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SAN FRANCISCO -- It was about the seventh inning that this thought hit me, and I had to call Howard (since we were all sitting in different parts of SBC Park this afternoon) to share this with him, and now with you...

Of all the sure Hall-of-Fame milestones (500 home runs, 3000 hits, 3000 strikeouts, 300 wins), 300 wins is the only one that the player achieving it doesn't actually have to be on the field when it occurs.

That notwithstanding, on a picture-postcard-gorgeous Saturday afternoon, I finally witnessed one after missing several 3000-hit, 300-win and 500-HR performances by a game or two.

Oh, coincidentally, so did Greg Maddux, achieving the 300th win of his sure-to-be-Hall-of-Fame career today.

The Cubs won too, 8-4 over the Giants, and Maddux himself would tell you that's the important thing.

Let me start at the end again. Mark and I were sitting in the 200 level (the "AAA Club" -- here, even the seating decks have corporate names), and I learned later that Jim Belushi was sitting in our section, though we never saw him, and the second-to-last pitch of the game was fouled off and caught by the guy sitting right in front of us. I had a nice conversation with a couple from Houston who had gotten the tickets through one of their employers, who were just there soaking up the atmosphere and couldn't believe how many Cubs fans had arrived in San Francisco for this series. Neither can I, actually -- it seemed like almost a quarter of the crowd, and we were loud, particularly when Maddux was taken out of the game in the top of the sixth, and also each time Nomar Garciaparra came to bat, and he responded again today with three hits (in six games as a Cub, he's now hitting .370 -- 10 for 27, with two steals, four doubles, six runs scored and three RBI)... but the most special moment came when we were leaving, and I heard people looking up and saying "Congratulations", and in looking up ourselves we realized that Maddux' family was sitting in one of the press box suites right behind us, his mom & dad, wife and children, all beaming and taking all our congratulations, just in stride, proud of their son but so low-key, just like Greg is.

Greg Maddux is a special ballplayer and a special human being and I think everyone who's ever been a teammate of his would say that about him. The Cubs had to negotiate for more than a month and spend perhaps more money than they wanted to, to sign him, and you know what? It was worth every dollar to have a man of this character and quality on this team, and who among us would have guessed that on August 7, he'd be leading the team in victories with 11, well on his way to his seventeenth consecutive season with fifteen or more wins?

It wasn't vintage Maddux today. He had a shaky first inning in which he threw twenty-nine pitches, and by the time the third had ended the Cubs were down 3-0. But the offense came through, and though Giants rookie Brad Hennessey, making his major league debut today, had them tied in knots till the fourth, a couple of squeaky doubles by Aramis Ramirez and Todd Walker, sandwiched around a Derrek Lee single, made it 3-2, and the Cubs took the lead for good in the fifth, giving Maddux the chance at the victory and entrusting it to the bullpen, which despite another wild-ass inning from Dr. Tightpants, gave up nothing in four innings -- Jon Leicester was the bad-luck inherited-runners guy today, giving up a single to Deivi Cruz that Ramirez almost snagged for a double play. Maddux himself put on one of his fielding clinics, spearing a ball that looked like it was headed for CF, and turning it into a routine fifth-inning putout. Mark even asked me at first, why Maddux had thrown to first base, because it happened so quickly it looked like he might have grabbed a line drive, rather than a quick-hopped ground ball. Then, after the first two batters reached on bloopy hits in the sixth, Maddux, as he is entrusted to do now, took himself out of the game. Despite what appeared to be ideal weather conditions (low 70's, low humidity), he was clearly gassed.

I was really glad to see Moises Alou's homer in the ninth off Brett Tomko (geez, the Giants are so desperate that they used Tomko, one of their rotation starters, in relief), because that meant that LaTroy Hawkins would have to have been really historically awful to deny Maddux the win, and instead he gave him the history, ending the game with a flourish (after the foul ball right in front of us) with a strikeout.

One Barry Bonds comment -- I was absolutely astounded in the seventh, when an obvious intentional-walk situation came up -- runner on second, one out, Bonds up -- and Dusty opted to have Mike Remlinger pitch to Barry. The Giants fans were happy, but Bonds hit a harmless flyout to center. Remember, no manager knows Bonds better than Dusty Baker.

Before the game I took Mark over to the speed-pitch thing in CF, where he proceeded to break that day's record for eight-year-olds by throwing 44 MPH (and no, I wasn't about to throw myself and show him that he can throw harder than me), then said hi to Sue and her friend Nancy, who had a number of ideas as to why the Tomato Inning failed last night. The consensus, after consulting them and others, was that the tomatoes weren't used to the peculiarities of the Pacific Time Zone yet. Having had a day to acclimate, today's tomato landed in the sixth inning and thankyouverymuch, got Paul Bako to smack a broken-bat double over third base, leading, after a vintage Maddux sacrifice bunt, to Corey Patterson's two-run homer into McCovey Cove, only the seventh hit there by a visiting player.

After the game, eighteen of us repaired to MacArthur Park (no, there's no cake left out in the rain, this is a restaurant a mile or so from the ballpark) for a 300th-win Celebratory Dinner. This included Sue, Howard, Jon and Jon's brother Mark, who lives here, Jeff & Krista and Jeff's friend Mark (too many Marks here, right?) and his family, who live south of San Jose, and Jessica, who is the biggest Maddux fan that I know, who flew here from New York to see this game, and was joined by her friend John Aldrich, who I met in Phoenix this year during spring training.

Jeff then proceeded to tell me the story of how he got the sandwiches at Jimmy John's in Reno, Nevada, and told the owner there the story of why he was buying them, to which he said, "This one, I gotta tell my wife!" Turns out the owner of this particular shop, located near the campus of the University of Nevada/Reno, is a retired professor from the University of Illinois at Champaign, who started up this franchise as a "retirement" job, and says he's making way more money than he ever made as a professor.

Hmmmm.

Anyway, this was a day of history, and though Maddux himself didn't want a big celebration on the field in a visiting ballpark (a class act, and you'd expect nothing else from him), it was, as I mentioned, more important to win the game, maintain the wild-card lead, and for the Cubs that makes twelve wins in their last seventeen games. Of such streaks, playoff spots can be won, and Greg and all his teammates will say "Eyes on the prize, please."

While that's true, all of us who shared in this history today will never forget it, and though there has been talk that Maddux may be the last 300-game winner, that's nonsense. The proverbial "they" were speaking that way in the 1970's too.

Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson notwithstanding, it may be a very long time before this happens again. Savor it. We did, and Greg's family and teammates are, and so should you. We may indeed never pass this way again.