There aren't many sports venues where the home team can enter 9 games under .500 and inspire an atmosphere like the one at Wrigley Field on Saturday night.
A lot of good things converged to make that possible: The rival St. Louis Cardinals were in town. The weather was perfect. And the season-high crowd of 42,240 saw an entertaining, if not always pretty, game as the Cubs beat the Cardinals 6-4.
Seas of Cardinals red and Cubs blue dominated the scene, as each group of fans cheered loudly for their players.
"It was probably one of the better ones we've had here since I've been here anyway; you could feel it," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of the vibe. "You could sense it, especially once we took that lead, the players really felt how big a game this was for us."
There was something else, too.
Matt Garza took the mound for perhaps the last time as a Cub. He's been on the trading block since the minute he came off the disabled list in May. Garza disappointed neither the fans nor the many scouts in attendance.
He gutted out 62⁄3 innings, giving up 10 hits and 2 runs. He was charged with a run in the seventh, when the Cardinals cut a 6-1 lead to 6-2.
As Garza exited, the fans -- and even some Cardinals fans -- stood and cheered. Garza, mad at himself for not making it through the inning, slapped his glove against his leg in frustration.
"Everybody stood up and was clapping for me," he said. "It's awesome, but 62⁄3 doesn't deserve that. Seven, 8, 9 does. I appreciate it, but I hope this isn't my last one."
Garza improved to 6-1 with a 3.17 ERA, and he tied a career high with his fifth straight win. In his last 5 starts, he is 5-0 with a 1.47 ERA. He talks constantly of loving Chicago, but he also knows the reality of the situation, with the Cubs seeking to rebuild with young players and him being a prime trading chip.
"It's awesome," he repeated. "It's a great place to play, a great place to pitch. Fans really embrace you when you do your job. When you don't, they embrace, just not in a positive way. I love it here, but it is what it is."
Garza got help by some good fielding from third baseman Luis Valbuena and shortstop Starlin Castro. In the ninth, Castro ended the game with a nice pick on Pete Kozman's bouncer, and first baseman Anthony Rizzo came up with an equally nice catch to help strand two runners and enable Kevin Gregg to notch his 17th save.
Alfonso Soriano also stayed hot, hitting a double in the second and his 16th homer of the season in the third. Valbuena hit a 2-run homer in the fourth.
With the all-star break at hand, Garza will sit and wait. His phone may or may not ring, but his ears no doubt will still be ringing from Saturday's crowd noise.
"I know exactly what's going to happen," he said. "I'm going to come in tomorrow. I'm going to get my workout, and I'm going to enjoy my all-star break and see if I catch that flight Thursday or Friday to Denver (where the Cubs will play the Rockies).
"You get caught up in it, but I've been through it so much, but I'm oblivious to it until something happens."Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.