As I noted in this morning's preview, three long-time Cubs -- Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano and Kerry Wood -- are the only ones left from the 2003 NL Central champions. None of them appeared today, and in fact, none may appear for the rest of the season.
Instead, we got a taste of what may be to come for the 2012 Cubs. Matt Garza, who has been every bit the pitcher any of us could have hoped for when he came over from the Tampa Bay Rays, threw his second complete game of the season Wednesday afternoon in the Wrigley Field finale for 2011. A little bit better defense would have gotten him a shutout; the only run in the Cubs' 7-1 win over the Brewers was unearned after a Starlin Castro error. I'll forgive that one, because Castro had two hits (even though he was thrown out in the first inning after ill-advisedly trying to stretch a double into a triple). Castro had one shot at his 200th hit, with a runner on second base in the eighth inning, but he walked. I was surprised Castro took a 3-0 pitch right down the middle with a six-run lead; why not try it there, since everyone wanted to see the 200th hit at that point?
Also, a big razzberry to Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, who intentionally walked Castro with two out and a runner on second base in the fifth inning of a tie game. Really, Ron? Really? DJ LeMahieu made Roenicke pay with a booming two-run double to the deepest part of the park; it missed by maybe 10 feet of being LeMahieu's first MLB homer.
Speaking of home runs, Marlon Byrd smashed a three-run job in the sixth that put the game away. If you were wondering, yes, that landed right on my bench. It bounced a couple of rows in front where another of our group got it. That's six seasons -- nearly 500 games -- in that section and that's the very first home run that has landed squarely on our bench. For Byrd, who has had a tough year, it was only his fourth home run since Aug. 1 and he now has a total of just 35 RBI.
Beyond LeMahieu, who had a pair of hits, the story of the day was Garza. LeMahieu even accidentally "helped" Garza by dropping an easy popup that would have ended the game. Instead, Garza registered his 10th strikeout by fanning George Kottaras to end it. It was Garza's third 10-K game of the year, but the first since April. His 3.35 ERA ranks 15th in the National League; not in the top tier of "ace" starters like Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw or Roy Halladay, but definitely in the group right behind them. Garza will get one more start, Tuesday in the pitcher's paradise that is Petco Park; he could perhaps even sneak into the top ten.
The Cubs head out for their final road trip of the season starting Friday in St. Louis. Because they won't be flying out until tomorrow, I am not certain when they'll be dressing the rookies in the usual rookie hazing; if I can find out, perhaps I'll try to get some photos. If the Cardinals win tonight, the Brewers could then not clinch the NL Central until Saturday, and St. Louis would stay in the wild card race, so the games this weekend, at least, would still be meaningful. If the Cubs can have a 4-2 road trip, they would avoid losing 90 games; that's something, at least, to shoot for. They are, again, tied with the Pirates for fourth place after Pittsburgh's Thursday afternoon loss to the Diamondbacks.
The paid crowd of 30,965 -- I'll post some crowd estimate data tomorrow or Friday for the last couple of months -- bring the season total to 3,017,966, an average of 37,259 per date. That's down 555 per date from last year, about 1.5%. But the more important factor is revenue. Is it down, up or flat? The Cubs did wind up selling out some of the "marquee" dates with high ticket prices. But many other games had to be discounted up to 50% to get to the three million tickets sold mark, and clearly, there were many thousands of no-shows all season long. It's an interesting question the Cubs must tackle before setting prices for 2012.
After a miserable home season weatherwise, it was probably the nicest day of the year Wednesday afternoon -- about 70 degrees with the wind blowing out, and just a few fair-weather clouds scudding on by. That's how I prefer to remember Wrigley Field and Cubs baseball; sunshine and high skies, the team putting together timely hits and good pitching and winning. That's happened far too few times this season (though the Cubs, after falling to 25-38 at home after losing to the Phillies on July 20, won 14 of their last 18 home games to finish with a 39-42 home mark). They won five of seven games from the Brewers at Wrigley this year and gave the vaunted Milwaukee offense just eight runs and 19 hits in three games. The Brewers have the best home record in baseball, but finished their road season today with just a 39-42 mark, something that could hurt them if they lose a home playoff game.
It is always melancholy to end any baseball season, even a losing one. There will, we hope, be many changes on the field for the Cubs before they take the field at Wrigley on April 5, 2012; those changes will be directed by a new GM and hopefully, a new field manager. Sadness today; hope for the future.
In the meantime, six more Cubs games remain. We will miss it when it's gone for the winter. Enjoy the off day.