It was one of those nights at Wrigley Field when everything fell into place at just the right time for the Cubs.
A Jacque Jones line drive to the gap in right field rolled all the way to the wall.
A Ryan Theriot chopper to the pitcher bounced out of his outstretched glove.
And a raucous crowd of 40,884 sang its own version of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," after booing Brewers announcer Bob Uecker all during his rendition.
When all was said and done, the Cubs had beaten Milwaukee 5-3, bouncing back from a three-run deficit to grab the opener of their National League Central showdown.
With St. Louis beating Houston, the Cardinals moved into second place, two games behind the Cubs, while the Brewers were in third, 2 1/2 games back.
"I've never been in the playoffs, but I'd have to assume this was a playoff atmosphere from a fans' standpoint," Theriot said. "We've been approaching every game like a playoff game for a long time now, so the intensity is there in our dugout."
Rich Hill improved to 8-7, allowing three runs on seven hits over seven innings, striking out nine and walking no one. Jones' two-run double off reliever Scott Linebrink tied it in the seventh, and he put the crowd into overdrive when he pumped his fist as he chugged into second.
"Aaaaauuuggh," Jones said, pretending to be emotional, before denying he was emotional.
"No, man, what're you talking about?" he said with a grin. "I just go play."
Theriot's 50-foot chopper off Linebrink's glove brought Jones home with the go-ahead run in what turned out to be a four-run inning.
Bob Howry added to the drama, putting two on with two outs in the eighth before retiring Gabe Gross on a pop to second to end a 12-pitch at-bat. Gross fouled off six 3-2 pitches as the crowd stood on its feet and roared over and over again.
"Definitely adrenaline," Howry said. "It was four pitches into the at-bat, and the crowd was on its feet because I'd gotten to two strikes. For eight pitches, you had 40,00 people out there screaming as loud as that—it was a rush."
Manager Lou Piniella enjoyed the drama, but added, "I was thinking to myself, 'I've had enough fun tonight.' "
Howry threw 11 straight fastballs before retiring Gross on a splitter that he had hung.
"He got himself out on that one," Howry said, "because it wasn't a good enough pitch to say I got him out."
Ryan Dempster came on to pitch a perfect ninth, striking out Geoff Jenkins to end it and notch his 22nd save.
Hill came out strong, striking out the first four batters he faced. The Brewers broke through in the third on Corey Hart's sacrifice fly. Hill's inability to lay down a bunt cost the Cubs a scoring opportunity in the bottom of the inning.
"Just when you think you have everything figured out, something comes back to bite you," Hill said. "I learned a lot."
After Hart's two-run single in the fifth made it 3-0, Piniella let Hill hit for himself in the bottom half after Jason Kendall's two-out double off Jeff Suppan. Hill, a .125 hitter, singled to put the Cubs on the board.
Things really began to get crazy in the seventh after the crowd drowned out Uecker's singing. After hitting Cliff Floyd with a pitch, Suppan was replaced by Linebrink, who saw Mark DeRosa reach on an infield hit to short as Floyd broke to second on a hit-and-run.
"I only know two signs," Floyd said. "Hit-and-run and take."
After Jones' double tied it, Theriot's chopper turned Wrigleyville upside-down. Piniella said the atmosphere in the stands gave the game a September feel in August.
"Good crowd," he said. "They're into the game, and they know baseball. Let's hope we can treat them to memorable games here all September."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times