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Sweep!

It all came together as if a storm front were coming through, which, coincidentally enough, will be happening here in Chicago tonight.

Mark Prior pitched great, then poorly, then well again. The Cubs hit, then stopped, then opened up the floodgates just as a brief -- and by saying brief, I mean not more than five minutes -- downpour opened up on Wrigley Field, one of the true harbingers of the end of summer, though temperatures ought to just drop from the 80's to the 70's afterwards. About fifteen minutes after the game ended it started raining harder, and it's supposed to pour pretty good overnight, which we could actually use -- it's been so sunny and dry and beautiful the first two weeks of this month.

The Cubs blasted the Pirates 13-5, sweeping the series, winning their fifth in their last six games, equalling their season high for hits (18), and establishing a season high for runs, and not a moment too soon, the bats appear to be waking up. It was the Cubs' first sweep since they swept the Brewers out of Wrigley Field the last full week of August.

Let's get the stat corner out of the way first:

* Derrek Lee's thirtieth homer of the season in the first made the Cubs the tenth team in major league history to have four players with more than 30. As I wrote last night, it's a longshot, but if Corey Patterson (who cooled off today, striking out twice and having only one double) can somehow hit seven in the remaining nineteen games, the Cubs would become the first team ever to have five such players.

* Sammy Sosa appears to have begun one of the hot streaks we got so used to seeing between 1998 and 2002 -- he homered twice, giving him 571 for his career. It was his sixty-sixth multi-homer game, one short of Mark McGwire for third place on the all-time list of such things (Babe Ruth is first with 72).

* Mike Wuertz, who after a dreadful start and a return to Iowa, has now not allowed a run in his last ten appearances, covering 8.2 innings. He threw a scoreless inning today and received as a reward, his first major league win.

* He'll have to fight Ryan Dempster for the game ball -- Dempster was going to come out of the game after the eighth for LaTroy Hawkins when the score was 7-5, but with the Cubs' 6-run eighth, Dempster batted and finished up, recording his first major league save.

* The Cubs hit back-to-back-to-back jacks (can you just hear Ron Santo going nuts in the radio booth? I wore my Santo t-shirt today -- the one I got at his day last September. Maybe that was a sign.) in the first inning, and none of us was that surprised, with the wind blowing out at an announced 16 MPH -- those speeds always seem too low, incidentally. There were plenty of 25 MPH-plus gusts. The three first-inning homers all may have gotten a little help, but Sammy's grand slam in the eighth landed on Waveland Avenue, reminiscent of the monster bombs he used to send out there in his sixty-homer seasons. Another sign?

Stat corner over, this day began sunny, hot and humid, and with the wind blowing out we figured it might be a multi-homer day. Howard said there'd be seven, I said eight. We'll settle for the five we got, and we laughed at what everyone thinks is Dusty Baker's opinion about walks: "They just clog up the bases."

Well, in the first five innings, the Cubs scored when hitting -- four runs in the first -- but when they "clogged" the bases full with walks in the fifth with one out, they scored nothing. Dusty must have been saying "Told you so!" right then, and especially because the score was still 5-4 Pirates at the time. But Oliver Perez, who settled down after the first inning, ran out of gas in the sixth, and that's when the guy wearing #13 and calling himself Neifi Perez slammed a two-run homer to give the Cubs a 6-5 lead.

Whoever this guy is, I told everyone, "Don't wake him up!" Faux-Perez had two other singles, fielded flawlessly, and is now hitting .480 (12-for-25) as a Cub, with a double, two homers, four RBI, a walk, only two strikeouts and a stolen base. With the loopholes available to teams setting postseason rosters, I hope the Cubs find a way to keep Perez on theirs.

As the day went on the clouds kept building, and the wind picked up, though none of the hits in the six-run eighth, in which the first seven men reached base, needed any help from the wind. The Cubs drew six walks today, and the two in the eighth both scored when Sammy "unclogged" the bases with his grand slam.

Today's groaning puns came when Howard was talking about singer Tony Orlando, who was the seventh-inning stretch singer. I mentioned how Orlando has no real connection to Chicago or to baseball, which sent Howard on what I thought was a diatribe against the stretch singers, and then he said, "Maybe it'll finally dawn on them how bad this is," and it took me a second before it "Dawned" on me that he was punning on the name of Orlando's 1970's era backup singers, upon which I threatened to "Knock Three Times" on his head with the clipboard.

See, you can make these kinds of jokes and have this sort of fun when your team's going to a laugher of a win. This was apparently the thought of two young women, who none of us saw -- we only saw the commotion surrounding them -- several rows below us, who were ejected in the eighth inning for taking their tops off.

At long last, this appears to be the team we thought we had when they took the field the first week of April. Better late than not at all, I'm sure you'll agree.

Once again, the Cubs hit the high-water mark of the season at fifteen games over .500. The last time the Cubs were more than fifteen games over was in the NL East championship year of 1989. There's another mark that needs to be eclipsed, and tomorrow wouldn't be too soon.

At this moment the Cubs are in a virtual tie with the Giants for the wild-card lead, pending their game in Milwaukee tonight (I spent time chanting with Jon, the old Brew Crew cry, "Go! Brewers! Go!" as he imitated the old County Stadium organist.), and the Expos beat Carl Pavano in game one of their doubleheader and are leading in game two early, thus proving that they can only beat the Marlins when they are not playing them in Chicago (game one was the seventh consecutive Montreal win over Florida, excluding the two games at the Cell). I have also learned that the Marlins will have to dig even deeper into their bullpen for a substitute starter, as A. J. Burnett will miss his start against Atlanta this weekend.

In playoff-related news, MLB conducted coin flips today to determine home sites for possible tie-breaker games. For the NL Wild Card, tiebreaker games would be played as follows:
Cubs at San Francisco 
Houston at San Francisco
Florida at San Francisco
San Diego at San Francisco
Cubs at Houston
Florida at Cubs
Cubs at San Diego
Houston at Florida
Houston at San Diego
Florida at San Diego
Note, eerily, that the only game the Cubs would play at home in this scenario would be ... against the Marlins.

Hope is awake (unlike me -- I almost nodded off in the middle innings today), and perking right up. Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, Greg Maddux and Matt Clement will face the Reds in Cincinnati starting tomorrow night. This won't be an easy road trip, even though the opposition (save the DH at Florida on Monday) is all sub-.500 teams. Twelve road games in 11 days is never easy.

Let's start it with another sweep.