth place.
Such are the small victories of a dismal season. Worse today was the Triple-A Iowa Cubs blowing a 6-3 lead going into the seventh inning against Memphis and losing 7-6, thus ending their season in second place. Rumor heard: there may be some callups from Iowa at Wrigley Field as soon as tomorrow, though I don't have any specific names.
In addition to Soto's home run, he also survived a tough collision with the Astros' Michael Bourn trying to score on a contact play; Jeff Baker threw accurately home and Soto held on to the ball in the fourth inning, keeping the score 4-3 Houston.
Casey Coleman got hit hard in the second inning, beginning with a Chris Johnson home run, and gave up four runs. Somehow, he managed to stay in the game through the sixth, even though he gave up five walks and eight hits; the Cubs scored three in the third, two of them on Marlon Byrd's home run, to make it 4-3.
It stayed that way until the fifth, when a Darwin Barney single and Baker double tied the game. Barney made a couple of nice plays in the field and had two hits; it's no guarantee, but I think the Cubs have found their backup middle infielder for 2011. The best news is that, for the first time since Andres Blanco was let go, that would mean the Cubs would have a true backup shortstop who is actually good defensively at the position.
Marcos Mateo, who likely will not be back next year, and Andrew Cashner, who will, threw two good relief innings. Cashner was credited with the individual win as the pitcher of record when Soto homered; Carlos Marmol recorded his 28th save in one of the quickest ninth innings he's had all year -- only eight pitches, two infield groundouts and a popup.
On a strange weather day that was divided between sunshine and clouds and an annoying little rainshower in the seventh inning, the announced attendance was 31,647. It appeared to be about 10,000 less than that in the ballpark, with the bleachers less than half full. That makes the Cubs' season attendance total 2,775,698 -- 224,302 short of 3 million with eight dates remaining. The Cubs must average 28,038 to pass that milestone for the seventh straight year; it'll be close, because the next two nights (and the three against the Giants coming up two weeks from now) are no guarantee to draw that many. In any case, this year's total paid attendance will be the smallest since 2003, and the number in the ballpark considerably lower than that. I'll have a longer post about attendance later this week.
In the meantime, let's win some more games. Today, Starlin Castro sat on the bench, according to various tweets, to "reflect" on his brain fart yesterday when he stepped off first base and was tagged out to end an inning when he forgot how many outs they were. This is something that wouldn't have happened under Lou Piniella, and it's a gentle reminder by Mike Quade that the game needs to be played right.
Whoever the manager is next year, this kind of thing can only help.