A Microcosm Of The Season

That's what today's 7-5 loss to the Marlins was.

A bad start -- a first-batter HBP, a stolen base, a double and a sac fly leading to two first-inning runs, then more poor play putting the Cubs well out of it, down 7-0 in the sixth inning.

Included in this Marlins-fest were six of the seven Florida runs scoring after two were out, and as it turned out, the killers were the two that Michael Wuertz (remind me again why he's still on this team? He hadn't pitched in ELEVEN days before today) gave up in the sixth after he had retired the first two batters.

That didn't seem to make that much difference at the time, but after the Cubs decided to rake Marlins starter Jason Vargas for five runs and six hits in the bottom of the inning, making the game somewhat close and giving us hope for a while, they turned out to be the difference.

The rest of the Cub bullpen actually did a good job, too -- retiring the last ten Marlins in order and giving the Cubs a chance, if anyone could have actually gotten a hit with runners on base. The Cubs, as has become depressingly common lately, left ten runners on base, and that includes the game-ending double play, or it would have been eleven -- the leadoff single by Michael Barrett gave us brief hope, before Jose F. Macias, who had come into the game on a double-switch, decided to play hackmaster, swung at the first Todd Jones slider he saw, and hit into a force play.

And so, the month goes depressingly on -- the club record is now 8-15 this month, meaning this will be by far the worst Cub month in the Dusty Baker managerial tenure.

The scorecards were all messed up today too -- several of the Marlins' stolen base totals were blank, and Juan Pierre, who has 44 steals, was listed as having four.

Even the weather seemed to mirror the season. It started out bright, sunny and humid, but clouds overspread the ballpark, threatening rain which never came, and it got dark enough that the lights were turned on just about the time the Cubs were mounting their five-run rally. There were large blocks of empty seats nearly everywhere in the park, particularly in the upper deck.

That doesn't stop our merry band from continuing to come out and enjoy whatever nice weather is left; although, for quite some time, Jeff and I were holding down the fort alone. Phil called to say he was at a work-related barbeque; he finally showed up in the fourth inning, by which time Jeff and I had decided that he should not be allowed to start talking about trades and free agents at all. Naturally, that brought it out of him within about ten seconds of sitting down. This was also only a short time after Howard, who's been busy with work this week, showed up in the third inning, sandwiches in hand.

I tried a reverse superstition today -- usually, after a loss, I will switch caps. Today, instead, I wore the cap I had worn on Wednesday. Oh, well. So much for that. Today, we arrived to find an unscheduled giveaway -- a blue cap with the "C" and "CHICAGO" across the front, sponsored by Culver's, a fairly nice giveaway. Despite the loss, I will try that cap tomorrow.

And that is how we will end the season, with friends sharing baseball and hoping for at least perhaps something historic -- a no-hitter, a cycle, someone hitting four homers in a game -- that's why it's still worth coming to the ballpark every day. Or maybe, just maybe, the Cubs will at least play good baseball and win. That was the case for at least an inning or two today.

Nomar Garciaparra played third base today. That was the first time he had done so in his professional career and, according to the article linked above, for the first time since high school.

The good feeling of this, engendered by the fact that he volunteered to play there to help the team, lasted till the third inning, when he made his first professional error as a third baseman, mishandling Juan Pierre's bunt, which helped lead to that inning's two-run rally. Nomar also had a really poor day at the plate, going 0-for-4.

So did Derrek Lee; he left two runners on in both the sixth and the eighth, striking out both times and looking really bad doing it. Hey, anyone can have a bad day; I certainly can't criticize Lee because of the wonderful season he's had. He just picked a really bad time to have a really bad day.

Two women sat in front of us with a sign saying "Skin And Bone The Fish" with a drawing of a fish (I guess it was a Marlin) on it; they actually brought colored markers to finish off the sign. Turned out one of them was a flight attendant for (name of major airline deleted), so she and Jeff spent quite a bit of time talking about the various cutbacks their respective employers have made over the past few years.

Let us hope that the Cubs do not make similar cuts next year. Not that I want my ticket price to go up again, but if they maintain the $100 million dollar vicinity in player payroll, with the approximately $40 million in current salaries that will be off the books after this year, that should give Jim Hendry some pretty good wiggle room to acquire either good free agents, or scour other teams for trade possibilities. As I have said many times here, this club has only four untouchable players: Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez (back on the DL again, sad to say -- and maybe it's time to shut him down for the year) and Lee.

Everyone else is dealable in the right deal.

Yes, EVERYONE.

Till tomorrow. There's still baseball to be played, meaningful or not.

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