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A Long Day's Journey Into Night

This is what both the Cubs and I had yesterday.

Usually, I'm off work every day by noon, as I get up when most of you are sleeping in the middle of the night. Yesterday, I was asked to return to work to direct the 4 pm news, so my long work day didn't end till 5:00 in the afternoon, and then the long day continued thanks to the Brewers' Russell Branyan, who hit two game-tying home runs and sent the game into extra innings. And yes, I did stay up till the end -- couldn't miss this one -- and that means I'm yawning big-time here at work this morning.

The game's ending felt like the 17-inning game last year, primarily because the game-winning hit was the same -- a two-run homer off the bat of Corey Patterson, and the Cubs beat the Brewers 7-5 in 11 innings, moving back ahead of the Padres into second place in the wild-card race, a game behind the Giants.

That's only the result, though. The most important thing that happened last night is this:

The Cubs became a team.

Why do I say this? There has been much written lately, in the mainstream media and by members of the CBA, about the selfish attitudes shown by many of the Cubs players. We don't have to rehash that here.

But I saw, in the extra innings, players on the top steps of the dugout cheering on their teammates. Players with rally caps on -- when was the last time you saw a Cub do that? Carlos Zambrano leading cheers in the dugout.

Every time the Cubs looked like they were going south last night, someone picked them up.

Really, there were only two bad pitches thrown by Cub pitchers in the entire game -- the two that were smashed for long home runs by Russell Branyan, who drove in all five Milwaukee runs with a three-run homer off Matt Clement in the third, and a two-run homer off Mike Remlinger (only the second he's allowed all year) in the bottom of the 8th after the Cubs had carefully fashioned a two-run lead without the benefit of a home run (single runs in the fifth and seventh).

There were so many heroes last night. God, Nomar is a god. He hit three doubles, each one to a different field. He's got amazing bat control, and he also made several slick fielding plays, including two in extra innings.

And last night might be the day we look back on and say, "This was the day that Corey Patterson arrived as a star." Corey singled, doubled and hit the game-winning homer in the 11th, scored three runs, stole a base and finally looked like the guy that Dusty Baker says could be the next Lou Brock.

Patterson's homer came right after Steve Stone made yet another comment that reminds all of us exactly how good he is. The Brewers had just called up lefty Travis Phelps from Triple-A; his ML experience consisted up to then of 75 mediocre appearances for Tampa Bay in 2001 and 2002.

After Phelps walked Ramon Martinez, Stone said, "Phelps is a lefty who slings the ball, someone a left-handed hitter like Patterson ought to be able to hit hard."

BOOM! Corey ran the count to 2-2 and then hit his homer, almost a carbon copy of the game-winner on May 15, 2003 at Miller Park. Then LaTroy Hawkins closed the game out fairly easily, though not without making it interesting by putting two runners on. This I'd define as the "Mitch Williams save", and he usually got them. My favorite Williams save was on Opening Day 1989, when he walked the bases loaded and then struck out the side, including Mike Schmidt to end the game.

I liked everything about this game (apart from the Branyan homers). Matt Clement threw great -- tied his career high in strikeouts with 13. I liked Dusty's new-look lineup with Sammy batting fifth. (I assume Todd Walker will sit again today against the lefty, Chris Capuano, though.)

More Steve Stone. He said something else that I'm going to take issue with. He repeated what Dave has often told me: "Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint."

But then he said, "This late in the year, it's not a marathon any more, now it is time to sprint."

I'm not sure I agree yet. There are 43 games remaining, and the Cubs moved back to within one game of the Giants, the wild-card leader, and ahead of the Padres, who lost to Atlanta last night at home. The Cubs also have played four fewer games than the Giants, and are actually ahead of them in the loss column.

My feeling is -- it's not time to sprint till September. Take the next two weeks and win, get everyone healthy, then sprint home, just as they did last year.

There's been a lot of naysaying lately, with the club looking poor, and let me tell you a little story.

In October 2000, I was in New York on business, and one of my friends at ABC in New York got me a ticket to one of the Mets/Cardinals NLCS games. It was a gorgeous fall day, nearly 80 degrees, and I sat next to a Mets fan who was constantly complaining about his team, how this guy couldn't hit, and this pitcher sucked, and all I was thinking was...

"BUT YOU'RE IN THE PLAYOFFS!"

Point being, it's never as bad as you think it is when it's going bad. Last night COULD be a turning point, I felt it and it sure looked like the team felt it, which, believe it or not, is even more important.

Howard, Jon and I head up to Milwaukee later this morning. As Mike said to me on Sunday, "Win today and all is forgiven."

Amen, brother.