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Got Any Fingernails Left?

Yeah, I didn't think you did, either.

The Cubs rode some terrific pitching by Carlos Zambrano, Kent Mercker and Mike Remlinger, and some great pennant-race defense by Aramis Ramirez and Sammy Sosa -- who made a catch that quite literally saved the game, a flat-out dive with the bases loaded in the 8th inning, and if you ever think that Sammy doesn't care, or doesn't try, he may not be hitting right now, but like my friend Dave says, he NEVER loafs -- and beat the Pirates 1-0, their fifth straight win over the Pirates, and they can [whispering] go for the sweep in a "Businessman's Special" tomorrow that starts at 11:30 CT.

Steve Stone wondered on the telecast whether the Cubs had won back-to-back one-run games on the road this year. Well, I checked. The Cubs haven't won back-to-back one-run games ANYWHERE in 2004, until tonight, and it is their first 1-0 win since Kerry Wood threw a two-hitter against the Marlins on July 19, 2003.

I wrote yesterday about something I did -- booking a business-related trip to New York on the possible first home playoff date -- that must have stirred the cosmos. Today, I did something else along the same lines.

I bought tickets for what would be game 1 and game 7 of the NLCS at St. Louis.

(Why not the other games? Because it took me a heck of a long time to get past Tickets.com's dreaded Virtual Waiting Room, even to get those tickets, and they're upper deck about halfway back, but at least I'll be in the park.)

Hope I get to use every single one of them, just like my Wrigley Field playoff ticket strips that arrived yesterday.

About today's game, there isn't much to say except to repeat that Z threw great, finally running out of gas having thrown 117 pitches, with one out in the eighth; he was in frequent trouble, allowing six hits and three walks, and the Pirates left eight on base, including the bases loaded when Sammy stretched out his entire body to take what would have been a bases-clearing double away from Ty Wigginton. In the vernacular, that's today's Web Gem, folks.

Meanwhile, LaTroy Hawkins, who had thrown three days in a row, was deemed unavailable tonight, and so was Ryan Dempster, who threw last night and got his second save of the season, and so Mike Remlinger came in to record his own second save of 2004, and he seems to do this with such a calm demeanor -- and he's an unusual relief pitcher, one who throws from a windup with no one on base. Most modern relievers throw from the stretch at all times, and I noticed the other day when David Weathers, normally a reliever, started the second game of the DH in Miami, he pitched from the stretch in the first inning.

I have suggested here and in the Cubs newsgroup that Remlinger might be an attractive alternative to Hawkins as closer, and he proved to be just that tonight.

And the home-run offense of the Cubs was shut down by Oliver Perez, who, although the Cubs beat him up pretty good last week in Chicago, is a terrific young lefthander, but he lost his command after he had retired the first fourteen batters of the game, and with the bases loaded he threw ball four to Z, who recorded his fifth RBI of the year with the walk.

Too bad Z can't pitch against the Pirates every day -- he was 5-0 against them this year (becoming the first pitcher to win five games in a season over the Pirates since Tom Seaver in 1973), with a 1.02 ERA in 35.1 innings. Terrific stuff, and maybe it'll even get Z some Cy Young votes. He's now 15-8, with two starts remaining, and a 2.64 ERA, for the moment leading the league (ahead of Randy Johnson's 2.74), and his seven K's tonight give him 176, good for eighth in the league.

Finally, today my eyes glazed over at some newsgroup discussions of just who we'd like to see win the remaining games among the contenders. First of all, after not being able to win in Miami for two years, the Phillies won their second in a row there, 12-4 tonight. For all intents and purposes, that eliminates the Marlins, and I think this is coming down to a three-team race, the Cubs, Astros and Giants -- but now with a wild-card in the wild-card, so to speak, with the Dodgers fading. They'll meet the Giants six times, three in San Francisco this weekend, and three in Los Angeles to end the season.

So who do we root for? The Giants to win out and win the division title, and the Dodgers to fade and finish behind the Cubs? Or do we root for Houston tonight, so that the Cubs can go ahead of San Francisco and control their own fate?

Like I said, eyes-glazing thought. Just win. The rest will take care of itself. Faith and hope, all.