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He Didn't Even Leave A Tip

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Corey Patterson's rocket of a home run Monday night in the fifth inning flew over our heads, onto Sheffield Avenue and clanged off the hood of Wolley Cab #4435.

(If you're thinking that Wolley Cab is a dumb name for a taxi company, it's "Yellow" spelled backwards. The cabs are orange.)

The homer, Corey's ninth (Kasey Ignarski, joining us in the bleachers for what he said was the first time since the mid-1980's, reminded me that all nine of them have been solo shots), gave the Cubs the lead for good, and they rode that and Glendon Rusch's longest and best start of the year to an efficient 4-1 win over the Astros, who are now 2-20 on the road.

Think about that whenever you think the Cubs are having a tough season. The Astros were a playoff team in 2004 and they just might be the worst team in the National League right now. Think Roger Clemens might be thinking twice about coming back?

Naaaaah. You'd take $18 million if someone threw it at you, wouldn't you?

Corey had an, uh, eventful evening. In addition to his homer, he also had a collision with Jeromy Burnitz going after a fly ball in the second inning (Burnitz wound up catching it), and got picked off and caught in a rundown (during which I couldn't understand why Jason Dubois, who was on third base, didn't break for the plate).

Maybe the collision bounced something back into place in Corey's brain, because he also had two singles, raising his average to .272.

It was a cold evening. Jeff showed up in shorts. Why? Well, it was warmer when he left his house. So he wound up sitting there the entire evening with an orange-and-white striped towel wrapped around his legs. He even offered to let me take a cellphone photo of him to post here... let's just say I declined that offer.

With just Jeff, Mike and me in attendance, we had various random people sitting next to us and in front, including some more groupies asking about Mike's scorecard (they left after about 10 seconds again), and a young couple who had one of those kids' blankets with all the team logos on them. I was trying to figure out when it was from (it had a California Angels logo on it), but the guy saved me the trouble.

He said he'd had it since he was about three years old, and it was one of the first to have a Marlins and Rockies logo on it, right after they were awarded franchises two years before they actually played.

Yes, I did the math. That dated the blanket to about 1991 and made the couple about 17 or 18 years old. Sheesh.

I handed out some BCB cards to some of these people and also to a couple of guys from the Ted Butterman band that plays next to us every second inning, so if you are here from seeing one of those cards, welcome! Meanwhile, the game was going the way we figured many games would go this season -- good starting pitching, a timely homer or two, and then a quick ninth inning from our closer.

It was the people involved in those things that wound up being surprising. Rusch threw 108 pitches, but never seemed to labor, and walked only one in his eight innings, after having walked six in six in Pittsburgh last week. And yes, I mentioned that he hadn't allowed a homer all year... bang! Brad Ausmus hit one that tied the game in the 2nd inning. Not only was it the first home run allowed by Rusch this season, it was Ausmus' first of the year.

That was it for the Astros, who looked absolutely beaten down. They have, as I mentioned, won only two games on the road this season (11-2 at Cincinnati on April 15, and 2-1 at Florida on May 9), and they look like they have no idea HOW to win on the road.

Ryan Dempster had absolutely the easiest save of the year -- throwing only four pitches for three easy outs, and thus he could go again tonight.

This all bodes well for tonight -- even with the presumed mismatch of Roger Clemens vs. Sergio Mitre. Yes, Clemens is 3-2 with a ridiculous 1.29 ERA (leading the majors), but:

* the Cubs have hit Clemens well in the six career starts he's made against them (he's 2-3 with a 3.89 ERA vs. the Cubs), and

* Houston is 3-6 in games Clemens has started.

Jeromy Burnitz' seventh homer of the season, a two-run job that landed in nearly the same spot Patterson's did (no cab, however, was in sight at that point), gave the Cubs a cushion.

After that, with the weather getting even colder, the race was on to see if the game, which had gone to the bottom of the 8th at one hour, forty-four minutes, could be finished in less than two hours.

No thanks to Astros reliever Chad Harville, it couldn't. Harville made at least six throws to first base to keep Jerry Hairston close, with louder boos each time. Sure, Hairston was eventually caught stealing. So what?

Then, the 67-year-old John Franco came in to get the final out of the 8th, wasting even more time. I'm kidding about his age, but looking it up when he came in -- Franco's rookie year was 1984, with the Reds, and one of his teammates was... Pete Rose, who returned to Cincinnati late that year as player/manager.

Other good stuff that happened last night:

* a manufactured run in the first, with a single, a perfectly-executed hit-and-run, and a sacrifice fly;

* Jason Dubois throwing Morgan Ensberg out in the fourth trying to stretch a single into a double. I said to Mike, "Well, Dusty can't complain about his defense for a while!"

About the Danny Graves situation: the Cubs are interested, although they may wait till after the DFA period ends so they're not on the hook for Graves' contract, which includes a $6.25 million option for 2006.

My SportsBLOGS colleague JD at the Red Reporter weighs in with some comments about the Graves (and Jimenez) DFA's.

Tough year to be a Reds fan. Or an Astros fan. Keep the faith. Things are getting better.