Chicago, Illinois

Friday, July 22nd - ?

Chicago quickly became one of our favorite destinations after our trip in 2010, so with Mike off to Europe Jill and I were looking to get out of town. Jill found a half marathon and 10K we could do in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, about twenty miles west of Chicago, and I found a couple of ballgames to go to - less go!

Bright and early on friday morning (we're talking 4:45 here folks) we headed to Ithaca for our flight to Newark, and then onto Chicago. No problems in Ithaca, short flight to Newark. We stopped and had breakfast at one of the diner themed restaurants there. As we sat and ate, Jill looked two tables over and lo and behold who was sitting there but none other than Kevin Burkhardt, the Mets on field reporter for SNY! Very cool! We let him be, and didn't want to bother him while he was eating, but it was still very cool to see him none the less.

After breakfast, we made our way to our gate area to hang out for the rest of our three hour layover. Unfortunately, poor weather in Chicago made the wait in the terminal four and a half hours, then we boarded, then we were held up on the tarmac for another hour! We finally arrived in Chicago at around 3:30 local time. Made for a very long day of traveling.

We grabbed our Alamo rental car (a Nissan Cube!) and drove to Hoffman Estates to check into our first hotel. The first two nights of the trip, we were staying at the Hilton Garden Inn in Hoffman Estates. This location was very convenient to the race on Saturday as it was literally part of the race route!

After settling into the room, we drove over to the Village of Hoffman Estates village hall where the race expo was and got our numbers and goodies. From there, we went to dinner. Looking on Trip Advisor, we had found a well reviewed Italian place called Amore Mio. Had a very good pre-race meal there! I had a dish that was sausage, chicken, and veal, along with roasted potatoes. Jill had gnocchi. We shared a pear salad with goat cheese, as well as a lemon gelatto type dessert. All in all, a very good meal. Back to the hotel after stopping at the grocery store to call it a night.

Saturday brought the crux of our trip to Chicagoland - The Alexian Brothers Healthcare System Half Marathon and 10K. Up early and into our running gear, we made the short drive - in the rain - to the parking ramp near the start. When we walked to the start we ran into, and met in person for the first time, Dave Mari. He introduced us to Jeff Davenport. Both of these gentlemen kept Jill company along the half marathon route. Very proud of Jill for completing this race, considering the past Wednesday night she injured her back, was in a fair amount of pain, and could barely walk let alone run 13.1 miles. She fought through it though and finished! Very, very proud of her!

After the race, we came back to the hotel and showered/changed, then went to Lou Malnati's in Schaumburg for a great lunch! Jill had "The Lou" individual pizza and I had "The Malnati Chicago Classic". We washed it all down with a pitcher of Miller Lite. After lunch, we went to the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg and wandered around for a while. At this point, we had thoughts of maybe going to an indoor football game at the Allstate Arena back in Rosemont, but both of us were feeling the effects from the race, so instead we headed back towards Hoffman Estates. We went to Los Fernandez Restaurant for dinner. Back to the hotel after dinner, after making a detour to see the Sears Centre.

Woke up on Sunday morning and got checked out of the Hilton Garden Inn. Found a grocery store up the road a ways and grabbed some breakfast there. Drove the car down 90 to the Rosemont CTA station, where we parked the car and hopped onto the Blue Line for the ride downtown. At the Jackson stop we transferred to the Red Line and off to Wrigley we went! Pulling into the Addison station, it was pretty cool to see Wrigley off in the near distance. Went to the store across from the main gate before heading into the park. Wandered inside, had a couple Old Style Lights and Labatt Blue Lights before heading up to our seats. Jill had chicken tenders and fries for lunch, and I had a polish sausage. We had a lemon chill and vanilla ice cream in a helmet as well. Cubs made the game exciting, pulling out the win in the bottom of the tenth in walk off style! Was pretty cool that we were able to hear the 'Go Cubs Go' song in person as well! Walter Jacobson, a Chicago news/television personality, sang the seventh inning stretch.

After the game, in an attempt to miss the throng of people trying to get on the "L", we went to a German style restaurant called Uberstein. I had an original half pint, we shared a huge pretzel, Jill had a grilled chicken sandwich, and I had a schnitzel sandwich. Food was okay at best, atmosphere was a bit loud and very drunk. Would probably hit up somewhere else in the future. After we ate, we made our way back to the "L", took the red to the blue, and the blue back to Rosemont where we hopped into the car and it was off to the Hampton Inn Chicago O'Hare Airport, where we would stay for the next two nights.

Monday rolled around, and we had a sort of 'open schedule' for the day. After getting up and having a quick breakfast at the hotel, we drove back to the Rosemont "L" station and took the blue line to Jackson, transferred to the red line, and took that up to the Chicago stop. This put us about three blocks from Michigan Ave, the famous row of shops and eateries in Chicago. We wandered up and down Michigan Ave, stopping at lululemon so Jill could grab some new running garb, as well as Niketown and the Garmin store.

For lunch, we went to the Bandera Restaurant which billed itself as an 'American' restaurant, and one that Jill had eaten at on a previous trip to Chicago. Had a very good lunch - I had spinach and chicken enchiladas with green rice and cucumber salad, and Jill had a grilled rotissere chicken sandwich and fries. We also started the meal out with chips and queso dip.

After lunch, a bit more walking (to walk off the lunch), and then when we decided it was time for dessert, we found ourselves at more cupcakes, which we had seen on a Food Network special. There, we ordered four cupcakes to share: a white chocolate cupcake, which was very good!; a salted caramel cupcake, which was also very good!; a red velvet cupcake, which was just okay, and not close to being as good as Jill's!; and a S'more's cupcake, which was just okay as well. All in all, we would go back again, and definitely order the salted caramel and white chocolate, as well as try a couple of other types.

We actually found a spot in the Starbuck's next door to eat the cupcakes, and grabbed a couple of iced teas there to wash it all down with. Afterwards, hit a couple more stores, including Urban Outfitters and another lululemon, before going back to the "L" and heading for Comisky Park, I mean, U.S. Cellular Field.

This would be our first new MLB park of the 2011 season. I had done a bit of research before we arrived, and have to say we were pleasantly surprised at the park, and it went onto our 'keeper' list, one we would go back to if we had the chance. A successful trip to the 'South Side'. Back to the car via the "L" trains, and to the hotel for our last nights sleep in Chicago.

Our flight on Tuesday morning left around 9:00. Everything at O'Hare went smoothly, wish we could say the same about Newark. We were actually delayed in Newark about two hours, which didn't put us into Ithaca until 5:00. As luck would have it though, this gave us a chance to try out a new restaurant there - Northstar. We started out the meal with a 'trio of purees', which included spinach/almond pesto, olive tampenade, and spanish hummus, accompanied with grilled pita bread. For dinner, Jill had Maryland crab cakes (with no filler!), and I had the roasted garlic burger. For dessert, we had Purity vanilla ice cream in a cantalope bowl. Another great find in a city full of great eateries! After dinner, we made the final leg of our trip back home, arriving there around 9:00.

Chicago Cubs 5, Houston Astros 4

CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Mike Quade knew putting together his team's first three-game winning streak of the season wasn't going to be without its challenges.

And it was anything but simple as the Cubs defeated the Astros, 5-4, in 10 innings on Sunday at Wrigley Field. Marlon Byrd tripled and scored on a pinch-hit, walk-off single by Jeff Baker that ended a back-and-forth thriller.

After Byrd's leadoff triple, Geovany Soto struck out, but the Cubs accepted two intentional walks by reliever David Carpenter (0-1) to set the stage for Baker, who smacked a 3-2 pitch to left field.

"It was big," Baker said. "It's been frustrating. The year hasn't really gone the way we wanted. To finally get three together -- and it's in our division -- hopefully we get rolling. Why not four?"

Byrd's triple was a high fly ball to right field. Hunter Pence tracked the ball but lost it in the sun as it dropped a few feet away from him.

It looked as if Pence would be able to make a play on the ball, but when it hit the ground, Byrd was already rounding second.

"I let everyone down," Pence said. "I saw the ball off the bat and was running, and it never came out of the sun. I was looking, looking, looking, and I heard it hit the ground. I was trying to get there. I really don't know what I could have done better on that play. All it was, was sun on my face. But there's no excuse. It's a Major League ballgame."

The drama began when Cubs starter Matt Garza exited the game with a 3-2 lead after giving up two runs on five hits through seven innings. Jeff Samardzija took over and walked Pence before giving up a two-run homer to Carlos Lee, giving the Astros a 4-3 lead.

"I can't walk Pence there -- that's the big at-bat," Samardzija said. "What Lee did is what he gets paid to do, hit home runs, but Pence, you have to make him put the ball in play, and that way if Lee does hit one, it's just a one-run home run."

The blast took away the win from Garza, who has now had six wins taken from him after he exited the game while leading.

Garza has given up two earned runs or less in 10 starts this season and was only concerned with the positives after this one.

"I did all I can control," Garza said. "There's nothing else I can do once I'm out of the ballgame. All I can do is cheer and hope for the best. ... Every time you contribute it's a plus."

Garza's record may be 4-7, but those numbers say little about how he has pitched lately. He is 3-1 with a 2.42 ERA in his last seven home starts, including a 1.20 ERA in his last four.

"I think records for pitchers are kind of wishy-washy," Baker said. "There's nothing you can do. What else could he have done today? He went out there and battled his tail off. He's done that numerous starts here and we just haven't been able to pick him up."

Quade felt the same.

"We won a ballgame because he gave us seven great innings," Quade said. "After knowing where we were bullpen-wise, that became even more important. You feel terrible he didn't get the win, but a big part of that win is on him."

The Cubs tied the game in the eighth on a single from Alfonso Soriano to force extra innings.

"You knew it wasn't going to be easy," Quade said of winning three in a row. "Unfortunately, we couldn't tack on some runs in a few situations, too, but they keep playing, they do that."

Samuel Zuba is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Chicago White sox 6, Detroit Tigers 3

CHICAGO -- Yielding a pair of unearned runs on a couple of early fielding blunders wasn't the ideal way for the White Sox to start the first game of their crucial three-game series against the division-leading Tigers on Monday night.

By the end of the night, though, Ozzie Guillen's club had battled back to win a somewhat sloppy 6-3 game in front of 37,110 fans at U.S. Cellular Field, pulling to within one game of .500 and 3 1/2 games of Detroit in the American League Central.

Despite allowing two unearned runs in the third inning and struggling to solve Tigers starter Duane Below in the early innings, the White Sox finally broke through in the fifth inning against the rookie left-hander, who was making just his second career start. Entering the fifth trailing, 2-1, the White Sox tied the game on an Alexei Ramirez RBI single that started what proved to be the game-winning rally with two outs.

"Alexei had two outs and that was the key," Guillen said. "All year long, we've been struggling with two outs and men in scoring position and then, all of a sudden, we get that one and it pumps everybody up. It's a tie game and a new ballgame. We have a chance, and I think that's the way they approached it at the plate."

Tigers manager Jim Leyland was ejected after the inning when he went out and talked to home-plate umpire Jim Wolf about a ball call on a two-strike pitch to Ramirez that Leyland thought should have ended the inning.

"I thought we had Ramirez struck out, and the umpire didn't think so," Leyland said. "I told him that, and he didn't appreciate that, and I understand that. No big deal."

Following Ramirez's single, Below intentionally walked first baseman Paul Konerko before loading the bases by issuing a walk to Adam Dunn, who entered Monday's game hitting .030 against lefties this season and had been retired by Below in each of his first two at-bats.

After the walk to Dunn, Below was lifted for reliever Chance Ruffin, who served up a two-run, ground-rule double to right fielder Carlos Quentin that put the White Sox ahead 4-2 and turned out to be the decisive hit in the game.

"It's a high-pressure situation," said Ruffin, who was making his Major League debut. "It's fun to be in. You just want to be that guy to come up with the big out. Just didn't happen for me on that one."

White Sox starter Mark Buehrle worked six innings and allowed just the two unearned runs, which both came after second baseman Gordon Beckham allowed the third inning to continue when he dropped a two-out Miguel Cabrera popup as he ranged back into center field. For Buehrle, who allowed 10 hits and struck out four, Monday's start was his 15th straight game of allowing no more than three runs, while pitching at least six innings in all but one of those outings.

"That's what makes him so special. Cool pitchers, the Clemens and the good ones, the Seavers, that I see, when you are a good pitcher and you go out there, you pick up the mistake, and that's what Buehrle does," Guillen said. "Buehrle just goes out there and, regardless of what happens behind him, he's going to continue to do what he does."

"These guys were busting [hard], trying to make plays and Beckham has made a million plays during the season and unbelievable plays to help us out," Buehrle said. "I know he feels bad when they don't make a play, and you try to pitch out of it. I tried to pick him up for once. Unfortunately, they hit a couple of jam shots for hits that scored runs."

After catcher A.J. Pierzynski extended the White Sox lead to 5-2 with a solo shot in the bottom of the sixth, Buehrle handed the game off to his bullpen to start the seventh inning. Reliever Jesse Crain quickly worked his way into a jam, serving up a solo home run to Cabrera and then issuing back-to-back two-out walks before a bizarre play ended the threat.

With the potential tying run on first base, Crain threw a wild pitch that deflected off Pierzynski's shin guard and came right back to Crain, who threw out Carlos Guillen as he attempted to move up to second on the play, ending the Tigers' last real threat.

Chris Sale came on with one out in the eighth and induced an inning-ending double play before Sergio Santos relieved him with one out in the ninth and retired Magglio Ordonez and struck out Cabrera to end the game. The win was the third straight for the White Sox, who won both games in a rain-shortened series in Cleveland over the weekend, and was also the team's third win in the last four meetings with the Tigers.

"It's time to make a move and get in there and make ourselves known in the division," said Konerko, who added a solo home run of his own in the bottom half of the seventh. "It's still going to be another two months before there's an answer. It's a day-in and day-out thing for two months."

As for the White Sox winning three straight divisional games and climbing back into contention after a dismal start to the season, Leyland said it was something he has expected all season.

"We all knew that. That hasn't been a secret, that's a given," Leyland said. "They'll be there. We'll be there. Minnesota will be there. Cleveland will be there. We all know that."

Paul Casella is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Trip Notes:

Our seats for the Chicago Cubs game were Section 422, Row 6, Seats 101-102.

Our seats for the Chicago White Sox game were Box 125, Row 27, Seats 9-10.