MILWAUKEE -- It starts with recognition.
Early in the game, by the second inning, you note to yourself, "Hmmm. Z's got really good stuff today. If everything breaks his way..."
It continues with a buzz going through the crowd. You realize that others are starting to think what you're thinking.
And by the sixth inning, people are starting to stand on every strike-two count and cheer for K's, roaring loudly, as if there were twice as many in the ballpark as the announced 23,441, all of whom bought tickets to the game less than 24 hours before game time.
The tension builds through the latter part of the batting order -- I thought in the seventh, to myself, "Wow, if he can get through Tejada, Berkman and Pence, maybe he can pull this one off..."
And Z did that. And the raucous Miller Park crowd -- 99% Cubs fans, a handful of Brewers fans looking lost, and two or three lonely-looking Astros fans who got booed every time one of them appeared on the Jumbotron -- got on its feet for every pitch of the ninth inning. There's nothing like it in a regular-season baseball game, the tension of each out of the ninth inning of a no-hitter.
Carlos Zambrano made that inning look easy. Two groundouts to Ryan Theriot and his tenth K of the night -- on a low, outside splitter to Darin Erstad -- he had his first career no-hitter, a 5-0 win over the Astros, and in my opinion, only Kerry Wood's 20-K game ten years ago was a more dominant pitching performance by a Cub in my lifetime.
You've already heard the numbers: first no-no for a Cub in just over 36 years; first no-hitter ever at a neutral site park; first no-hitter in Miller Park history (that's one that'll stick with Brewers fans forever, I bet) -- you may not have heard that was the first one thrown in Milwaukee since Steve Busby of the Royals no-hit the Brewers on June 19, 1974. It was the eighth no-hitter by a Cubs pitcher since 1900, and the first on the road since Kenny Holtzman's nearly forgotten second no-no in Cincinnati on June 3, 1971. The long ride home gave me a chance to listen to all of the extended postgame coverage on the radio on -- the snappy 2:17 game had me in my house by 11:00 -- and Lou, who sounded excited just to be there, even though he pointed out he had been on both winning and losing sides of no-hitters as a manager and player, mentioned that he had no intention of taking Z out as long as the no-hitter was intact, saying, "I wasn't going out there -- I'd have sent Alan (Trammell) to take him out."
Lou also said he did have someone warming up -- I never did see who -- in the 9th just in case Z had given up a hit. It wasn't necessary. Z's stuff was outstanding -- he hit 98 a couple of times on the stadium pitch speed meter -- and after a slight lack of command in the first inning, had his location and movement working for him on almost every pitch. He walked one -- Michael Bourn, in the fourth, who was immediately erased on a double play -- and hit Pence on a 1-2 pitch in the fifth.
Thinking about how Z can get during games, something like that might have unhinged him. Not last night. He was focused, didn't engage in mound histrionics, and kept his pitch count down (110 pitches, 73 strikes, and if that doesn't sound like "down", remember that we have seen Z throw 100 pitches in five innings at times in the past). Give Geovany Soto some credit for this -- I think he has been a real calming influence on Z ever since his recall, and deserves all the props he can get for handling the entire pitching staff all year like a veteran. Z also singled and scored -- thankfully, the relay throw was bobbled when Z was rounding third, because the last thing any of us wanted to see was Z having to slide into the plate.
Meanwhile, the Cub offense put the game away early; Alfonso Soriano led off the game with a homer, his team-leading 28th of the year (in only 98 games -- he might have come close to Ryan Howard's league-leading total of 44 if he hadn't missed all that time), and after two were out and Z on first and ONEDEC! on second with singles, Derrek Lee brought them in with a two-strike double, Aramis Ramirez followed with a single and then, heads-up, took second base when Tejada tossed the relay throw away, and Geovany Soto finished the scoring with a single.
Leading 5-0, Z got stronger and didn't allow a ball out of the infield between the third and eighth innings. As is frequently the case in no-hitters, there were at least two outstanding defensive plays that helped Z -- a line drive by David Newhan, snared by D-Lee at 1B in the fifth, and a nice running catch by DeRo on Geoff Blum's leadoff liner in the 8th. Z also made a nice pickup of a slow roller by Humberto Quintero in the third and caught a foul popup himself in the 8th.
The crowd was -- well, at first it was surreal, seeing nothing but Cubs blue in the parking lot and coming into the park, prompting a couple of Brewers employees I saw walking in to roll their eyes. But in general, the Brewers folks were friendly and accomodating -- they brought out some Cubs caps to sell at the souvenir stands, along with all the Brewers merchandise on sale -- considering they had been called into work on very short notice, and as Lou said, the 23,441 sounded like twice that many as the game went on, louder than almost any crowd I've heard at Wrigley. It truly was a magical night.
Sitting right in front of me was a young girl, perhaps nine or ten years old, with her mom and a couple of men accompanying her. The men, both of whom were wearing Zambrano jerseys, jumped up and down and hugged perfect strangers afterwards. That young girl, who had a sign saying it was her first Cubs game, will never forget it.
And me? I've now been to 2,069 Cubs games. I'll never forget last night's wonders, either. It was nice to meet BCB reader Chip Set and to see Shanghai Badger again and I know a lot of the rest of you were there and all of us will remember forever the trip we all took on a whim, just to see an unexpected Cubs road game suddenly moved close to us, only to wind up witnesses to an historic day.
Best of all, the win and the Brewers DH loss -- when the second game score was posted on the Miller Park LF wall scoreboard, cheers broke out -- dropped the Cubs' magic number to Rick Monday (for both a playoff spot and the division title). Though we celebrate Z's masterpiece, the business of winning continues this afternoon. The pregame thread will be up at 11:30 am CDT for today's 1:05 start.
Some more memories from last night's historic game:
Randy Wolf's pitch to Alfonso Soriano was deposited over the LF wall, giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead in the first inning
Click here for my scorecard -- figuring they might not sell cards for this game, I brought my own, a form designed by Mike. I have used my own form for a number of years for games like this, but Mike's is better. All I added was the text and team logos, and this was the first game I had used it for.