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The Monkey Is Dancing Tonight

The first thing Mike said to me when I called him was:

"What do YOU want?" (in a very harsh sounding voice)

Of course, he was kidding, because it was time for kidding, time for happiness, time for joy tonight.

This is why we go. This is why Jeff and I sit out there and freeze our butts off in April, and get soaked seemingly every other day; this is why we all sit through 95-loss seasons year after year; this is why we wait, and wait, and wait, and we say, "Maybe next year."

The monkey is off our back, everyone, and dancing up a frenzy tonight. May I say: WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

Next year is NOW, my friends. One of the other things Mike said to me, and it's surely true, is that THIS is the barrier that had to be broken. Whether or not the current Cub players have anything to do with the 95 years of failure (and they don't), there is a mystique, a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, that year after year of Cub players has not been able to conquer.

Kerry Wood and the Cubs conquered it tonight, in a surprisingly easy 5-1 win over the Braves in Atlanta in game five of their National League Division Series, winning the series three games to two. It is only the fourth time that the Cubs have won as many as three games in a postseason series.

If there was ever a doubt over whether Kerry Wood has the mental makeup to be a dominant force in baseball, tonight removed those doubts forever. He dominated the game from the very first pitch, and having thrown 117 pitches, he probably could have come out to throw the ninth inning, but I think it was smart of Dusty not to do so; Kerry will throw game three on Friday in Miami, and on normal rest, so he ought to be absolutely ready to go.

As I told you yesterday, I went to a Yom Kippur service tonight. The rabbi, who as Howard told me, is a Cub fan, made no mention of the game itself, which started about half an hour after the service began. He did, in his opening remarks, start talking about this time of year in the Jewish tradition, being a time of "self-denial". Howard and I gave each other knowing winks at that.

After the service we came back to Howard's place, and watched the game with Jon, and Jeff & Krista, who are temporarily living with Jon while they figure out where to move. Jeff started something during the Cardinal series -- standing by the back fence of the bleachers when things got tense. So he spent the last four innings sitting on a staircase kind of half-hidden from the rest of us.

It didn't matter. The Cubs were the team that looked dominant tonight. Even when Alex Gonzalez booted a ball in the 8th, it went right into Mark Grudzielanek's glove, and he completed the putout. Even when the umpires blew the call on the ball that Kenny Lofton caught in CF in the sixth (and he would have turned it into a triple play, since both runners were way off base), the result was only one run, and the Cubs got out of it with a double play.

Even CBS football announcer Dan Dierdorf got into the action -- when Paul Edinger kicked a field goal to lead the Bears to their last-second, upset win over the Raiders this afternoon, Dierdorf immediately said, "The Cubs are going to win tonight."

Prescience? Maybe. Krista drove me home, since I had been dropped off at Howard's, and we saw many people along the way honking and waving Cub pennants; there was apparently a huge street party outside Wrigley Field tonight; I'm saving that kind of partying for the next round.

Right now I'm working on trying to get a flight to Miami to get there for at least a couple of the games next weekend, but almost everything has already been snapped up. If the airlines are smart they'll start adding flights -- I'd expect perhaps as many as 30,000 Cub fans in Pro Player Stadium, which can seat as many as 67,000 for baseball playoff games.

Today is a day that will always live in the memories of Cub fans everywhere; where you were, who you were with, what you did, indelibly stamped, by this improbable team, which is now the favorite, of all things, to win the NLCS and move on to -- I can hardly believe I'm writing this -- the World Series.

It begins at Wrigley Field Tuesday night, Carlos Zambrano vs. Josh Beckett. The Cubs won four of six from Florida during the regular season (including a 16-2 pounding in Miami the last time they faced each other on July 20, a game Zambrano pitched, incidentally), and just briefly now (I'll write some more tomorrow on the upcoming series) -- the key to winning is to keep the Marlins' speed guys and leadoff men, Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo, off the bases. Do that, and the Cubs will be 2003 NL champions.

Till then, my friends, raise a glass and enjoy, savor the moment, appreciate what this is, because generations have lived and died without seeing the Cubs win an October series. We are privileged. Never forget.