Three statements were made this weekend: first, by the Cubs, with the amazing comeback and walkoff HR on Friday; then, by the Brewers yesterday, coming back from what could have been a devastating loss for them and winning convincingly... and then again today by the Cubs, who put Milwaukee on notice that they are here to stay, with a most impressive 5-1 win over the Brewers, making the final "statement" of the series, and winning it, leaving town for the first-half ending road trip one game closer to the Brewers than they were when Milwaukee came to town on Friday.
And that, despite the winning streak that was snapped yesterday, is as good as the Cubs could have hoped for or expected. The 2007 Milwaukee Brewers are a very good team (and almost all home-grown; 7 of their 8 position player starters today came from their own system), and they're not going to be easy to catch, since even with the series win, and a 7-5 series lead for the Cubs in the season series (which, unfortunately for pennant race fans everywhere, will end before August does, with a three-game set at Wrigley Field Aug. 28-30), the Cubs remain six and a half games behind.
Still, that seems somehow closer than it did a few weeks ago, doesn't it? Suddenly, this team is playing as a team; guys like Mark DeRosa and Mike Fontenot, who have been red-hot in the last week, were quiet today, but others stepped up. Ryan Theriot, mired in a slump, was returned to the 2-spot in the batting order today and had three doubles and scored three of the five runs. Derrek Lee also had three hits, raising his average back to .346 -- and he drove in a run when Theriot successfully avoided Johnny Estrada's tag (or did he? We turned around to watch on the plasma screen at the building on Waveland behind us. As we turned around, people in the building were signaling "safe", but after the replay, some were shrugging and signaling "out". Hey, so we caught a break.). So for those of you worried that Lee only hit two HR in June -- why worry? He's hitting and producing, and also made two slick plays in the field today, plays that most other first basemen would have waved at as they went down the RF line for doubles.
And the biggest applause today for the pitchers, both Jason Marquis and Carlos Marmol. Marquis threw seven solid innings, allowing only four hits; his only real mistake was a HR to Corey Hart, smashed really, really hard through a 15-MPH wind blowing in on yet another postcard-view sunny day, with an unusually (for July 1) cool gametime temperature of 67 degrees. Other than that, Marquis was nearly perfect; he walked one and of his 21 outs, 12 were recorded on ground balls. With the bullpen being run ragged the last few days, we were absolutely astounded to see him lifted after seven innings with a pitch count of 77 (54 strikes). Why not let him finish, or at least throw one more inning?
Marmol answered that question by showing absolutely electric stuff for two innings, topping out at 95 on the ballpark radar board, and throwing some absolutely filthy sliders, as well, striking out four of the seven batters he faced (23 pitches, 21 strikes, and this has been Marmol's problem, lack of control -- if this is a sample of how he's conquered that problem, the Cubs have, at the very least, a great setup man, and maybe a future lights-out closer). He might have gone through the two innings unscathed if Alfonso Soriano had been able to make the catch on a sinking liner by J. J. Hardy, only to see it bounce off the heel of his glove. Marmol got Ryan Braun to fly to Mark DeRosa in right, somewhat shakily -- we wondered why Felix Pie hadn't gone into CF, with Angel Pagan in RF, for defense in the 9th -- and then, to an ever-louder crescendo of cheers from the crowd of 41,486 (almost all of whom stuck around for the end, on a day when the first couple of innings dragged, but the last several flew by, and the time of 2:08 was the fastest of the year), struck out both Prince Fielder and Bill Hall on fastballs that seemed to get faster.
The total attendance, incidentally, for the weekend was 124,810, a new record for a three-game series at Wrigley Field, breaking the record set... last year, May 26-28, vs. Atlanta. This included a few people who sat with us today who got BCB cards and who I wanted to say, "Hey!" to: a twenty-something couple who spent most of their time talking to Phil (oh, you guys had no idea what you were in for!), and a nice couple with two young kids, 5 and 7, from Cleveland who are Cubs fans "just because we love Chicago", as they said. So if you all are reading -- welcome! Quite a weekend to be at Wrigley Field.
I wanted to say a few things to Brewers fans, some of whom I know read this site. I've read some of your comments, particularly at Brew Crew Ball, a site I admire, and frankly I was astonished at the vitriol you threw our way. For my part, I just want you to know that I have always respected the Brewers and their fans; when Milwaukee was an AL team I used to root for them, obviously, I don't any more, but I do have a great respect for what Doug Melvin and Ned Yost have built -- you guys have a very, very good team to cheer for this year (and likely, with the youth of your lineup, for many years to come), and I look forward to the rest of this season, to perhaps a closer race, and a budding rivalry that could become a great one. Let's not hate on each other. Deal?
Finally, I've heard word today that there is possible activity on the trade front involving both Jacque Jones and Cesar Izturis. Something might happen in the next couple of days. Stay tuned. After tomorrow, the Cubs will be exactly halfway through the schedule. I look forward to more excitement, and wins, in the second half.