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Brrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Today was one of those Chicago spring days where you step outside and say, "Say! It's a nice day... for DECEMBER!"

With the temperature about 45, a biting wind, and off-and-on rain, several of my co-workers told me this morning that their kids' baseball games out in the suburbs were cancelled.

So were the games at Hamlin Park here in Chicago, not far from my house.

But Mark's league? Welles Park's league? (today, scheduled to play at Winnemac Park) Nope. They played. And you could tell how nasty it was because Mark, who loves to play, said he was "freezing" and his hands were numb, and besides, his Diamondback team lost 19-12, so all he came home with were shoes and pants covered with mud.

And then I spent part of the rest of the afternoon worrying about whether I'd even be able to watch tonight's game, because the cable at my house was out for most of the day. Then I went out and saw no fewer than eight Comcast trucks parked about two blocks away, working on the problem.

The world really must be coming to an end. A cable company fixing an outage quickly? And putting an accurate announcement when you call so that you know what's going on?

With the cable fixed, I sat down to watch the game. That's when I found the end of the White Sox/Blue Jays first game on both CLTV (which is the Fox Sports Net Plus channel on my system) and FSN. Couldn't figure it out until they finally -- about 15 minutes after the scheduled starting time -- said that the Cub game was rain-delayed. Obviously, the weather wasn't much better in St. Louis tonight, but the Cubs slogged through it and won anyway 4-2, evening the first series with the Cardinals at a game apiece, keeping pace with the Astros, who beat up on the Reds.

Really, the last three innings of this game should never have been played. It was raining very hard -- not quite as hard as it was here in Chicago last Mother's Day, when the wind was blowing at 40 MPH and the rain was falling sideways and the umpires forced the same two teams to play a joke of a four-inning "game" before they called it, after Eli Marrero got seriously injured and it didn't count anyway.

You know, I guess I should thank the umpires for that, because that rainout became part of that memorable five-game series at Wrigley Field last September.

I know, I know, I'm digressing.

And really, I shouldn't, not tonight. This game was over in a heartbeat -- the time it took for Aramis Ramirez' three-run homer to fly over the LCF fence in the fourth inning. The Cubs added an insurance run in the ninth, but the real hero was Matt Clement, who threw yet another terrific start. Last time he started on Sunday I compared him to Kerry Wood. Today, he seems to have turned into Mark Prior, the guy who steps up and shuts the opposition down before a losing streak can begin.

He gave up a run in the first, but after that -- nothing. Clement allowed a total of five hits and one walk in his 104 pitches, despite pitching with rain dripping off the chin hair that's become so famous that there were dozens of shots of Cub fans in the crowd (a season high 49,505 at Busch Stadium) wearing the fake Clement-beards that became so popular during last year's playoffs.

In fact, after it started raining, it seemed that all the Cardinal fans went home and there were nothing left in the park but Cub fans; you could hear the yell of "ALOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUU" each time he came up. As the season goes on, I think this will become even more noticeable than it already has -- for example, the Cubs can almost count on ten extra "home" crowds this summer, the ten games in Milwaukee, where the season ticket base is only about 9,000 and Cub fans started snapping up tickets for those ten games as soon as they realized how sold-out Wrigley Field was all year. I'd expect all ten games to be sellouts and for the crowds to be at least half, maybe two-thirds, Cub fans.

There were a couple of discordant notes today, but maybe you could chalk these up to the weather -- Derrek Lee hesitated while thinking about stretching a single into a double, and got thrown out easily, but that might have been because of the muddy infield, and the same mud caused Michael Barrett to slip on a leadoff from second, whence he was easily picked off.

No matter. Joe Borowski has decided he'll be Mr. Heart Attack this year, allowing two hits and a walk for a run in the 9th, but nevertheless finished it off for Clement's fourth win of the year, and Matt (no longer Haz-Matt) lowered his ERA to 1.95.

Finally, I want to say again how terrific an announcer Steve Stone is. Not only does he show you each time the catcher puts his taped fingers down, what the pitcher is going to throw, but I note specifically the occasion on which he said "If Clement throws a slider where Barrett wants it, Lankford will swing and miss for strike three." And darned if he didn't do just that.

And then Stone pretty much called pitch-by-pitch on the game-ending strikeout of Reggie Sanders. For the true baseball fan, Stone is a joy to listen to, every day.