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Sweep!

My day started out with loud noises as during the afternoon, I took my son Mark to see Spider-Man 2 (review coming in a day or so; the short version is -- it's terrific!). And then my day at the ballpark started with a bang -- literally.

Some idiot decided it would be fun to blast off some firecrackers while several hundred people were waiting in line about five minutes before the bleacher gates opened. Luckily, no one was hurt, but they went off about 15 feet from my ears and were VERY loud.

Security attempted to remove from the line the people responsible; naturally, no one owned up to it, so it was let go, apparently.

I was afraid that, with everyone having the chance to drink all day on this holiday, that something like that might happen in the ballpark itself. The crowd was very early-arriving; at gate-opening the line was all the way down Sheffield and curved around half a block west down Addison, and the bleachers were nearly full by 6:00, rare for night games.

Amazingly enough, there wasn't a single incident in the bleachers all night, or anywhere else in the park, either. Everyone was intense, all right -- baseball intense. The Cubs' heart-pounding 2-1 win over the White Sox, their fourth in a row, moving them to another season-high, 11 games over .500, had everyone riveted with almost every pitch, particularly in the later innings when it appeared that Derrek Lee's 2nd inning home run (hit, incidentally, precisely on the Tomato Square on my scorecard. This worked even though Howard wasn't there and I had to rely on a Wrigley Field diced tomato rather than one from Jimmy John's) might hold up for a victory.

I can't say enough about Glendon Rusch's performance tonight -- it was even better than his 9-strikeout gem against the Cardinals on May 22. Tonight, he was in serious trouble only twice -- in the second when Ramon Martinez got him out of it with a nifty double play, after Mark Grudzielanek couldn't quite reach Aaron Rowand's little popup, but wound up with a forceout anyway; and in the seventh when Carlos Lee and Paul Konerko led off with singles, and after a sacrifice the next two hitters made easy outs.

Rusch threw 104 pitches and walked nobody, and deserved a win, which LaTroy Hawkins vultured away from him by allowing C. Lee's home run in the 9th. OK, C. Lee is a good hitter and has always hit well at Wrigley Field. But still.

In any event, Rusch has been a godsend replacing Kerry Wood in the rotation, and lowered his ERA to 3.84 tonight. He got one of the louder ovations of the night when he struck out Frank Thomas, pinch-hitting for Mark Buehrle in the 8th (Thomas is now 4-for-25 lifetime as a pinch-hitter). In fact, Cub pitching overall shut down the White Sox' offense, which seems to either score ten runs a game or none, allowing them only three earned runs (five total runs) in 24 innings.

Buehrle matched Rusch almost pitch for pitch, allowing only four hits other than D. Lee's homer, and two of those were also by Lee, a single in the fourth and double in the sixth.

The fun really started for the Cubs when Shingo Takatsu, he of the 61-MPH junkball, came in to start the 8th. Mike said to me, "I hope someone gets on so he can face Sammy Sosa." He got his wish when Grudz singled. The next hitter was Corey Patterson, and I said, "He will have absolutely no clue how to hit this guy." Right again. Corey struck out and looked bad doing it.

Sammy fought off a couple of weird-looking Takatsu -- well, I can't really call them sinkers, can I? What are they? -- pitches, and then hit a harmless popup to Rowand in center.

In the 9th, Moises Alou, newly named to the NL All-Star team along with Sosa and Carlos Zambrano, led off with a single. D. Lee was asked to sacrifice -- and ladies and gentlemen, you have seen history. That was the first sacrifice bunt of Lee's career.

After that it got fun. It was an obvious move to intentionally walk Michael Barrett to set up the DP, but it took a visit by Sox catcher Jamie Burke and a mound conference, complete with UN translator (no, I made that last part up), to figure this out. Then Takatsu couldn't find the plate and walked Martinez too. We were all glad when Ozzie took him out, because the Marte-Todd Walker matchup was much better for the Cubs. Mike, who has seen a fair number of Sox games too, said that Marte often gets one pitch that he thinks will succeed and keeps throwing it till he fails. Thus he threw four straight high fastballs to Walker; he fouled two of them off, then fouled off a changeup, and then Marte threw ball four, another fastball into the dirt, ending the game.

By then the crowd had been whipped into near-playoff intensity; the last time I can remember hearing a regular-season crowd this loud was during last September's pulsating series with the Cardinals, and as I mentioned earlier, everyone was into the game. There was a small but loud contingent of Sox fans (not in the bleachers, but elsewhere), who loudly cheered C. Lee's homer, but by the bottom of the ninth, it sounded like all Cubs. There almost seemed to be fewer Sox fans this weekend than there are Cardinal fans here when St. Louis is in town -- probably because of the large number of Cub season tickets, particularly on weekends, when partial packages raise the season ticket total to nearly 27,000.

This is only the second three-game sweep between the Cubs and White Sox since they began interleague play in 1997 -- the other was also at Wrigley Field, by the Cubs, in 1998. The all-time series now stands Sox 22, Cubs 20, and though I'm not like some Sox fans (I'll say right now not all of them, though) who feel that these games are their World Series... I will say that it'll be nice to not have to hear from them for a while.

So Howard and Jeff, who opted for fireworks shows tonight, missed the baseball fireworks, and probably the most intense and exciting game of the year so far. Brian brought Kristy tonight, the first time they have been in the bleachers as a married couple (OK, everyone say, "AWWWWWWWWW")... and my ABC-7 colleague Stacey Baca, a big baseball fan, also joined us tonight, along with someone who used to sit with us all the time, but rarely does any more, Bob the Baker (we call him that because he used to work at a bakery) and his wife Deb.

I nearly pulled off the joke of the night by asking everyone if they were staying for the fireworks show after the game. Phil almost believed me. Of course, I doubt the neighbors would ever allow the Cubs to do this after a holiday game -- but who knows? The dire predictions of trouble tonight didn't come true, and the worst thing that happened appeared to be the firecracker incident before the gates opened. Once the game started, it was all baseball -- as it should be.

Sign seen, held up by a young woman wearing a Cubs jersey: "SORRY DAD, I MARRIED A CUBS FAN!"