Here's the very first thing I want all of you to remember this morning, as fans: do NOT give in to the temptation to think, "Here we go again!"
There are two things that truly bothered me about the Cubs' truly awful 7-2 loss to the Dodgers last night.
First, it didn't feel like a playoff game -- not in the least. There wasn't the usual electricity you feel in the stands even before the game. Now, maybe you could chalk this up to the odd starting time, but that's not really an excuse; the park was filled at the first pitch, but there seemed no excitement, no buzz, no anticipation, no sense that this wasn't just another game on, say, May 1 instead of October 1. Even after Mark DeRosa's windblown homer that gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead, there wasn't the hiked-up level of excitement you'd expect. The scoreboard operators must have figured it was a regular-season game, too, because they kept adjusting everyone's batting average each at-bat as if their previous AB in the game had been just another regular-season AB. There also wasn't any real buzz on the street, although the city set up barricades on Waveland and Sheffield, expecting people to be sitting outside -- there weren't many more than the usual crowd on Waveland during the game. One guy spent several innings writing "GO CUBS GO" in huge letters in chalk on the street, but that was about it for anything unusual.
Second, this one's on Lou. Seriously -- if you have two pitchers (Sean Marshall and Jason Marquis) who are starters or pitchers used to going extended periods, on the roster for the specific purpose of using them in long relief, why wouldn't you use them that way on a night when it was clear that your starter had absolutely no command? This is something Lou did all year during the time when he had Jon Lieber in the bullpen -- refusing to use Lieber in the very long-relief situations that he was specifically on the roster to fill.
Ryan Dempster, who is a standup guy (and ditch the full beard, Ryan -- it looks awful), would probably be the first to tell you that he sucked last night. Part of the problem was home plate umpire Dale Scott's bizarre strike zone -- pitches that appeared right down the middle were called balls, while breaking stuff in the dirt got called as strikes -- which might have made Dempster try to adjust, getting him out of his normal rhythm and as the night went on, generating more and more pitches out of the zone (57 balls out of 109 pitches).
But Lou stuck with him. And as it turned out, probably two batters too long. After Dempster walked Manny Ramirez, his fifth free pass of the game, even though the Cubs still had a 2-0 lead at the time, Lou should have yanked him, especially with the lefthanded hitting Andre Ethier and James Loney coming up next. Marshall was ready to go and there were two out; we figured maybe Lou had fallen asleep in the cold. Even giving Lou the benefit of the doubt because of his decades of experience, once Ethier walked, loading the bases, Marshall should have been in there.
So this one's on you, Lou. You've done great things for this franchise -- but not last night. It didn't help that Marshall, Jeff Samardzija and Marquis all allowed single runs in their relief work; this turned a possibly workable 4-2 deficit into a 7-2 blowout, the exclamation point of which was Greg Maddux' appearance in the 9th inning. Maddux, the only Dodger who got cheers on pregame introduction (loud boos were reserved for LA's other ex-Cubs, Nomar Garciaparra and Juan Pierre), received only tepid applause when introduced to begin the 9th, possibly the last time Cub fans will see him pitch in Wrigley Field.
The other culprits are the highly-paid Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez, who vanished in last year's division series and who went a combined 1-for-9 last night. Frankly, I was surprised any balls went out of the yard last night with the wind blowing in the way it was; DeRosa's blast was actually blown out because the wind was sort of blowing across from center to right field; the other homers cut through the teeth of the wind, including Manny's... and that one's on Lou, too, because none of us could believe he left Marshall in to pitch to Manny, among the biggest mismatches I've ever seen in a playoff game. Incidentally, perhaps only funny moment last night was provided by Manny; he threw the warmup ball into the LF bleachers just below us going into the bottom of the 9th. It was promptly flung back on the field; Manny ducked (the ball wasn't really that close to him). If you're going to the game and thinking about doing this -- don't. The thrower was promptly ejected, because throwing anything but a HR ball back isn't allowed.
So. What have the Cubs lost here? Not the series -- there's still time, although it's at a premium in a short series. The Dodgers swiped home-field advantage, essentially; the Cubs can steal it back by winning the next two games. I note that the best team in baseball, the Angels, also lost their first game at home to the Red Sox. Carlos Zambrano -- you've got to be on your game tonight. No histrionics, no stomping around, no bat-breaking, just your best stuff, like you had on September 14 in Milwaukee.
Finally, a word about the game threads. I have heard from a few people telling me how nasty it got in there. I do understand frustration and wanting to "get it out". All I ask is that you keep the profanity down and most importantly, don't attack others.
This isn't 2003 or 2007 or any of the other years where the Cubs failed. Remember what all of us have been saying, almost all year? This feels different; this team is different. They've come back from crushing defeats before. There is a lot of baseball still to be played by the Chicago Cubs in 2008. Onward, because the best IS yet to come.