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The Day After: Cubs 5, Cardinals 1

On yet another picturebook gorgeous end-of-summer (the equinox passes tomorrow, putting us astronomically as well as meterologically into autumn) afternoon, the Iowa Cubs defeated the Cardinals 5-1, winning yet another series and reducing their magic number (yes, there's still one left) for clinching home field in the first two playoff series to one.

All the regulars got the day off -- that is, all but Jim Edmonds, who was sent up to pinch-hit in the sixth inning to a standing ovation.

Now think about this. Say, six months ago, I had told you that we would be giving a standing ovation to Jim Edmonds during the Cubs' last home game of the year against the Cardinals. You would have shaken your head, said, "Al's nuts", and walked away.

But that's exactly what happened this afternoon -- Edmonds hit a sacrifice fly to score the Cubs' fourth run -- and even a makeshift team that included four guys who spent most of the year in Triple-A beat the Cardinals. Ain't that great?

Casey McGehee, at the bat, drove in two more runs -- and got his first major league hit, a little dribbler of a ball that Troy Glaus couldn't handle at third base. I joked that he could tell his grandchildren that it was a line drive in the gap -- but then, by that time, those grandchildren could just look it up in some video archive and learn the truth.

It was that kind of afternoon, festive but laid-back, nice to enjoy a "who-cares" type of game that felt like a spring training game (with a spring training kind of lineup) rather than the intensity we've lived the last week or so. There will be another week of this -- although, the Cubs surely owe the Mets and Phillies their A-team lineup for the next four days as the Mets, who lost to the Braves 7-6, try to fight off the Brewers for the wild-card spot. Ryan Dempster threw five innings, enough for his 17th win, and the rest of the afternoon was auditions for the final spot in the postseason bullpen. Everyone who threw -- Jeff Samardzija, Chad Gaudin, Randy Wells and Bob Howry -- came out unscored-on, though Gaudin's command was a little off, understandable after a four-week layoff. Wells, actually, has been pretty impressive in his outings and might be a dark horse for a playoff roster spot. I'll give some more thoughts about this in the next few days -- and also to the performance today of Kosuke Fukudome, who looked completely different at the plate, standing in there close in and not bailing out as he has for two months, and the results were positive: two hits and a run scored, and he ought to start every game for the rest of the year to try to get back whatever it is he had in April and lost since; he could be a very valuable part to reclaim in October. Felix Pie also looks very different since his recall and maybe, just maybe, will be the "extra" guy kept since 12 pitchers won't be needed in the postseason.

The crowd of 40,551 brought the season total to 3,300,200, the first 3.3 million season attendance for either Chicago team and more than 99% of capacity for the entire season. There were a few empty seats as some (including a couple from our group) deserted the bleachers for today's Bears loss, but it was mostly full, and given the fact that many of today's crowd won't be able to make it into the ballpark for the postseason, it was a terrific sendoff for a marvelous year, 55 Wrigley Field wins (one short of the all-time Wrigley record).

I'm sitting in my friend Jim's place directly across from the left-field bleachers with several other bleacherites watching the Cubs load on to their bus headed for New York. There's a small group, maybe 50 people, getting autographs from Reed Johnson and Ryan Theriot, among others, as the team gets on the bus. A week from Wednesday, they return to the North Side to begin their pursuit of their goal from spring training, and our dream for decades: a World Series title.