Mike came into the LF corner last night, about 30 minutes before game time, and had the line of the night: "Have they fired Jim Marshall yet?"
Marshall, for those of you who are too young to remember him or who are old enough to want to forget him, managed the Cubs through 2 1/2 miserable seasons in the mid-1970's, and is one of only two Cub managers since Leo Durocher (Lee Elia is the other) to get ANY non-interim managerial assignment after he left the Cubs.
I wonder out loud here if Dusty Baker will meet the same fate after he leaves here next month.
It was that kind of night at a nearly-empty Wrigley Field; we had a fairly large (for September) gathering of Mike, Jeff, me, Howard, Howard's other son Mark and his friend Mike, and an old friend of Howard and mine, Don, joined us... and for the first couple of innings, that was the entire population of our section. As about six other people came to sit in our section, we'd tell them the seats were already taken, or other lame humor -- if you saw the game, you may have seen one of them, a guy in a green T-shirt who lay down and napped on one of the benches.
At one point when I'd gotten up for a couple of minutes, I returned to find that everyone had left the section and moved over one section.
I'm writing this and it doesn't really seem that funny, but it was way funnier last night -- I guess you had to be there.
Hardly anyone was -- the announced attendance of 31,494 was less than half that; we guessed around 12,000 were in the ballpark last night and about 1,000 in the 5,100-seat bleachers, to witness the Cubs' totally UNfunny (though entertaining, in the way watching a chain-reaction car accident can be entertaining, 6-5 loss to the Pirates. It was likely the fewest people to be in Wrigley Field for a game since an announced crowd of 14,854 on April 20, 2003, and it felt like crowds we saw back in the late 1970's.
Congratulations. You are now a fan of the worst team in the National League. And unlike the 1999 team, which appeared to quit on Jim Riggleman, and the 2002 team which quit on TWO different managers, this team does at least appear to be giving its best effort. It's just that that effort isn't good enough, because this team is, well, horrid.
Juan Mateo put the Cubs in an early hole by giving up two two-run homers to Jason Bay. At 5-1, this looked like it was going to be a long and boring night, though pleasant and clear and 70 degrees (but more on this later!). The Cubs fought back and tied the game at 5 when Pirates pitcher Marty McLeary (I said to Jeff, "Wasn't that the guy in the 'Back to the Future' movies?") ill-advisedly tried to throw home to get Jacque Jones, and threw the ball away.
At that point I said, "That'll be the last run scored till the 27th inning, at which time, Dusty Baker, having activated himself, will pinch-hit, hack at the first pitch and hit a game-winning HR and come back to the dugout and say, 'Dudes, THAT is how it is done!'"
Once again, that was way funnier at the ballpark.
During all that time, Aramis Ramirez managed to get himself tossed by tossing his helmet after being called out on a play in which he appeared safe. It did appear that Gary Matthews and Baker came out in time to prevent Aramis from doing something that would get him suspended. Though, maybe at this point, he wants to be.
When Ryan Dempster came in and gave up a leadoff single, it appeared he might even get out of the inning after a sacrifice and a slick play by Ronny Cedeno (yes, he actually did make a slick play, mark it down!) catching the lead runner at third. But then, the remnants of the crowd booed heartily when Jose Bautista took off toward second and appeared to be thrown out by Henry Blanco.
The problem is, on that pitch Freddy Sanchez walked, so there was no play on Bautista. Then we heard boos again from the back part of the grandstand after they saw the replays. Was no one actually following the game?
Two wild pitches later, the Pirates had what was the winning run. Even the good defense of Henry Blanco couldn't block Dempster's second wild pitch, the one that scored Bautista. Dempster really does seem to have lost any ability to be a successful closer, or even to keep his team in games like this. It's too bad, really. But he will have to have a different role if he is on the 2007 edition of the Cubs.
Then, after two out in the last of the ninth, back-to-back singles by Matt Murton and Blanco put the tying run in scoring position and the winning run on base -- for pinch-hitter Freddie Bynum.
Oh, well. The result of that would likely be obvious to any of you even if you didn't know what happened. He struck out.
Juan Pierre stole two bases, getting him to 49, but then got thrown out trying to steal third, representing the tying run in the 8th. The Cubs left RISP in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 7th, and 9th innings, 12 LOB in total.
And to add insult to insult, in the eighth inning a fairly hard rainshower came across the ballpark for about ten minutes, sending Jeff home and Howard and Mark and Other Mike to sit underneath the upper deck, while Mike & I stayed in left field to witness the rest of the carnage.
Last place. This may mean that, as Paul Sullivan writes, Carlos Zambrano may be shut down for the year, even if his injury isn't that serious. Why risk making things worse?
This may give Jae-Kuk Ryu a chance to get some starts before the end of the year.
There's a full moon tomorrow; it rose beautifully above the RF stands last night right at gametime, prompting Mike to say, "There goes the moon, clogging the sky again". And with the goofy happenings last night, it might get even more bizarre tonight.