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Dee-Fense!

You think the Sox might reconsider these 3:05 starts for the Cub/Sox series next year?

It was a gorgeous, sunny day today, not a cloud in the sky, and unusually cool (69 degrees at game time, in fact, when the game started and we were in the shade, down the RF line, it was almost chilly) for this time of year. And the 3:05 start meant that by the middle innings, the shadows would be over the plate and that parts of the outfield would become treacherous.

It worked to the Cubs' advantage today, as the Sox made three errors, the last of which, a little popup that Juan Uribe couldn't find, helped lead to a four-run inning in the Cubs' decisive 7-4 win over the White Sox at the Cell. The Cubs couldn't handle the sun any better; Corey Patterson and Sammy Sosa nearly collided on a ball ruled a double by Jamie Burke in the 8th, and Aramis Ramirez couldn't find a foul popup in the 9th. Fortunately, those had no impact on the result.

Before some more game commentary (and look out, Kyle Farnsworth), a little color.

The crowd was very late-arriving, even for a Sox crowd, which traditionally doesn't get there for the first pitch. Half an hour before game time, the place wasn't even a quarter full. I brought my brother-in-law Joel, who is visiting from Arizona, and just about then I said to him, "Let's go look for Howard," who was at the game today, and who Joel met last year at spring training.

We turned around and Howard was standing behind us, having come over to our section. Weird, huh? Anyway, we got to talking, and by the time we had finished it was nearly game time, so I didn't have a chance to find Mike or Dave today; hopefully I'll run into both of them tomorrow.

The Sox fans seemed... subdued, which I found really odd. There wasn't the outright hatred that I have seen in past years; some of them were actually friendly, like the guy in front of me who spent time throwing peanuts at a Cub fan a few rows in front of us, but then (as a joke) decided to offer him half a hot dog with peanut shells alongside. I thought that was kind of clever and funny; the Cub fan in the front didn't, but it was all done in good fun.

Memo to Sox fans: Stick the "cork" stuff in the attic, will you? That's yesterday's news. If you really want to bait Sammy this year, do something creative about sneezing. I didn't see any clever signs today, unlike last year, and the crowd appeared to be about 40% Cub fans, vocal and loud, even to the point where you could tell the "Alooooouuuuuu" yells weren't booing.

The Sox did something different than normal when introducing the players; for most of this season they have been introducing the lineup, then having the national anthem. Today the anthem was first, and then a separate, very loud announcement of each player as he ran onto the field, an attempt, I suppose, to rev up the crowd. Furthermore, during the game the Sox decided to do more baiting by putting up stats for Derrek Lee and Todd Hollandsworth that had to do exclusively with their performance for the Marlins in last year's NLCS.

Speaking of the national anthem, which I usually don't, today's rendition is worth mentioning. Chicago favorite Jimmy Peterik and his Ides of March did a wonderful a cappella version (though there was a small acoustic guitar introduction), one of the nicest national anthems I've heard in many years. It truly set the mood.

Mark Prior was not on his "A" game today; in fact, the very first pitch he threw was up and in to Aaron Rowand. Sox fans thought that was a purpose pitch, but after seeing Prior throw, you could tell he didn't have his command all day, and after slogging through a 99-pitch, five-inning stint, he was done, especially after the Cubs' two-run top of the sixth, which followed perhaps the most unexpected homer of the season, Mark Grudzielanek's first, which also produced his first RBI of the year.

This is what Dusty Baker does -- produces a team. We saw this all last year and today too; the middle of the order (Lee, Alou, Sosa, Ramirez) went 2-for-17. That left it up to people like Hollandsworth (two hits), Corey Patterson (a single) and Ramon Martinez, who hit a homer in the ninth to give LaTroy Hawkins some breathing room, after Hawkins had to be summoned to bail out Kyle Farnsworth.

Farnsworth was throwing 99 MPH today, but he should have been given a speeding ticket. He wasn't anywhere near the strike zone, walked the first two men he faced, then gave up a long homer to Paul Konerko. I wish he'd keep his head in the game; he seemed a million miles away today, even when striking out Jose Valentin.

Another really bright spot today from Jon Leicester, who threw two shutout innings yesterday in St. Louis, then was called upon to do the same today. This saved people like Francis Beltran and Mike Remlinger to throw tomorrow, and Hawkins could go again, since before today he hadn't thrown since Tuesday.

This felt much more like a home game than any of the previous Cub games I'd been to at the Cell. Even with the lowered seating capacity (and today's attendance of 39,596 is a bit below what the Sox list as their official capacity), Cub fans managed to get a large enough portion of the seats to be good and loud. Once again in an important series, leading off with a win gives the great possibility of a series victory, particularly with Carlos Zambrano going tomorrow. I will be in the LF bleachers then.

The Cubs are now 12-6 since the "tough" part of the schedule began on June 7. Keep it alive.