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A Blast From The Past

Just a few days short of exactly seven years ago, on July 22, 1997, in the first game of a doubleheader at Wrigley Field, Greg Maddux threw a 78-pitch masterpiece against the Cubs, giving up four singles and a double and winning 4-1.

Greg seems to like mid-July for his renaissance -- today's sparkling, 103-pitch (71 strikes), 5-0 shutout of the Brewers was Maddux' first complete game in exactly one year and his first complete-game shutout in exactly three years, and the 297th victory of his career and 35th career shutout. It's been well-reported that before the All-Star break in 2003, Greg's numbers were just about the same as they were this year (2003: 7-8, 4.63 ERA, 126 IP; 2004: 7-7, 4.51 ERA, 111 IP). If he can repeat the 9-3, 3.03 mark he had last year after the ASB, he'll have been worth every dime of the $8 million he's making this season. Maddux even got a hit today; his hitting hasn't been that good this year, unlike other years, but this year he's apparently in a batting average contest with his personal catcher, Paul Bako (Bako's winning, .192 to .143, if you can call that 'winning').

Though Dusty had Kent Mercker and LaTroy Hawkins warming up in the 9th inning, they didn't get up till the inning had started, and though Maddux did allow his sixth hit of the game, a single by Brady Clark (after sitting through a long bottom of the 8th, during which I finally remembered to yell "Corey, you suck!" just before he smashed the 2-run homer), the game ended with a flourish, the line-drive unassisted double play featuring the glove of Derrek Lee.

That was the third Cub double play of the game, and it was indeed vintage Maddux today -- he induced 17 ground-ball outs, and hearing him on the postgame radio show, he said the first two of them were on "mistake" pitches that the hitters hit into the ground instead of into the air. Lee made a couple of nice stabs on other plays in the infield, and Rey Ordonez (credit where credit is due) made a diving, whirling throw on a sharp grounder hit by Chad Moeller in the third.

It really doesn't get much better than this. It was a cool day -- only 70 degrees at game time, something Maddux said on the radio show actually helped him -- and some low, fog-like clouds scudded around till the middle innings, then revealed a clear blue sky by game's end, a sky color you rarely see in this part of the country, and had the Cubs not extended the game with the three-run rally in the bottom of the eighth, it might have been over in less than two hours. As it was, Luis Vizcaino could barely find the strike zone (Howard said, "Every day has its dog"), and for a while we were wondering what Todd Walker was thinking when he failed to take third base, after having been sacrificed to second, when Sammy Sosa was retired on a VERY slow roller in front of the plate.

When Vizcaino threw a wild pitch, we were all groaning that Walker would have scored easily, but this became moot when Vizcaino threw a second wild pitch, on which Walker did score, then even mooter when Patterson homered.

Sosa also went yard, career #556 (now seven short of Reggie Jackson for eighth place on the all-time list), as did Moises Alou. Sosa's homer landed halfway up the LF bleachers just next to the juniper bushes, into the teeth of a 15-MPH north wind, and would have easily been on the street any other day.

Just after Alou's homer I looked over at Howard's scorecard and noticed that he had written "Ben Sheet" for the Brewers' starter, rather than "Ben Sheets". I said, "Don't change it yet! This must be working!" Mike chimed in and said, "He's pitching like sheet", for which I could have whacked him with the clipboard, but didn't.

Cub pitching has been absolutely outstanding, even during the recent losing streak (which I am blaming on George, who sits in the section over from us. Remember? He had his ticket wristband from February on his wrist all year. He cut it off on July 5 -- the Cubs are only 3-6 since then!), and has allowed the Brewers only three runs in the three games in this series. It was nice to see the offense break loose today, even if it did have to wait till the eighth -- yes, the Tomato Inning. The first tomato piece missed the scorecard entirely and landed on the ground, so I had to try a second piece. It landed on Derrek Lee's square in the 8th -- only one square too low. Do not think this is frivolous, my friends. Howard will not be at tomorrow's game so I'll either have to stop at Jimmy John's myself -- or, make do with a Wrigley Field tomato, which has worked in the past.

This morning didn't start so well for me -- I was out throwing a baseball around with my son Mark, and I guess his arm is a little better than I thought! One of his throws came up and hit me hard right below my right knee, and raised a little bump, and hurt like heck! It's fine now, but I have a new appreciation for what Todd Hollandsworth is going through, and it's still not certain when he'll return. If he can't, for any reason, I'd like to see the Cubs go out and reacquire Matt Stairs from Kansas City -- Stairs can do the same sorts of things that Hollandsworth can, could be acquired cheaply, his salary is not very large this year, and Stairs truly enjoyed playing here and would no doubt loosen up a clubhouse that seems a little tight.

The good news is that Aramis Ramirez is on target to start tomorrow's game, which -- could it be -- may finally mean the end for Rey Ordonez' Cub career. We can only hope.

Not long after the gates opened today, a couple of women (they appeared to be sisters) came up wheeling an older woman in a wheelchair, I suppose their mother. In talking to her we learned that she had been coming to Wrigley Field since 1929 and was 89 years old; she was wearing a Cubs cap and a 2003 division champions T-shirt -- and also carrying a, well -- I'm not sure how to describe this! -- a fabric baseball the size of a basketball, that you'd use as a cap in colder weather, but that she held in her hands, saying, "It's too hot to put this on my head!"

Anyway, the Cubs won, so we told her she's invited back any time.

Whatever it takes. Onward.