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Nineteen

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- That's the Cubs' magic number after what seemed like a magical 4-3 win over the Expos here in Puerto Rico last night.

Most of you probably saw the game, so there's not too much more to tell there -- other than that I thought Carlos Zambrano threw great, the bullpen did its job (despite yet another scare from Joe Borowski in the 9th, giving up a pinch-homer to Jose Macias), and Sammy Sosa survived yet another round of being hit in the helmet. At first from our vantage point in the LF bleachers (more on that coming up) it looked like he got hit in the wrist (since he put his arm up to protect himself) and I had fears of a broken hand. Nevertheless, he was fine, and the Cubs, despite leaving ten men on base, had good long-sequence offense, with only one extra-base hit, and it was enough to maintain a share of first place with the Astros, who also won. This is the high-water mark of the year, ten games over at 77-67, and the longest winning streak at six.

Now it's easy to tell why players from the islands have so much trouble sometimes playing in cities like Chicago early in the season. You know it intellectually just looking at the temperature difference. But it's always warm and humid here, and you can see how easy it is to get loose, and if you're not used to that -- well, I can only imagine what someone who's never experienced a temperature below 70 degrees finds himself playing in 32-degree weather.

Can't imagine how hot it is going to be on the artificial-turf field during tomorrow's day game.

Hiram Bithorn Stadium is a relic of the '60s. It has a "folded" roof that's reminiscent of the pavilion roof at Dodger Stadium, which is of similar vintage. I can't tell you too much about the main seating area, since as we found out when we got there, just like home, there's a separate entrance for the bleachers, which were added temporarily only for this series. And they are "temporary" -- just sitting there, grass and a drainage ditch below, which I learned about first hand when I accidentally pulled my hotel room card key out of my pocket along with some money, and it dropped below, and I had to go underneath to find it. The bleachers don't have many amenties either -- a few small souvenir and food stands, and porta-potties. Food and drink selection was very basic -- pizza, hot dogs, beer and pina coladas. I ordered one, thinking I'd experience the local drink, only to find out later that you had to ask for rum to be put in it, so I wound up having fruit juice. I did have a real one later on when we went out after the game.

Though the seats were OK, we all want to check out the rest of the park, so today, we'll try to trade seats up -- even though they announced today is a sellout, I'm sure we won't have any trouble.

The crowd was lively and into the game, made louder by that most American of inventions -- the dreaded ThunderStix. Unlike most USA baseball crowds, this seemed overwhelmingly male. Though it was clearly a pro-Expos crowd, there were many Cub fans, not only those of us who made the trip over, but many of the locals, who were rooting for the Cubs, not just Sammy, though there were plenty there rooting big-time for Sammy; you could tell by the way the place emptied out after his last at-bat in the top of the ninth.

Ran into my colleague Jim Rose from ABC-7 early in the game; apparently they shot some video of me and put it on the air, though I have no way of knowing that for sure. A few of us were also put on camera outside the park before the game and wound up both in the game opening and WGN's news.

Silly sight seen: a few hundred locals chanting during the game something that sounded like "Hee Seop". Knew it couldn't be that, so we asked someone sitting behind us what it was. Turns out they were chanting "Pizza! Pizza!" Why? Because they thought the girl selling it was a hottie.

Finally, getting to the park itself was an adventure since the taxi driver ran into a huge traffic jam on the exit we were supposed to take (found out later there was an accident), so she had to drive about four or five exits ("Salida" in Spanish) down, and go through rush-hour traffic on local streets to get there. Advice: if you ever come to San Juan, enjoy -- but don't try to drive yourself!