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Drama, and Open Thread: Cubs vs. Astros, Friday 8/31, 1:20 CT

If you read the New Yorker magazine, you are familiar with its famous cartoons, which always tell funny, poignant, ironic or hilarious stories with just one line of text.

I brought the current issue to the ballpark last night to read it before the game; it happened to have a baseball-related cartoon. I'd have posted it here, but to avoid copyright violations I checked out the New Yorker's policy on posting them on other sites. They wanted $600 for a year's license, so instead of seeing it on this site, you'll have to look at it via this link, and please do before you read the rest of this post.

Done? OK! Now wasn't that just about how you'd have described what should have happened to Ryan Dempster during his far-too-dramatic save of last night's 5-4 Cubs win over the Brewers? Although, somehow I can't see Lou Piniella hugging Dempster, or for that matter, any of his players.

Dempster got the job done for his 23rd save, although not before giving all of us a scare by allowing a leadoff double, hitting Rickie Weeks (the third time Weeks was hit in the series; Cubs pitchers hit five Brewers in all during this series), then getting the next two hitters before intentionally walking Prince Fielder to load the bases (a no-brainer move, I thought).

On a close 3-2 pitch with the crowd roaring, Corey Hart walked, forcing in a run to make the score 5-4, and then I was absolutely stunned to NOT see Geoff Jenkins hit for Kevin Mench. Almost before I could express that opinion out loud, Mench slapped a sharp grounder to Ryan Theriot, who got the force at second to end the game, and increase the Cubs' lead to 2.5 games, assuring that they would be in first place on September 1, tomorrow.

Why do I mention that?

Because as Dave van Dyck reminds us in today's Tribune:

... since 1995, when baseball split into six divisions after a prolonged strike, 59 of 72 teams that led Sept. 1 also led at the end of the season.

Last year four teams sweated through the September steam bath, although the Tigers and Dodgers faded down the stretch. The year before the Red Sox and A's failed to hold leads.

Of course, leave it to the Cubs to be involved in one of the exceptions. That came in 2003, when the Cubs were 1 1/2 games behind the Cardinals and Astros on Sept. 1 but finished one game ahead of Houston and three ahead of St. Louis.

If nothing else, the Cubs are way ahead of where they were last time the Brewers visited Wrigley Field, June 29-July 1. They were 6 1/2 behind then.

Not only are they ahead of where they were then, they're ahead of where they were starting August. Going into the game of August 1 vs. the Phillies, the Cubs were 1 game out of first place. Now they are 2.5 ahead, despite going 12-15 so far in August.

Anyway, it can't hurt to be ahead. Then all you have to do is win your game, and it doesn't matter what anyone behind you does. (Incidentally, van Dyck conveniently leaves out the 1994 strike season, which is when baseball actually did split into three divisions, but didn't have a postseason).

As far as the Brewers go, we appear to have finally determined the easiest way to beat them -- let them score first. For the second time in the series, Milwaukee took the lead early. They scored two first-inning runs off Ted Lilly, who had absolutely nothing last night, but who managed to make it through five innings tied after the Cubs had another long-sequence rally (walk, double, single, walk, single) to score three in the third. The extra inning of work, which came after Lilly batted for himself in the 5th (and singled!), helped save the bullpen for the weekend.

And then Carlos Marmol came in and dominated for two innings, striking out five with that filthy slider of his, while Matt Murton and Alfonso Soriano gave the Cubs the lead with back-to-back solo HR off Chris Capuano, who had relieved Manny Parra after Parra suffered a minor injury to his thumb attempting to bunt. I didn't think anyone could hit the ball out last night, as the wind was blowing in pretty good at game time. It had died down by the sixth, when the two HR left the yard. Bob Howry threw an efficient eighth, setting up Dempster's heart-stopping save.

Incidentally, Soriano's HR gave him the team lead back with 19. There are only five other teams in baseball who do not have a 20-HR man (LA Dodgers, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Kansas City and Texas, and Texas would almost certainly have one if Mark Teixeira hadn't been traded).

Doesn't matter. The Cubs are winning, and showing they can do it with -- and without -- HR.

I should note, since there has been some contentious talk between Brewers and Cubs fans this season, particularly on this site and Brew Crew Ball, that a couple of nice guys, Brewers fans, sat by us last night. When Chris Capuano came into the game, they both said, "It's over!", and after Murton and Soriano's HR, they both called him "Crapuano", and left an inning later.

And so, onward. The weather's supposed to be gorgeous all weekend. Let's hope the baseball at Wrigley Field is, too.

Today's Starting Pitchers
Sean Marshall
S. Marshall
vs. Wandy Rodriguez
W. Rodriguez
7-6 W-L 7-12
4.04 ERA 4.67
58 SO 136
27 BB 49
12 HR 18
vs. Hou -- vs. Cubs
Sean Marshall is only 1-3, 4.24 in four lifetime starts vs. Houston. Keep him away from Chris Burke, who is 5-for-7 with a HR vs. Marshall. In his last three starts Sean is 2-0, 3.38.

Rodriguez threw 8 innings of four-hit, one-run ball against the Cubs in Houston on August 6, a game the Astros won in extra innings. The key to the previous sentence is the phrase "in Houston", because on the road Wandy is 1-9 with a 7.80 ERA and 1.68 WHIP, which includes giving the Cubs nine hits, three home runs and seven runs at Wrigley Field on July 15. Today's game is again on WGN; it should be on Extra Innings (which, according to the list now on my EI channels, is covering all 15 games today) and also at the Mediacenter. Gameday (2007 version) Gameday (2006 version)

Final note: I gave an interview to Tom at The Baseball Zealot yesterday; click here to listen or to download it as a podcast.

Discuss amongst yourselves.