Last night, the Cardinals got to "celebrate" the "technical" clinching of the NL Central while in their clubhouse during a rainstorm.
Today, they'll have to wait till the result of the Brewers/Astros game is in, as the Cubs came from a 3-1 deficit to defeat them 5-3, clinching the season series over the team with the best record in baseball.
Except for last night, I can't think of a single one of the fourteen Cub/Cardinal games to date where the Cubs haven't been at least competitive, and at times dominant, over their longtime rival.
If only they'd had this sort of focus and concentration over their other NL and AL opponents this year.
Al the Media Whore spent much of the pre-game time being interviewed by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Tom McNamee. Topic: the future of the bleachers, which as many of you know will be expanded by somewhere around 1800 seats once this season is over.
McNamee's column will run in Monday's Sun-Times; I'll post a link here when it's posted on the Sun-Times website.
Also, in the weeks to come I'll have quite a bit more to say about the upcoming bleacher expansion, which will have a great impact not only on our little group, but many of the other bleacher regulars and season ticket holders and possibly on the entire culture of the bleachers.
More on that later; now, on to today's game -- man, I love beating the Cardinals, don't you?
It was supposed to clear out by game time but never really cleared entirely until the eighth inning, and by that time I was wishing it would have stayed cloudy; with the angle of the September sun, and a late-starting game (2:20 pm, one of the final two of those; next season, as part of the agreement to add four more night games for a total of thirty, the Cubs agreed to no longer have any 2:20 pm starts for Friday games. The last such game will be next Friday), it gets nearly impossible to pick up the ball from the RF bleachers as the sun gets more directly in our eyes.
I also noticed, once the sun came out, how wet the field still was from last night's rain -- the sun glistened off some bare spots in the grass near where Jeromy Burnitz was standing. The grass, which took a beating from this year's drought, took another one from the stage and seating from this month's Jimmy Buffett concert, and that'll be another project for the Cubs once the season is done -- a complete resodding of the entire field.
Glendon Rusch didn't start the game very well -- three hits in the first inning, but only one run scored, and that allowed Derrek Lee to tie the game with an absolute monster of a home run that landed across Waveland Avenue, and that into a 15-MPH wind blowing in; with no wind that might have hit one of the rooftops. Rusch kept up the Cubs' maddening propensity to allow two-strike hits to lousy-hitting pitchers; this time, .077-hitting Matt Morris singled up the middle, driving in run #2, and the Cardinals took a 3-1 lead in the fourth.
But the Cubs sneaked back into the game when Corey Patterson -- yes, that Corey Patterson -- doubled. That was his fifth RBI since his recall last month. Patterson was playing to give Matt Murton a day off against Morris, but Murton got into the game anyway when Jerry Hairston, angered at a strike called by the plate umpire, ran out onto the field after the last of the third and began vehemently arguing with the crew chief at 2B, Randy Marsh. It took all of 1B coach Gary Matthews' strength to keep Hairston from charging at Marsh. I don't think any contact was made, but I imagine a fine is headed Hairston's way.
He may have had a point, but that wasn't the way to make it.
Murton, for his part, singled and scored the tying run in the next inning. Dave and Phil had a long discussion about next year; Dave still doesn't think that Murton can be a major league regular, citing "four home runs".
I reminded him that the four home runs have come in about 90 at-bats, and that Murton has a nice line-drive stroke that might allow him to put up consistent .300 BA's. Dave mentioned that Murton doesn't have much speed, which is true, and that he'll have to prove he can extrapolate those homers to a consistent twenty or so a year, before you'd install him as a corner outfielder.
I could live very well with an outfield of Nomar (LF), Hairston (CF, if he can keep his emotions a bit more controlled!) and Murton (RF). That could free up money to sign Rafael Furcal to play SS. Furcal turns 28 next month, and he's had a bit of a down power year (11 HR, 26 doubles), and he'd have to hit better in Wrigley Field than he has there as a visitor (12-for-63, .190 with 2 HR -- one of those homers, incidentally, was the last visiting player's HR to land on our bench, on July 12, 2003.)
Finally, the bullpen did a nice job finishing up for Rusch today, and if Ryan Dempster can get two more saves to get to thirty, he'd become the seventh Cub to reach that mark (Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, Mitch Williams, Randy Myers, Rod Beck and Joe Borowski are the others).
And, Derrek Lee's home run today gave him ninety-three extra-base hits; with fourteen games to go, he needs seven to get to 100 and become only the second NL player since 1948 to reach that mark.
On to tomorrow. Man, I love beating the Cardinals. Don't you?