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Happy Birthday, Lou: Cubs 6, Phillies 4

So you tell me. What if I had written yesterday afternoon:

The Cubs are going to be shut down by Cole Hamels and Ryan Dempster is going to not have his best stuff; they're going to go into the 8th inning trailing 4-1 but win anyway when Aramis Ramirez hits a grand slam.

You'd have laughed your head off, even in this year of superlative after superlative. But that's exactly what happened, to the amazed delight of a near-playoff intensity crowd (oddly enough, at 40,362, the smallest paid crowd since May 30), giving Lou Piniella the best 65th birthday present he could have asked for, a 6-4 win, the Cubs' sixth in a row.

As the game progressed toward the sixth and seventh innings, I was thinking about what I'd write about Hamels' dominance... he is, after all, one of the top pitchers in the game, and sometimes you have to give credit to the other team, the other guy; the Phillies are a playoff contender and a fine offensive team with three thirty-homer men, and I figured I'd just say, cliché-filled, "Well, you can't win 'em all, we'll get 'em tomorrow", but these Cubs would have none of that.

As soon as Hamels was taken down for a pinch-hitter and replaced by Ryan Madson, who has been a solid middle reliever, Mike "The Wonder Hamster" Fontenot batted for Bob Howry and smacked his ninth homer to the opposite field, giving hope; when Alfonso Soriano doubled and Ryan Theriot singled, putting the tying run on base, Wrigley Field buzzed loudly, after having been silent most of the evening; and the key play of the inning was the walk to Derrek Lee by Chad Durbin, who has been as good a setup man as anyone in the NL this year.

That brought up Ramirez, and let him tell it in his own words:

"I've been able to do that since the minor leagues," Ramirez said matter-of-factly. "I've always been able to drive in runs. It's something I'm proud of, and I like to be in that situation late in the game."

And we like to see him in those situations late in the game; within the last 14 months he has hit two dramatic walkoffs, against the Brewers and White Sox, and last night's, hit on Durbin's second pitch, though not a walkoff, was nearly as dramatic. It won the game and gave him 99 RBI for the year; one more will give him 100 and put him in second place (tied) in the NL behind the Phils' Ryan Howard, and maybe start some MVP buzz for A-Ram, who has become a complete player and well worth the contract extension he signed before the 2007 season (yes, he flipped his bat and watched the no-doubt-about-it slam. I've criticized others for this; for last night's, he's forgiven).

As I mentioned, Ryan Dempster didn't have his best stuff, walking four and having a sixth inning in which he gave up three hits and three runs, breaking a 1-1 tie and silencing the crowd; as it turned out, this was just warming us up for later. Credit where credit is due: Sean Marshall and Bob Howry kept the game close, and Howry looked particularly good last night, throwing well, and that's a good sign for later.

Beyond this, I have no words -- we have, we hope, two more months of intensity of this nature; the difference in the ballpark from last Sunday was palpable, because of the quality of the opponent, the sixth win in a row, and the fact that, I think, people are starting to get more intense and involved in this most remarkable of seasons. We have been, all of us, waiting all our lives; I don't have to remind you, you know. Savor every day, every moment, because you never know when these Cubs are going to top themselves again.

The pregame thread will post at 11:30 am CDT.

Click here for my scorecard from the game

He swings...
Aramis Ramirez connects in the 8th inning...

Grand slam!!
LF bleacher fans celebrate his grand slam!

Ramirez met at the plate by his happy teammates

Cubs win!
Cubs win!

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