Five double plays.
That's what told the story of the Cubs' 6-2 loss to the Dodgers, because the other thing that everyone feared before the game -- that Steve Trachsel, upon his return to the club after nearly an eight-year hiatus, would either pitch so slowly that he'd put everyone in the ballpark into a hypnotic trance, or would be pounded into submission by Dodger bats.
Neither happened; Trachsel was greeted by a warm ovation when his name was announced, and the pace of the game didn't slow down until after he was removed in the seventh inning, having thrown six fairly effective innings, allowing seven hits, a walk, and three runs, throwing 82 pitches -- a count that, for example, Carlos Zambrano has at times run up in four innings of work.
When Trachsel was removed the Cubs were trailing only 3-2, but had already hit into three of the rally-destroying five DP's, two of which were Derrek Lee's (that makes three in two days for D-Lee, after it appeared, finally, that he might be pulling out of his HR slump over the weekend). Unfortunately, Kerry Wood, Will Ohman and just-recalled Kevin Hart (who the Cubs acquired last winter from Baltimore in exchange for Freddie Bynum, which in and of itself makes him useful) did not get the job done in relief. Wood got hit hard and allowed two runs, the second of which scored when Juan Pierre dropped a perfectly-placed bunt down the 1B line; at first we thought that Lee might have been in position to take the play himself, but replays showed he wasn't. The same replays also showed that Wood broke late off the mound, allowing Pierre to beat out the two-out bunt, making the score 5-2.
Which also led to the question, perhaps better not answered: "Why couldn't Pierre have done more of that when he was a Cub?"
I know, I know, water far under the bridge. In fact, when Pierre's name was announced, no one either cheered or booed him. It was as if the year he spent here, in which he broke a 71-year-old club record (for at-bats in a season), never even happened.
Meanwhile, the poor bullpen work continued. Ohman replaced Wood after Mike Fontenot hit for Wood in the 7th. (And you should have heard the San Diego Smooth Jazz Man, who, along with three friends, sat with us last night, rail about Wood and his poor performance -- I think I heard something about "just release his butt", or some similar word.) Anyway, after two hits and an intentional walk loaded the bases, Ohman left to a chorus of boos, setting the stage for Hart to make his major league debut.
It's tough to make your debut in any circumstance. Now add a pennant-race game that your club is trailing in the late innings, and have the bases loaded with nobody out. I can't imagine why Lou put Hart in that sort of situation, unless he was, at that point, almost conceding the game and figuring he'd save the rest of his bullpen for today. Hart walked in the sixth run, and after that threw two scoreless innings, thanks in part to Alfonso Soriano's second outfield assist of the game (he now has thirteen for the season), throwing out Russell Martin trying to score on a medium-deep fly ball hit by Rafael Furcal.
The crowd of 37,834 had mostly left by then -- there couldn't have been more than 10,000 remaining by game's end -- and this was the smallest crowd since the 37,947 for the make-up game vs. the Astros on June 11, a couple of sections' worth of seats empty in the corners of the upper deck. The bleachers were not sold out for the first time since May; they are tonight, because Derrek Lee bobbleheads will be handed out to the first 10,000 in attendance.
And so, where do we go from here? To read some of your comments in last night's game thread, this season is over and we should simply move on to 2008. (Would I ever do such a thing? Read this 2004 post from my old site to find out.) But with 25 games remaining, remember this: the Cubs are still in first place, however tenuously, and they are the only team among the three contenders that has a winning record on the road. That's right, even though the Brewers and Cardinals have been winning, they have both been doing so at home, where both (Milwaukee, 44-26, and St. Louis, 38-30) play quite well, and better than the Cubs do at home (only two games over .500 at home now, 37-35). But the Brewers are ... well, there's no other way to say it ... bad on the road, 26-42. That's the worst road record in the National League. The Cardinals aren't much better at 30-37 away from Busch III. Meanwhile, the Cubs are 33-32 away from home, in line with most of the other playoff contenders' road records (apart from the Mets, who are a major-league best 43-30 on the road).
So when the Cubs go to Pittsburgh this weekend, and the Cardinals to Arizona, and the Brewers to Cincinnati, I'd expect the Cubs could put some distance in between themselves and the Brewers and Cardinals.
In the meantime, let's get a series split here at home. Bruce Miles says you may see some lineup changes tonight, and I'd be in favor of that, if for no other reason than just to shake things up. Sometimes that works, well, just because. Maybe give the just-recalled Sam Fuld a start -- I was surprised to see him at the ballpark last night (he'll wear uniform #57); apparently, Eric Patterson was sent home for the year for showing up late on Monday (the second time he's done that this year, including once at Iowa).
One final note about all the booing -- Lou Piniella seems to have the best perspective:
"You turn a deaf ear to that and go about your business as a professional. You do good things, and they'll cheer you again. I think the only sport they don't boo you is golf."