When a jet fighter preparing for the weekend's Air and Water Show came out of the blue and buzzed Wrigley Field immediately after Alex Gonzalez homered onto Waveland Avenue on Thursday, it provided the perfect punctuation mark for the series finale with Houston.
The Cubs have also come out of nowhere to insert themselves into the bunched-up National League Central race, beating Houston 7-1 to move to within a half-game of first place.
St. Louis beat Pittsburgh earlier in day, moving into a first-place tie with the Astros and setting up a potentially riveting conclusion to a wildly unpredictable season.
After losing the first of the four-game series to fall 31/2 back, the Cubs won three straight in decisive fashion, limiting the Astros to five runs and a .184 average in those contests.
"We're back in this thing, big-time," manager Dusty Baker said.
The Cubs take on Los Angeles next in a three-game series at home this weekend, while Houston travels to Cincinnati and St. Louis plays at Philadelphia.
After an off day Monday, the Cubs and Houston finish their season series with a three-game set at Minute Maid Park. The Cubs are 8-5 against the Astros and 4-2 at Minute Maid.
"The way this season has gone, there's been somebody up, somebody down, but [no one has] ever been out of it," winning pitcher Matt Clement said. "It looks like all three teams have the talent to stay in this thing or win this thing. Hopefully, we can just keep plugging away."
Clement (10-10) gave up one unearned run in 52/3 innings, allowing five hits with eight strikeouts and giving the Cubs four starters with double-digit win totals.
Gonzalez went 3-for-4 with three RBIs, while Hee Seop Choi came up with a key hit with two outs in the first inning in a nine-pitch at-bat against knuckleballer Jared Fernandez (1-2).
After fouling off four pitches, Choi cranked a two-run, opposite-field double, giving the Cubs a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
With Eric Karros hitting .161 since Aug. 1, Baker must decide how to best divide playing time between his two first basemen.
Choi and Karros have played almost the exact same number of games against right-handers.
Karros is hitting .253 in 174 at-bats with seven home runs, six doubles and 21 RBIs.
Choi is hitting .242 in 178 at-bats, with eight home runs, 16 doubles and 27 RBIs.
The Cubs added two more in the fourth on Kenny Lofton's sacrifice fly and Gonzalez's RBI double, then another in the fifth when former White Sox pitcher Rick White showed his outspokenness wasn't the only reason the Sox let him go.
White hit Moises Alou, walked Choi, hit Aramis Ramirez in the hand and walked Paul Bako with one out to force in another run.
The game dragged until the jet fighters made their appearance in the eighth after Gonzalez's home run, waking up the players with a sonic blast louder than Sammy Sosa's boom box.
"It was definitely distracting," Gonzalez said. "The whole dugout hit the deck when the first one came over. I'd just finished hitting the home run and celebrating, and I couldn't even celebrate very long because we were all ducking under the bats."
Baker said his days as a Marine inured him to the booming sound of low-flying jets, though he doesn't want the air show to alter the outcome of any games.
"I heard it's going to be a heck of a weekend here," he said. "I know everybody loves them and it's entertaining.
"I just hope it doesn't affect the concentration of the pitchers in the games."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times