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Shut Up, Phil

So it's the top of the 9th and the Cubs appear well on their way to their fifth straight win and first shutout of the season and all of a sudden Phil pipes up:

"Hey, if we win tomorrow we'll be 12-6, the best start since when? 1969?"

In unison we all yelled:

"Shut up, Phil!"

Are we superstitious or what? Hey, I was just glad that the Cubs won anyway today despite my Super Big Gulp not being kicked over. In fact, some of the other season ticket holders waiting with me outside went out of their way to help me carefully get it inside. Thanks especially to Tim and Jonathan for holding it while I was getting my ticket out and having my backpack inspected.

The Cubs did indeed win their fifth straight, 3-0 over the Mets today, and Dave was very disparaging, and rightfully so, to the Mets' starting lineup today. He said they have only one legitimate major league player in the starting eight, Mike Piazza, and that's true. Piazza, for his part, looks about as graceful at 1B as Dave Kingman, though with a markedly better attitude. And while Kazuo Matsui was great in Japan, he's been decidedly average so far in the USA, and the rest of the team can be summed up thus: the Mets decided to go out and get some former Yankees, since the Yankees have been very successful.

Unfortunately, they got the wrong ones. Shane Spencer's made a career out of the 27-game, 67-at bat, 10 HR, .371 performance he had in 1998 (he got a ring, but had only 3 at-bats in the World Series); he's never come close to that since and is now 32. And Karim Garcia had a great half-season with the Yankees last year, but is perhaps best known for his and Jeff Nelson's leap into the Fenway Park bullpen during the ALCS.

For a while I thought Garcia might try to leap the 12-foot bleacher wall, as some of the drunks in the first few rows were baiting him pretty good, and he made some not-repeatable gestures back. Sometimes players do this and laugh, but I think Garcia was serious.

Despite a decent forecast, the game-time temperature was 50, 11 degrees colder than yesterday, and with fading sun and wind howling in off the lake, it felt a lot colder than that. Howard had the good sense to call me before he came in and I told him to dress warm, which now has gotten me the tab of "Sartorial Consultant" as well as being "Al-Master". Mike, however, didn't call and he wasn't really dressed for the weather, not having his warmer coat or gloves, and at one point he gave up scoring temporarily, catching up on the half-inning.

Actually, we can't complain too much. There have been nine home dates and the weather has been good or great on seven of them -- only today and Opening Day have been cold, and that's pretty good for April, and it hasn't rained at all on a game day. There is a forecast of rain overnight tonight, but it's supposed to clear out by gametime tomorrow.

It appears that whoever is running the new message boards learned a few things during the week. The out-of-town scores on the "mini-Tron" boards under the upper deck returned today (complete with NBA playoff scores, in which "NEW" beat "MIA" 77-71. Yes, I know that's New Orleans, but isn't the common abbreviation for that city "NO"?). The side message boards gave pitch counts -- although not when we really could have used them, when Kerry Wood was over 100 pitches. He wound up with 111 in 7 innings, which on a per-inning basis is even more than last Saturday, when he was at 112 through eight innings. And, the board in CF is now showing what players have done during the game, rather than just at-bats, though when Derrek Lee batted in the 8th, it said:

"1 for 3: 2B, Groundout, F"

Well, I personally thought Lee had a better day than "F"; it was at least a B-minus. Maybe they'll fix this by tomorrow. At least they're trying.

A few more things about the game: Wood looked like he had his "A" game on today; he struck out nine and walked only two, and as Mike said, he's never going to be the kind of guy who has an economy of pitches. Nolan Ryan was a pitcher like this and Wood has been, and I think correctly, compared to Ryan in terms of his style of pitching.

Mike and I have also discussed this at length in the past: the fixation Dusty Baker (and other managers too) have with platoon advantages. Kent Mercker came in to throw the 8th, and he struck out the first two batters he faced, on a total of ten pitches.

And what does he get for this accomplishment? Why, a pat on the butt and turn the ball over to LaTroy Hawkins. Nothing against Hawkins, who's given up absolutely nothing this year so far, but why disrupt the rhythm of the game, just so you can have a righty throw against Todd Zeile, who at this stage of his career just isn't all that dangerous?

To seemingly prove our point, Hawkins walked Zeile, and only got out of the inning because Aramis Ramirez made a fine play on a sharp grounder by Piazza. Ramirez, by the way, has turned himself into a fine third baseman, and I think his hard work in spring training on fielding is paying off. It's not just the presence of Derrek Lee at first, either. I think Ramirez has a lot of confidence in his own abilities to field balls cleanly. The Ramirez/Lofton deal may turn out to be one of the best in Cub history.

Anyway, none of this mattered since Hawkins shut down the Mets easily in the ninth for his first save of the year. But really, I wish managers wouldn't do this.

And just to show you that I can get it wrong, I had just finished saying to Mike, "I don't think anyone can hit it out of here today", when Sammy Sosa smashed his 544th career HR to left. He needs four more to tie Mike Schmidt for ninth place on the all-time list.

The Mets, despite coming into town with a 7-9 record (now 7-11), appear to be a really bad team. Four of those wins were over the Expos, who appear to be an even worse team than the Mets. Thus, this is a sweepable series, despite Al Leiter, the Mets' best pitcher, going tomorrow. Carlos Zambrano will oppose him, and Zambrano's been terrific too.

So while I hope Phil is right about what he said, I'm going to shut up myself, and wait for tomorrow.