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It's Been Thirty-Two Years

On October 4, 1972, the Cubs finished a disappointing second-place season, 11 games behind the division-winning Pirates, with a 2-1 loss to the 97-loss Phillies, in front of an intimate gathering of 3,445 at Wrigley Field.

Richard Nixon was about to be re-elected President of the United States.

The #1 hit that week on Chicago's top-40 radio station, WCFL was, unbelievably, "My Ding-A-Ling" by Chuck Berry.

And I was a junior in high school (yes, do the math, you can figure out how old I am).

Why is this important? Because before today's exciting 5-1, come-from-behind win over the Reds in Cincinnati, that was the last time the Cubs had back-to-back winning seasons -- in fact, that was the last of six consecutive winning years.

Today's win, the 82nd win of the year, clinched a winning season for the Cubs. If Dusty Baker has done nothing else for this franchise, he has at least restored a winning tradition. Criticize his in-game strategy all you want, but the man knows how to put together winning teams, and they win in September, when it means the most. The win also made the Cubs 10-5 in September, after a 19-8 September in 2003.

This isn't something we are used to, but we sure could get used to it.

You might say that Aramis Ramirez is the Cub MVP this year, but he's missed a fair amount of time. Or you might choose Moises Alou, who's had a solid year, or Derrek Lee, who has been hot this month.

But I have to pick Glendon Rusch. Where would this ballclub be without Rusch? Today, he threw six innings of one-hit ball before faltering slightly and allowing a run in the seventh, and even then he managed to work his way out of a first-and-third jam with two out that could have made the uphill climb more arduous. As it was, a 106-pitch, three-hit, two-walk, nine-strikeout performance is one of the Cubs' best by any of the starters this year. It's a shame that Rusch had to be taken out of the game before he could qualify for the win, but Ben Grieve, who pinch-hit for him, wound up driving in the tying run with a sacrifice fly, and the Cubs blew it open in the ninth off Danny Graves after taking advantage of a throwing error by Ryan Freel on a bunt by ... who else, Neifi Perez.

Today's offensive hero-for-the-day was Michael Barrett, who had two doubles and the second one put the game out of reach at 5-1. Barrett now has 63 RBI, the most for a Cub catcher since (and yes, I had to double-check this) Scott Servais had 63 in 1996. The last Cub catchers to have more than 63 RBI in a season were Rick Wilkins, who had a freaky 30 HR, 73 RBI year in 1993, and Jody Davis, with 74 in 1986. Barrett's defense has been criticized in some corners, and yes, he's not the defender that Damian Miller was last year, but his offensive contributions cannot be minimized.

Neither can those of Lee and Ramirez, who both have a chance to break the cherished marks of Ernie Banks and Ron Santo for homers and RBI at their respective positions, and the entire team is getting hot at the right time.

At this moment, the Cubs have again tied the Giants for the wild-card lead, and the game was so quick (two hours, twenty-two minutes) that the Giants will have to look at the final score before they even begin their game in California. UPDATE: Apparently they did, because they won again, darnitall, 4-2 over the Padres, to maintain their half-game lead.

Once again, the game was played in front of a crowd so loudly partisan for the Cubs it sounded like a home game. This type of game was about the last I'd have expected after twelve homers were hit in the first three games, but this just shows the Cubs have, at last, learned to adjust to the different conditions that exist on different days.

I hate to criticize Steve Stone, but he got something wrong today (and last night too). He kept saying that since "Todd Walker is a former Red", that he's familiar with the Reds' ballpark and how it plays.

Well, yes, Walker played for the Reds -- for the second half of 2001 and all of 2002. Cincinnati's new ballpark didn't open till 2003. Walker didn't play a single game in the GABP until this year.

But anyway, that's a minor quibble. Thanks, Glendon. On to Florida, with happiness and hope.