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There comes a time in a nascent no-hitter or perfect game when, if you are watching, you say to yourself -- and ONLY to yourself, as you know -- "Hey, this just might happen."

And as last night's game went on and the Cubs kept tacking on a run here, a run there, and Glendon Rusch breezed through the Cardinals' order, with a couple of nifty defensive plays, oh, and with no walks to boot, about the fourth inning it got interesting to watch.

And after five, still no baserunners, it became a "thing that made me go 'hmmmmmm'", and after six, still without saying a word about what was going on, I said to Mark, who was just hanging around playing before going to bed, "Wanna go watch? It's going into the last of the seventh," he knowing as well as I that you don't ever ever ever say what "it" is, in such situations.

Well, that didn't last too long. That darned pest David Eckstein led off the last of the seventh with a clean single up the middle that seemed to bounce about fifty times, and that was that.

He was erased on a double play, and so Rusch faced the minimum 21 batters through seven innings, and so I'm thinking it could have been the Cubs' fourth one-hitter of the season.

But Rusch ran out of gas in the eighth, and even though it was his best-pitched game (and first victory) since his shutout of the Padres in San Diego on June 2, he had to settle for allowing the bullpen to finish up the no-less-satisfying 5-2 win over the Cardinals, which clinches the Cubs' first non-losing season in St. Louis since 1995 (they are 4-3 in Busch Stadium's last season with one final game there tonight).

The Cubs teed off on Matt Morris early and often; Jerry Hairston led off the game with a double and by the time the first inning was over, the Cubs had scored twice; in the third Derrek Lee hit his fortieth home run of the season (on his thirtieth birthday, a neat bit of numerical symmetry, and the third straight year he's homered on his birthday).

That made him the ninth Cub to hit that many in one season (Hack Wilson, Hank Sauer, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Dave Kingman, Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg and Sammy Sosa are the other eight, and yes, I knew you'd ask), and with 97 RBI he's one short of his career high, set last year. There'll likely be no Triple Crown, and thus no MVP, but Lee has not only had the season of his life, I'd argue that he's had one of the top ten greatest offensive seasons in Cubs history.

Corey Patterson homered. This isn't necessarily a good thing, because usually that's an accident, and it'll make him start swinging from the heels for the next couple of weeks. He also drew his twentieth walk of the year (against a ghastly 102 strikeouts). All this means is less playing time for Matt Murton. However, with Mark Mulder going tonight, Murton ought to get the start against the lefthander.

Neifi Perez had three hits. So what? Why is he playing ahead of Ronny Cedeno?

I'd say both of these guys should get extended playing time this weekend in San Francisco, but in the bizarro world that is this year's NL West, the Giants, who are eleven games under .500, are only five games out of first place. Maybe Dusty will see their 63-74 record and not notice their second-place standing. It's time to start playing guys who are the future. Yes, Neifi has done a good job this year (and his average is up to .286), and will likely return as a backup infielder in 2006, but we already know what Neifi can do, Dusty.

Time to play the kids. Time to play the kids. Time to play the kids. Time to play the kids.

And time for Corey Patterson to go, despite the walk and the homer last night. In today's Tribune, Rick Morrissey cogently sums up the reasons the Cubs ought to dump Patterson at any price, calling him "clueless".

Well said. I hope Jim Hendry is listening.

Finally, give congrats to Dave's Rockford Riverhawks, who made the Frontier League playoffs for the third consecutive year and will begin their first-round playoff series vs. Kalamazoo tonight on the road. If you're near Rockford, consider taking in game three of the best-of-five series on Friday night at 7:05. The price is right, too: box seats are $10, every other seat in the house is $5.