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Happy To Be Wrong

When this road trip began I thought the Cubs would be OK if they won three of four in Cincinnati, and then split the doubleheader in Florida.

They did that, and kept pace.

I also felt that taking two of three in Pittsburgh would do them well, and I'm so glad I turned out to be wrong, because the sweep completed today, with a well-played 6-3 win over the Pirates on a sunny summer-like day, puts pressure on all of the wild-card contenders, playing tonight, now already knowing the result of the Cubs game.

This was the Greg Maddux show -- he won his fifteenth, matching Carlos Zambrano for the club lead, and each will have two more starts, making this the seventeenth consecutive season in which he's won fifteen games.

With the six innings thrown today he also went over 200 innings -- to 201.2, to be exact -- and this is important because his new contract has a vesting provision if he throws more than 400 combined innings in 2004 and 2005. So he now needs fewer than 200 innings next year in order for his 2006 option to vest.

The way Maddux has pitched this year, I don't think any of us will be unhappy with that. He's kept himself in great shape, won key games, and today, hit an important two-run single in the decisive second inning when the Cubs scored four runs. Paul Bako also drove in a run, and lately the Cubs have been winning without contributions from Corey Patterson, among others -- Patterson got the day off today (though he came in to play CF in the 8th and struck out in the 9th -- again), in fact, and I think that was a good thing, because you have to give your bench players some at-bats. Tom Goodwin was 0-for-3, but did draw a walk, and maybe the day off will clear Corey's head. He's always hit well in New York, anyway -- he had a big day there on Opening Day a year ago, and the Cubs will be playing a team they haven't lost to since April 2, 2003. They won the last game played in New York the next day, swept the Mets in September 2003 at Wrigley Field, and also swept them this past April in Chicago, giving them only two runs in the three games played.

Maddux' stat line for this game is just average -- 3 ER in six innings, but he made only two mistakes, one of which was smacked over Goodwin's head for a Rob Mackowiak double, and the other a line-drive homer by the next hitter, Craig Wilson, and that was pretty much all the damage the Pirates could do. The bullpen shut Pittsburgh down, and that includes yet another scoreless inning from -- dare we say -- a newly healthy and focused Dr. Tightpants.

This being the longest road trip of the year, it's also the longest stretch in which I've seen games solely on TV, and I have to say this:

Those commercials for Ford -- "A Focus and a Dell" -- have to be about the most annoying thing I have ever seen. That darned song is going through my head and I cannot get it out!

Let me just go on the record as saying I am NOT buying the darn car!

OK, back to baseball, because NOW, it gets interesting.

At this moment, the Cubs are 86-66. That puts them twenty games over .500 for the first time since 1989 (and yes, this time I'm sure of that).

The Giants are also 86-66, so the two teams are, for the moment, tied for the wild-card lead.

The Giants stand half a game behind the Dodgers, who are 86-65 and play San Diego tonight.

So do we root for Houston to beat the Giants today, to put the Cubs in the wild-card lead? Or do we root for the Giants to win and overtake the Dodgers, who seem to be in free-fall, and who have to play San Francisco six times in the next two weeks?

Whatever happens between the Giants and Dodgers, ONE of those teams must lose at least three of the six games, and that would put the Cubs in good shape no matter who is the West leader.

Chip and Steve thought that it might be better for Houston to win tonight. Many others feel that the Giants could win the West, and a win for SF would put the Astros pretty much out of the race -- a Houston loss would make them 83-70, 3.5 games behind the Cubs.

Glendon Rusch, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood will start against the Mets this weekend -- and yes, Wood will start, after having been examined today and pronounced fit to go by Cubs orthopedic specialist Dr. Stephen Gryzlo and trainer Dave Groeschner.

Fasten your seat belts, everyone, and keep that faith and hope. Hope is smiling and enjoying the flight to New York tonight.