It was in the middle of the Cubs' rousing six-run rally in the eighth inning that I turned to Howard and said, "Does this eighth inning remind you of another eighth inning between these two franchises?"
He looked at me with a sort of pained look, the one we all carry inside us.
Sure, a stirring comeback 6-3 win over the Marlins on April 24 doesn't have the same impact of game six of the National League Championship Series.
And it wasn't done in precisely the same way; there was no home run in that long-ago eighth inning, and of the three people who were on the field last night who were also there in 2003 (Miguel Cabrera, Juan Pierre and Aramis Ramirez), it was Pierre, the ex-Marlin, who started the whole thing with a hustling double to right-center, a hit that for just about anyone else in the majors would have been a garden-variety single.
That seemed to rattle Matt Herges, who then walked Ronny Cedeno; Josh Johnson, another of the seemingly couple of dozen absolutely unrecognizable Marlins on the current roster, relieved, walked Todd Walker, and that opened the floodgates; Ramirez hit what could have been a DP grounder to 3B, but Cabrera's throw was dropped by catcher Matt Treanor, and two batters later, Jacque Jones -- who is still struggling but seems to have a flair for the dramatic -- smacked his game-winning three-run homer to left-center.
With five outs to go.
Yeah, it's not the NLCS, but it sure felt good, especially since the Cubs absolutely could not touch Jason Vargas. As I noted in the game thread yesterday, both he and Carlos Zambrano struggled with their control, and the game slogged on for nearly three hours, despite Vargas giving up only one hit. Mike remarked to me that he was surprised to see Joe Girardi on the mound in the sixth and seventh, because "how often do you see a pitcher working on a one-hitter in danger of being taken out?" Howard, meanwhile, kept loudly saying, "The no-hitter is still intact!" after every hitless Cub inning, trying to break it with that old superstition.
Guess it worked, even though it took a while.
One of the reasons he had that one-hitter were some remarkable defensive plays, all on Todd Walker balls -- one by Josh Willingham, a converted catcher, in LF, a leaping catch in RF by Chris Aguila, and the one that made #1 Web Gem on ESPN last night, a diving stop up the middle by Hanley Ramirez.
Both Vargas and Z were walking people left and right, and two of the Z walks resulted in runs; one after a Cabrera HR, the other scoring on a Willingham double. Walks have been Z's downfall so far this year -- but suddenly in the fourth inning, Z seemed to "get it".
Maybe it was breaking his bat over his knee after his third-inning strikeout that broke the logjam in Z's passionate pitching mind, but after that, he settled down and wound up with twelve strikeouts, and allowed only two hits from then on.
David Aardsma got his first Cub win with a scoreless inning, even though it took him 25 pitches to do it. I remarked to Mike, "We are going to see a lot of innings from him that look a lot like this -- no hits, a walk, two K's." At least last night, it worked. Aardsma does have an electric fastball, but he needs to learn command.
About the booing of Jacque Jones -- I suppose it's a reaction in some ways, to the way Corey Patterson was booed for lack of performance. For Patterson, too, it was his perceived lack of caring, or attitude, or approach to the game. Jones is going through a slump. It has happened to occur right at the start of his Cub career, after signing what many, myself included, thought was a too-large, too-long contract. Thus, he was and is under a microscope. Jones isn't a great player, but he has produced over several major league seasons, at least at a higher level than he is now. If he comes back to that level, the booing will stop.
I ran into Ted Butterman and the guys from the Cubs Quintet outside the ballpark before the game. They used to play every 2nd inning right next to our old perch in RF. They, like many others, liked the openness of the old bleachers, and were having trouble finding places to play in the new setup. I told them to stop by our corner and we'd see if we could figure out a place for them to play. Security arranged for a spot to be cleared out at the end of the top of the 1st -- and they played, although... the PA speaker, which is still a bit too loud, almost drowned them out.
It still felt good, the whole evening, played under a hazy sunset and pleasant temperatures. It's pouring rain right now and tonight it's supposed to be in the low 40's. Last night... that's one we'll remember for a long time.