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The Cardinals beat the Cubs 6-1 last night at Wrigley Field and, through an arcane series of tiebreakers, in so doing clinched the NL Central title.

Many of us (myself included) didn't want to see the Cardinals clinch the division on our field and watch them go on and on with a celebration.

Thanks to the weather, they didn't.

But here, I'm starting at the end of the story.

When we arrived at the gates, current and former Cub players and wives and other team employees were collecting donations for Hurricane Katrina relief. Being in the bleachers, we didn't get the regulars and stars and broadcasters who were at the main entrances. Among the Cub family who were at the bleachers were no-hit pitcher Milt Pappas, and current Cubs Rich Hill and Jermaine Van Buren.

You got a button for donating $5. I noticed, however, that they were wearing T-shirts with the same logo the button carried. I asked if they were selling the T-shirts, but they said they had no plans to.

Jeff went downstairs to get a scorecard and came back to tell me that for a $30 donation, you could get a T-shirt.

So I gave $30. If you were offered this option, they told me that they did it because I suggested it.

You're welcome.

The original weather forecast for yesterday called for pleasant late summer/early fall conditions, with temperatures in the 70's and sunny skies, and clear and coolish (50's) at night.

Well, they blew that one. It was cloudy all day, and if the game had been scheduled as a day game it'd have been played through with no weather problems whatsoever. I left the house and it started dripping, so I went back for the umbrella, which was sitting in the garage; I'd left it there the last time it rained, which, in this drought-stricken Chicago summer, was probably about six weeks ago.

Smart move. It started raining about 6:00, but you could tell the Cubs were bound and determined to play the game no matter what, with 37,849 tickets sold and the only option this weekend to make up a game being to play a non-split DH and lose that gate. Both teams took batting practice and afterwards, in a steady light rain, the ground crew prepared the field for play; normally under conditions like that they'd have covered it. At 7:00, with the national anthem being sung at a pace that seemed as if it would end about 8:00, the mound and plate areas were still covered.

But the game began on time, in that same light rain. And Mark Prior pitched even slower than that anthem singer -- thirty-five first-inning pitches, and three runs allowed on four hits.

They could have stopped the game right there, as the Cubs simply could not solve Jeff Suppan. Derrek Lee hit a ball off Abraham Nunez' glove that was initially ruled an error, but later I glanced up and noticed the Cubs had one more hit than I had on my scorecard. The hit, plus Lee's ninth-inning home run (more on that later!), put his league-leading average back to .340.

Absolutely unrelated to the Cubs, but interesting note on batting titles: ESPN's Jayson Stark points out that Detroit's Placido Polanco, now hitting .333, has a chance to have the majors' highest BA without winning a league batting title, since he was traded midseason from the Phillies to the Tigers. The last person to win such a "split" title was Mark McGwire, whose 58 HR in 1997, the year he was traded from the A's to the Cardinals, led all major leaguers, but his 34 in the AL and 24 in the NL, led neither league.

Diversion finished, last night's game slogged on. We were joined by loyal BCB reader Dave G. and his wife; they weren't dressed for the coolish weather, so they wound up signing up for one of those credit cards that gives you a free blanket, and then they left when it started raining again in the eighth inning (it was actually dry for about 45 minutes mid-game, despite dire-looking weather images on my radar-enabled cellphone, and since the Cubs were cooperating by, at one point, going down 13 straight, the game proceeded swiftly).

Rich Hill actually threw two good innings in relief of Prior, and then came unhinged in his third relief inning, walking the first two batters he faced; Todd Wellemeyer, who hadn't pitched in seventeen days, came in and allowed a run-scoring single, another walk, a sacrifice fly -- well, you get the idea. A 3-0 deficit, which might have been recoverable, became a 6-0 chasm, and then the fun began when the rain got harder in the bottom of the ninth.

Mike & I have, over the years we've been out there, agreed that the two funniest Wrigley Field events we've ever seen were:

  • Mitch Williams' three-run homer on September 18, 1989, his only ML extra-base hit, which turned out to be important. At the time it gave the Cubs a 10-4 lead, but Williams loaded the bases in the ninth and Darryl Strawberry, who had to be retrieved from the clubhouse because he thought the game was over and had started changing out of his uniform, struck out as the potential tying run to end the game; and
  • The October 6, 2001 appearance of a squirrel in center field, which ran amok and scared poor Corey Patterson (see Mike's cartoon of a few days ago for an image of this event).

Last night's bottom of the ninth is now third on the list. The rain absolutely came down in sheets, and after Lee's homer -- into the teeth of a northeast wind and the pouring rain -- Suppan was done. Al Reyes came in, and it started raining harder. I noted to Howard that it seemed brighter -- it was. There were so many raindrops that the reflections of the lights in them made it feel brighter.

Jeromy Burnitz singled, and after Ben Grieve struck out, Neifi Perez popped up foul behind third base -- this should have ended the game but Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina couldn't see it in the raindrops and dropped it. He was given a very tough error. Then Henry Blanco hit a ball that also should have finished things up; David Eckstein slipped on the dirt and Blanco had a hit. Tony LaRussa, with the game now in a save situation, was going to come out and call on his closer, Jason Isringhausen, who was ready in the bullpen. But the rain, and the possibility of injury, was enough for the umpires; they stopped play, and with not only my clothes but my scorecard soaked (the card's got a permanent bend in it now, a badge of honor, I think) -- I left, thinking they'd either call the game or suspend it and finish it today.

Calling it was the right thing to do, and they did it about an hour later.

So, the Cardinals are in, and we didn't have to watch the end of another poor performance by the Cubs. Perhaps the Cardinals will have mercy today and rest all their regulars against Glendon Rusch.