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When the Cubs left town after an 8-1 victory over Cincinnati on Monday afternoon, it was time to sit back, take a deep breath and repeat the following mantra:
It's only April. It's only April. It's only April.
After an intense weekend of baseball at Wrigley Field, it was easy to get confused.
The wacky spring weather, some back-and-forth Cubs-Reds games and an overly anxious fan base combined to make October seem much closer to reality than it actually is.
Believe it or not, the Cubs are only 7-6, with 149 games to go. Still, manager Dusty Baker likes to see so much intensity, no matter what the calendar says.
"We beat them in the first game in the ninth on back-to-back home runs, and that creates intensity right there," Baker said. "Then they beat us 3-2 late, and then beat us 11-10. People love to see offense, and then [Monday] we beat them 8-1.
"[The April intensity] is unusual, but it's not unusual considering the kind of games we've been playing, and it's probably a carryover from last year too."
Matt Clement's pitching and a 14-hit attack earned the Cubs a split in the wild series, which was witnessed by 159,461 fans, a Wrigley Field record for a four-game set.
Clement survived another shaky first and pitched 6 1/3 innings of one-run, four-hit ball to lower his earned-run average to 2.76. Corey Patterson's two-run single in the second gave Clement a lead, Aramis Ramirez cranked his fifth home run in six games in the fifth and Derrek Lee added a grand slam as the Cubs pulled away during a five-run seventh.
Clement (2-1) left to a standing ovation in the seventh inning with two on and one out while nursing a 3-1 lead. Reliever Kyle Farnsworth came out firing again, retiring D'Angelo Jimenez on a fly to center on a 98-m.p.h. fastball and Barry Larkin on a fly to right on a 96-m.p.h. fastball.
"Kyle came in and got some big outs for me when I was struggling at the very end," Clement said. "That's the part everyone is going to forget about this game."
After Farnsworth put out the fire, the Cubs promptly loaded the bases off reliever Ryan Wagner to start the seventh. Lee unloaded on the first pitch, sending one deep into the right-field bleachers to make it 7-1. He doubled his RBI total to eight with one swing of the bat, earning the first curtain call of his brief Cubs career.
Pumping his fist while heading to first, Lee seemed relieved that his offense was finally catching up to his stellar defense.
"It seemed like forever since I got a hit," he said.
The wind was blowing from left field toward first base at the start of the game, a big change from Sunday, when the flags were whipping out directly toward center, making every fly ball an adventure. Clement struggled through a 28-pitch first inning, but managed to get out of it with only one run scoring after striking out Jason LaRue with the bases loaded.
"It's a credit to the fans," Clement said. "They were into it from the get-go, whether it's bases loaded in the first inningand hopefully I don't make a habit of thator a big play in the fifth or sixth, or even the last out of the game.
"That's what Cubs fans are all about. They're excited about last year. They're excited about our team this year. It's great as a player. I love pitching here and being a part of it.
"The fans are [creating] a playoff atmosphere, but you can't turn it into a playoff atmosphere too early. You've got to go do your job. For me, it's relaxing. When you get those fans behind you, it's just an incredible feeling. Until you're on the mound and hear them behind you like that, you can't even imagine what I'm talking about."