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Blacked Out

When the Cubs play the Braves in Atlanta, I have in past years liked to watch the games on TBS; this is a way to hear what another team's announcers think of the Cubs, get another perspective on the game. I like the TBS announcers, too; they'll talk baseball instead of the fluffy stuff you often hear from Chip Caray (though of course, Steve Stone is one of the best in the business).

No longer, it seems, can you do that in Chicago, at least when the game is on Fox Sports Net like it was last night. TBS was blacked out on my cable system; I suppose either FSN or MLB accomplished that to prevent exactly what I and a lot of others must have been doing, to "protect" the local advertising on FSN. Well, I defeated that, too, by flipping back & forth between the ESPN2 backup game (Anaheim/Tampa Bay) and the White Sox/Indians game during commercial breaks. So there! It'll be interesting to see if tonight, when the game is on WGN instead of FSN, if TBS is again blacked out.

I did all this to a backdrop of drilling and hammering. I don't do this kind of stuff well, so my wife & sister-in-law spent the evening attempting to hang a couple of new towel rods in the bathroom. Actually, I must admit they did a pretty good job of it.

Even so, I didn't miss any of the Cubs' exciting comeback win, 15-6 over the Braves; I even stayed up till the end of the 3 hour, 35 minute marathon.

It started out like so many of Shawn Estes' other starts -- Sammy Sosa staked him to a 3-0 lead which he promptly blew, and when he was taken out with the bases loaded, no one out and the Cubs losing 5-4 already, it looked disastrous.

And if the Cubs do come back to make the playoffs, here's yet another "turning point" -- Dave Veres' amazing relief pitching, getting out of that jam without allowing a run, and the rest of the bullpen gave up only one hit the rest of the way -- Javy Lopez hit another HR, no shame in that, and the Cubs' bats simply would not stop beating up on Atlanta's bullpen.

The broadcast crew checked with STATS, Inc. to see when was the last time the Cubs had 20 hits in consecutive games. They went back to the beginning of the divisional play era -- 1969 -- and couldn't find one. I can't remember one either, nor can I remember them scoring 15+ runs in back-to-back games, either. Perhaps more research today will answer this question. It was the fourth time this year the Cubs have scored 15 or more in a game, pretty good for a team that's had its offensive struggles.

You can't really compare seasons, but in 1998, a Cub team that was also struggling came into Atlanta for a similar two-game series at almost the exact calendar moment -- July 20. In the first game Kevin Tapani hit a grand slam and the Cubs won 11-4. In the second... well, guess who was pitching for the Braves? The same guy who's throwing tonight, Greg Maddux, only then, he was a dominant pitcher who the Cubs had almost never beaten. And his opponent was a rookie, some kid named Kerry Wood, who struck out 11, and the Cubs won 3-0. Tonight, another rookie throws against Maddux, who isn't the pitcher he was five years ago. Sergio Mitre makes his major league debut, and who knows? After that sweep in Atlanta, the Cubs went to Arizona later that week, and Sammy Sosa hit the first two grand slams of his career, and the Cubs were off and running into what is probably the best wild-card race since the invention of the thing.

Steve & Chip got into an interesting discussion near the end of the telecast about the balanced vs. the unbalanced schedule, with Stone taking the position against the current unbalanced schedule, citing "too many times seeing Abraham Nunez isn't what they had in mind." Maybe not, but also consider the great Cub-Cardinal rivalry, or other divisional rivalries like Dodgers/Giants or Yankees/Red Sox, and I think you see the appeal of more divisional play. The Yankees surely draw better for another series against the Red Sox, than they would if the Tigers came to New York an extra series; same for Cubs/Cardinals as opposed to having San Diego in one more time. I like the unbalanced schedule, despite the supposed "inequities" created when teams going for the same playoff prize play different interleague opponents.

You still have to go out and win the games. And with a three-game winning streak, the Cubs have now picked up a game on the Astros, and after this weekend, we ought to know much more about their prospects for the rest of the season.