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If This Is A Dream, Don't Wake Me Up

Jeff and Howard and I agreed today. Not that we don't often, but today we agreed that:

Had the last five games been played as part of any postseason series, that series would instantly become the most legendary playoff series of all time.

I don't think I've ever seen a week of baseball quite like this, and perhaps never will again. Just about anything and everything happened, from weather delays to beanball wars to really rotten umpiring to heart-pounding rallies, all of it with a playoff-atmosphere crowd every day.

Before I tell you about today's emotionally nerve-wracking 7-6 Cubs win over the Cardinals, I feel I need to say this.

That was the worst series of umpiring I have ever seen. Bill Hohn, Mike Reilly, Eric Cooper, Tim Timmons, and worst of all, vacation replacement Justin Klemm were universally awful the entire five games. The strike zones were either small or all over the place or both; there were horrendous calls like the one on Moises Alou's fair ball that might have given the Cubs a five-game sweep; and they wound up with very short fuses, ejecting people left and right, today throwing out Sammy Sosa after he was (according to Sosa's comments) cursing at himself after being called out on strikes. Hohn was the plate umpire today and he followed Sosa back to the dugout, which is an absolute no-no for umpires. It was almost as if Hohn was trying to provoke Sosa and the Cubs. Larry Rothschild also got tossed.

About the game: Shawn Estes was shaky, but I thought pitched ... well, OK. It wasn't his fault that Moises Alou lost a routine fly ball in the sun, leading to one run and probably a second in the first inning, and it wasn't his fault that Kenny Lofton dropped another easy popup in the fifth; Lofton did record an unusual 8-6 force play, but a run scored and Miguel Cairo, who hit the ball Lofton dropped, scored also.

It was Estes' fault that he decided to let a bunt by Brett Tomko roll "foul", but it didn't, and Tomko reached on a hit. The Cardinals were giving him an out, and he didn't take it! This was very stupid. Luckily, the next hitter hit into a double play, so that one didn't cost him. Estes did help himself by hitting a sacrifice fly.

He's probably earned enough of a reprieve to make one more start, though with the off day Monday, his turn could be skipped again, especially with Juan Cruz slated to start tomorrow in Milwaukee.

The Cubs came from behind twice, from 2-0 and 5-3, and also put together the winning rally in the seventh against Mike DeJean, a pitcher who has given them fits. Once again, there were so many heroes: Mark Grudzielanek, who has been hitting like crazy since he came off the DL (maybe he should break his hand more often!), doubling in two runs in the three-run fifth, and then Tony Womack, who is having the worst year of his career, driving in the game-winner after Moises Alou, still angry today, walked for the second time in the game.

You know, there is a madness to Dusty Baker's method, but I'll be damned, it seems to be working. Baker has always been known for playing veterans over young players, and oddly enough, over the last five days we have seen why he does this. Players like Womack, Kenny Lofton, and even Eric Karros and Randall Simon (who made a nifty stab of a screaming line drive by Miguel Cairo in the 7th) have been through pennant races before. This is something that no Cub team in my memory has had -- tons of playoff experience. We don't know this because we haven't been there, but it does matter. I can remember hearing about some of Dusty's Giants teams and how they won games and series like this that they had no business winning. Whatever it takes, if it works, I'm for it. One thing that a lot of people who want to see the organization build from within with kids (and I'm not against this at all, I want you to know) forget is, that with no history of winning, you can't feel what it feels like.

If the Cubs can win now with veteran players who have been there before, it lays a base on which all who come afterward -- players like Choi, Sanchez, Ryu, Sisco, Kelton, and even Corey Patterson, who is watching this from the sidelines -- can build.

If Dusty can lead us to the Promised Land this way, I'm along for the ride.

It was an absolutely gorgeous day today, around 70 degrees with a few puffy white clouds and bright sunshine, and though the crowd was taken out of the game again early by the Cardinals' two-run first, the rallies created a playoff atmosphere yet again. When Sosa was ejected and some other bad calls were made, the beer cups started going on the field and there were numerous ejections from the bleachers. Though I don't condone this type of activity, at least it showed some passion for what was going on down on the field, rather than just random drunkenness.

He who shall not be named (the human air-raid siren) stood behind us for an inning or two, just after a nice older couple stood right behind our bench and asked me who he was. I tried to explain his obnoxious behavior, and they got a really good sample of it. Luckily, even this kind of thing is forgiven by winning a game like this.

It did really take more than two hours for me to calm down enough to write all this. I hope I'm conveying even a small fraction of what has been the most remarkable week of baseball I have ever seen. Jeff couldn't even sit down the last couple of innings, he had so much nervous energy, and he told me that he napped for a couple of hours last night and then was up all night. Me, I came home, watched some of the Sox/Sox game (pretty good game last night, actually), a bit of Baseball Tonight, then turned the TV off -- and was wide awake myself for half an hour. I expect to feel the same thing tonight.

Finally, I wanted to let all of you know that I will be making the trip to Puerto Rico next week to see the Cubs play the Expos, and will report from there.

First, though, business at hand: continuing to win at Miller Park over the weekend, where the Cubs swept a four-game series in May, including the finale, the 17-inning game won by Corey Patterson's two-run homer. For the moment, the Cubs, Cardinals and Astros are tied in wins with 73, with Houston having lost 66, the Cubs 67 and the Cardinals 68.

Keep hope dancing!