MILWAUKEE -- There comes a time in virtually every season put together by a championship team to which you can look back and say, "That was the play -- or the game -- or the series -- where it all came together."
It is, of course, far too early -- there remain two months in the regular season, and we hope, a month of postseason play -- but if the Chicago Cubs do indeed do what they seem capable of, what we have hoped and dreamed for all our collective lives, it seems clear that this four-game sweep of the Brewers in Milwaukee is that moment.
Just five days ago, after the dispiriting 3-2 loss in 12 innings to the Marlins on Saturday, at which time the Cubs found themselves barely hanging on to first place and having gone 3-6 since the All-Star break, that many here were ledge-jumping and worrying and panicking... but the players never did. The turnaround started with the win over Florida on Sunday, and continued through this dominant rampage through Miller Park, where the Cubs outscored the Brewers 31-10 (and it really could have been 31-7, a football-type score; the last three runs were a sloppy gift from Scott Eyre, who hadn't pitched since being activated eight days ago) and, apart from the close game on Monday, were never challenged.
The heroes of today's 11-4 Cubs win over Milwaukee included Jim Edmonds, who homered twice including a grand slam, which got a rousing standing ovation -- and Edmonds was given another standing O from the more-than-half-Cubs-fans crowd when he came up to bat in the seventh inning. The grand slam was particularly rewarding because it happened after the first two batters in that fourth inning were retired easily by Dave Bush; a two-out walk drawn by Aramis Ramirez started the rally, continued with a Kosuke Fukudome double and then Mark DeRosa being hit by an 0-2 pitch from Bush.
After that it was Rich Harden, relaxed and dominant, blazing through the Brewers lineup like they were minor leaguers. Just one mistake -- a HR pitch to Prince Fielder, no shame there, since that guy can hit -- was the only thing marring Harden's outstanding effort, and one of the keys to his success today was the total in the "BB" column. ZERO. He threw 71 strikes in his 105 pitches and it seemed effortless.
After leaving 15 men on base Wednesday night -- and I'm certainly not complaining, because there were baserunners galore then and seven of them scored -- the Cubs didn't leave a runner on base until the ninth inning today, when Mike Fontenot drove in the final two runs with a single and then was stranded. All the runs prior to the 9th inning had scored as a result of homers; Alfonso Soriano, hot right now just as he was the last time he came off the DL in May, hit his 18th, and Fukudome slammed a rocket to right for his 8th. It seems, after a long funk perhaps partly due to the calf injury he suffered in June, that Dome is back on track; he also doubled today and his average has poked back above the .280 mark.
What a special, wonderful season this has been so far. By the end of the game virtually all the Brewers fans had departed, so the remaining part of the 45,346 -- Milwaukee's 11th straight sellout, pushing them past 2 million on their 55th home date -- were Cubs fans, and we all gave the club a roaring sendoff after Sean Marshall struck out Rickie Weeks to end the game, after Eyre couldn't keep the Brewers down. Lou didn't seem very pleased to have to come out and yank Eyre; since it's past the trading deadline Eyre's probably staying a Cub, at least for now.
About the ejections of Eric Gagné and Prince Fielder in the 9th -- well, frankly, I think Doug Eddings isn't a very good umpire. If Gagné had wanted to throw a purpose pitch at Edmonds, why did he wait till the count was 3-0? I think Gagné just didn't have any command today. Still, perhaps the ejection was justified; Eddings did warn both benches after that, in an effort to prevent future bad blood between the teams. The ejection of Fielder may have been more justified -- after flying to left, Fielder came back and jawed at Eddings repeatedly, continuing after Eddings had tossed him. A fine is likely to be in Fielder's future. You can understand the frustration of the Brewers, I suppose, after getting swept in their own park where they had been 32-19 before this series. Meanwhile, the Cubs improved their road record to 26-30, better than it was -- and remember, there are only four teams in MLB with winning road records this year (Yankees, Angels, Phillies and Cardinals).
While this series was a huge statement, remember that 53 games remain in the season and that's a long time, and the Brewers are a good team and aren't going anywhere -- if the Cubs do win the NL Central, it's a pretty good bet that the Brewers will be the wild card team, setting up a possible matchup in the NLCS. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, because there is much baseball left, including a tough road schedule for the Cubs in September (after September 3, they will play 16 of their final 22 on the road, although three of them will be in Miller Park, where they just swept, and three others in St. Louis, where they have played well this year).
So, onward to August and early September, where between tomorrow and Sept. 3, 22 of the next 31 Cubs games will be at Wrigley Field, where the Cubs have dominated this year. That'll have to continue, and the Cubs will be facing the Pirates minus Jason Bay, who was traded to Boston in the three-way deal between the Red Sox, Dodgers and Pirates that sent Manny Ramirez to LA. Make no mistake, the Pirates got some good young players, including Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen from the Red Sox, and uniting Andy LaRoche, acquired from LA, with his brother Adam, the Pirates' first baseman.
Bring 'em on. Till tomorrow. What a week, what a year. Each day, remember where you were, what you were doing, who you were with, when you remember each of these wins... because if the Cubs do reach the Promised Land, you will want to remember these moments forever.