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Strange Days...

Howard & I agreed, this was the weirdest day we've seen at the ballpark perhaps in more than two years.

Let me explain. First of all, the Cubs raced out to a 5-1 lead and hung on to beat the Astros 5-4. But that wasn't the story for all of us in our little section in right field.

My friend Ernie, with his buddy Charlie from Ohio in tow, made his very first appearance in the bleachers this year -- wearing his 1985-vintage Indians jersey, coming in blaring in a very loud voice, pointing at the jersey, "This is good karma for the Cubs! Good karma!" OK, never mind for a minute that the 1985 Indians were a 102-loss team; he was referring to the Tribe's current success (for which I owe him a rib dinner -- we've had an annual bet on who will win more games, the Cubs or the Indians. First time I've lost it.), and since Charlie said he was undefeated (4-0 coming in) in Wrigley Field games, I thought this was all a good sign.

But they were talking loudly -- so loudly, at one point, that Howard & I missed Wayne Messmer's PA announcement when Jose Macias came in to pinch-run for Todd Walker, after Walker suffered what is likely a season-ending knee injury sliding into third base after a Derrek Lee double.

That was only the beginning of Howard & me missing plays -- I mis-scored the entire top of the fifth before Howard corrected me, and he missed several plays himself, and all three of us, including Jeff, had to ask John across the aisle to clear up a couple of plays we missed, and all of us, including John, missed some plays in the top of the 7th, so I had to go over to CF and ask that group what had happened (Craig Biggio grounded to third leading off the inning).

And WHY did we miss that play? Because there was a HUGE beer-throwing brawl in the section next to us, apparently instigated by someone wearing a Cardinals cap -- we couldn't really tell, but they threw him out and relocated the rest of them.

Finally, as many of you know, for the last several years, outfielders have been throwing balls up into the stands after between-inning warmups. Normally, our bench is too high up for anything to reach us -- until today, no ball had come within even about five rows of us.

For the very first time, I got one of these baseballs -- it bounced on the bench in front of me, and right into my outstretched hand, thrown by Jeromy Burnitz. It would have been Ernie's, but he and Charlie had gone to get food & drink, so they missed out. They actually got up several times to do this, and the last time asked me if I wanted anything. I didn't, but I figured I'd take a Diet Coke.

Well, on one of the occasions when I had to get up to check the scoring, I took the Diet Coke with me so no one would kick it over. Bad mistake, because I tripped on something coming back and spilled some of it on Ernie's left shoulder, staining the jersey -- of course, it'll come out in the laundry, but he reacted with such angst that I made him another deal.

I promised him that if the Indians win the World Series -- this year only -- I'll buy him a new Indians jersey. Everyone there was a witness to this offer, and now you are too.

Wild day in the bleachers, and there was actually a good ballgame going on beneath us, witnessed by probably about 22,000 of the 38,622 announced crowd, on the first official day of autumn, and it felt like it too, with a 64-degree gametime temperature, low-lying clouds and a pretty stiff wind blowing in from CF.

The Cubs got to Wandy Rodriguez early, scoring three runs in the first -- Lee's double would have easily scored Walker if he hadn't been hurt, but pinch-runner Macias scored anyway on a Nomar single. The statement made when Matt Murton was intentionally passed to pitch to Corey Patterson was loud & clear to all of us -- yes, we all like Murton, but to see an opposing manager intentionally walk a rookie with about 110 major league at-bats, to pitch to a supposed "five-tool" player, as Patterson is purported to be, speaks volumes on how other managers view those tools.

Corey obliged with one of his usual strikeouts. We booed. We booed again when he made a nice run to try to catch a line drive which would have ended the Astros' three-run fifth, but it glanced off his glove, scoring Houston's fourth run. Dave and I agreed, that is a simple lack of concentration on Patterson's part -- fortunately, Adam Everett flied out to end the inning with no further damage.

Unlike a lot of you, Dave thinks Patterson DOES still have trade value, and I agree with him; there are plenty of GM's out there who see those "tools" and think, "We can fix that," despite the fact that so many Cub managers and coaches have tried. Patterson will have to be packaged with other players or prospects, but I agree -- he does have major league trade value, and perhaps the Cubs can upgrade the bullpen for 2006 by dealing him.

Speaking of the bullpen, it did a bang-up job today after Glendon Rusch slogged through a ridiculous 105 pitches in 5 innings -- you could tell that he was tiring in the 5th, but Dusty wanted to get him a win. The bullpen threw four innings of two-hit, five-strikeout relief, and Dave, Howard and I all agreed that Roberto Novoa is beginning to establish himself as a bullpen force for next year. He's got a great arm and throws consistently at 95 -- all he needs to do is throw strikes consistently, and there's your 2006 setup man.

Ryan Dempster finished up for his 30th save, becoming the seventh Cub to reach that milestone (Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, Mitch Williams, Randy Myers, Rod Beck & Joe Borowski are the other six), and that's even more impressive when you consider he wasn't even named closer until the season's 37th game -- more than 1/5 of the way into the year. The 30 saves ties him for 8th in the league with Brian Fuentes.

So the Cubs stave off mathematical elimination for one more day -- it is inevitable, of course, but wouldn't it be nice if it didn't happen directly at the hands of the Astros?

There was supposed to be a marquee pitching matchup tomorrow -- Roger Clemens vs. Carlos Zambrano -- but Clemens has a hamstring problem and won't be able to pitch. Ezequiel Astacio will start in his place vs. Z.

Finally, my sources tell me that there was a Cub scout at the White Sox/Twins game last night who appeared to be interested ONLY in watching Jacque Jones -- he was writing down stuff only when Jones was hitting, and about no one else. I'd expect this to mean that the Cubs are going to try to sign Jones as a free agent.

Not quite sure how I feel about this. Jones is a good player, and his stats this year are pretty much exactly like Jeromy Burnitz' -- maybe this is a good thing, as Jones is six years younger than Burnitz; maybe he can be installed in RF, with Murton in LF, and the Cubs can go out and try to find a leadoff hitter to play CF.

Food for thought.