With a wild-card berth on the line for the Astros, and a potential game-tying run in scoring position on second base, with one out left in the Cubs' ninth inning and season... and who do we have to depend on?
Jose F. Macias.
Even my SB Nation colleague Scott over at the Orioles site Camden Chat had to remark on the irony of leaving Derrek Lee on deck while Macias made the last Cub out of the 2005 season.
Let that be the last time I type that name and have him associated with the Chicago Cubs. (Macias, that is, not Lee, of course!)
Give the guy credit, I suppose; he didn't strike out. He hit the ball hard, but right at 2B Eric Bruntlett (who, two batters earlier, had dropped a potential game-ending DP relay), who caught the line drive, winning the game for Houston 6-4, and sending them to Atlanta for the National League Division Series against the Braves.
That's where we wanted to be, of course, and Houston wins the wild card with 89 victories -- fewer than last year, and so 90 wins, a benchmark number, would have taken the wild card this year.
Was this Cub team capable of ninety victories? Since they fell eleven short of that number, I suppose the answer is "no", and even had they had every single break go their way this year -- no injuries, career years from players other than Derrek Lee, etc. -- I think we all have to admit that this wasn't really a playoff-caliber team.
At times, it was beautiful to watch, when Carlos Zambrano or Greg Maddux threw one of their gems, or Lee had one of his monster days, or watching Matt Murton develop into a quality major league player in front of our eyes, or seeing Ryan Dempster become one of the best closers in the league.
But most of the time it was ugly, TRULY awful; watching Nomar Garciaparra go down with an injury that was painful just to witness, or Mark Prior get hit in the elbow with a ball that might have ended his career if it had been a fraction of an inch either way, or to watch Corey Patterson self-destruct nearly every single time he put a bat in his hands.
Naturally, Patterson chose today to actually drive in a run; his RBI double raised his SLG from .345 to .348 and thus he managed to avoid having an OPS under .600 (finishing at .601, still pathetic); as I noted the other day, you have to go back thirty-seven years, to a season dominated by pitching, to find offensive performances as bad as the one Corey put up this year (given that many AB, and he came 21 plate appearances short of qualifying for the batting title, or he'd be putting up historically bad numbers for that category too). At least his last at-bat wasn't a strikeout. Lee, unfortunately, went 0-for-4 today, coming up just short of several milestones, which we've discussed here many times. Let that not detract from the magical, wonderful season he had, one of the top ten offensive seasons in Cub history. He won't win the MVP award, but he will win the batting title with a .335 average (the highest in both leagues, for whatever that's worth), and finishes as follows in NL offensive categories:
BA: 1st Runs: 2nd Hits: 1st 2B: 1st HR: 2nd RBI: 7th BB: 10th OBA: 4th SLG: 1st OPS: 1stThat, my friends, is a special year.
A couple of other notes: Z was 24-for-80 this year, a .300 batting average (and a .763 OPS, pretty darn impressive, if you ask me); that's the highest single-season BA for a Cub pitcher since Bob Rush hit .292 in 1952. Lee's batting title is the first for the Cubs since Bill Buckner's in 1980; that was also a season in which all we had were statistical accomplishments, since the Cubs lost 98 games that year.
Of the eight players in the starting eight today, the only one who is absolutely, positively guaranteed to be on the field next April 3 when the Cubs take on the Reds in Cincinnati, is, obviously, D-Lee. Sure, we'd like to see Matt Murton there, and yes, I believe he will get a genuine shot at it, but there's no guarantee for him, nor for Nomar or even Michael Barrett, who tied his career high (set last year) with his 16th home run. I think Jim Hendry must realize that Barrett's offense, while good, isn't enough to make up for his deficiencies as a catcher, and I think Barrett could be dealt.
And so, another season ends, in disappointment and failure, and as if to put the exclamation point on that, not long after the game ended, some tall clouds darkened the Chicago skies and it started to rain. Hard. Reminding us that fall is here, and the winter following, but that we shall persevere as Cub fans, hoping that next year will bring us to the promised land.
Don't go anywhere this off-season. I'll be attending some of the White Sox playoff games -- hey, it's more baseball, why not? -- and will report here on that; I'll have my postseason picks, we can debate trades, free agent acquisitions, and I'll probably post a movie review or three.
In the meantime, I'll finish today, as I do each year, with my favorite baseball quote, from the late commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti: