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Summer's Last Gasp

It's October 1.

And I wore shorts to the ballpark, completing a season in which I wore them at least once in every month, and oddly, it wound up being a cooler-than-normal summer, a weird-weather year in which it was warm in April, cool in August, and then warm again in September and October.

But just as a cold front is going to come blasting through the Chicago area tonight, dropping the temperatures to a fall-like 58 tomorrow, with sunshine (in fact, it's supposed to be sunny all weekend, which will make this year the first one since 1989 in which the Cubs had no postponed home dates), the chill blast of reality hit us flat in the face today, in the form of yet another one-run loss, 5-4 to the Braves, the Cubs' thirtieth one-run loss of the year, and it was only so because of a stirring ninth-inning rally that fell just short, and I say that because for a guy who steals some bases, Derrek Lee isn't very fast, and couldn't beat out a deflected ball in the infield, being thrown out by Braves SS Rafael Furcal, for the final out, after scrubs Ben Grieve and Jose Macias had driven in the three runs.

Oh, I could go on and on about this team, but I'm going to save that for later, because we still could pull out a miracle at this writing. In fact, IF the Cubs wind up tied in a three-way tie with the Giants and Astros -- which is still possible, and which would be the first such tie in major league history -- they would host the Astros on Monday, as the Giants, who had first choice (since they had the best record among the three teams), chose to take the bye and make the other two teams play. And if the Cubs won that game, they'd have another home game vs. the Giants on Tuesday.

That presumes, however, that the Cubs can win two in a row right now, and, of course, get help.

Four days ago saying something like this seemed unthinkable, after the blowout win over the Reds on Monday. I don't have to rehash what's happened since, but this -- if it indeed falls short -- is one of the biggest collapses in the history of the game.

This, of course, brought out the naysayers even in our group. You wouldn't have wanted to hear Dave and Phil today -- they were just about ready to get rid of anyone and everyone on this ballclub, and Howard was about to give up next year and go to more Brewers games, and I knew from looking at him that by the time spring training starts, he'll change his mind, and Jessica brought up the name of Oakland's Nick Swisher, a good-looking rookie who is the son of ex-Cub Steve Swisher, and that brought to mind Swisher's worst moment in the major leagues, the last game of the 1974 season, when he dropped a third strike that would have won the game for the woeful 96-loss Cubs over the Pirates; instead the Pirates wound up tying the game on that play and winning in extra innings. Had they lost, the Cardinals would have made up a rained-out game against the Expos to see if they could force a tie; instead Pittsburgh won the NL East.

We argued about this for a while, because I remembered it as a night game (meaning, in 1974, it would have been a road game), but Jessica insisted it was a home game. Finally I called Mike to look it up and confirm my memory that it was at Pittsburgh.

I tell you all this because until the Cubs rallied in the ninth, the game was deadly dull, punctuated only by a pair of two-run homers, one by DeWayne Wise, who wasn't even in the announced starting lineup, and the other by pitcher Mike Hampton, off Kerry Wood, who winds up with a losing season, and also by two Mark Grudzielanek errors, neither of which figured in the scoring, but both of which resulted in sarcastic cheers every time Grudz fielded a ball cleanly.

As the game went on, there were more and more drunks carted out of the bleachers and for a brief time in the eighth inning, a few cups were thrown onto the field, holding up play for a few minutes, and in the ninth someone a couple rows in front of us kept holding up a sign on blazing orange paper that said, "It's Not Over Till We Say It Is" -- the John Belushi "Bluto" statement from the 1978 movie "Animal House", and security finally had to make him put it down.

It's not over, and I won't lose faith until the Cubs are mathematically eliminated. But this is the last time I wear the Kerry Wood jersey when he pitches; he'd done poorly several times when I'd worn it earlier this year, so I'd stopped for a while, but figured it was worth one last gasp. Nope, never again. I'll wear it when someone else throws, not Kerry.

But really, the bottom line is this: these guys don't seem to be having much fun out there, and that's what this is, after all, a game, and if you're not enjoying playing a game, why be out there?

This has to be Dusty Baker's most challenging year ever as a manager, and as I said earlier, I'll save my comments on the team and the controversies and what comes next, for after the season is over.

For now, let's go out and win the last two games, and hope for our miracle.