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Yes, the Cubs can beat the Brewers in 2004.

Yes, the Cubs can score off the Brewers in 2004 -- I remarked to Howard that when Jose Macias scored the second run of the game to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead, that this was the first time they'd even led the Brewers in 2004.

Yes, we're all very nervous because Mark Prior left the game in the second inning with what is being termed a "sore elbow", though there were rumors flying around the ballpark that he'd hurt his hamstring, and, not an hour after he got hurt, that he was "out for the year", which, of course, is absurd.

I've said this before, but the ballpark is about the worst place to be if you want information about things like this. We had to rely on TV and radio updates, and my friend Craig called me from Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, where he was at the Royals game tonight, to ask me why they'd put Glendon Rusch's number on the out-of-town scoreboard there, and was anything wrong with Prior, and I had to give him the bad news.

Thank goodness for Glendon Rusch, because he has been a savior to the Cub pitching staff this year -- the staff that was intact for one game and two innings, thankyouverymuch -- and he threw 5 1/3 innings of three-hit, 95-pitch, shutout relief, for his fifth win, and the Cubs took advantage of Craig Counsell's error to start a three-run sixth and finish off the Brewers 4-1, their fifth home victory in a row.

Now that Prior may be out for an extended time, though we sure hope that's not true, I told everyone, "Forget about the Garciaparra part of the Randy Johnson deal, why not go after Johnson himself?"

Jessica, who is in town from New York, and who is on a "Get-Rid-of-Rey-Ordonez-At-All-Costs" kick, even if it means bringing Rich Aurilia here (and I think Aurilia's career is done), didn't like this idea, but I say -- why not? It was reported tonight that Johnson would indeed waive his no-trade clause for the right situation and why couldn't the Cubs be that situation? He'd be revered here, the team has a legitimate shot at postseason play, and most importantly, the Cubs may have exactly what Arizona is looking for in terms of pitching prospects, something the Yankees and Red Sox don't have.

Of course, if the injury to Prior isn't serious and he can return to his rotation slot for his next turn on Tuesday, then this is all just wild-ass speculation. But sometimes wild-ass speculation is fun, isn't it?

In the meantime, thank the shrewd Jim Hendry for grabbing Rusch off the scrap heap; he's been absolutely fabulous, apart from that horrible inning he threw in St. Louis on Saturday, and he could certainly be ready to start on Tuesday against the Cardinals if necessary.

It was an odd crowd tonight -- very late arriving, both in the bleachers and elsewhere; half an hour after game-time, there were still large clumps of empty seats, despite an announced attendance of 40,123, and a lot of those had left by the ninth inning (there had to be at least 10,000 empty seats then) even though the weather was absolutely gorgeous and so was the baseball.

The section to our left was composed of about 40 people celebrating "Bob Murray's 40th Birthday", which is what it said on the T-shirts left for his friends on each seat. Jeff and I agreed that neither of us have 40 friends that we could invite to something like this. Though for the most part the group didn't watch the game, they at least didn't disrupt anything.

Derrek Lee continued his hot hitting and in the absence of Aramis Ramirez, who is apparently not going to play till at least Saturday, he has been carrying the club, and drove in two runs today with a homer and a double, though Mike and I (and everyone else, eventually) were taking him to task for loafing from second to third when a ball appeared to be stuck in the ivy -- why not run around the bases? If the umpire says the ball was playable, then you've got an easy inside-the-park homer. If not, which was the case here, you just go back to second. I don't want to call Lee lazy, because he's played very well this year, but this was a lazy thing to do.

Even before Prior left you could tell he had no command of his pitches; he walked two and gave up two fly-ball outs in the first, one of which scored the only run of the game, and the rest of the staff wasn't much better -- yes, Rusch was great, but he also walked four, and the Brewers wound up with nine walks in addition to their five hits, but stranded twelve runners, and the only serious threat after the first was quashed by a nifty 3-6-1 double play initiated by Lee.

That was right after Craig Counsell suddenly appeared on first base after a leadoff single by Scott Podsednik. None of us could figure out what had happened, and eventually we realized it was catcher's interference, something you see maybe once a year. What I can't figure out is how Michael Barrett could have interfered with Counsell's bat, since in his batting stance he holds it up about three feet over his head.

Mike said to me, "Forget about the Cardinals," and apart from replying, "Except for Monday and Tuesday", he's probably right. Yes, it would be great to make up the seven-game deficit, which stayed at seven after St. Louis' 7-2 win over Cincinnati tonight, but the wild-card is right there for the taking, and if the Rockies hold their 4-3, 8th inning (at this writing) lead over the Giants tonight, the Cubs will be in a virtual tie with San Francisco for the wild-card lead.

As we learned last year, all you have to do is get into the playoffs. Then just about anything can happen, and often does.

Finally, tonight's tomato piece did some really odd things. It bounced off the player name lines, missing the inning boxes entirely, and left a stain next to Mark Prior's first inning -- a foreboding sign? Then I dropped it again and it landed squarely across Moises Alou's first, second and third innings, innings in which he did nothing -- but maybe foretelling the triple he had?

As long as it foretells victory, that's all that counts.