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The Cubs HAD to Win This One...

... and they did.

Well, let's hedge that a bit. This wasn't a must-win game before it started, although sweeping a series against a team that's as bad as the Nationals appear to be is pretty much mandatory for a team that, as the Cubs want to do, be seen as a contender.

But after going behind 1-0 and 3-2 (after today's designated walk-the-only-batter-he-faced guy, Michael Wuertz, issued a walk just before Dmitri Young, pinch-hitting, drove in that run and the previous batter, too, who had also walked), it did become mandatory.

It was even more so after the Cubs blew a chance to put the game away in the bottom of the 9th, with the bases loaded and only one out, and Aramis Ramirez at bat.

By this time, Lou Piniella had, as Mike said, "managed to win the game right now"; had the game gone much past the 10th inning, they had only Rocky Cherry and, probably, Carlos Zambrano available to pitch.

Fortunately, Daryle Ward, who had pinch-hit in that inning and stayed in to play left field (scaring all of us, because it resulted in Alfonso Soriano playing his first Cub game at 2B, for an inning, anyway, and the sight of Jason Marquis pinch-running -- and scoring the tying run, and we thought HE might be recruited to play SS), drove in the game-winner after Matt Murton doubled down the line and Henry Blanco, the last remaining position player, had blooped a single between Felipe Lopez and Austin Kearns. Though the crowd groaned when Murton didn't try to score, it was the right call. With no one out and Kearns having a great arm, Murton would have been out by 30 feet. We were all puzzled as to why Manny Acta kept playing his entire out field so far toward CF with right-handed hitters at bat. Murton took real advantage of this shift with his screaming double down the line.

Before that, Murton had made a really nice play on a Ryan Church fly ball to right field with a runner on second in the top of the inning. Even Dave -- who isn't really a Murton fan -- was impressed.

Good plays abounded in this game, despite no fewer than four players on the two teams playing more than one position. Derrek Lee and Will Ohman combined for a nifty play in the Nats' two-run sixth; Ryan Zimmerman temporarily held the Cubs at bay in the 10th with a tremendous snag of an absolute rocket hit by Michael Barrett.

Which leads me to this -- I'm off shortly to attend the Barrett meet-and-greet at Gino's East. So the rest of this recap of the Cubs' exciting 4-3 win over the Nationals, their fifth in a row and eighth in their last nine, moving them over .500 for the first time since they were 3-2 the first week of April, will have to wait till later this evening.

In the meantime, wish Happy Birthday to David, Intrepid BCB Phographer. Belatedly, of course -- his birthday was during the last road trip, but we celebrated with some really gooey chocolate cake. Sweet, as today's win was. More later.