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What I Won't Do For This Team...

As I mentioned, I have had to work unusual hours the past couple of days, meaning that I had to squeeze a few innings of the games in between work shifts.

So today at noon, I raced out of work to run to the L to head to the ballpark.

I am a train wreck. I ran a little too fast, and tripped and fell flat on my face on the sidewalk on State Street. Don't worry, I'm OK. Got a scrape on my knee, one on a finger, and my chin feels a bit bruised, but other than that, I feel fine. I know my dad reads this blog, and seriously, Dad, I'm OK!

So are the Cubs. They came out with bats blazing again today and smacked the Astros 8-3, with Mark Prior winning his first game at Wrigley Field since... [gulp]... game two of the 2003 National League Championship Series against the Marlins. The Cubs moved to 15 games over .500 for the first time since game 161 of the 2003 season, and I began a new consecutive-home-games-attended streak with a victory. The last time the Cubs were more than 15 games over .500 was on September 4, 2001, when their record fell to 77-61 after a loss to ... [gulp again] Josh Beckett of the Marlins, making his major league debut on that day. He allowed the Cubs only one hit in six innings and the Cubs lost to Florida 8-0.

When I finally did get to the ballpark, Bill the security guard said, "The Big Four are here!" -- referring to Jeff, Howard, Mike and myself. We liked that, although we also like the term "Bleacher Geeks", which was tagged on us by an ESPN.com article a couple of years ago. Yeah, that's us.

As I wrote over the weekend having watched the Astros on TV, they look dispirited, even though they made a half-hearted attempt to get back into the wild-card race earlier this week by sweeping the Phillies (I guess the Phillies thought they were playing the Marlins), but today, they looked as they did over the weekend in Houston.

When Jeff Bagwell homered in the first, we all agreed, with the wind blowing out at an announced 9 MPH (though it felt stronger), that wouldn't be the last home run. Mike said, "Today, it's OK if they crank up the longball," and I agreed, even if they were all solo shots.

Only two Cubs homered, but they were the centerpiece of the decisive five-run inning, making today's Tomato Inning (the seventh) moot, and besides, I had left by then to go back to work. I did manage to see the last out of the top of the fifth, giving me an official game -- Jeff wasn't going to let me "count" it unless I did. He was joking. I think.

Anyway, Sammy Sosa hit his 29th homer of the season and 568th of his career, just inside the right-field foul pole, a three-run jack that I noted to Mike was probably the farthest to the opposite field we'd ever seen Sammy homer. With one more homer, that'll give him eleven thirty-homer seasons. Jimmy Foxx and Barry Bonds are the leaders in that category, with fourteen such years each. Sammy's also got 63 RBI with 35 games left in which to get 37 RBI to make it an even ten straight seasons with 100 RBI. If he does so that would set a new National League record.

It's a longshot, but Sosa's had hot months before and his bat does seem to be coming alive right now, and the timing couldn't be better. Since he's moved into the fifth spot in the order he's started to hit again -- and so has Aramis Ramirez, hitting right behind. Dusty's almost stumbled on what seems to be the perfect batting order, and being the type of manager he is (NOT analytical), he'll probably ride this horse for a while.

The only thing I found wrong with Dusty's managing today was this -- why on Earth would you leave Mark Prior in for 116 pitches on a humid day when he'd been running the bases in two innings, and had a 7-2 lead after five, and the bullpen's not really that overworked? When I left after the top of the fifth, I told everyone I figured Prior was done, and considering he had a seventeen-pitch sixth inning, I think I'd have taken him out after five.

The game was so out of hand that Dr. Tightpants made his first appearance with his new clean-cut look. Didn't make any difference. Sure, he threw a scoreless inning, but as usual, he walked the first batter he faced and it took him twenty-six pitches to finish up, which probably makes him useless tomorrow. (No cracks about the word "useless" here, please.) I still think there's something wrong with him that a DL stint might be of some use, and keep in mind that if you are on the DL on August 31, you are eligible for postseason play, and the Cubs might want to think about DL'ing him on that day, to give them some options.

The "conventional media" will no doubt make a big deal about the rematch of Kerry Wood and Roy Oswalt tomorrow after the beanball skirmish on Sunday, but that's not how it works. Oswalt, for his part, appeared in relief on Tuesday (since he threw only a bit over two innings on Sunday before getting tossed), and each game is a new one, and I doubt there'll be any bad blood between these two teams. Houston looks more and more like a club that just wants to go home.

The Cubs, who clinched the season series today by beating the Astros for the tenth time this year, can go a long way toward accomplishing just that in the next three days.

Onward we go, with hope.