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Cosmic Things Are Happening

MILWAUKEE -- I told you weird stuff happens when I go to Milwaukee.

I knew it was going to be one of those kind of days early. I was idly checking a lottery ticket for yesterday's Illinois lottery drawing, and saw that I had matched three numbers.

WOO HOO! A whole $3. I had another $3 winner from last week in my wallet, so I stopped in at a 7-11 to get a Diet Coke for the road and to cash in these mighty winnings.

I was wrong, and I couldn't have been happier to be wrong. Yesterday's ticket matched four numbers, so instead of $6, I had $34.50!

OK, small victories, right?

Then traffic going up to Milwaukee was, after a few slowdowns on the Kennedy Expressway, not bad at all -- total travel time, 1 hour 45 minutes, and that included a stop to buy some Powerball tickets once I crossed the Wisconsin line.

What can I say, I like playing lotteries.

(And don't ask about the traffic going back -- it was awful!)

I had stopped last night to get the traditional Jimmy John's turkey sandwich, since I didn't figure they'd be open early enough this morning, stuck it in the fridge and then in a lunchbag with an icepack, so it'd be cold while I drove, and ready both to eat and to perform the scorecard ritual on a Miller Park scorecard.

With the park fairly empty when I arrived (and it was still about a quarter empty at game time), I had to perform the Tomato Ritual myself.

Guess which inning the tomato piece fell on?

Yes, the top of the sixth, which is when the Cubs broke through for their only runs of the game, the four-run rally capped by Sammy Sosa's 22nd homer (and 561st career jack, which puts him only two behind Reggie Jackson for eighth place), and Carlos Zambrano settled down after the first two batters reached, and the Cubs shut out the Brewers 4-0, winning three of four in the series, and now six of their last nine (that's more like it!) and allowed the Brew Crew only eight runs in the four games.

Incidentally, this win raises my road-game record to 5-2. Anyone want to contribute to the Send-Al-On-The-Road-With-The-Cubs fund?

In addition to the Jimmy John's sandwich, I had to have a Milwaukee bratwurst with "Secret Stadium Sauce", a spicy concoction they've had up there since at least the 1970's.

Now, all that seems pretty weird, doesn't it?

You haven't heard the most eerie thing that happened today, yet.

My son Mark was also at this game, as he was on a field trip with his day camp. I had pre-arranged to contact his counselor by cellphone, so I could pick him up at his seat and drive him home, so he wouldn't have to wait for the bus (which arrived on our block, dropping off one of the neighbor kids, an hour after we got home).

In the fourth inning, I called him, identified myself, and got the seat location from the counselor.

It was just then that the guy sitting next to me, a thirtyish man sitting with his dad, keeping score, asked me "Are you Al Yellon?" Apparently he had overheard me identifying myself on the phone call.

I said yes, and then he said, "I read your blog every day -- I read about Mark's game last night."

Spread the word! You guys are everywhere!

Anyway, we talked for a while about the Cubs and the game and why he was wearing an Expos cap (he just likes the look of the cap -- it was one of the old red-white-and-blue beanie style, and I pointed out that if the Expos move to DC, they could just turn the weird-looking "M" upside-down and make it a weird-looking "W". See what tangents you can come up with at the ballpark?), and I was absolutely floored to, by absolute chance, be seated next to someone, 90 miles from Chicago, who reads these words.

Like I said -- cosmic things are happening.

As for the game, I worried when Z let the first two batters reach base (and are there two bigger pests than Podsednik and Counsell?), but then he struck out the side, even though it took him 31 first-inning pitches, and when he struck out the first two in the second inning too, we knew he had reached his groove. He didn't have his best stuff today, but it was good enough for 120 pitches in eight shutout innings, matching Greg Maddux' club high with his tenth win, and lowering his ERA to 2.78. Perhaps best of all, he didn't walk anyone. You listening, Dusty?

Meanwhile, Ben Hendrickson, who came into the game with an ERA of 3,275,035.28 (no, just kidding: only 9.75, and giving up three earned runs in 5 innings actually lowered it to 8.47), shut down the Cubs into the sixth. It's guys like this, who Cub hitters haven't seen before, who tend to give them the most trouble, especially on days like this, when the Cubs didn't take BP (I suppose, simply because they often don't, on day games after night games).

The third time through the order proved to be enough time. Tom Goodwin, starting in LF for Moises Alou (I ran into Tim from the LF bleachers, who was at Miller Park for his first visit ever, and he told me before the game he thought Alou might get the day off. Good call!), doubled, so did Todd Walker (I hope this is the start of a straight platoon arrangement with him and Mark Grudzielanek), and then Sammy's blast made it 3-0. Corey Patterson laid down a gorgeous-looking bunt single -- and he ought to do this more often. At least make some use of one of those five tools that he allegedly has! Another double, this one from Aramis Ramirez, completed the scoring.

Patterson showed another tool when he slammed into the padding in CF making a nice catch off the bat of Geoff Jenkins in the bottom of the eighth, Z's last out. Kyle Farnsworth made it interesting, as is his wont, giving up a single and walking Bill Hall on four pitches, before ending it with a called-strikeout flourish.

This is how you win with this club, as we thought it would be when the season began -- with pitching, pitching, pitching.

The last time I was in Miller Park was in May 2003, at the 17-inning Cub win, and that was before the real bandwagon of Cub fans started going north in September of last year, during the pennant drive.

It's absolutely astounding to be part of a crowd at a road game that's overwhelmingly for the visiting team. WGN's radio broadcasters said on the postgame show that it was "half" Cub fans, but it had to be closer to two-thirds today, on a lovely summer afternoon with the roof open, and Miller Park feels like a regular outdoor stadium without its cover, as it also has windows that open in the outfield, so you don't get that closed-in feel you get in many other retractables, particularly Houston and Toronto. It felt like a home crowd, and the paid attendance of 42,443 brought the series total to 167,109, a new Miller Park record for a four-game series, and the ninth sellout there this year, more than the last two years combined. There will be three more, when the Cubs return to Milwaukee in the third week of August.

Mark wanted a Miller Park cap, so I got him one before the game, and saw some "retro" t-shirts that promoted the 1975 All-Star game, that was played at County Stadium in Milwaukee. Since I was actually at that game, I figured I'd use my lottery winnings to splurge on one of these. It has the garish powder-blue and yellow colors that were featured on Brewer road uniforms of the day (looking back, you wonder how anyone thought those looked good), but somehow, this t-shirt works.

The Cardinals were off today, so the division lead, for whatever it's worth, was cut to ten and a half games (seems bigger when I write it out, doesn't it?) and the wild-card lead will be pending tonight's Giants/Padres game, which occurs later this evening.

Three of four. Six of nine. This is how you put together a winning month, and a winning second half. Keep hope alive.

Peter Gammons, who is frequently wrong about such things, reported on ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" that the Cubs will acquire Orlando Cabrera from the Expos before the Saturday deadline. Ugh. I hope not. Nomar or nothing!

Finally, the Phillies lost to the Marlins 10-1 today. Ordinarily, that wouldn't be a big deal. But that was the fourteenth consecutive win for the Fish over the Phils in Miami, and 23rd of their last 26 meetings.

Think the Cubs could borrow some Marlins home uniforms for this weekend's series against Philadelphia?