Over the course of several seasons in the 1970's, 1980's and 1990's, I saw a total of seventeen games at Busch Stadium.
Some of them were memorable, as when the Cubs swept a doubleheader there in 1984 to clinch a tie for the NL East title; or the June 8, 1992 game in which Jim Bullinger hit the first major league pitch he saw for a home run; (the Cubs swept that DH too).
The only home run ball I ever caught during a game came in St. Louis, hit by Leon Durham on July 4, 1982.
And now, the Cubs have finished forty years of visits to Busch Stadium, as it will be imploded -- maybe by a Cub fan! -- once the Cardinals have finished postseason play this year.
It hasn't been kind to the Cubs, particularly over the last ten years -- 21-51 since 1996 -- but this season, the going-nowhere Cubs won five of the eight games played between the two teams in St. Louis, and completed their third series win against the Cardinals since the All-Star break (no other club has won a series against St. Louis since then) with a satisfying 2-1 win, accomplishing in doing so, Greg Maddux' 12th victory of the season, and also vesting Maddux' $9 million option for 2006 when he passed the 187.2 inning mark for this year by striking out Hector Luna for the second out in the fourth inning.
Maddux was, in fact, vintage in this game, despite having to be yanked in the sixth after throwing 92 pitches on a warmer-than-usual September evening. After the Cubs had taken the lead 2-0 in the second on a Michael Barrett single, a Neifi double and Matt Murton single (all runs scoring with two out, I might add), the Cardinals loaded the bases with nobody out in the third.
Greg induced a comebacker which he turned into a slick 1-2-3 double play, and then struck out John Mabry to end the inning.
Apart from the traditional Albert Pujols homer, which cut the lead to 2-1, that was about the closest the Cardinals came to scoring. Ryan Dempster (24th save) made it interesting by allowing a leadoff infield single in the ninth; the pinch-runner eventually went to third, but Dempster got the pesty David Eckstein to ground out and got Abraham Nunez on one of those "umpires-wanna-get-out-of-here" called third strikes to end the game.
I can't say enough about the job Dempster has done. Since being moved to the bullpen after his last start on May 4, he has put up the following numbers:
47 IP, 41 H, 14 R, 12 ER, 1 HR, 22 BB, 38 K, 4-0 record, 24 saves (in 26 opportunities), 2.30 ERA.
That matches up favorably with ANY closer in baseball, and this despite the fact that he wasn't anointed closer until 31 games had been played. The 24 saves ranks 11th in the NL -- and he essentially "missed" 20% of the season.
Unless Kerry Wood wants to close -- and that is still not a "closed" question -- I'd make sure to re-sign Dempster for this role, because not only has he done a good job, but he appears to "get it", i.e. he's one of those few players who really understands what baseball is about, the relationship between players and fans, etc.
Plus, he's hilarious. During a player Q&A in Mesa during spring training, he cracked up fans and players alike with his jokes and his dead-on impression of Harry Caray. I think he could eventually become a clubhouse leader.
And, he'd be way cheaper to re-sign than to go out and sign Billy Wagner, not to mention that Wagner is six years older.
So, the Cubs leave old Busch Stadium behind forever -- I say "old" because the new park will bear the same name -- and actually should look forward to the four-game series vs. St. Louis at Wrigley Field next weekend, since they are 8-4 against the Cardinals this season.