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Stupid Umpire Tricks

I guess just making bad calls against the Cubs wasn't enough for MLB umpires, so they spent the entire weekend trying to figure out how they could mess them up.

It took until the last inning, but Steve Rippley did it. He had been knocked in the head by a foul ball earlier, and left before the ninth "with a headache". Excuse me? A HEADACHE? Geez, take a couple of Aleves and get back out there!

And if it's that bad, why did it take Jerry Meals thirteen minutes to get the plate umpire gear on? Catchers put on that much equipment in a two-minute between-inning break several times a game.

I don't want to make excuses, but the delay clearly unnerved Carlos Zambrano, who had thrown eight really exquisite innings, allowing three hits and walking no one. He warmed up a couple of times, but his rhythm was thrown off and it was clear when he was all over the place to Ray Olmedo, who had drawn only eight walks in 180 at-bats previously, and walked him.

I don't want to blame Dusty Baker either, but frankly, at that point he probably should have pulled Zambrano for Mike Remlinger, who was ready to go. In fact, Remlinger should have started the inning after the long delay.

Anyway, as you probably already know, the Cubs lost to the Reds 1-0 and with Houston completing their sweep of the Cardinals, the Cubs are now two games back with 13 left to play.

I've almost never heard the ballpark as quiet as it was when Eric Karros struck out to end the game. It felt almost funereal, and the weather was appropriate. It rained hard for about half an hour before the game started, and about the third inning the temperature started to drop. Game time temp was reported as 73, and by game's end it felt like 60, though the current city report is 67. I didn't bother with shorts today, which was a really good call, but decided to show off my San Juan "Serie de los Expos de Montreal" T-shirt, without a jacket, which wasn't.

Dave said, and I agree, that you can't lose games like this, to teams like this, especially at home. The Cubs have to watch out for the Mets, who like the Reds have retooled their team since we last saw them for the opening series, though they won't be playing quite as many rookies as Cincinnati. Luckily, the Astros play their next series in Colorado, where the Rockies have the fourth-best home field record in the National League (the only teams better are the three top teams in the overall NL, the Braves, Giants and Marlins).

I spotted on the message board, when Moises Alou came up for his second at-bat, the note ".440 Last 7 Games". I asked Howard if that was his fielding percentage. Almost got smacked by a clipboard for that one.

And finally, my friends, our resident superstar, who I admit has had a tough season, was nearly invisible in this series. If the Cubs are going to make up this deficit, Sammy Sosa must step up and carry the club the way he has so many times. NOW is the time. Hitting from the rest of the club wouldn't hurt either; to leave nine men on base against a guy making his third major league start is pretty embarrassing.

I got to thinking about some recent races (not the legendary Phillie Phlop of 1964) where teams have made up deficits like this.

In 1987, the Blue Jays led the Tigers in the AL East by 3 1/2 games with 7 to go. They were playing each other, Toronto went into the 9th with a 1-0 lead, when Kirk Gibson tied the game with a homer, and the Tigers won. Had the Jays held on, they'd have led by 4 1/2 with six to go, a nearly insurmountable lead.

Toronto didn't win another game and on the last day of the season the two matched up again, and Frank Tanana shut them out 1-0.

And in the tight wild card race of 1998, the Mets led the Cubs by one game with five to go, with the Giants 3 1/2 back. The Mets were going into a series with the Expos, who were on their way to a 97-loss season, but they not only got swept by Montreal, they didn't win another game, and the Giants swept their way into a tie, losing on the last day to force the exciting tie-breaker game that the Cubs won.

Today felt awful. If I feel horrible, imagine how the players feel. But there are two weeks to go. Hope is reeling tonight, but still alive.