MILWAUKEE -- I made the trip up I-94 to Miller Park Wednesday night for a baseball game.
I wish the Cubs had, too.
Oh, wait. Yes, baseball players dressed in Cubs uniforms -- blue alt jerseys, gray "trousers" (as Pat Hughes charmingly puts it), blue caps, blue shoes -- did make appearances on the field at Miller Park, but you could hardly call what they did "playing baseball."
After the Brewers had scored one run off Chris Rusin in the first inning on an Aramis Ramirez single and then loaded the bases with Brewers rookie Sean Halton due up, I said to the friends I had traveled north with, "This game is about to be over."
I wish I hadn't been right; unfortunately, I was, as Halton lofted a 3-2 sinker high into right field; it landed over the wall, just beyond the reach of Nate Schierholtz for a grand slam and a 5-0 Milwaukee lead. I was reminded of a similar play, four years ago, when Reed Johnson stole a potential slam from Prince Fielder in a Cubs win.
Johnson and Fielder are both long gone from their National League Central days, both headed to the playoffs this year while the Cubs and Brewers play out the string. Milwaukee's doing a better job on that string than the Cubs are; this game was their fourth straight win and sixth in their last seven, while it was the Cubs' fourth consecutive defeat. The "tragic number" of Cubs losses combined with Brewers wins that will clinch last place in the N.L. Central for the Cubs is now six.
You might be wondering why I'm not writing more about the actual game; truth be told, it really was pretty much over after Halton's slam. The Cubs had just four hits; the offensive "stars" of the game were Ryan Sweeney, who singled and doubled, and Luis Valbuena, who walked twice. Yes, that's what we are reduced to, "celebrating" a two-walk game. The pair of walks moved Valbuena into a tie for 25th place in the National League in that category. Hooray.
The Cubs' bullpen did all right; Alberto Cabrera surrendered a run in a sloppily-pitched fifth inning, but after that, Hector Rondon, Chang-Yong Lim and Blake Parker set down the last nine Brewers in order. Both teams appeared to be going through the motions at that point; there was little energy in a Miller Park that was far different than the scene of most Cubs/Brewers games there since the park opened in 2001.
The crowd scene was far different than most recent Cubs/Brewers games in Milwaukee. There were a considerable number of no-shows from the announced 24,632; perhaps 16,000 were in the house, and unlike most past Cubs/Brewers games I have attended there, there were very few Cubs fans to be seen, I'd estimate no more than 10 percent of the house. The "highlight" of the night, such as it was, was the cup the concession stand served with my souvenir drink; it featured the Seattle Pilots logo, commemorating... I guess the 43rd anniversary of the Pilots' move to Milwaukee? Nice souvenir, though. Overall, the fans who did show up were pretty quiet after Halton's slam and many of them left by the eighth inning to beat the mostly-nonexistent traffic.
I will give credit to Tyler Thornburg, the Brewers rookie righthander who had a miserable Triple-A season but who has thrown quite well since his promotion to the major leagues. Granted that the Cubs are not an offensive juggernaut, but Thornburg also shut down the Pirates and Cardinals recently. The Brewers might just have a keeper.
The Cubs, meanwhile, have... 10 games remaining this season. Following Thursday afternoon's series and road trip finale in Milwaukee, all the rest of the games are against teams headed (or likely headed) to the playoffs. It's conceivable that the Cubs might not win another game this season, and also quite likely that the Braves could clinch the National League East at Wrigley Field. Their magic number is 2, and they're off today. In fact, it's possible the Cubs might have to watch all three teams they play after Thursday clinch a playoff spot or division title against them.
Charming, no? Today's game preview will post at 11:30 a.m. CT.