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OK, You Can Breathe Now

About the seventh inning, Kevin, who came tonight and was sitting in the second row next to Howard, asked him this trivia question:

Who was the first Atlanta Brave to wear #49 after John Rocker?

Give up?

The correct answer was: "He's sitting next to me."

Kevin had brought his friend and Frontier League champion Rockford Riverhawk teammate Scott Sobkowiak, who had a cup of coffee in the majors with the Braves in 2001.

It marks the first time we've ever had a major league player, past or present, sit with us for an entire game. He was friendly and knowledgeable, and though he's now 27 and over the Frontier League age limit, he said he's still hoping to hook on with a major league organization next spring, or if not he might pitch for Newark in the Atlantic League, a place where several players have gotten major league jobs.

It was that kind of night, a night where we all let a deep breath out, laughed and had fun, and I think the Cubs players did too, and realized that the last two days were the aberration, and in front of a loud and festive crowd, the Cubs blew out the Reds 12-5, and it wasn't that close, as the saying goes.

It was for a while, as the Reds halved the Cubs' two-run first inning with a run of their own in the fourth, but in the bottom of that inning (the Tomato Inning, incidentally), the Cubs showed everyone why the Yankees keep giving up "prospects" who turn out to be nothing, as Brandon Claussen, tonight's starter (Mike said he was in a pickle that inning -- I think he's been hanging around Howard and Jon too long), acquired from the Yankees for Aaron Boone, proved he has earned the nearly six-point ERA he came into the game sporting (he left it with that number at 6.60).

Everyone hit. Suddenly Nomar, who missed a lot of time and looked terrible in New York, was hitting the ball all over the yard, two doubles, a single and a walk; Todd Walker homered and drove in four, Sammy (whose "spot" in right field, the one he kicks into dirt with his spikes, had been completely resodded during the road trip) doubled and walked... in fact, the Reds gave the Cubs TEN walks tonight, which accounts for most of the three-hour-and-eight-minute game time, and is about a week's quota for the Cubs.

Meanwhile, Carlos Zambrano was just OK, not truly sharp, though he allowed only five hits and struck out seven in getting into the seventh, Dusty had to pull him at 123 pitches when he got into a bit of trouble, and he kept going deep into counts. It was good enough for his sixteenth win of the year, and he'll throw on Saturday against Atlanta, and the Braves were rained out tonight from the remnants of Hurricane Jeanne, and so will play a doubleheader tomorrow, which might switch around their pitching rotation, and which they cannot be happy to have to play.

The only discordant note tonight was Todd Wellemeyer's two-thirds of an inning, in which he could barely find the strike zone, and allowed four runs, including a monstrous home run that cleared the right-field foul pole by Adam Dunn, who also struck out for the one-hundred and eighty-fifth time this year, only four short of the single-season record, held by Bobby -- that's right, BOBBY Bonds, and has stood for thirty-six years, since 1968, but it should fall during this series, so in addition to everything else going on, we ought to see a bit of history, perhaps Wednesday, when the Cubs will also go over the 3 million mark in attendance for the first time ever.

It was one of those days when you want it to still be summer, sunny all day, and 74 degrees at game time, with absolutely no wind (the box score said 6 MPH, but that's wrong -- the flags were completely limp at game's beginning), and that fall hint of cool air wafting around the ballpark, with a full moon (it's the Harvest Moon, but Mike called it the Atonement Moon, and the Cubs sure atoned for a lot of their sins of the last couple of days tonight), almost telling us to just hang on for the ride. I said to Mike when he got to the park, "This is what we live for every season, to come to the park at this time of year to see meaningful games", and of course he agreed, and now we've had it two years in a row, and tonight gave the sense that we'll see more than just a week's worth...

Howard brought his father-in-law and a couple of other friends, who I regaled during the eighth by telling them I had a secret for knowing which of the four attendance picks was correct -- and no, I'm not telling here!

Also, Other Brian and his wife Elise showed up. They had been sitting in LF most of the game, and I had blamed them (jokingly) for a June 30 loss when they left early, so they stopped by when the score was 12-1, to ask me if it was OK for them to leave early!

It was, as I said, that kind of night.

The win finally evened out the Cubs and Giants in terms of games played, after the Cubs had games in hand ever since the Hurricane Frances cancellation of the Marlins series three weeks ago, and the Cubs are a game up with six to play, and even with the Houston win tonight over the Cardinals, the Astros have only five games left and remain a game and a half behind.

Hope is happy tonight. Keep the faith.