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Class Is Now In Session, and Open Thread: Cubs vs. Phillies, Thursday 8/2, 1:20 CT

Photo by David Sameshima

Just as they did on July 2, 1967, the scoreboard operators at Wrigley Field moved the Cubs' flag to the top of the pole (in part, apparently, because they realized people weren't going to leave until they saw this!) indicating a move into first place (a tie, actually, percentage points ahead), to a loud ovation from the assembled 40,558, who had just witnessed an excruciatingly exciting Cubs win, 5-4 over the Phillies. I know, it's kind of hard to tell which flag is which, because there was absolutely no wind at the time the game ended. But trust me -- that is the Cub flag on top!

So, class, what have we learned over the past two months?

  • That teams that are nine games under .500 can indeed pull themselves back into contention. On June 2, the 22-31 Cubs were 7.5 games behind the Brewers. In fact, three weeks later they were a game worse, 8.5 games out.
  • That teams that start out the season roaring out of the gate (Milwaukee's 24-10 start) don't necessarily keep up that pace, or even "play .500 ball", as many like to do when postulating what a trailing team has to do to catch them. Since that hot start, the Brewers are 34-40, not even .500 over a two and a half month period.
  • Meanwhile, the Cubs are 35-18 since June 2, playing .660 ball over a stretch that's one game short of one-third of a full season. Can they keep it up for a longer sustained period? We do not know this, of course. But who would have guessed they'd even do it this long? The last time the Cubs were 35-18 over any 53-game stretch was July 21-September 12, 1984.
And so, the Cubs inhabit first place for the first time this late in the year since September 28, 2003, the last day of that magical regular season, and are eight games over .500 for the first time since the last day of the not-so-magical 2004 season.

Those in attendance last night saw a wild, wacky and long (three hours, thirty-five minutes, the longest nine-inning game of the season, which began with a throwing error by Rich Hill, leading to an unearned Phillie run, and with everyone in the ballpark on his or her feet, ended with Brett Myers' second wild pitch of the ninth inning, scoring Matt Murton with the winning run.

One thing that became clear as the evening went on -- a tense, tight game like this, punctuated by cheering at inappropriate times (each time the scoreboard operators posted the Mets going ahead of the Brewers, and again when they posted the 8-5 final score, something that usually only happens during Bears games, eliminates virtually all the "drunken idiot" behavior in the bleachers. Every single person was into every single pitch in the last couple of innings, when the Cubs loaded the bases in the 8th and could not score, when Jacque Jones made a great diving catch to start the ninth, then when Ryan Dempster loaded the bases with Phillies and got out of it with a ground ball, and then as Murton's ball popped out of Jayson Werth's glove to lead off the ninth -- every play felt tenser and tenser. Even Cubs security guards stopped and watched the action, as there wasn't any need at those moments for security, since everyone was really living and dying with every pitch.

It was the first time I'd felt a playoff atmosphere for a regular season game at Wrigley Field since the amazing Cardinal series in the first week of September, 2003. And here, we're only in August. It's going to be a heck of a ride the next two months.

Four nice guys from Philadelphia, several wearing Chase Utley T-shirts or jerseys, sat with us last night -- they were insistent that Utley's the "best all-around player in baseball", and there's a good argument that before his injury, he might have been going in that direction. Just as we do for ball-and-strike calls that appear to go against the Cubs, they were agonizingly moaning about calls that went against their team. When we pointed out the plasma screen in the rooftop club across the street, they spent quite a bit of time, as we did, turning around to look at the results of close plays.

I really enjoy sharing a ballgame with passionate and intelligent fans of the opposing team, which these guys were. You can learn a lot about the other team from people who are as into it as we are about the Cubs. I gave them all BCB cards, so if you guys are here, welcome! And as I told one of them as he was leaving, "Go beat those Brewers this weekend!"

We are happy this morning, but there is still much baseball, much excitement, and, we hope, many more victories to come. Onward and let's win this series this afternoon.

Today's Starting Pitchers
Sean Marshall
S. Marshall
vs. Kyle Lohse
K. Lohse
5-4 W-L 6-12
3.10 ERA 4.58
48 SO 80
22 BB 33
6 HR 16
vs. Phi -- vs. Cubs
Sean Marshall has been consistent all season since his recall and activation on May 23 -- he's had only one really bad start among his twelve, and since the All-Star break he has allowed only four runs in 18 IP (2.00 ERA). He faced the Phillies last September 18 and pitched poorly but the Cubs won the game anyway. Jose Hernandez, who's no longer with Philadelphia, hit a grand slam off Marshall.

Kyle Lohse, once in the Cub farm system (he was traded to Minnesota in the Rick Aguilera deal on May 21, 1999), was acquired by the Phillies at the trading deadline. He's already faced the Cubs twice this season, most impressively on April 15 at Wrigley Field, throwing 8 innings of shutout ball and striking out twelve. But these Cubs aren't those Cubs; Alfonso Soriano is 11-for-27 (.407) lifetime vs. Lohse with 2 HR, Mark DeRosa is .545/.615/.818 (6-for-11, 1 HR), and Lohse has never retired Aramis Ramirez (5-for-5, two doubles, a HR, 3 RBI, and probably the reason Aramis sat last night except to pinch-hit, and he seemed to not want to even be out there, swinging at the first pitch he saw, so he could play today's day game).

Today's game is on WGN and at the Mediacenter. Gameday (2007 version) Gameday (2006 version) Gameday for the Mets/Brewers game

Discuss amongst yourselves.