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Step Up!

In our discussions in the bleachers this year, and for many years, we've often said that in the heat of pennant races, those players who can aspire to greatness need to "step up" when it counts the most.

I can't say enough about how Kerry Wood stepped up today, throwing his best overall game of the year, striking out 11, walking only one, and throwing a fairly efficient 125 pitches (well, fairly efficient for him, at least - he also hit his 21st batter of the season, one short of the Cubs club record that has stood since 1900, and the most in a single season by anyone since the Angels' Tom Murphy hit 21 in 1969) as the Cubs shut out Al Leiter and the Mets 2-0, for now, moving to within one game of the Astros pending their game tonight at Colorado, and accomplishing the following statistical feats on what was an absolutely tourist-guide-perfect weather day, 78 degrees, low humidity and bright sunshine:

* They swept their first series at home this year (yes, true, believe it or not);
* They swept the Mets for the first time in eleven seasons (since August 1992);
* They sold out the ballpark, drawing 38,482; I don't have exact figures but there must have been at least 6 or 7 thousand tickets sold today alone; that makes the season total 2,882,569, extending the record set yesterday, boosted the per-game average to 36,956, needing 117,431 or 39,143 per game to break the 3,000,000 mark;
* The entire bullpen got the day off, great news with tomorrow's off day and a doubleheader Friday in Pittsburgh;
* The 82nd win of the season clinched a winning season, the fifth in the last eleven years.

This happens almost every time one of my colleagues from ABC-7 joins me in the bleachers; today it was weekend meteorologist Phil Schwarz, who is a big baseball fan and very knowledgeable. He told us before the game that he was 5-1 in games attended in person (OK, so he watches a lot on TV), and that was good enough for us, record raised now to 6-1.

And just when we were all lamenting the fact that Doug Glanville got the start, righty against tough lefty Al Leiter, he led off the game with a home run. It was then that Dave told us that he'd heard on the pregame radio show that Glanville was something like 12-for-20 lifetime against Leiter. There are times that those things work and times they don't, and this was one of those great times that it did.

With only four hits and one walk for each team, the game was played in a snappy 2:09, and now the Cubs have just about caught up their home record to their excellent road record; 42-36 at home, 40-34 on the road.

Which is where they now go, to Pittsburgh, where they split two games (with the rainout that's going to be made up on Friday) in May, and Cincinnati, where they lost two out of three the first weekend of the season. Of course, neither one of those teams has nearly the same personnel that they did then (half the Pirates then are now Cubs, or so it seems), and both have losing records at home. Overall the Cubs are 8-6 against the Reds and 6-5 against the Pirates, and they'll have to... step up their game somewhat against both teams. Frankly, they can't afford more than one loss in each series.

The Cubs are 13-4 in September so far, one of their best September records ever (by comparison, the 1984 division champs were 16-11 in September, and the '89 squad was 17-11 -- this club will have to do better than that to make the postseason). I believe today, they made a statement that says they WILL step up.

Hope takes tomorrow off for a breather, but is smiling tonight.