Before the game four youngish male Red Sox fans, beers in hand, walked up behind our bench, so I struck up a conversation.
First, they wanted to know if there were walking-around beer vendors. Well, those have been gone from the bleachers for more than a decade, I told them... if they wanted to get beer, they'd have to walk to the concession stand. I pointed to where it was and told them if they wanted to sit closer to it, they'd have to sit in CF.
Then I asked them how much they had paid for their tickets.
Each? I asked.
I'd have to say they got their money's worth, after today's heart-pounding 7-6 Cub win over the Red Sox in front of a crowd that, surprisingly, wasn't the largest paid crowd of the year (39,096 -- probably due to demand from players, etc. for personal tickets).
Two years ago I used this very same headline to describe the similarly-hyped Kerry Wood vs. Roger Clemens Cub-Yankee matchup, which lived up to its hype in a different, yet no less satisfying, way.
This team is now surprising me in a good way, the way it surprised me in a bad way the first few weeks of the season. Dusty starts Todd Hollandsworth again. Bad idea, right?
Nope. Holly has three more hits and three RBI. I still don't think he's an everyday player, but hey -- when the guy's contributing, I'm not going to criticize him.
Let me take a little bit of cockeyed credit for this. Somehow, I forgot that Corey Patterson was batting second -- I want him in the six slot, so when the six slot came up in the second inning, I yelled, "You suck, Corey!"
Boom! Todd Walker, who really was batting sixth today, had an RBI single. OK, I told Howard, I'm going to keep this up. Did it again for Hollandsworth, batting seventh. Boom! RBI single.
It couldn't work for Henry Blanco, I thought, but figured, what the heck.
Boom! Another single, advancing Walker to third, where he scored when Carlos Zambrano hit into a double play.
All of this happened after Z tried to replicate the first inning he threw in San Diego last Sunday. Unfortunately, unlike last Sunday, he failed to strike out the third batter to end the inning. After alternating walks and strikeouts among the first four hitters, Trot Nixon hit a three-run, opposite-field blast to make it 3-0; Bill Mueller also homered off Z in the second to make it 4-0, and the Red Sox fans, an entire family of whom sat in front of us (nice people, incidentally, two very polite but rabid-fan teenage children and a mom and dad), were crowing.
The Cubs chipped away, and tied it in the fourth when Walker tripled just past a diving Nixon (sounds vaguely Watergate-ish, doesn't it?) and scored on a Hollandsworth groundout -- one of the few times the pulled-in infield actually worked to stop the ball from getting through, but since Walker was running on contact, he scored easily. It was sort of like a squeeze play, only without the bunt.
The game plodded on in the 84-degree stickiness, and then Z gave us yet another scare when he made a really bad-looking slide into second trying to break up a double play in the fifth. He came out for the sixth inning, took a couple of warmup tosses and left in favor of Todd Wellemeyer. Z went to a hospital for the traditional "precautionary x-rays", and has been diagnosed with 'turf toe', something you'd normally get by digging your toe into artificial turf. As of now -- and this means you, Chuck -- he's not expected to miss a start.
The bullpen held down the fort -- Wellemeyer walked two, like Z in the first, but struck out Johnny Damon to finish off a neat strike-out-the-side inning, and Mike Remlinger and Mike Wuertz both threw well, while the Cubs were taking the lead in the fifth on a Blanco sacrifice fly (1-for-3 with an RBI is a very good day for Mr. Blanco, thankyouverymuch), and padding it in the 8th off two former NL relievers we've seen a lot of in the past, Mike Myers and Matt Mantei.
Turns out they'd need every single one of those runs, as the Red Sox fans (who started a "Yankees suck!" chant, cheerfully joined in by quite a few Cub fans in the bleachers, who later turned it into a "Red Sox suck" chant -- and were promptly shouted down by those of us who do like the Red Sox, only don't want them to win again till Monday), perhaps forty percent of today's crowd, put on their rally caps (yes, they really did) and watched their team tee off on Ryan Dempster. The key pitch of the inning was the first, and only, pitch Dempster threw to David Ortiz -- he got him on an easy grounder to first, and even though Manny Ramirez drove in a run after that, you had a feeling Dempster would get the final out.
When Trot Nixon popped to Aramis Ramirez, with every single fan -- Cub and Red Sox -- on his or her feet, in a playoff-style atmosphere, Howard asked me, "Fair or foul?"
"Who cares?" I responded. (It was foul.)
Really, I can't think of a nicer group of people to have as visitors. The Red Sox fans were great -- they sure spent enough money here! -- and even though they have the championship that we covet, they still feel somewhat kindred, in many ways. But, as I said, they can wait another day till they win again -- and so can the Cardinals, who lost to the Yankees 5-1 today, cutting their division lead to 5 1/2 games over the suddenly surging Cubs, who after their 13-18 start have gone 20-9 -- and perhaps more significantly, are 12-3 since (and including) the day Mark Prior suffered his freak injury. Maybe that was, in an odd way, the wake-up call they needed.
Good news: Kerry Wood will start Monday for Iowa, beginning his likely two-start rehab assignment, which would make his major league return possible either during the series at Milwaukee, or perhaps at the White Sox the last weekend of June.
I capped off the day by seeing the BoDeans at the Ravinia Festival. I had never seen them before, and though many of the new songs are ones I didn't recognize, the old favorites like "Closer to Free", "Still The Night", "You Don't Get Much", and the show-closing "Good Things" were fun and performed with a lot of energy. It's been two years since they've been on tour and they alluded to some legal problems which kept them off the road. If you're a fan -- go see them. It was an enjoyable evening.
UPDATE: BoDeans update -- my friend Mark informs me that they did in fact tour last summer -- hey, all I know is what they said on stage. It was fun anyway.
Onward. Let's sweep these guys back to Boston.