On the green lawn where John, Paul, George and Ringo fought to be heard over the squeals of adoring fans in the summer of 1965, Jason Marquis, the Cubs' fifth Beatle, left the New York Mets in need of help.
Marquis, who once again will be the odd man out in a playoff rotation, was a one-man demolition crew Monday night in the opener of a four-game series at Shea Stadium, the Cubs' last before the orange-and-blue monstrosity will be destroyed. He smashed a grand slam during a six-run fourth inning that sent him to his 11th win and the Cubs to a 9-5 victory, assuring the Lou Crew of home-field advantage throughout the National League playoffs.
"It's a step," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "It's an important step. You can see that home field has been very important all year."
Another impact of the Cubs' pounding Mets rookie Jonathon Niese was the tightening of the National League playoff picture.
The Mets, in danger of a second straight late-season collapse, dropped 21/2 games behind Philadelphia in the NL East and had their wild-card lead reduced to one game over Milwaukee. They have ace Johan Santana set to start Tuesday and against Florida on Sunday, in the 162nd game.
The Cubs, back to a season-best 35 games over .500, are interested observers of that race, which will determine whom they play when the NL Division Series begins Oct. 1 at Wrigley Field.
If the Mets are the wild card, they will face the Cubs. If the Brewers are the wild card, the Cubs will face the NL West champ, most likely Los Angeles.
The Cubs will play a large role in deciding that race as they travel from New York to Milwaukee on Friday. If the race goes to the wire, or beyond to a Monday playoff, they could face an opponent that has its starting pitchers out of order.
"We'll see what happens," Piniella said. "You don't usually see seasons end this way."
Marquis, on a playoff team for the eighth consecutive season, made his 28th start. It will probably be his last one until 2009 as he moves into a long-reliever role in October, which generally hasn't been his favorite month.
Marquis won 15 games for St. Louis in 2006 but slid into manager Tony La Russa's doghouse. He didn't work a single playoff inning as the Cardinals won the World Series. He was on the Cubs' playoff roster last season but wasn't used against Arizona. He has won 37 games since his last postseason outing, working in the bullpen for the Cardinals in 2005, but has definitely earned his way onto this one.
Against the Mets, Marquis (11-9) allowed four runs in 62/3 innings. He drove in five runs, adding an RBI on a fielder's-choice grounder to the grand slam off Niese (1-1). The last Cubs pitcher to drive in five runs was Milt Pappas on Aug. 11, 1972, against the Mets at Wrigley Field.
"Every time I take the mound I feel like I'm going to win," Marquis said. "I've got a good team behind me. It's always nice to be part of a winning team and to feel like you've done your part."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun