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It took one hundred and thirty-eight games and eight innings, but playoff-type intensity has arrived at Wrigley Field.

In the space of one inning, I went from feeling like the Cubs might never score again, to the way it felt last September during that amazing Cardinal series, as player after player stepped it up in a four-run eighth inning, and the 5-2 Cub win over the Marlins means that they are a game up on Houston, who lost again to the Pirates this afternoon, and still tied with the Giants, who beat Arizona (c'mon, you didn't really think the D'backs would win with that Double-A lineup they're fielding, did you?) -- and they are still up two games in the loss column.

It was another day that the calendar forgot -- the last week has felt more like June than September, and it's supposed to continue at least through the rest of the homestand, 79 degrees at gametime with some high wispy clouds and a light breeze blowing out, though not so much as to influence home runs one way or another, and there weren't any today.

I told everyone that I could not remember the last time the Cubs came from behind in the eighth inning or later. So I had to look it up. Believe it or not, it was against the Cardinals, on June 22 in St. Louis, of all places. That was the second time in a four-day period they had done so, the other one being a bottom-of-the-ninth comeback against the A's on June 19.

Yeah, I said "It's Over" three days ago, and it sure felt like it was. I should know better. But today didn't start that way. Carlos Zambrano made an ill-conceived throw to first on a bunt that might have gone foul, and instead of having at worse a runner on first, there was a man on second, who advanced on a groundout (that might have been an inning-ending DP), and scored on yet another Michael Barrett passed ball, his eighth of the year. Despite this, Carlos settled down and allowed only one earned run in seven innings.

Dave, just in from the Riverhawks celebration in Rockford last night (so was Jeff, with no sleep at all), has said all year that no matter how well Barrett hits, he can't help the team as much as someone like Damian Miller, who plays good defense and calls a good game behind the plate. I'm not as critical of Barrett, who has won games with his hitting, but I have to say when stuff like this happens, I have to agree with him.

Meanwhile, the Cubs were leaving men on base every which way, including Derrek Lee grounding into a weak force with the bases loaded in the second, and then Nomar left the game after hitting into a DP in the third -- though this turned out to be a good thing, more anon. That, incidentally, was the Tomato Inning. I think the TI's powers are weakening. Mike suggested using another vegetable, and because I happen to like the Jimmy John's sandwiches, maybe tomorrow we'll try the Onion Inning, since that's the only other vegetable I get with the sandwich.

Six more innings passed today with Sammy Sosa in the starting lineup without a run scoring this week, and I really was beginning to wonder whether my "Cause and Effect?" from yesterday's post was turning true, especially when he got called out on strikes again on another knee-bending curveball from Dontrelle Willis. But then Sammy bounced a little single through the middle in the sixth and you could sense that something was about to break through.

It began in the seventh, when the Cubs finally had one of those two-out-nobody-on rallies that seem to happen against us so often, and the second out in that inning was a screaming line drive hit by Jason Dubois that was speared by Willis, and that's when my mood was about the darkest. What do you have to do to hit this guy? I kept thinking.

But then Corey Patterson hit a little single, stole second (his thirtieth steal of the year), Derrek Lee walked, and Aramis Ramirez, who ought to be the on-field leader of this team, got the Cubs off the "0" line by singling Patterson in.

So often during the NLCS last year, Jack McKeon outmanaged Dusty Baker. This time, Dusty got the best of McKeon, in the decisive eighth inning. I have no idea who this guy wearing Neifi Perez' uniform is, but whoever he is, he ought to get more playing time, because he has turned into a hitting machine. (Dave says he ought to get more playing time, and much as Nomar gets the adulation, maybe he's right.) After getting four hits yesterday, "Perez" beat out an infield hit and went to second on a throwing error. Then Sammy stepped up -- for the first time in forever -- and singled him in, the tying run. The Cubs loaded the bases and then McKeon brought in Rudy Seanez, who used to throw 100 MPH, but is now about 300 years old and threw Derrek Lee nothing but sliders. Dave called this, and I said that he'd wait on a fastball and drive it, and after swinging and missing a 3-1 pitch that would have been ball four, he did that -- right in between Miguel Cabrera and Juan Pierre, neither of whom seemed to want the ball, and clearing the bases.

But here's the secret, real reason for the decisive rally. I buy the early edition of the Sunday Tribune to read before Saturday home games, because I never would have time to read both Sunday papers on Sunday. Then I bring the later edition of the Sunday Sun-Times to the park on Sunday.

Anyway, it was sitting on the ground around the 7th when Dave asked to look at the sports page, and then Phil took it. Phil is the world's messiest newspaper reader, and he did a pretty good number on the sports section, and gave it back to me during one of the 8th inning pitching changes.

I was going to fold it up neatly and then the Cubs started rallying, so I figured I'd just leave it the way it was. Call it newspaper karma or whatever, we'll take it.

Then LaTroy Hawkins, who's made us nervous so many times, came in and not only got the save, but tied a major league record that's only been done thirty-six times (and not since 2002) -- striking out the side on nine pitched balls, all strikes. He becomes the third Cub (Milt Pappas, 9/24/1971, and Bruce Sutter, 9/8/1977, oddly, all three of the Cubs who did this, did it in September) to accomplish this feat.

It is indeed September. And we have thought so many times that an emotional win like today's would carry over to the next day, and it hasn't.

Now, it has to. Let's go get 'em tomorrow. Hope woke up today.