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Happy Birthday, Lou Piniella!

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When I get older losing my hair,
Many years from now.
Will you still be sending me a Valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine.
If I'd been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door.
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four.
-- The Beatles

In the seventh inning last night, when the up-till-then quiescent Cubs began what was to be their game-winning rally, the chant "Let's Go Cubbies" sprung up, and last night sounded different than any time I think I've ever heard that chant before. It was more urgent, more plaintive, as if everyone, standing in a near-playoff atmosphere, felt that they themselves could push the Cubs to victory simply by shouting those words.

Whether that's true or not, a few moments later Jacque Jones lasered a double to right-center field, tying the game, and there couldn't have been a happier man in Chicago last night; Jones enthusiastically clapped his hands upon reaching second base, and is, at last, getting recognition from fans, every day. The non-deal of Jones to the Marlins could turn out to be one of the best deals the Cubs didn't make -- Jones is now hitting .331/.373/.483 since the All-Star break with 3 HR, 14 doubles and 29 RBI in 39 games. After an intentional walk to Daryle Ward, Jones took third on a sharp line drive to right by Alfonso Soriano, and then Ryan Theriot bounced a ball that Scott Linebrink had to leap to knock down.

Linebrink bobbled the ball long enough for Jones to score; he was given an error (a tough error, I thought, as he made extraordinary effort just to get to the ball), and then Derrek Lee's single scored Felix Pie, who had gone in to run for Ward.

And that, happening nearly as quickly as you just read about it, was how, on Lou Piniella's sixty-fourth birthday, with a first orange-looking, then very bright white, picture-postcard just-past-eclipsed nearly-full moon rising in the eastern sky above Wrigley Field, was how the Cubs beat the Brewers 5-3, clinching the season series, and knocking Milwaukee into third place (with the Cardinals' 7-0 win over the Astros, St. Louis moved ahead of the Brewers into 2nd place, two games behind the Cubs).

So, it appears the best way to beat the Brewers is to spot them a lead -- and not just a small lead, but a three-run-plus lead. Over at Baseball Prospectus on Monday evening, Nate Silver, perhaps presciently, noted that Milwaukee had, through Sunday, blown 13 leads of three runs or more (and nine of those from July 28 through August 26). This number isn't a record -- the article says that twenty such blown leads (by the 1998 Mariners and 2000 Astros) is the most since 1959 -- but the Brewers moved up a notch on that list with last night's blown 3-0 lead.

The crowd was very quiet as the Brewers built that 3-0 lead; Rich Hill had a strange game. He struck out five of the first six batters he faced, but gave up three two-out runs by the fifth inning, and got booed when he failed to lay down a sacrifice bunt after Jones and Jason Kendall had singled leading off the third. He made up for it by driving in the Cubs' first run with a single of his own after a two-out Kendall double in the fifth.

But after that Hill settled down and wound up with nine strikeouts (now ranking sixth in the NL), with no walks, and after the Cubs took the lead Bob Howry faced pinch-hitter Gabe Gross after Kevin Mench had been hit by a pitch (the third HBP of the game, and fortunately, no warnings were issued, because I don't think anyone was deliberately throwing at anyone else). Gross fouled off six pitches after two strikes, and the at-bat went into its twelfth pitch with Mike saying to me, "At-bats like this rarely have good endings." But this one did -- Gross popped up to Mark DeRosa in short center field to end the inning, to a roaring, rousing cheer from the 40,884 in attendance (I saw a ton of people pouring out of the ballpark after Ryan Dempster had recorded the first two outs of the ninth -- must have been Brewers fans taking off early).

Bob Uecker, the fine Brewers' radio broadcaster, was asked, as he has been several times before, to sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game". And as he has done several times before, he sang, "Root, root, root for the Brewers", to loud boos (No, that wasn't people saying "UUUUECK", either!). After he was done a spontaneous rendition of "TMOTTBG" was sung by much of the crowd, with "root, root, root for the Cubbies" sung properly. As noted in the comments in the game thread, since the Cubs proceeded to have a four-run seventh, maybe Uecker should be asked back tonight and tomorrow, too.

Finally, a note to anyone in the Cubs' publications department who sees this: the scorecards, printed on the off-day Monday, still do not (for the third consecutive series) have Felix Pie or Kerry Wood listed on the active roster, this despite the fact that Pie has been back from Iowa since August 8 and Wood was activated from the DL on August 3.

And so onward; the Cardinals, apparently, now become the Cubs' primary competition, as they have reached .500 for the first time since April 16. The Cubs will have five more shots at them in September -- coincidentally, the same number of games in which they faced them in that memorable September 2003 series. In the meantime, let's go Astros (at least through tomorrow), and Ben Sheets returns from the DL tonight to face Carlos Zambrano.