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Howard's 62nd Birthday

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By the end of the season, we hope Howard is at least 98 years old.

If you're not following me, yesterday he called (since he wasn't at the game) to say that since the Cubs hadn't won since his 60th birthday last week, that he was declaring yesterday his 61st, and that he'd have a new one every day.

I'm thinking tomorrow we're going to have to have a cake.

Howard "turned 62" today as the Cubs won their second in a row, defeating the Cardinals 4-1.

It rained all morning, but had stopped by the time the gates opened at 11:20; neither team took batting practice, but Jeff pointed out to me the hundreds of red-clad Cardinal fans (Judy from CF said, as we were waiting in line to get in, "I want to open a concession in St. Louis selling nothing but red clothes. I'd be a millionaire!) on the RF line trying to get autographs from their heroes, while a much smaller gathering of blue-clad Cub fans was on the opposite side waiting for the Cubs.

To be fair -- the Cardinals were actually on the field throwing baseballs around; no Cubs were to be seen before the game.

That's another something I've been thinking about -- watching the teams during the National Anthem. Most visiting teams have everyone on the club line up outside the dugout for the anthem -- the Cubs generally have only a scattering of players and coaches. Today I counted seven Cubs standing in front of the dugout, and a few more near the bullpen; the rest of the dugout was empty, so where was everyone?

It's a small thing, but you'd think that they'd do this if for no other reason than to not look bad in front of their home fans and the other team.

Today was a bit rowdier in the bleachers than we've seen it most of the year. Mike & Howard & I remarked on this, and the conclusion we drew was that it's been too darn hot for anyone to act silly. Today, there were a couple of ejections and in the eighth inning, when the result was still in some doubt and it would have been the right time to really focus on the game, there was a commotion in RCF near the juniper bushes, and of course, everyone gets up to look.

Watch the game!!

Speaking of which -- isn't it refreshing to see the Cubs winning with clutch pitching, good defense and timely hitting?

Carlos Zambrano appeared to have back trouble again; Dusty and the trainer came out in the top of the 6th after the first out. Z waved them off, finished the inning, but then didn't come out for the seventh. I suspect this was just precautionary -- and with an off-day next Thursday, he'll start Wednesday and then will have five days in between starts. He's been terrific against the Cardinals this year -- now 2-0 with a 0.76 ERA in three starts, 23.2 IP, vs. St. Louis.

Meantime, the Cardinals started their best pinch-hitter, Jason Marquis, on the mound today, and he was just about their best hitter today, too, singling and doubling and raising his season average to .359. He nearly matched Z pitching as well, allowing a run on a Michael Barrett double and Neifi! single in the second, and then the Cub defense took over, executing a nice rundown play to prevent a run in the third, and then getting key outs in the sixth, and again in the eighth after the most expensive setup man in baseball, Kerry Wood, put two men on with two out -- and then he struck out John Rodriguez on three straight breaking balls.

That was an interesting sequence -- he had walked Jim Edmonds, the previous hitter, after starting him with a slider, then throwing pitch after pitch at 97, 98, 99 MPH -- so when he started Rodriguez on the same slider, I said to Mike, "He better not throw that again."

But he did. Maybe Kerry is really becoming a pitcher, rather than a thrower. The key for him now, after throwing 23 pitches today, is whether he can come back tomorrow, or the next day, and throw that hard again.

If so, we've got Kyle Farnsworth WITH the brain, and maybe 2006's closer.

There were a few more interesting characters in our area -- four guys from Louisville celebrating a bachelor party, and they spent the afternoon making time with a young usher named Kristin -- we were afraid, noisy as they were, that when He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named came by, it might have resulted in enough noise to loosen some concrete.

Fortunately, H-W-S-N-B-N, who was spotted in CF in the early innings, seemed to have vanished by the end of the game. I said to Mike, "Maybe he's been beamed back to the dimension from whence he came."

We were joined today by loyal BCB reader Robb from Indiana, who drove up and got into the park at gametime, having had to pay scalper prices outside -- but he, along with the rest of us, were very happy at what we saw this afternoon.

The shutout was spoiled when Ryan Dempster gave up three straight hits after two easy outs in the 9th -- but don't blame Dempster; he had pinch-hitter Skip Schumaker retired on a fly ball to right, but Jeromy Burnitz slipped and fell trying to get to the ball and it fell just in front of him.

Is it too late to dream? It's never too late till the mathematics say it is. Is it a pipedream? Probably. But we're all enjoying beating the Cardinals, against whom the Cubs are now 5-2.

Till tomorrow, and Howard's 63rd birthday. Wish him one, won't you?