In the top of the ninth inning a couple of sections' worth of LF bleacherites broke into a spontaneous "Tomahawk Chop".
At first we were puzzled, then (smacking forehead!) it became obvious: they were saying, "Go Braves!", as the game by then seemed well in hand, and it turned out to be -- another Cub win, 9-5 over the free-falling Pirates, losers of eight in a row, and today's game was a clear example why. It was also an example of how a team gaining confidence in its abilities to win every day can jump right on every single break given it by a bad team, and also create its own breaks.
Of such things postseason appearances can be made, and the Cubs moved one notch closer this afternoon, on a gorgeous day (only 66 degrees at game time, though it seemed warmer in the bright sunshine) that promised dreams of summer continuing on into the autumn that officially arrives with the equinox at 4:51 am Central time tomorrow. And I had an argument with Phil today because of his insistence that "traditionally" fall begins "on September 21", but "this year it's different".
Phil, buddy. It's not "tradition", it's the way the Earth rotates through the solar system that determines when the autumnal equinox happens. You'd think you wouldn't have to explain this to someone, but we did today. And had fun doing it.
The Cubs had their own fun today, smacking four more home runs -- off Zach Duke, who in 51.2 IP vs. the Cubs before today had allowed them only two total HR. That gives the ballclub a total of thirty-six in the twenty-two September games so far. The Cubs had only 106 HR in the five months up to September. I'm not sure where this power was before, but it has arrived at the perfect time. All the RH power hitters in the Cub lineup should have been feasting on LHP all season. The last two days, they have, hitting eight in all.
It was Alfonso Soriano again today, hitting two, although not leading off the game as he did the previous two games. The two gave him 31 for the season -- making it six consecutive thirty-homer seasons for him, an impressive accomplishment in any case, and even more so when you realize he has missed 26 games this season. Since returning from the DL he's hit 13 HR in 25 games, a torrid pace.
There were more milestones and records that fell today. Aramis Ramirez' third-inning two-run blast gave him 100 RBI, his fourth 100-RBI season, impressive as well, more so again when you look at his game log -- Ramirez missed 29 games with various injuries, but seems to be stepping it up now. He's had hot streaks before, as I'm sure you all remember -- if this is another one, it could NOT have come at a better time. He now has 6 HR and 16 RBI in his last 12 games.
Derrek Lee, whose power output has been down this year, joined the fun with a first-inning bomb; he had three other hits and raised his average to .317. In all the Cubs smacked out fifteen hits, a nice combination of power (four HR), and various singles and doubles, and also drew four walks; further, it didn't seem to bother them one bit when Rich Hill had a shaky second inning and gave up four hits in a row (two bloops), leading to three Pirate runs and a brief 3-2 Pittsburgh lead. Soriano's first HR in the last of the 2nd quickly tied it and the Cubs scored two more in the third on Ramirez' HR and they never looked back.
Hill recovered from his shaky inning and shut the Pirates down, after Zach Duke's two-run single, he retired 12 of 13; the only baserunner he allowed after Duke was Nyjer Morgan, who walked in the 5th (incidentally, for an incisive look at Morgan, who's old for "prospect" status, and why he really isn't one, check out this well-written post on our SBN Pirates site Bucs Dugout).
And after that, the bullpen was just mopping up. Carlos Marmol flung a few of his filthy sliders (did you guys catch the called-strikeout motion of plate umpire Tom Hallion? We were afraid he was going to throw his back out doing that!); Scott Eyre continued his amazing second half (25 appearances, 21 IP, 2 ER, 0.86 ERA), lowering his season ERA to 4.24. Bob Howry gave up a couple of extra-base hits and a run, and Ryan Dempster gave up the traditional (for this series, anyway) ninth-inning-blowout-HR-by-a-Pirate-OF homer, today to Nate McLouth. But it didn't matter; the place exploded when he got Morgan to hit a comebacker to end the game, and today, almost the entire crowd of 41,271 hung around to sing "Go Cubs Go!" afterwards.
Which leads me to another record event: today's attendance brought the season total to 3,211,098, a new season record, which will be broken again tomorrow. The season average is now 40,139; the total and average rank sixth in the majors, playing to 97.6% of the listed capacity of 41,118.
Perhaps this year, all that loyalty will be rewarded. The Cubs have reached their high-water mark of the season, nine games over .500 at 82-73, clinching a winning season for the first time in three years; they have won 9 of 11. Rich Hill's 10th win means the Cubs have two lefthanded starters with double digits in wins in forty-six years; that 1961 team wasn't very good, and only one of the two LH starters who won ten games (Dick Ellsworth) was actually any good -- the other, Jack Curtis, never again was a fulltime rotation starter. The last time the Cubs had two LH starters with 10 or more wins on a good team was seventy-two years ago, in 1935 (Larry French and Roy Henshaw). That team had a legendary 21-game winning streak in September and won 100 games, the last Cub team to do so.
This team isn't that good, and they won't have a streak that good for that long. But they have started to play the way we thought they could, hoped they could, shed tons of angst here when they didn't, and all I can say further is: this is a great ride, what pennant races should be about. At this writing the Braves are defeating the Brewers 2-0 in the fifth inning; KEEP IT UP!!!
Before I sum up -- huge, huge props to Sam Fuld, the last guy on the roster, who is only here because Eric Patterson was sent home -- Fuld made what might have been the best catch I have ever seen in the Wrigley Field outfield by anyone, jumping into the ivy to rob Morgan of an extra-base hit, and then putting the exclamation point on the play by throwing a perfect strike on one bounce to Derrek Lee to double McLouth off first base. Then Fuld got a standing ovation when he came to bat (and walked) in the eighth. What a tremendous thrill that must be for him. Good for you, Sam, and thanks -- because at the time, with the score 7-3, the Pirates might have fought their way back into the game.
Go Cubs. Onward to tomorrow's final regular season home game. I'll post a diary tomorrow morning for VWR stories, and a regular game thread later in the morning.
(Links will open in a new browser window. If you are using IE, you may have to click the lower-right corner of the image in the new window to expand it to its full size; in Firefox click anywhere on the image.)