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Nineteen

MIAMI -- Nineteen, indeed.

Nineteen years and seven days ago, the Cubs beat the San Diego Padres 4-2 and moved to within one game of the World Series.

And three losses and a lot of tears later, they didn't make it.

I can still remember walking out of Wrigley Field on October 3, 1984, and where I was and how I felt that day.

Now it has taken nineteen years and seven days to get back to that feeling, and although I talked to my friend Craig in Kansas City tonight and he is convinced we are going to the World Series --

-- gosh, yes, I really wrote those words, didn't I? --

there have been, in my lifetime, teams this close who didn't make it -- the 1985 Blue Jays. The 1986 Angels, who got to within one strike and didn't make it.

So we revel, we enjoy, we thrill at tonight's 8-3 blowout of the Marlins, giving the Cubs a 3 games to 1 lead in the NLCS, but we know there is still work to be done. And if Dusty Baker has instilled nothing else in this team, I know he has instilled the work ethic that every single man on the ballclub knows what he has to do.

Tonight, Mike & I both figured the Cubs could hit Dontrelle Willis just the way they did back in July, when they routed him on their way to a 16-2 win. And with Willis apparently nervous and unable to throw strikes, that set the stage for Aramis Ramirez, who may turn out to be the Cubs' best trade acquisition in decades, to hit a grand slam, and eventually tie a 43-year-old record for RBI in a postseason game.

Sheesh, records are falling like flies. The last Cub team to win three straight postseason games was the 1907 World Champions, who won four straight over the Tigers after the first game ended in a tie. I know much of this stuff because we happened to be sitting right in front of the auxiliary press area, and we could hear the loudspeaker announcements throughout the game. Handy!

Credit also to Matt Clement, who threw a wonderful game in a very efficient 98 pitches, and Kenny Lofton and Sammy Sosa, who worked deep into counts and kept Willis and the Marlins' bullpen off stride all night.

It seemed like more Cub fans than last night; we ran into some really nice people who let us hang with them in the parking lot and watch the Yankee/Red Sox brawl, er, game, for a while, and then we sold our extra tickets to two young men, one of whom is 17 and was given the trip to Miami as a graduation present from his sister. My gosh, he wasn't even alive when I sat in Wrigley Field that day in 1984.

A brief digression before I finish -- Mike & I spent the afternoon down at South Beach, the trendy Miami neighborhood which is interesting people-watching; then we walked down the beach itself for an hour or so, something Mike enjoys doing at Lake Michigan at home, and it was nice to just relax and watch the sunbathers and the ships go by on the Atlantic Ocean on a very hot and humid day (saw one time/temp sign that said 90 degrees, and I believe it was).

A few comments on Pro Player Stadium: hate it. Huge and concrete with no soul, although it had another record crowd of 65,829 (NLCS record, and last night when the PA announcer tried to say 65,000, he started saying 6,500, probably being used to that amount from the normal size Marlins crowd) -- even with that, the Marlins fans gave up pretty early and by the sixth inning or so, almost half the people had left, and so almost everyone remaining were Cub fans. I expect there will be even more Cub fans in attendance tomorrow. Jessica, Mike and I all agreed that if the Cubs were down 8-2 in the 7th inning of a home playoff game, a few people would leave, but not half the crowd.

We also ran into Scott Lange of The Northside Lounge and Chris Yarbrough of Yarbage Cub Report, who had driven down from Atlanta. Scott was wearing his lucky Hee Seop Choi jersey and I reminded all of them that the Cubs had never lost a game in which Scott and I had both been in attendance (the two games of the Cardinal series). Of course, that is still true. They offered us a single for Sunday's game, and we are still seeking one more ticket so all of us can sit in the lower deck.

Sign seen: "A date with J-Lo: $100,000; a date with Anna Nicole Smith: 99 cents; a date with destiny: priceless!"

You've all read here (and maybe in Sports Illustrated too, which quoted this very blog in this week's issue in Steve Rushin's column; I'd provide a link but you have to be a subscriber to click on it -- go buy it!) about my ritual at work, having my co-workers say "How about those Cubs!" and I say "They suck!"

Well, you can credit tonight's win to Mike and Pat, our ABC-7 crew here in Miami; I ran into them outside the stadium and without prompting they did this for me, shook my hand, and the rest is, to be trite, history.

Our ship is approaching port, with hope and all the love that all Cub fans have for the team, our very ill Ron Santo who is at his home in Arizona, and for each other.

Hold on tight, everyone. We hope tomorrow is the day we have been waiting for.