... for today, at least.
The first thing Dave said to me when he sat down was, "This is the biggest game of the year so far."
That's undoubtedly true, and the Cubs came through, beating the Pirates convincingly, 8-2, to take three of four in the series.
Of course, Dave spent much of the rest of the game on his cellphone trying to make a deal for the Frontier League team he owns, the Rockford Riverhawks. So if you see a transaction in the papers in the next couple of days for the Riverhawks, you'll know that it was consummated in the right-field bleachers at Wrigley Field.
We had a large group today for one of the few times this year, due to the tight supply of tickets. Mark, back from camp, sat with us in his Nomar jersey, sucking down cotton candy and drenching his head with water -- yeah, it was hot, but not really that hot; when the sun ducked behind clouds, which it did fairly often, a gentle lake breeze cooled us off. The Cubs also sent out the hit squad -- I mean, the young ushers, with the water misting bottles. This is a fine idea, as long as they ask you first, which they don't always do. Gotta keep the scorecard dry, dontcha know.
We also had my neighbors Rob & Daria and some friends of theirs, and a repeat visit from Scott Lange of the Northside Lounge, who is now forgiven for the horrid loss to the Rockies the Cubs suffered on his first day in the bleachers this year. In fact, he arrived with a Pirates fan friend decked out in a gray jersey with "Pittsburgh" written in script across the front -- a Pirate road jersey from the '90s, I believe -- and so maybe we need to keep that guy with us as well.
And we also had devoted BCB reader Gary Wake, who hails from near the Cubs' AA affiliate at West Tenn. In return for saving him a seat, Gary gave me a baseball card of Kyle Farnsworth in a Diamond Jaxx uniform -- appropriate on a day when Kyle got into another brawl. Here, (not visible), he tackles Kansas City's Jeremy Affeldt:
All was well today. Carlos Zambrano threw an efficient game, unusual for him -- 95 pitches in eight innings, and if not for the humidity he probably would have finished up. Will Ohman started the ninth, but was yanked after allowing a pop-fly single to Castillo, which prompted Howard to say, "He must be on a pitch count." (Six was the pitch count.) Sergio Mitre came in, and I figured this must have been because they wanted the Reds scouts to see him. Bad move -- the first two hitters smashed line drives off him. Hope his velocity was what the scouts like.
Anyway, Z allowed only an unearned run, which was partly the result of a very uncharacteristic Derrek Lee error. Lee made a nice stab of a Daryle Ward grounder, but in an effort to make a sweeping toss to start a double play, the ball flipped out of his glove. Derrek also had a rare emotional show, as he smacked his glove in frustration.
When Jose Castillo, the next hitter, grounded into a force play that would otherwise have ended the inning (if not for the error), the Pirates' first run scored, unearned.
Lee and Z were involved in a goofy little play in the fifth inning too -- with two out, Z tried to stab and flip a Matt Lawton grounder with his bare hand. He nearly got it to Lee in time, but Lawton beat it out, while Z was doing a complete flip and Derrek was doing the splits trying to stretch for the "throw". Luckily, neither one of them was hurt.
The Cub offense started early. Mirroring the Pirates' first of yesterday, Lee smacked a two-out, none-on homer in the Cubs' first. This broke a tie with Andruw Jones for the major league lead; Lee's 28th homer of the year puts him only four short of his career high, set last year. Then the offense broke loose in the third, with four straight singles, a walk, a tag play at the plate, and then two more hits, the biggest blow being a two-run double by ... Z. I said to Dave, "This proves that you don't have to hit home runs to have big innings in this park."
Jeromy Burnitz added an opposite-field homer in the fourth, his fifteenth, and Aramis Ramirez also homered. Both Burnitz and Ramirez had a single, double and homer -- exactly what Jerry Hairston had on Friday, which typically gets overexcited play-by-play announcers saying, "He's a triple away from the cycle!"
Never mind that the triple is the most difficult of the four hits to get, and never mind that most players who are "a triple short of the cycle" are the least likely to actually hit a triple (Ramirez has none this year and Burnitz two), this got me to thinking, and I mentioned this to Mike even before Burnitz' double in the eighth -- how many times might this sort of thing happen every year? In other words, how often does a player with three (or more) hits in a game, include a single, double, and home run among those three hits?
I have made some inquiries to more statistically-oriented people than I am, and if I receive an answer to this, I will pass it along.
It's easy to think about things like this when both the starting rotation and the offense is chugging along the way the Cubs have been. This was the eighth straight good-to-excellent outing (dating back to the last game of the Atlanta series, which Jerome Williams should have won) by the starting staff. Now, this must continue through three or four more times through the rotation, and if it does, and if Jim Hendry makes the major acquisition I feel he will -- the Cubs ought to be in good position to win the wild card.
There are rumors that the Astros are interested in Adam Dunn. At least one Houston writer thinks the Reds will overprice him -- good, I say. I don't care what Dunn's price is, bring him to the Cubs.
The Cubs moved to within five games of Atlanta in the wild-card race, because the Braves lost to the Mets 8-1 today. This isn't necessarily a good thing, because I think the Braves will eventually win the NL East -- thus, if they can beat up on all the other teams, that would help the Cubs in the long run.
Three of four from the Pirates. At least three of four from the Reds is a necessity. Perhaps Hendry will make the trip to Cincinnati so he can negotiate with Dan O'Brien in person.
Note: happy birthday to a longtime Cub of my youth, Don Kessinger. He's 63 today. That just doesn't seem possible.
Before the game, we spotted Adam Greenberg shagging flies in CF during BP, looking healthy. This prompted Linda from the section next to ours to start yelling at him in Yiddish. I'm not sure he heard, but what I think she yelled was something about "be healthy."
Finally, my SportsBLOGS colleague Larry over at Viva El Birdos "borrowed", with my blessing, the thread that you all were so wonderful contributing to, the "Why Are We Here" question of last Wednesday. For some interesting perspectives on what it means to be a Cardinals fan, I'd highly recommend you check out the thread he started. We're not all so different after all.
Larry and I will also be doing "Five Questions" about the upcoming Cubs/Cardinals series, sometime later this week. This is a feature I know many of you have told me you like to see when big series come up. If any of you have questions you'd like me to put to Larry, drop me an e-mail.
And keep the faith.