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Howard's REAL 60th Birthday Party

Now, it can be told.

We all had to be really careful at the ballpark the last couple of days, because Howard's wife Marilyn and son Jon had carefully planned a surprise party for him for Saturday evening, after the game.

With the noon start, that shouldn't have been a problem, right?

The problems started on Friday. I've been wanting to see Jon's "other" band -- a bluegrass group -- for quite some time. Problem is, their gigs are usually late Saturday nights and that doesn't work for me, since I have to get up so early to work Sunday mornings.

The "cover story" for the surprise party was that the band was going to play an "early" gig -- 7:00 -- at a bar/restaurant near Howard's house. So he told me about this, and I had to hem and haw and say "gee, maybe I can make this one!" on Friday.

Then yesterday it rained. And rained, and rained some more. In the morning, I went to another girl's Bat Mitzvah -- part of preparation for Rachel's, soon, was to observe -- so I arrived at the ballpark just about the scheduled game time, and that's when the rain started. It looked, via my trusty radar-enabled cellphone, like it would blow over in 15 minutes.

It didn't, as you know. Watching the radar it appeared that someone had taken a giant sponge and was squeezing it out right over Wrigley Field -- for over two hours.

An idiot wearing Cardinals garb thought it would be fun to do some tarp-diving about an hour and a half into the delay. He wound up running away from about six security guards, who eventually tackled him when he slipped on the wet grass, and he was led away.

Do not try this, kids. You may get a cheer from the crowd, but a fine and possible jail time awaits you after that. There was more rowdiness the last couple of days in the bleachers than I've seen most of the year, and I'm not trying to impugn Cardinals fans -- really I'm not -- but pretty much everyone who was ejected, at least the ones I saw, was wearing red.

The game started about 3:05 -- yes, it would have been great if they'd just scheduled it that way -- and Jerome Williams' first inning would have produced a fabulous game if he'd only been able to duplicate it eight more times. Seven pitches, all strikes, two K's and a groundout.

By this time, three fortyish Cardinal fans had taken over the bench in front of us that had been vacated by two young couples who had actually sat there through the entire rain delay, and we were amused by the antics of one woman, who announced that she and her friends were staying at the Westin Hotel "because that's where the Cardinals stay", and they were up shouting and screaming at every St. Louis hit. This particular woman shouted even louder when So Taguchi, who came into the game for defense in the 7th, singled in the 8th -- she said she wanted to go out with him, which prompted an overheard comment:

But he looks like he's about sixteen!
Yeah, actually, he does!

I did give the Cardinal fans BCB cards and told them they'd likely find themselves mentioned here. Thanks for the great material!

Williams didn't pitch that badly -- the key blow off him was a two-run homer by Albert Pujols, and it's no shame to give up a homer to Pujols -- lots of pitchers do.

The BAD stuff was to work a count on the .148-hitting ex-Cub Mike Mahoney, and let him single in the first run.

This sort of bad pitching was replicated by Scott Williamson (Howard, in his inimitable style, reminded me that "Williams" had been relieved by "Williamson" and then by "Will" -- Ohman -- but I preferred the pronunciation 'Oh, MAN!'), when he nibbled corners on Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals' pitcher, and walked him to lead off the seventh.

That is unacceptable, my friends. Carpenter entered the game hitting .037 -- that's two hits in 54 at-bats.

How can you not just throw strikes to a guy like that? He's not going to get a hit!!

That began the undoing, as the Cardinals, being a pretty good team, jumped all over this opportunity, with two more hits, scoring a run, and then a second run scoring when Aramis Ramirez' relay throw on a possible inning-ending DP got by Derrek Lee. To be fair -- even if the throw had been good, the DP probably wouldn't have been turned; but in any case, that turned a tight 3-2 game into a 5-2 St. Louis lead, and with Carpenter, the NL's best pitcher (sorry, Roger Clemens, but Carpenter's been better) on the mound, that was that -- the Cardinals snapped the Cubs' baby two-game winning streak with their 5-2 win.

So we were trying to figure out how to stall Howard, so that we could all go home, change clothes, and get to the restaurant before he did. I called Jon twice, keeping my voice down because "I have the guest of honor sitting right next to me", and he assured me that someone would keep him long enough to preserve the surprise.

It worked. Everything was just delayed about half an hour, and Howard walked in to about 40 family and friends, to surprise him, and Jon's band did play for all of us. My kids amused themselves by trying to pull balloons down from the ceiling, and though Howard didn't get a chance to celebrate his 63rd birthday (remember from yesterday, he has declared every day his birthday, since that did generate a Cubs win each of the first couple of times he did it), he also had told me after the Reds' sweep of the Cubs, that the Cubs would "probably take three of four from the Cardinals."

That's still on target for tonight, and it's a great pitching matchup -- Morris vs. Prior -- and even though the season is rapidly going down the drain as quickly as the rain fell yesterday, it's always nice to beat the Cardinals.

Three of four would be really nice.