We stand on the cusp of history every single night, or so it seems. Last night's thrilling 5-4 Cubs win over the Brewers, reducing the magic number to four (thanks to the Marlins' 5-1 win over the Astros, the quirky little possibility that the Cubs could sweep Milwaukee yet not clinch the Central was eliminated), and also gave the Cubs 52 wins at home in 2008. That's the most home victories in a season since 1935 -- breaking the previous high, 51, set in 1984. (I've added a right sidebar box listing the top win seasons at home.)
Leaving the ballpark, it seemed there were way more people milling around Sheffield and Waveland than usual -- people starting to come down to the area just to soak in the atmosphere, even without tickets, and this is only going to increase over the next few days... and hopefully, deep into October.
Those who did have tickets saw a game in which none of the Cubs pitchers threw with their "A" game -- Ryan Dempster labored through six innings, giving up no runs and striking out nine through five, allowing only Prince Fielder's shot onto Sheffield that looked like it was going to hit the just-past-full moon rising over the bleachers; that made the score 3-2 and though Dempster trudged out to the mound to start the 7th (surprising us), Lou had no intention of letting him go past the 114 pitches he did throw.
The bullpen struggled. Carlos Marmol threw pretty well -- but Fielder hit his second homer of the day off him, muscling a ball to the opposite field, to bring the Brewers back to within a run after Alfonso Soriano had homered in the bottom of the seventh. Then Kerry Wood -- who we noticed in the bleachers had almost none of his best stuff while warming up -- fired up the radar gun to 96 and 97 MPH once he hit the mound. Even then, he gave up two hits and a run before floating a gorgeous breaking pitch right over the center of the plate, fooling Fielder for a game-ending K, as the crowd got just about as loud as I've heard it all year.
Earlier, two fine fielding plays -- one by Mark DeRosa, one by Reed Johnson, both flat-out dives to get sinking liners -- had helped keep the Brewers in check. Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee pulled off a nice DP to end the sixth, a play that got Brewers 1B coach Ed Sedar tossed, arguing that Lee had taken his foot off the bag; replays appeared to show that he had made the play. Meanwhile, Milwaukee was also keeping the Cub offense down with some nice fielding plays -- particularly one bouncer up the middle that J. J. Hardy prevented from being a hit. It was a well-played game, tense and exciting all the way through, something we should hope and expect to see continuing as we make our way to and through October.
Dave and I had a long discussion about whether a team should celebrate a division title on the field (he claimed the Yankees never did, just high-fiving and then leaving the field). He said no -- that should be reserved for winning the pennant or World Series. I disagree. Celebrating a division title is the celebration you have earned for success over the long six-month road to the postseason. It doesn't mean there isn't more work to be done -- obviously, once you get in you want to win -- but I think any team that's made the playoffs has earned the right to celebrate it, particularly in front of its own fans if the schedule breaks that way.
We hope that'll be soon, perhaps even by tomorrow. After that rough stretch to begin this month, the Cubs have won five in a row, gotten back to break-even in September (6-6) and look as good as they have all season. Since a 3-2, extra-inning loss to the Marlins on July 26, they are 31-14 -- their best 45-game stretch since they went an identical 31-14 from June 30-August 18, 1989. What perfect timing to go into the postseason.