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They're Not All Bad

Believe it or not, I spent today sitting next to two Sox fans who I respect -- we spent the day variously discussing how if we had one Chicago team with all the best players, maybe we could get the city to the World Series; we talked about game strategy, and how we both did a lot of scoreboard watching (them rooting for the Cardinals and Brewers to win; me rooting for the Rangers and Royals), and how both Central divisions are really there for the taking if only our respective teams would step up and do it. They actually mentioned remembering sitting next to me at last year's Cubs/Sox series on the South Side; I hadn't made the connection until they said so, but then I had a recollection of that too. Nice guys -- I never did get their names; if you guys are somehow reading this, I salute you.

If only all Sox fans were like this, it'd be a really good rivalry. Cardinal fans, with whom Cub fans also have a heated rivalry, don't seem to have the visceral hatred that most Sox fans walk around with. Really, it's so unnecessary; it almost got to the point where my buddy Mike, who never shows this type of emotion, even told me he felt some satisfaction out of today's nail-biting 5-2 Cubs win over the White Sox, which ended the season-longest losing streak at four (and isn't it nice that we're halfway through the season and the longest losing streak is only 4 games?).

Kerry Wood did indeed step up with his "A" game today; he didn't have his strikeout pitch working (only seven), but he kept Sox hitters off balance most of the day with his breaking ball. Mike & I both thought that the Cubs matched up well with Esteban Loaiza, who has been almost unhittable this year, and we turned out to be right; the Cubs had their first two-homer game since last Tuesday, one of them being an absolute bomb by Moises Alou (who incidentally also had a two-homer game at the Ballmall last year). The bullpen stepped up and did their job today; and frankly, Antonio Alfonseca should not be allowed near any sort of critical situation, and he wasn't today. Wood threw 127 pitches and didn't labor, but I think Dusty really wanted to get all the way to the 9th without having to tap the overtaxed relief corps.

It really does feel like a weight lifted off; Wood was quoted as saying, in the ESPN.com article linked above:

"Now we can worry about playing baseball. It's a fun series for the fans and everybody enjoys the Cubs-White Sox rivalry. But for us, it's another game and there is a lot of attention that we feel is sometimes a little overboard. I'm just glad it's over with."

And he's right. Five of the six games were close, taut games that would have been exciting against any opponent, but the full house that was loud and pulsating made them feel almost like playoff games. Playoffs, of course, are still far away both in the calendar and both of these teams have a long way to go before they can stake any such claims. However, both Central divisions are, as I said, there for the taking. The Sox and Cubs both have considerable weaknesses; but so do their main rivals, and the team that can put together any sort of decent streak ought to be able to take charge at least for the near term. (There. How did that rate on the cliche meter?)

I still wish Dusty Baker had taken my advice (and I doubt, of course, that he ever saw it -- I don't think he's very computer savvy) -- Sammy Sosa had a 1-for-4 day and still seemed kind of off-balance. I hope getting away from these media-frenzy type series, to a "regular" series with just an old NL rival, the Phillies, will get him back on track. It will be Sammy's first foray onto artificial turf this year, since he missed the Toronto series.

Sign seen: OK, I have to describe this one, since it had drawings as part of its message. It said:

Yesterday

White Sox (then it had a hand holding up five fingers and one with two fingers)

Alfonseca (then it had a hand with six fingers)

I thought that was pretty clever, actually.