After turning 65 Thursday, Cubs manager Lou Piniella had but one birthday request.
"Get a win," Piniella said late Thursday afternoon. "That's it."
Before the game against the Phillies, Piniella was happy to receive a commemorative bottle of sake from the Japanese media that supposedly bestows good luck on whoever receives it.
A few hours later, Aramis Ramirez belted a grand slam off Chad Durbin in a five-run eighth inning that turned Wrigley Field upside down and led the Cubs to a 6-4 comeback victory before a crazed crowd of 40,362.
"I've been able to do that since the minor leagues," Ramirez said matter-of-factly. "I've always been able to drive in runs. It's something I'm proud of, and I like to be in that situation late in the game."
Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino didn't budge as the ball sailed toward the bleachers, while Ramirez stood at the plate and admired it with his bat extended into the air. Another improbable comeback in a remarkable season, ignited by a man who's quickly moving up on the list of National League MVP candidates.
"Everybody is an MVP in here," Ramirez said.
Will the Cubs' MVP candidates all cancel each other out in the voting?
"The only way you're going to be in the place we are now, 34 games above .500, is by everybody doing their part," Ramirez replied. "We've been doing it so far."
While Ramirez's shot turned a 4-2 deficit into a 6-4 lead, the Cubs weren't through with the evening's dramatics.
Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, who leads the league with 36 home runs and 112 RBIs, came to the plate against power pitcher Kerry Wood with two outs in the ninth, the shift on and Jimmy Rollins on first base. Wood was pitching for the fourth straight day, but he showed no signs of fatigue.
Piniella turned to pitching coach Larry Rothschild in the Cubs dugout and said: "I've had enough fun for one night."
Wood promptly jammed Howard inside, forcing a pop-up to Ramirez that gave the Cubs their sixth straight victory and a season-high 61/2-game lead over Milwaukee in the National League Central. The Phillies dropped to one game behind the New York Mets in the National League East.
"We enjoy winning," starting pitcher Ryan Dempster said in an understatement.
That appeared obvious during the celebrations that followed Ramirez's slam and Wood's final pitch to Howard, which resulted in his 28th save. Dempster allowed four runs over six innings in a rare ordinary outing for the nouveau Cubs ace, and Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels shut the Cubs down on one run over seven innings before leaving with a 4-1 lead.
As soon as Hamels was removed, however, the Cubs' offense finally began to strut its stuff. Mike Fontenot cranked a pinch-hit home run off reliever Ryan Madsen, Alfonso Soriano followed with a double into what Piniella called "the ivory," and Ryan Theriot advanced Soriano to third with a single to right.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel then turned to Durbin, who promptly walked Derrek Lee to load the bases. Ramirez followed by cranking a 1-0 pitch into the bleachers in left-center, and Wrigley went up for grabs. It was Ramirez's 24th home run and gave him 99 RBIs on the season.
"That's awesome," Dempster said. "I've said it to many people, many a time. Aramis Ramirez … is as clutch a hitter as I've ever seen. Obviously, he smells RBIs, especially later in the game. It's something remarkable.
"It takes a special person to be able to do that, and he does it on a pretty consistent basis, especially if you give him anything to hit."
Durbin gave him something to hit, and a little while later, the sake was flowing in Piniella's office.