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CINCINNATI -- On another gorgeous, sun-kissed, eighty-degree, early-autumn day in this Ohio River city, the Iowa Chicago Cubs defeated the Cincinnati Reds 4-0, reveling in winning yet again in front of a crowd that was a sea of blue and white pinstripes and Cub caps, cheering Cub fans from all over the Midwest (including, sitting in front of us in right field today, a family whose parents are Cub fans and whose two young daughters were rooting for the Reds. When we asked the parents why, they just shrugged their shoulders).

Apart from Ryan Theriot, who has spent the entire season on the major league roster, the rest of the eight position players today spent most or all of the year playing for Triple-A Iowa, and in the first three innings, Matt Murton, Geovany Soto, and Ronny Cedeno hit like they had hit while they were at Iowa (which prompted many, many posts that Soto, in particular, be called up). Murton and Cedeno homered; Soto had three hits, including a booming double that sent Reds CF Norris Hopper to the bench with a groin pull after the top of the first inning.

Meanwhile, Rich Hill was absolutely outstanding, giving up only a one-out walk to Edwin Encarnacion in the fifth inning and a double to Hopper's replacement, ex-Cub Buck Coats, breaking up the no-hitter with two out in the sixth inning.

Hill threw seventy-nine pitches in finishing the sixth by getting Jeff Keppinger to pop to Theriot. I wonder if he would have been allowed to finish if he had still had the no-hitter going into the seventh. No matter -- Sean Marshall threw two nice innings in relief, and Scott Eyre finished up with a scoreless inning, marred only by accidentally hitting Keppinger. The back-to-back shutouts are the first for the Cubs since June 26-28, 2005, vs. the White Sox and Brewers.

So the only thing that really had meaning today were the outings of the pitchers -- Hill looked terrific, spotting his curveball well, and I thought he had had Coats struck out a couple of pitches before he hit his double, and that's very important, as it seems likely Hill will get the call for game three of the Division Series next Saturday at Wrigley Field.

None of the regulars came close to getting into today's game, a well-deserved rest. And it was nice to watch what amounted to an exhibition game, with no pressure to win at all costs. A win of any type is always nice, and the bench players went at today's game with the same determination and drive that we saw last night -- yet another good sign, because some of these players will play key bench roles during the playoffs, and I assume that today was also an "audition" of sorts for players who might be "on the bubble" for making the postseason roster. Jim Hendry and Lou Piniella met early Saturday to discuss this very topic, but nothing's been finalized yet (it doesn't have to be until Wednesday morning), and:

One decision that will likely go down to the wire is the availability of left-handed hitter Daryle Ward, who sprained his left hand sliding into second base in Florida.

On Saturday, Ward was icing his hand every 45 minutes, and there was still a lot of swelling.

"It make take through the workout on Tuesday to make a decision on Daryle," Hendry said.

The Cubs were expected to go with 11 pitchers for the NLDS, and Hendry said he was comfortable with the flexibility they had. It certainly took everybody's effort to win the NL Central crown for the first time since 2003.

That's not good news about Ward, because the team can surely use his bat, and I assume he'd have played first base today instead of Henry Blanco, had he been healthy.

Tomorrow, Ted Lilly will start -- just to get some work in; don't expect him to throw more than two or three innings. There is one statistical milestone that can be achieved tomorrow: if Mark DeRosa can go 4-for-4, he'd finish the season hitting .300. He's already had two 5-for-5 games against the Reds this year, so this isn't beyond possibility. Also, the Cubs have now won 85 games. Since the adoption of the 162-game schedule in the National League in 1962, the Cubs have never finished a season with 85 wins (except for the strike season of 1972) -- or 86 wins, either, so winning tomorrow would establish yet another new benchmark.

I have been to 130 Cub road games, and never in all the years, and all the cities I have been to, have I seen two road games which sounded and felt like home games. There were Cub-centric signs everywhere -- ran into one guy who had bought a division title T-shirt in Wrigleyville last night, then drove down for today's game -- and dozens of "W" flags on display in the ninth inning. It's a credit to each and every one of you, every one of us, to have patiently persevered through good years and bad, and now we stand at the cusp of October, with yet another shot at deliverance and redemption and victory.