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Suddenly Summer: Cubs 10, Braves 5

After enduring a spring that Mike described to me last night as "First cold rain, then hot rain", the sun came out, puffy clouds dotted the sky, a healthy breeze wafted warm air over Chicago and Wrigley Field yesterday, and the Cubs just kept on rolling with a 10-5 win over the Braves, their ninth consecutive home victory dating back to May 18.

The Cubs got solid pitching, timely hitting and outstanding defense. Really, what more can any of us ask for?

It didn't start that way. Ted Lilly had a shaky first inning, walking Yunel Escobar to lead off the game. After a single and two strikeouts, Lilly gave up a three-run homer.

To Greg Norton. Who has been around so long that one of his teammates in his first September callup was Harold Baines. Who was hitting .176 at the time. Uh-oh. This didn't feel very good. But you know what? After Lilly gave up a triple to Omar Infante, the guy who was a Cub for about five minutes last winter, in the second inning, he retired the next 11 Braves in a row and left to a standing ovation in the 7th, after the Cubs had hacked away at Tom Glavine and taken a lead (we wondered why Glavine was yanked after three innings; turns out he's got elbow trouble, which, combined with the loss of John Smoltz, may end any Atlanta playoff hopes). Lilly wound up allowing only four hits, walked three and struck out eight, and lowered his ERA to where you can almost see it (5.13).

A lot of this was thanks to excellent defense -- Lilly ought to buy Reed Johnson drinks or dinner or both after Johnson made several good-to-spectacular catches of balls Braves hitters launched into deep center field (he might have caught Infante's triple, too, had the entire OF not been playing so shallow). Aramis Ramirez made a couple of slick fielding plays, too, including on the DP grounder that, at last, ended the game.

When Lilly got into trouble, Carlos Marmol came in and ended the threat in three pitches, getting Escobar to line right at Ryan Theriot -- and that worried us in the LF corner, because we figured Lou was going to leave Marmol out for another thirty-pitch, inning-plus appearance. It was a pleasant surprise, then, to see Bob Howry trot out for the 8th. Pleasant, that is, until Howry gave up hard line drive after hard line drive, and Scott Eyre had to be summoned with the score 6-5. Eyre's strikeout of Gregor Blanco with the tying run on 2nd was the biggest out of the game.

Geovany Soto then put the game out of reach with a three-run HR into the LF basket to make the score 10-5 after the Cubs had run themselves into a couple of runs with steals off Brian McCann and a D-Lee sac fly (nice to see Lee perhaps coming out of his slump with a long HR and the RBI sac fly). This got Kerry Wood to sit down and Jon Lieber up -- and Lieber was a bit shaky, allowing two baserunners and getting Wood up again just in case, which was when Ramirez started the nicely-done DP.

Last night BCB reader Damen Jackson sat with us, snapping photos for his own website, which I'm going to link on the right sidebar later today, and he also snapped this shot at my request of the upper deck side scoreboard, one for you numerologists:

Maybe you could win the lottery with these!
Click on photo to open a larger version in a new browser window. Photo by Damen Jackson

And that's the kind of fun you can have when you are 17 games over .500 (the last time the Cubs were more than 17 games over was in 2004), and winning games seemingly at will. Ted Lilly perhaps expresses it best:

"You just feel like you’re never out of it. We’re tough and we’ve had a lot of come-from-behind wins this year," Lilly said.

Yes, indeed. If you like, you can also credit my son Mark, who is now out of school and joined us last night. He has yet to see the Cubs lose this season -- 7-0. He'll be back in the bleachers during the White Sox series. I also met BCB reader buckmulligan last night -- thanks for stopping by -- and wanted to let you know that Wrigley Field concessionaires have responded to the tomato/salmonella health scare by removing all tomato pieces from the condiment stands (they were also gone from Murphy's, where I stopped to get a cheeseburger before the game).

Finally, some photos from David from last night:

One of Reed Johnson's fine defensive plays, this one on Brian McCann's drive in the 7th

Kosuke Fukudome steals 2nd in the 7th

Bunny hop!
Alfonso Soriano catches Mark Teixeira's fly ball in the 8th

Geovany Soto's HR swing in the 8th

Another win!
Cubs outfielders celebrating the win

W flags in the LF bleachers

Click on photos to open a larger version in a new browser window. Photos by David Sameshima