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Doubleheader!

Well... MOST of a doubleheader, anyway, but more on that anon.

This afternoon, under weather conditions much like they'd have in Miami this time of year, I went to see the Marlins play the Expos at their relocated home at the Cell.

Dave and Howard from our section joined me as well as Holly from RCF, and we sat a few rows behind the 3B dugout, since it was general-admission-sit-anywhere, and just before the game there was a bit of a commotion down near the field in our section, and we spotted Jerry Reinsdorf talking to a man in a dark-colored shirt with his back to us.

When he turned around the commotion got even louder. It was Steve Stone.

The crowd of 4,003 (not too different from what the Expos draw at home) was part Cub fans (a large Cub flag was unfurled in LF during the game, part Sox fans rooting for the Marlins, and also a large contingent of Marlins fans who had been in town for the weekend Cub series and decided to stay.

Marlins management tried to make them feel at home: they flew in Marlins home white pants, their PA announcer, some scoreboard videos (they also couldn't resist tweaking the Cubs when posting on the board tomorrow's Montreal pitcher, Scott Downs, and reminding all that he had "shut out the Cubs last week"), music (no Nancy Faust, other than a taped version of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame", and their silly mascot Billy the Marlin, who threw out a ceremonial first pitch.

The Sox must not have expected that large a crowd because they only opened two concession stands and lines were very long. They did hand out free scoresheets, which I thought was nice of them.

Everyone was into the game. I wore my "Serie de los Expos de Montreal" T-shirt I got in Puerto Rico last year, and if you come to a game like this, you truly have to love baseball, and I think that's refreshing. It was apparently announced on one of the teams' broadcasts that this game was the first time a pitcher had batted at the Cell, but that isn't true -- a pitcher batted in the very first game played there, a 16-0 Detroit blowout of the White Sox, where DH Tony Phillips was put in the game at SS, and pitcher Frank Tanana batted. He struck out.

The rest of the Marlins' 6-3 win over the Expos was pretty crisply played -- at least till the eighth inning, when the Expos forgot how to play the field and made four errors, not a single one of which ought to have been made by a major league player, including Juan Rivera's drop of an easy pop fly into short right which would have ended the inning with only one run scoring; instead six runs crossed the plate in an inning eerily reminiscent of a Marlins eighth inning last year which shall best go unmentioned. All of this ruined a very well-pitched game by Sunny Kim, who threw seven scoreless innings, helped out by three double plays.

The only home run recorded was Tony Batista's for Montreal in the top of the 9th; we were wondering if they'd have set off the scoreboard if the Marlins had homered, but it didn't happen.

The reason I said almost a doubleheader is that my early evening hours were spent at my daughter Rachel's new school, at an open house to meet the staff and her new teachers, a worthwhile experience at a worthwhile place, and then on to Wrigley Field for the last half of the Cubs' efficiently played 7-2 win over the Pirates, moving them to within half a game of the wild-card leading Giants, idle today; tomorrow San Francisco plays at Milwaukee. No, no more doubleheaders for me this week, and besides, the Cub and Brewer games tomorrow are head-to-head.

For once, the Cubs took a minor-leaguer that they'd never seen before and roughed him up good. Frank Brooks gave up a homer to that guy who's wearing Neifi Perez' uniform -- and he's going to be playing for a few more days, because Nomar's sore groin is going to keep him out most of this week. After an error, Derrek Lee singled in two runs and Sammy Sosa hit his first homer in almost three weeks, the 569th of his career and 30th of the season, giving the Cubs three 30-homer men for the first time.

History corner!

The Cub team that came closest to this milestone was the 1965 team -- Billy Williams (34), Ron Santo (33), and Ernie Banks.

When Lee hits his next homer, the Cubs will become the tenth team in history to have four such players -- the first being the 1977 Dodgers, who had Steve Garvey (33), Reggie Smith (32), Ron Cey (30), and... Dusty Baker (30), and on the radio tonight they mentioned that they thought Baker qualified by hitting his 30th on the last day of the season.

Right on the money! Here's the boxscore from that game on October 2, 1977. Not only was it the last game of the year, it was his last at-bat of the year, and it was the only time Baker hit 30 homers as a player.

Anyway, the Cubs accomplished today's first-inning runs without the benefit of help from the Tomato Inning, since I arrived late, I had Jeff get me a scorecard and I simply caught up with the scoring after I got there. Kevin, Dave's son and catcher for the Frontier League champion Rockford Riverhawks, was also at the game tonight, so I was able to congratulate him for his team's sweep of the championship series last weekend.

Finally, Greg Maddux, the leading winner on the staff (who would have guessed that on Opening Day?) threw seven shutout innings in classic Maddux form -- only two strikeouts and a walk, helped out by some nice defensive plays, too.

One day at a time, my friends, this is how this race appears to be going right down to the end, just as it did a year ago, just as it did in 1998. Maybe we're just not used to this.

Faith and hope, every single day.