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Yankees-Cubs game creates a buzz

First meeting between the two clubs since 1938

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

CHICAGO -- It felt like a playoff game or an All-Star Game or a tent revival. Penny Marshall showed up, which just goes to show you how big this thing really was. The town couldn't have handled a Fonz sighting.

You had your normal, everyday Wrigley Field atmosphere Friday--drinking, carousing and sporadic lusting--combined with something historic, the Cubs and the Yankees facing each other for the first time since 1938. So there was buzzing in all its various connotations.

And it was just about the strangest thing imaginable, outside of your once-a-decade corking scandal.

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Jason Giambi was knocking out home run after home run in batting practice--is there an X-ray technician in the house?--and the crowd was oohing and aahing as if it had never seen this sort of thing before. That must have hurt Sammy Sosa as a man.

Giambi hit a real home run in the first inning, a two-run model to left-center, and there was a huge roar from the crowd--this from the same crowd that earlier had chanted that the Yankees (stunk), or something like that without parentheses.

In the sixth inning, Sosa swung hard at a David Wells pitch, did another indecisive home run hop (that's the rust talking) and watched his fly ball disappear into the glove of right fielder Raul Mondesi. And the crowd cheered.

"There was a different atmosphere in the stands," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "I've never seen so many opposing fans, probably other than the St. Louis Cardinals games."

There were at least three possible explanations for the pro-Yankee cheering. One, fans had downed too many pregame "called shots" in honor of Babe Ruth's World Series heroics here in 1932 and were disoriented.

Two, there simply were more Yankees fans at Wrigley than Cubs fans, and that's certainly a possibility. People were paying upwards of $1,500 for a ticket through brokers, and Chicagoans would rather spend $1,500 on lawn decorations and major household appliances than on one baseball ticket.

Three, people were cheering the whole idea of Friday, the whole pageantry of it, which was perfectly understandable. There was a feeling in the park of being part of something special, of taking part in something that meant something, even if it didn't mean as much as a typical Cubs-Cardinals series.

"We had two good teams playing," Cubs center fielder Corey Patterson said.

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No, that wasn't the lure. Here was the most storied franchise in sports playing in baseball's version of an amusement park. The fact that the Cubs were a first-place team going into the game had absolutely nothing to do with the equation. The Yankees Play Wrigley Field! The Rolling Stones Play Yankee Stadium!

If the Cubs had been a last-place team, the tickets would have gone for the same prices and the same 39,359 people would have shown up.

Friday was about embracing baseball's history. Look, there's a decent chance of walking through a gate at Wrigley and being underwhelmed. Aside from the field and the ivy and the camaraderie, Wrigley is something of a dump. The dugouts are grim, the clubhouses might as well be studio apartments and the walkways that connect them look like leaky fall-out shelters.

Then you stop yourself. Ruth hit home runs in this place. Lou Gehrig walked down that grimy walkway. And all the renovations and paint jobs in the world wouldn't be able to improve on that history.

The Yankees won 5-3 on a cloudy, sometimes rainy day, but it was only an appetizer. Saturday is Clemens-Kerry Wood, a Texas two-step. Saturday is Wood trying to stop his boyhood idol from getting that 300th victory.

As he left the game in the eighth inning, Wells, the former White Sox pariah, was booed. It is something of a Chicago tradition. Normalcy had returned, even if temporarily.

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