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Congratulations, You Are A Winner!

I KNEW that'd get your attention.

You're thinking, the pressure of the wild-card race has gotten to him, he's finally gone off the deep end.

No, the Cubs didn't win today; in fact, their fifth loss in a row, 8-6 to the Braves this afternoon, , with yet another blown lead, this time a four-run blown lead, finished the final episode of this season (seems like a rerun, doesn't it?), and mathematically eliminated our favorite team, for yet another year.

But I won!

After the sixth inning ended, they called my season ticket number, and after being escorted down to Gate D, I won: two Cubs caps (to add to the approximately 200 baseball caps clogging up the top shelves of a couple of closets), a bunch of coupons for free food at Culver's (Custard! Butterburgers! Arteries Clogged!), which, since all of the ones in the Chicago area are way out in the burbs, I gave the coupons away to Jeff and Phil and Carole... and also, a $100 debit card, courtesy of the Puerto Rico-based bank, Banco Popular.

Well, that was worth it, anyway. When I returned, I had missed only three batters, and first thing I said to Mike was, "Is this inning STILL going?"

The rest of the game was a sad repeat of pretty much every game played in the last week, with a new anti-hero today: Jose Macias, who was given the start in CF over the 9-for-his-last-2000 (no, really only 56 AB) Corey Patterson, lost a ball in the sun, which dropped for a Rafael Furcal RBI double, and of course, he scored the third run in a depressing sixth inning, where Carlos Zambrano, who threw real well today, had retired the first two batters before allowing an Eli Marrero home run.

That homer must have been particularly satisfying to Marrero, because the last time he set foot on the grass at Wrigley Field was during the Typhoon Game, on May 11, 2003, Mother's Day, when the umpires forced the Cubs to play four innings in 40 MPH wind and sideways rain before they called it, and he suffered a serious ankle injury which at the time seemed career-threatening.

But even after that disastrous inning, the Cubs still entered the eighth leading 6-5, only to have Kyle Farnsworth come in and allow two singles -- the second of which was another popup that dropped among Derrek Lee, Todd Walker and Sammy Sosa, and then, of course, Dusty insisted on bringing in the lefty (Mike Remlinger) to face the lefty (J. D. Drew)... except that Remlinger is actually much worse against lefties than righties (.297 BA vs. lefties, .194 vs. righties), and he promptly gave up the game, allowing a two-RBI triple to Drew, so the loss went to Farnsworth.

There's a place where the Cubs have been deficient this year -- there's not been a lefthanded reliever on the staff who is better against lefthanded hitters (Kent Mercker has the same splits as Remlinger, better against righties), so there's something glaringly obvious that Jim Hendry can address in the offseason. Get a lefty specialist, Jim! You don't have one!

I've got lots to say about this and other roster matters, but I think I'll wait for that, until after the season is over.

I told Howard today, that in forty years and over 1700 games witnessed in person, I have never seen anything quite like the last week. There is no question, as Steve Stone said earlier this week (and no, I'm not going to get into that controversy here -- I think it's better left to rest), that this Cubs team ought to have won the wild card by six or seven games.

This one ranks up there with the 1964 Phillies collapse, or the 1987 Blue Jays -- who had a 3.5 game lead with seven to go and a lead with two out and two strikes in the ninth inning -- sound familiar? -- that would have given them a 4.5 game lead with six to go, only to blow that game and lose their last seven games of the season, to the Tigers, who won it, though then lost the ALCS to Minnesota.

You probably don't want to hear this, but that 1987 Tigers team, which was also an older team (and to connect that team with this current series, the '87 Tigers had traded a prospect to get a veteran starter, Doyle Alexander, for the stretch run, and he did go 9-0 for them and helped them into the playoffs -- that prospect, unfortunately for Detroit, was current Braves closer John Smoltz, who got his 44th of the year today), is that they have only had two winning seasons since then, and lost 103 games only two years later.

At least the sun was out this afternoon -- in fact, that bright sun, as mentioned, hurt the Cubs, who lost two fly balls in it, and the temperature, despite being 20 degrees colder than yesterday, wasn't uncomfortable. It was a high-carb day today for me, as Howard had brought the rally Milanos (the Tomato Inning having been retired for the season, perhaps to return in 2005), which did get the Cubs the 6-2 lead, and Jessica had brought a small chocolate Bundt cake (we all said -- maybe we should have given some to Corey Patterson), which had been sliced up and given to everyone, leaving a small chunk ...

... which I said I would eat whole if Moises Alou hit a home run in the fifth.

OK, so I ate a chunk of chocolate cake today. I thought I was taking one for the team, but to no avail.

Some of my fellow season-ticket holders were joking today that we all ought to write LaTroy Hawkins a thank-you note for saving us hundreds of dollars in playoff ticket money. Joking is right, because I'd much rather have spent every dime of it, plus every dime of the money I spent on Cardinals NLCS tickets (oh, don't worry, I'll either get my money back if St. Louis doesn't win the first round -- a distinct possibility -- or I'll find some Cardinal fans to buy them), and traveled to wherever, to see our team, the one we live and die for.

No matter how bad it gets, no matter that some of my friends said that they really didn't like this team very much -- and frankly, it's true -- these guys just didn't seem very likable, nor, as I have said, did they seem to be having fun playing baseball, and isn't that what this is all about?... we still do want them to win, and reach the heights, in our lifetimes, because there are generations of Cub fans who haven't , and it's not just for us, it's for all the players who have come and gone without winning, and all the fans who have lived and died without seeing a World Championship or even an NL pennant...

It's for all of them, and all of YOU, all my friends, anyone and everyone who's ever shared that bleacher bench with me for now 25 years in the very same spot, that I persevere, that I walk in every day to the greatest spot on Earth, hoping against hope that this will be the day, that this will be the year, that ... well, NEXT year will be our year.

My friend Ron from LF, who I visited before the game today at his seat, had his strip of playoff tickets with him. I asked why. Answer: "You can't have a wake without a body."

And so tomorrow, on a sunny Sunday, we shall lay the 2004 season to rest, with sadness, but with friends present, and baseball in the air, and hope everlasting.

Keep the faith... forever.