"I've been hearing a lot of stuff on the radio and TV -- let's be clear about this, we still have to win two more games," Chicago's Jim Edmonds said. "Let's not get too excited until it's over."
Thursday was pretty exciting. The Cubs took a huge step toward their second straight National League Central title by rallying to beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 7-6, in 12 innings. Geovany Soto smacked a game-tying three-run homer in the ninth, and Derrek Lee hit a walk-off single with two outs in the 12th for the victory.
A victory on Friday coupled with a loss by the Brewers to the Cincinnati Reds would secure a postseason berth for Chicago. However, the Cubs will be playing a day game, while the Brewers have a night game at Great American Ball Park.
"It's been a long season, and we're getting real close to where we want to go," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "There's still a little work to be done, and hopefully, we'll get it done this weekend."
Pinch-hitter Daryle Ward walked to lead off the Chicago 12th and was lifted for pinch-runner Jason Marquis, who advanced on Reed Johnson's sacrifice. Carlos Villanueva intentionally walked Alfonso Soriano to face Ryan Theriot, who flew out, and Marquis moved up. Lee then drove a 2-2 pitch to center for the game-winner.
"I was actually pretty relaxed," Lee said of his at-bat. "I've been feeling pretty good at the plate, and it's easy to feel good if your swing feels good. I thought I had a pitch earlier in the at-bat that I should've hit, and I was joking with the umpire, 'Man, I shouldn't miss that one.' I felt pretty good up there."
Lee was 0-for-5 before the at-bat in the 12th.
"That's what you try to teach your hitters when they're young in the Minor Leagues and even when they come up to the big leagues," Piniella said of Lee's picture-perfect swing. "You want to stay up the middle with two strikes, don't try to overdo, and that's what he did."
The Cubs had a chance in the 11th with a runner at first and Seth McClung on the mound. Edmonds took a 1-1 pitch that appeared to be outside but was called a strike by home-plate umpire Ed Rapuano. Edmonds complained and was ejected, prompting an argument from Piniella.
"The first pitch was off the plate and I said, 'C'mon, Eddie, that's a ball,'" Edmonds said. "He jumped up real quick like he was irritated and was yelling at me. I said, 'It doesn't matter what you say, it's still a ball.' He said, 'Don't take it again.'
"[McClung] threw the next pitch further off the plate, and I said, 'That's a ball, too,' and [Rapuano] said, 'You're gone,'" Edmonds said. "It was an unprofessional situation that we got into."
"[Edmonds] thought the pitches were outside, and he got into a little war of words with the umpire, and when that happens, the umpire usually wins," Piniella said.
With the count 1-2, Felix Pie stepped in and hit into a fielder's choice, forcing the runner at second. Mark DeRosa singled, sending Pie to third, but Soto couldn't duplicate his heroics in the ninth and flied out to end the inning.
|"Soto's done a heck of a job, Marmol's done a heck of a job. There's a lot of them who have done a heck of a job."|
|-- Lou Piniella|
"I went out to talk to him, and he said, 'I'll get three strikeouts,'" Piniella said. "I said, 'No, get three ground balls,' and that's exactly what he did."
Wood got Craig Counsell to ground out. Jason Kendall then bounced the ball to Aramis Ramirez at third, and he started a 5-2-6 rundown to get the runner who was at third, and then Wood got pinch-hitter Joe Dillon to ground out.
The Cubs had three hits before the ninth inning, and two of those were solo homers by Edmonds in the second and by Ramirez in the fourth. With two outs in the ninth, Ramirez doubled and Edmonds singled him in, then DeRosa singled to set up Soto's blast. The catcher connected on the first pitch from Salomon Torres to tie the game at 6.
"Soto's done a heck of a job," Piniella said. "[Carlos] Marmol's done a heck of a job. There's a lot of them who have done a heck of a job."
That seems to be a theme this year.
"I thought we showed great character today," Lee said.
The Brewers had taken advantage of an error by DeRosa to score four unearned runs in the sixth. Trailing 2-1, with one out and a runner at first, Kendall hit a potential double-play ball to DeRosa, who had trouble handling the hop. One out later, Mike Cameron, Ray Durham and Ryan Braun each hit RBI singles off Jeff Samardzija to go ahead, 4-2.
Chicago's Rich Harden got off to a shaky start when he walked the first two batters of the game. One out later, the Brewers had runners at first and third, and Fielder hit a grounder to DeRosa, who made an off-balance throw to second. The throw appeared to hit the runner in the back, and he was safe, while a run did score on the fielder's choice.
Chicago now has a nine-game lead in the division over the Brewers with 11 games to go.
"We're close," Lee said. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves. We still have some work to do."
"We've all seen collapses and crashes in the past," Edmonds said, "and we don't want to be anywhere near that."
So, put the champagne back in the refrigerator. Keep it chilled.
"Let's win tomorrow if we can," Piniella said of Friday's game against the Cardinals. "Whatever happens on the road [with the Brewers], happens. I'm not going to sit around here. If we win tomorrow afternoon, the bars in Wrigley will be waiting around. I'm not going to be part of that scene."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.