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Sweep!

HOUSTON -- Let's get the stat stuff out of the way first.

This is the first four-game Cub sweep in Houston since ... well, since ever. The Cubs swept the Astros at Wrigley Field on June 23-25, 1967, but had never done so in Houston.

Until tonight.

Today's 5-4 Cub win, which was made more exciting than it had to be by LaTroy Hawkins allowing a surprise two-run homer to Jason Lane with two out and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth, was the Cubs' sixth win in a row, matching their longest of the year, and showing how this team really is starting to click on all cylinders.

More on this later. First, today, I drove down to the Johnson Space Center, about 25 miles southeast of town, where the astronauts undergo various forms of training and they build new things for the space program, which after the Columbia disaster is limited to missions to the International Space Station.

The "Level Nine" tour included lunch in the employee cafeteria, where the tour guide pointed out several astronauts eating lunch. You also get to see a giant (40 foot deep) pool where the astronauts do training for space, and both the current mission control room and the historic control room where missions like Apollo 11 were controlled from. That one, they took the group down and we actually got to look at the places where the famous phrase, "Houston, we have a problem" was said from the Apollo 13 crew, which was eventually brought safely back to Earth.

Back on Earth and at the ballpark, I wound up in dead center field in the second deck tonight, in front of about 6 screaming teenage girls who were Astros fans, and despite the screeching, they couldn't help their team solve Glendon Rusch, who got himself into trouble with walks in the second inning, when the Astros countered the Cubs' first-inning run, and the only other blemish to Rusch was Lance Berkman's homer, tying the game at two in the sixth. For a while I thought we might be looking at extra innings, but with two out in the top of the seventh, the bats came alive, with four hits in a row, and it would have been more runs except for a nice relay by Roy Oswalt on Derrek Lee's single, which when Berkman's throw got away, Todd Hollandsworth tried to score and was thrown out.

As it turned out, the extra run scored on Corey Patterson's third extra-base hit of the night(I'm beginning to think that maybe he doesn't suck that much any more, except he must have heard the screeching teenage girls, because he kept turning around to look at them), a ninth-inning triple, and a single up the middle by Moises Alou, was important, after Lane's homer.

All, however, is well that ends well, with this amazing sweep, though with the St. Louis and Cincinnati wins tonight, the Cubs remain tied for second, two games out, coming home to play the A's tomorrow afternoon, and the A's ought to be good and mad after being swept in St. Louis.

A couple things I forgot the past two days: the food selection at the Juice Box is mediocre. No, they don't serve orange juice, but that might be an improvement. There are hot dogs, and more hot dogs, and then there's the footlong hot dog. No chicken sandwiches or other selections, except in the Mexican restaurant that was just below my section, where they were serving nice-looking steaks and ice cream desserts as big as your head, though only about half the people were even watching the game.

There was a vocal minority of Cub fans in attendance for all three games I attended, and I heard them on TV on Monday -- I'd estimate maybe 7,000 or so. We are everywhere.

Finally, I had searched all around the Juice Box for an All-Star cap the first day. Nope, sold out. Huh? A month before the game? They said they might have some by Friday, which didn't help me at all.

So where did I find one? At the Houston Downtown Aquarium, where I spent part of Wednesday afternoon when it was raining. Incidentally, don't bother if you are here. The exhibits are small and kind of tacky, with weird sound effects playing throughout. Not really worth the $7.50 price of admission, though I did get to touch a stingray, which they keep in a small tank near the exit. No, they're not dangerous, despite the name.