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Dave and I have discussed this often, more so in recent days: that in a pennant race, your big bats, the guys who are getting paid the big money, have to step up and perform.

Today, they did. Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez homered, and despite another heart-attack-inducing ninth inning from Ryan Dempster, he registered his 24th save and the Cubs beat the Astros 4-3, reducing the magic number for clinching the NL Central to 27.

Yes, it's time to talk magic numbers, as it's September, the sun now at a lower angle (it's now ducking behind the upper deck for a time as seen from our section in the LF corner), but the baseball heating up, and oddly, the crowd of 40,606 (a bit smaller than yesterday -- must have been all those Iowa fans missing) was fairly subdued today, except when Lee and Ramirez homered, and after Mark DeRosa made a spectacular catch on a ball that Mark Loretta just smoked after Carlos Lee's HR off Dempster in the ninth inning.

I could have sworn that Loretta's ball was three feet over DeRosa's head, but he snagged it and likely, saved Dempster's butt.

Meanwhile, here's the scoop on Carlos Lee's HR -- it was caught on the fly by a guy wearing a University of Illinois cap, standing on the street right behind one of the tour buses parked on Waveland. After he caught it he ran west on Waveland, around the corner behind the firehouse on Seminary, and disappeared. So, the ball that flew back onto the field not only wasn't the HR ball, it wasn't even thrown by the guy who caught it.

If only the weather could stay like this all year round -- this is California weather, mid-70's, low humidity, light winds. Luke Scott's HR off Jason Marquis in the 2nd, that gave the Astros a brief 1-0 lead, just made it into the first row in right-center; it barely flew more than about 15 feet off the ground. The Cubs got the run back in the third on a hustle play by Alfonso Soriano, who had walked (Mike and I were both impressed that Soriano drew a five-pitch walk). Ryan Theriot lasered a ball to the wall in left-center, and Soriano was going to stop at third -- until the relay throw got past Mark Loretta, and, hustling all the way, Soriano scored, all of this happening after two were out and no one on base.

It stayed that way until Ramirez' HR in the 6th -- the Cubs' first home run with a man on base since Daryle Ward's three-run jack against the Cardinals on August 18, two weeks ago! For hitting that HR, I will forgive Aramis for his very bad baserunning blunder, getting picked off second base in the 8th after singling and being advanced to second by Ward; with no one out DeRosa was attempting to sacrifice. What was Ramirez doing straying that far from the base? Further, with the Cubs hitting Astros reliever Chris Sampson hard (and what's Sampson doing relieving? He's been in their rotation almost all year), why were they sacrificing with a two-run lead, given that Lee had hit a ball nearly 420 feet just three batters earlier?

Anyway, it didn't matter, even after Carlos Lee's bomb. But, hey, Ryan? Our hearts can't take much more of this.

Other notes from today: Jason Marquis threw a very nice game; his only real mistake was Scott's HR. He walked only one and struck out five and threw 56 strikes in his 81 pitches. Carlos Marmol got one out -- all he was really needed for, since Bob Howry was ready to throw the 8th -- and Howry retired three batters efficiently (11 pitches).

Incidentally, the Cubs are now 8-1 in games started by Marquis, that I have attended while wearing the Marquis jersey, and 18-10 overall in games he has started, best among all the starting pitchers.

Lou Piniella announced in his postgame comments that the just-acquired Steve Trachsel (who will wear uniform #52) will start either Tuesday or Wednesday against the Dodgers.

Finally, a few words about one of the callups who joined the team today. There were five players added to the roster in addition to Trachsel, all of whom have seen time in the major leagues earlier in the season: Sean Gallagher, Ronny Cedeno, Geovany Soto, Eric Patterson... and Will Ohman, who appeared, during BP, to be genuinely happy to be back in Wrigley Field. I didn't hear this, but apparently, he went on the air before the game and issued a public apology to the team, his teammates, and Cubs fans for the comments he made when he was sent down to Iowa about three and a half weeks ago. In addition, the pink Hello Kitty backpack that's usually carried to the bullpen by the reliever with the least seniority on the staff, was left in front of Ohman's locker and he had to carry it. This strikes me as the right thing to do -- he's going to have to pass some "one of the guys" tests before he's again accepted as "one of the guys".

Getting some hitters out would help, too.

And so we say again, as we did last night: Go Reds! Go Pirates!

MLB.com Gameday for the Pirates/Brewers game (6:05 CT start)

MLB.com Gameday for the Reds/Cardinals game (6:15 CT start)