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The Only Good Thing That Happened Today

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(as always, click on photo to view full-size in new browser window; if you are using IE, you may have to click the lower-right corner of the image to expand it to its full size; in Firefox click anywhere on the image.)

Before today's game, the Cubs Wives set up a table outside the ballpark, accepting food or cash donations to benefit the Lakeview Pantry and Cubs Care.

Not wanting to drag ten cans of food with me, I gave $20. When you did this, you were given a white envelope off the top of a huge stack, each containing one autographed player photo, totally at random.

The one I got is the one you see above; luck was with me today, as autographed Madddux photos go for anywhere from $25-$50 on eBay -- in fact, I was almost immediately approached by a teenage boy who offered me "Gene Clines and Corey Patterson" in exchange. No way! I told him.

Not that I'd sell this anyway -- a nice signature of a future Hall of Famer, in a Cub pinstripe uniform (it appears the photo was likely taken at Ho Ho Kam Park in Arizona), is a really nice thing to own. It's definitely getting framed for my wall. (Opinion: Kind of an ugly scrawl of a signature, but it's genuine -- that really is how Greg signs his name.)

And all this on a day when Maddux likely lost his last chance at another fifteen-win season.

It all went downhill from there, even though it was a gorgeous day, and we were joined by friends Matt and Jackie, devoted BCB readers who first came by the bleachers last April 24, a game the Cubs actually won.

Matt brought his dad -- and that made me gulp, because I took one look at him and thought, "That's Matt's DAD?" I knew Matt was young -- 24 -- but his dad looked, er, younger than me. So I asked about his age later on, after Dad got up for some food -- 53, Matt said. Whew!

Matt & Jackie are cool people (Matt keeps score -- hey, there aren't that many twenty-somethings who do these days), Jackie sat in her usual end seat blocking everyone who wanted to climb over the bench, and I promised her I'd give her a plug for her non-Cub-related blog, 86 Tips, so here it is!

This is all because there isn't much to say about the Cardinals' decisive 5-1 win over the Cubs this afternoon, the one that "officially" (magic number = 0) gave them the NL Central title.

Give them credit, too -- no dancing or jumping around on the field, just the usual lineup you'd see of any team giving fairly sedate high-fives after any win. There were a few hugs, but that was about it for "celebrating".

This is how the Cardinals go about their business, and frankly, the Cubs could take a few lessons. The Cardinals put on a clinic against Greg Maddux in the first three innings -- including a perfectly executed suicide squeeze bunt laid down by pitcher Mark Mulder, and then in the third, Jim Edmonds, who had led off with a double, went to third base on a play directly in front of him, a routine ground ball to Nomar.

How many teams do you see even try such things? And, how many teams do you see succeed?

The answer to both questions is, "None." Other than the Cardinals, who likely practice such unusual stuff during spring training, and then execute it during the season.

Look, I may "hate" the Cardinals as the Cubs' toughest rival, but I have to tell you, I respect what Tony LaRussa and Walt Jocketty have built. The Cardinals did all this with several of their Opening Day starters missing most of the year with injuries -- their pitching staff solidified them, both starting and the bullpen, and Mulder was a terrific acquisition. Incidentally, that trade was one that helped both teams, as Dan Haren and Kiko Calero have been key parts of Oakland's contending club this year as well.

I guess I'm a little envious. The win was the Cardinals' 95th of the year, and with their likely march to a 100-win season, they join the Yankees (three straight years 2002-2004) and Braves (2002-2003) as teams with back-to-back 100-win seasons this decade.

The problem they face, as Mike & I discussed today, is that on Oct. 3 their record goes back to 0-0, and if Houston wins the wild card, the Cardinals will play the West champion (still likely San Diego), who may have a sub-.500 record. That's a dangerous spot.

You may be wondering why this post is mostly Cardinals, and that's because the Cubs pretty much mailed in today's game. They had Mulder on the ropes in each of the first five innings; they had runners in scoring position in four of them, but two double plays and an easy tag-out of Jeromy Burnitz at the plate on a routine grounder, took them out of making the game close; even Burnitz' sixth-inning homer (the 299th of his career), which briefly made the score 3-1, seemed to be hit in another plane of existence -- the 3-1 score might as well have been 13-1.

Today's lineup wasn't constructed for run-scoring, anyway, although usual out-makers Jose Macias and Neifi Perez, hitting 1-2, had three hits. I can't resist a little Corey Patterson dig, so even though he did lay down a perfect sac bunt in the second inning (to no avail -- that was just before the home plate tag play), he struck out swinging (what else is new?) and horribly misplayed a David Eckstein ball that at first, appeared that it might hit the seats, but bounced low enough off the left-center wall that Corey could have caught it with proper positioning. That hit drove in a run, and Eckstein later scored the fifth run of the game. Two batters later Corey was double-switched out of the game.

This sounds more interesting than it was. Dave and I were both almost falling asleep as both of us, nearly as one, were mentioning to each other how slowly-paced and dull the game was. We were reduced to scoreboard-watching as the Phillies ruined a Dontrelle Willis masterpiece with a ten-run ninth inning, and pending the Astros game tonight, are temporarily tied with Houston for the wild-card lead.

That, my friends, is how this season fizzles to an end, in bright September sunshine and watching pennant races happen elswhere in America. Till tomorrow.