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Almost Perfect

It's a summer Sunday afternoon in Chicago.

And it's eighty-three degrees, with the wind blowing out from the southwest at fifteen MPH.

There's bright sunshine everywhere, a perfect early August day.

And Greg Maddux became the twenty-second pitcher in major league history to win his ...

Who writes these scripts, anyway?

I did say almost perfect, right?

Maddux himself would certainly say that his 300th win, which will now have to wait till next Saturday in San Francisco at the least (and the last pitcher to reach this milestone, Roger Clemens, had to try four times, including the famous Wrigley Field matchup with Kerry Wood on June 7, 2003, before he got it), was far less important than the Cubs' 6-3 come-from-behind win over the Phillies today, and, of course, he's right.

It was in the middle of the top of the first, when Maddux gave up two more solo longballs (and boy, am I glad to see Bobby Abreu go, because he just wore out the Cubs this weekend, hitting four homers in the three games; that's also 25 homers allowed by Maddux, a frighteningly large number, though many of them, as mentioned, are solo shots), that I started singing, to no one in particular, the old Scott McKenzie song from the sixties:

If you're going to San Francisco
Be sure to wear
Some flowers in your hair
If you're going to San Francisco
You're gonna meet
Some gentle people there

Well, I don't have any hair and if I did, I doubt I'd wear any flowers in it, but I am going to San Francisco, where my dad lives, for a visit to him and also to see the three games this upcoming weekend. In fact, we are having a mini-reunion of many of our bleacher section at SBC Park; Howard and Jon, Jeff and Krista, Sue and one of her nieces, and Jeff's friend Mark, who lives there, will all be heading out to the Left Coast. We'll be well represented, and I imagine there will be, as there has been all year, a fairly large group of Cub fans at this series.

The day started oddly, as the scanners that normally scan tickets failed to operate. After attempting to reboot the computers within several times, security finally gave up and simply inspected the tickets, ripped the stubs (and gave us the picture half back instead of the short end, as they've been doing all year, and no comments about the term 'short end', please!), and let us in, about ten minutes after the normal opening time of 11:20.

Oh, we got a new shortstop too, and he drove in a run today. What's the new guy's name again?

Nomar Garciaparra, who had never set foot in Wrigley Field before this morning, took the field during BP to a standing ovation from those who arrived early; later he led a small army of media down to the area near the tarp and signed autographs for a few minutes. When his name was announced as batting second (and wearing #8, a number that I think will last only this game -- I'll bet he'll make a deal with Michael Barrett for his #5 before Tuesday's game), the crowd was so loud that they drowned out his name, one of the loudest ovations I've ever heard at the Yard. This so rattled PA announcer Paul Friedman that he announced Derrek Lee batting fifth and Aramis Ramirez batting sixth -- but when they came up to bat they batted in the correct order, Ramirez fifth and Lee sixth. Aramis hit a home run with this "apparent" change (though I think the actual order was correct and Friedman just announced it wrong), but Lee went 0-for-4.

In two other lineup changes of note, Corey Patterson led off today. For once, it worked. He bunted his way on in the first, singled in the third and reached on a HBP in the seventh. If he'd bunt like this more often, perhaps the leadoff spot would be the right place for him. With Nomar batting second, Dusty switched Moises Alou and Sammy Sosa, and for a day at least, Sammy responded with two hits, including homer #562, putting him one behind Reggie Jackson for eighth place, and this going into a three-game series in a place he's always hit well in, Coors Field (for what it's worth, Nomar played a three-game series against the Rockies this year at Coors Field; he went 6-for-14 with a triple and three runs scored). Sammy's homer came right before Aramis', and both came in -- you guessed it -- today's Tomato Inning.

The Tomato Inning took a couple of attempts today, as the first tomato piece fell into the at-bats column before falling onto the ground, so a relief piece was called into action, and did quite well, thankyouverymuch.

Returning to today's Nomar Report, he received another standing O before his first at-bat, and he was so impressed that he promptly grounded into a double play.

Welcome to Chicago, my friend.

Later, though, he made some sparkling defensive plays, showing no signs of the Achilles problem that forced him to miss the first 57 games of the season, and he singled in the last run with a line single to left. The key hit in the Cubs' four-run winning seventh-inning rally, though, was a little popup into right field from Mark Grudzielanek, with two runners on and one out, scoring the tying run, forcing Philly starter Randy Wolf from the game, and setting up some odd strategic moves -- we couldn't figure out why Jose Macias batted for Paul Bako, when Michael Barrett would have to come into the game anyway, but Dusty's inscrutable idea worked again; Macias drove in the eventual winning run, and then Barrett, batting for Mercker, knocked in another with a sac fly.

Even when he does dumb stuff, sometimes Dusty works magic. Don't ask me how.

This was one of the warmer days of the year, though not oppressively so, but the heat and humidity are enemies to a pitcher like Greg Maddux, and he was certainly gassed after the sixth inning. Dusty usually lets Maddux take himself out of games, and though I'm sure most of the crowd was disappointed that he left trailing 3-2 (not of his own design -- Sosa's misplay after a Jimmy Rollins single allowed the lead run, unearned, to score), after 87 pitches, but it was the right call.

So instead of Maddux' 300th career win, we saw Kent Mercker's 68th career victory, and he threw exactly three pitches to get it.

That's the way baseball is. And again, the most important thing here is the team, and the Cubs won the series and have now won 8 of their last 12, and we find ourselves in the odd position of rooting for the Cardinals tonight, as they play our wild-card rivals, the Giants.

Finally, I should blame my Colgate buddy Tom for the fact that the Cubs won only two of three, because he skipped yesterday's game -- but he's going to watch his hometown Mets play at Milwaukee this week, so I'll cut him some slack on this. And Phil was uncharacteristically silent most of the game -- not even yelling "Get the pen up!" in jest when Maddux struggled in the first inning, nor did he flinch when we were informed that Orlando Cabrera, who Phil had been touting all month, hit a home run in his first at bat as a Red Sox (Cabrera also later made an error that helped cost the Red Sox their game today).

As the day went on we realized he wasn't feeling well, and without going into graphic detail, he got sick enough that the paramedics stationed at our stairwell had to take him to the first-aid room. He came back in the 8th inning, feeling better, saying he might have eaten bad grapes and gotten a bit of food poisoning.

Phil's better now and so are the Cubs. Onward to Denver on Tuesday, and let's win there.