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Sixth inning.

San Diego.

Sunday afternoon.

Cubs leading, their best pitcher on the mound, Padres haven't scored.

Forgive me if I had a bit of deja vu thinking about game five of the 1984 NLCS in San Diego, and we won't go any further with that one...

because today, Sunday, the Cubs did indeed shut out the Padres 4-0, and while this Sunday afternoon game didn't have the impact of that fateful, dreadful Sunday in 1984.

But it did accomplish this:

  • a series win, 3 games to 1, in San Diego, a place where the Padres had been 18-5 before the Cubs arrived. This was the first series the Padres have lost at home in 2005.
  • winning the season series vs. the Padres, 4 games to 3 (yes, the Cubs are finished with San Diego for the year, the first such completed season series; they have yet to play the Marlins and Braves. Who makes up these schedules, anyway?)
  • winning six out of seven on a West Coast trip. The last time a Cub team won six games on a West Coast trip, I had just finished my freshman year of high school. Yes, that'd be that 1971 trip I mentioned in yesterday's open thread: the Cubs swept four games in Los Angeles, lost a doubleheader in San Diego, then won the final two games against the Padres.
And guess who is your current National League Wild Card leader?

That's right, it's the Chicago Cubs, who passed up the Diamondbacks and Braves today. Since a loss to the Phillies on May 7, the day after LaTroy Hawkins' Impure Deflection off Jose Offerman's helmet, the Cubs have gone 18-8, and with Houston's 6-4 win over St. Louis, the Cubs pull to within 5.5 games of the division lead.

Today, Carlos Zambrano wasn't at his best, particularly in the first inning, when he walked the bases loaded, but gutted it out in part because Henry Blanco threw Dave Roberts out stealing. Blanco still can't hit (his single today "raised" his average to .140), but he has thrown out five of seven runners trying to steal, an excellent percentage.

After that Z settled down, and this is the mark of a great pitcher -- knowing how to win when you don't have your best stuff. By the middle innings he was getting more of his trademark ground outs, and only walked one after the first inning. The pitch count of 110 isn't extraordinarily high. Will Ohman got into a bit of trouble in the 8th, but induced an inning-ending, nifty 3-6-3 double play, and Ryan Dempster threw an uneventful ninth, taken out of the save situation by the Neifi Perez-Derrek Lee combination putting up an extra run in the bottom of the eighth.

The offense wasn't great but was efficient enough, getting eleven hits (three more for Neifi!, who extended his hitting streak to fourteen games -- yes, that's right, a 14-game hitting streak on top of all the other things he's done for the ballclub this year, and raising his average to .325. Lee also had three hits, and his average sits at .385), and the only slight quibble I have is this: Jeromy Burnitz hit a ball to deep right-center that appeared to me, and apparently to him too, to be a home run. It wasn't. It hit high off the wall for a double, only it almost wasn't because Jeromy sort of loafed his way into second base. This isn't usual for Jeromy, so I'll give him a pass. This time.

And, I pronounce it good that the Cubs got eleven hits and four runs without hitting a home run.

Sloppy CSN Production Note Of The Day: Not only has CSN not fixed the spelling of Khalil Greene's name (it said "Kahlil" again), today's San Diego right fielder was listed in their starting lineup as "Brain Giles".

No matter. We can laugh at this sort of thing today. Happiness reigns in Cubville. The plane flight home ought to be a happy one, and the Cubs ought to look forward to hosting the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Marlins the next nine games at home.

The only way I'd be happier about a Sunday afternoon Cub win in San Diego... would be if it happened this October.

Faith and hope, my friends. NEVER give up.

UPDATE [2005-6-5 19:43:09 by Al]: The Cubs actually have won more than six games on a West Coast trip:

The Cubs' record for most wins on a West Coast trip is eight. The team went 8-3 on a trip from June 28-July 8, 1984. On that trip, the Cubs were 3-1 in Los Angeles, 2-1 in San Diego and 3-1 in San Francisco.

I was at that July 8 game in San Francisco in 1984; I stayed to see the '84 All-Star Game.

Oh, something else good happened in 1984. I think you can all remember what it was.