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Four

We can beat them, just for one day... We can be Heroes, just for one day -- David Bowie

Everyone who's a Cub fan, I think, must have held his or her breath today, thinking about Shawn Estes starting against the Reds.

But you know what, sometimes veteran players, even those who have played very poorly, step up in situations like this. Perhaps the most famous example of this in baseball history happened during the 1929 World Series. A's manager Connie Mack, despite having great pitchers like Lefty Grove on his club, tabbed 35-year-old veteran Howard Ehmke, who had thrown only 54 innings that year, to start the World Series against the Cubs. He sent Ehmke to scout the Cubs late in the season, and Ehmke responded with an 8-hit, one-run complete game, and the A's wound up winning the Series four games to one.

Shawn Estes stepped up tonight, pitching his first complete game and shutout of the year, as the Cubs beat the Reds decisively 8-0, reducing their magic number to four, since the Astros beat the Giants today 2-1, something the Cubs knew before they took the field tonight. You could say this is only the Reds, but this team beat the contending Phillies twice last weekend in Philadelphia, and they were starting Josh Hall, who dominated the Cubs at Wrigley Field a week ago Sunday.

Steve Stone is so good. In the very first inning he said that if Hall didn't throw strikes, the Cubs would score runs in "bunches", and that's precisely what happened. In fact, Paul Bako was again the hitting star, just as he was on the season's opening weekend; that day it was a bases-clearing triple (on which Ken Griffey Jr. separated his shoulder trying for a diving catch, ruining his season), today a bases-clearing double (and Bako did get thrown out trying for third).

In fact, if Paul Bako could play all his games against the Reds, he'd be a Hall of Famer. Think I'm kidding? Look at his lifetime stats vs. Cincinnati (not including today's game):
 
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS
33 86 13 31 9 2 3 19 14 12 0 1 .360 .446 .616 1.062


That's pretty amazing.

So was Estes, who threw one of the more efficient complete games of the season for the Cubs, with only 108 pitches, and he will be on the playoff roster, and who knows? Another lefty in the bullpen can't hurt, and a game like this ought to do wonders not only for Estes' confidence, but the morale of the entire pitching staff.

It was also good to see Sammy Sosa bust loose with a home run; he's had a miserable month, this in a month where the Cubs are now 17-6, the best September in my lifetime, and perhaps this is a sign of things to come this weekend.

I needed a baseball fix today; I mean, really! It's been four whole days since I've been to a ballgame, so I went to the Ballmall to see the White Sox' home finale against the Yankees, which they won 9-4, giving Esteban Loaiza his 20th win, the first Sox to do so in 10 years, since Jack McDowell won 22 games for the 1993 AL West champs. Ran into Howard & Jon and we sat together, watching Mike Mussina throw five strong innings before the Sox muscled up and scored eight runs off him in the sixth. He won't start again till the Yankees' first Division Series game next Tuesday, and he'd better hope he's more effective than that. Otherwise the mood among the Sox fans was pretty much like today's weather: gloomy and off-and-on-rainy; the game was delayed about 50 minutes, and partly played in a light rainfall.

Got to see quarterback Drew Henson bat today, his third major league at-bat, and his second major league strikeout. Time for him to go back to the NFL, I think.

The Cubs and Shawn Estes made a statement tonight, and with the one-game lead, [cliche meter on] they control their own destiny. Just win.

Hope looks forward to a memorable weekend at Wrigley Field!