Mike Nadel: Cubs celebrate new rivalry in style

Mike Nadel

Lou Piniella saw the large media throng waiting for his pregame confab in Miller Park's visiting dugout and asked: "Why didn't you guys keep going north to Minnesota?"

We must assume the Cubs manager was referring to the White Sox-Twins series and not Minneapolis Mosquito Mayhem, or whatever festival might be taking place up there.

We also must assume he knew the two-part answer:

1. Because Milwaukee is much closer and, therefore, much easier on the expense account. 2. No offense to the White Sox and Twins (and any other teams that actually have won a World Series in the last 99 years), but Milwaukee is Baseball Central this week.

Cubs vs. Brewers. In a series that really matters. For both teams. In late July. Pretty cool.

Pretty rare, too. OK, make that VERY rare. As in: It never happened before.

"They're fun games," Piniella said. "You've got to enjoy this. These games here should bring out the best in you. That's what you go to spring training for, to get in this type of situation."

Said Brewers manager Ned Yost: "I've been through a lot of playoff games and World Series games, and this intensity matched it. It was so much fun being in a game with that much excitement and electricity."

For more than three thrilling hours Monday night, the locals focused not on the Packers' quarterbacking soap opera but on their Little Ballclub That Could taking on the behemoth from 90.5 miles south (if you don't count detours for road construction).

Their party was crashed by the Cubs, who won 6-4. In the process, the visitors proved new Cheesehead hero CC Sabathia mortal, exposed two major Brew Crew bugaboos (fielding and relief pitching) and recaptured momentum they seemingly had lost while blowing a six-game lead in the space of two weeks.

Sabathia has become bigger 'round these parts than Brett Favre. Literally, of course, as CC is XXXL. And, lately at least, figuratively as well.

The lineman-sized Sabathia is a rent-a-pitcher who, like Favre, isn't long for Wisconsin. Even if he'll only have been around for a few months after being acquired from Cleveland in a masterstroke, go-for-broke trade, he's being treated to the kind of love previously reserved for the likes of Favre, Robin Yount and Al McGuire.

Coming off three consecutive complete-game victories in which he allowed three total runs, Sabathia didn't have his best stuff this time and he labored through 6 2/3 innings.

It didn't take long for Alfonso Soriano to send him a message: Sorry, CC, but you're not God.

Soriano drilled the game's second pitch deep to left-center and so enjoyed his handiwork - first standing and then barely trotting - that he wouldn't have made it to second base had left fielder Ryan Braun not butchered the carom. Soriano ended up scoring on Derrek Lee's single.

Clearly feeling well after having recently come off the disabled list, Soriano drilled the second pitch of the third inning deep to left-center. Again, he admired the flight of the ball. This time, he actually had it right: home run.

"Soriano, when he's hot, you can't hardly get him out," Yost said. "And he's gotten hot quick."

Still, chants of "Let's go, CC!" could be heard often from the sellout crowd ... until they were drowned out each time by "Let's go, Cubbies!"

Yes, as usual, thousands of Chicagoans (not to mention suburbanites and other assorted Cubbieland denizens) made the trek to "Wrigley Field North." This time, however, the resolute residents were determined not to be shouted down.

When Braun followed J.J. Hardy's sixth-inning homer with a titanic blast that practically knocked out Bernie Brewer before the mascot could begin his home-run slide, the sound was earsplitting.

Cubs fans got their chance to roar in the seventh as their heroes scored twice thanks to second baseman Rickie Weeks. His wild relay throw turned what should have been an inning-ending double-play grounder off the bat of Lee into an error that gave the Cubs a 4-3 lead.

When "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" played between innings, the root-root-root choice was just about equal parts "Brewers" and "Cubbies." Soon enough, though, the brat-and-brew crowd ruled again, as pinch-hitter Russell Branyan tied it with a homer off woeful Cubs reliever Bob Howry.

Moments later, boos rained down on Weeks for whiffing. Obviously, when things go bad, these confines are no friendlier than the real Wrigley.

In the end, Cubs fans had their way because their team had its way against Brewers closer-by-default Salomon Torres in the ninth. He found a way to walk the free-swinging Soriano and the Cubs soon had two runs on Lee's double and Mark DeRosa's single.

When Carlos Marmol ended the game by inducing Gabe Kapler's deep flyout, cheers of Cubbie joy could be heard over Milwaukee's moans.

A rivalry officially was born, and the Cubs gave their loyal followers the first chance to crow.

Mike Nadel ( is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at