Shaun Marcum Shuts Down Cubs; Brewers Edge Closer To Playoffs

A surprisingly large crowd -- announced as 36,571, there were probably 30,000 in the house -- showed up to watch baseball at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night.

Too bad the Cubs didn't show up.

I suppose that really isn't 100% fair; credit where credit is due to the Brewers' Shaun Marcum, who almost completely baffled Cubs hitters for eight innings in Milwaukee's 5-1 win over the Cubs. Darwin Barney solved him for a couple of doubles; Randy Wells singled up the middle; Reed Johnson had a pinch-hit single (and promptly got thrown out trying to stretch it to a double by Ryan Braun, who made an excellent throw).

And Starlin Castro hit his 10th home run of the season for the Cubs' only run of the game. In doing so he reached base for the 33rd consecutive game. Only one shortstop in Cubs history -- Woody English, in 1929 -- had a longer such streak, and Castro could tie that by reaching base today.

Here is the list of shortstops who had 10 or more home runs in a season, at age 21 or younger: Travis Jackson, 11 HR at age 20, in 1924; Vern Stephens, 14 at age 21, in 1942; Cal Ripken, 28 at age 21, in 1982; Wil Cordero, 10 at age 21, in 1993, and Alex Rodriguez, who did it twice (36 at age 20 in 1995 and 23 at age 21 in 1996).

That's two current Hall of Famers and someone who's headed there when his career ends, a seven-time All-Star (Stephens) and a promising young player (Cordero) whose career was derailed by injuries and other off-field issues.

I think we've just seen a tiny amount of what Starlin Castro can (and hopefully, will) do on a baseball field. He needs three more hits for 200 this season; it would be nice to see him get those today. He does still need to work on his defense, but we are seeing, I believe, the beginning of a career that will at least become a perennial All-Star career. It's gratifying to watch.

The end of a Cubs career that has been mostly gratifying to watch may be at hand; Aramis Ramirez left the game with a strained quad and said later it may be time to move on:

Was Tuesday his last home game with the team?

"Probably. There's a good chance," Ramirez said after the Cubs' 5-1 loss to the Brewers. "I'm a free agent, and right now I don't know what's going to happen. It looks like I'm going to hit the market."

He'd be the top third baseman available. Ramirez is batting .306 with 25 homers and 92 RBIs. He's been with the Cubs since July 2003, when acquired from the Pirates. He wants to stay in Chicago.

"I've been saying that all along, and it's no secret to anybody," Ramirez said. "It doesn't look that way right now. We haven't heard anything from the front office."

Well, of course Ramirez and his agent haven't heard anything. There's going to be a new general manager hired, and that's who will make this decision. Some of this could be posturing; he keeps saying he wants to stay and as we all know, he has been the best offensive 3B in the National League this season.

In the meantime, the Cubs will continue to try to delay Milwaukee's inevitable division clinching celebration for another day or two by winning their final home game Wednesday afternoon. The Cardinals' win over the Mets Tuesday night means that even if the Brewers win today's game, they cannot reduce their magic number below two before they head back to Milwaukee (since the Cardinals play tonight).

Attendance watch: the largish gathering Tuesday night put the Cubs 12,999 below the three million mark at 2,987,000. This means they'll break the barrier by about 20,000 or so, which will put the season total about 40,000 below last year's (or about 500 per game). The real story is the number of tickets they had to discount to get to that mark. The Cubs did sell out many of the high-priced games; it's the mid-range ones they had trouble selling, and so overall ticket revenues are likely flat at best, and more likely, went down.

It will be an interesting offseason on and off the field. In the meantime, one more game on the North Side this afternoon before the team heads for their final road trip. Today's game preview will post at 11:30 a.m. CDT.

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