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Baker Leads Cubs Past Former Candlestick Players, 3-2

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As the Cubs and their coaches and manager came onto the field for the handshakes and high-fives after their come-from-behind 3-2 win over the Giants, I saw something I don't think I've seen all year.

A smile on Lou Piniella's face.

Sorry it took so long, Lou, but that one was definitely worth a smile (and worth me staying up late to see the end).

For most of the game it appeared this recap was going to be written as a form letter, one I've written so many times ("Cubs pitcher throws great, offense impotent, [insert name of pitcher here] deserved better"). And for eight innings, the game set up exactly that way. Ryan Dempster threw another excellent game -- he has a 1.73 ERA in five starts covering 36.1 innings in September, during which he has issued only six walks -- but got victimized by a man hitting .178 coming into the game. John Bowker, sort of the Giants' version of Micah Hoffpauir, spent a good chunk of 2009 at the Giants' Triple-A stop at Fresno, pounding minor league pitching at a .342/.451/.596 clip before being recalled in July. Like Hoffpauir, he's really more of a first baseman than an outfielder; also like Micah, both players were in left field for their respective teams, and Bowker struggled at the major league level this year.

Not last night. Perhaps channeling Hoffpauir's two-homer, five-RBI career day against the Mets last September (oddly, one year ago today), Bowker chose last night to have the best day of his 2009 season. He doubled in the Giants' first run and then nearly sent a ball into McCovey Cove (it landed in the last row of the RF seats) for a homer, giving the Giants a 2-1 lead.

Other than those hits, Dempster held the rest of the Giants to five singles and a walk in seven innings; he lowered his season ERA to 3.68 and he says he'd like to start two more times in order to meet a personal goal of 200 innings:

He's at 186 innings, and will make two more starts, opening the final homestand next Tuesday against Pittsburgh and closing the season on Oct. 4 against Arizona.

"That's a goal of mine every year," Dempster said of reaching 200. "I just want to win ballgames. I sign up to make as many starts as I can. If it happens, it happens. Today was a great win for us. If I can help us win a couple more ballgames, it'll be awesome."

Absolutely, and if Dempster can, say, finish the season with two wins in those starts and an ERA near 3.50, his 2009 season will be not that far off the pace he set in his first full year as a Cub starter in 2008, despite a rocky start that likely had a lot to do with the personal stress he was feeling due to the health problems his newborn daughter had in April.

Aaron Heilman threw another solid scoreless inning in relief; we've all bitched about Heilman plenty here, but in 14 appearances since August 12 he has thrown 16.1 innings, struck out 12 and walked only three and posted a 1.65 ERA. The key is the lack of walks; at the very least if he can keep this up, he will have trade value this offseason.

Heilman wound up with the win when Jeff Baker, down to his final strike and an 0-2 count, laid off a pair of out-of-the-strike-zone sliders and slammed the next pitch into the left-field seats for a game-winning two-run homer. Derrek Lee had stolen second base while Baker was batting to try to set himself up in scoring position to tie the game; unfortunately:

The Cubs may be a little shorthanded Friday if Derrek Lee can't go. The first baseman aggravated his neck when he slid into second base in the ninth.

"Every time he slides, I cringe," Piniella said. "What happened probably is when he came in, someone tapped him on the head scoring the run in the ninth, and I don't think that helped the situation either."

That's why Hoffpauir moved from LF to 1B for the last of the ninth, which Carlos Marmol finished off without too much incident for his 15th save (and 12th in a row). It was one of the best games of 2009, preventing the Cardinals from clinching the NL Central for another day. I woke up this morning to a voicemail from my dad, who lives in San Francisco, telling me some friends invited him to the game. Glad he got to see such a good one -- that's two Cubs wins he has seen this year, including this one at Wrigley Field on May 14.

It's nice to see wins like this; they give great hope for the future. Keep up the good work -- let's see more smiles on Lou's face.

Finally, the winner of last night's photo caption contest is KaliCub, who submitted this entry:

In a stunning display of one-upmanship, the Cubs fail when Jake Fox jumps and rest of Cubs fielders fall down, only to find out that Jake didn’t catch the ball.

KaliCub, please email me your address so I can send you the DVD. Thanks for all the entries!