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An Imperfect Night

I've got the MLB Extra Innings package.

So before the Cub game started at 7 pm CT, I was watching portions of some of the earlier games. And they were, for once, moderately interesting.

I wouldn't normally bother watching a Tampa Bay game, but their starter, Doug Waechter, retired the first 13 batters he faced. Hey, I thought, maybe something special will happen. Nope. Scott Hatteberg singled with one out in the fifth. Worse for Tampa Bay, they lost the game.

So then I flipped over to the Yankees/Royals game. Guess what? Yankee started Javier Vazquez was doing the same thing. Right at the same point, the fourteenth batter, he lost it in even more dramatic fashion -- Ken Harvey homered. Not that I love the Yankees -- I don't -- but at least Vazquez won the game.

And the Cub game -- well, it started out looking like Kerry Wood might do what Vazquez and Waechter failed to do. He retired the first eleven batters before Albert Pujols singled.

Wood pitched perhaps his best game of the year, walking no one and striking out ten.

And if you haven't heard what happened, you're probably thinking this is a happy game story, a happy day with the Cubs getting the leg up on their arch-rivals (though much as I'd like to think so, it's not the greatest rivalry in baseball, as Chip Caray breathlessly said on the air last night -- I think Yankees/Red Sox is, only because the stakes have so often been higher between those two, than between Cubs/Cardinals)... but no.

A massive bullpen failure gave the Cardinals a 4-3 win over the Cubs, as LaTroy Hawkins walked Mike Matheny with the bases loaded after getting him down 0-2. The Cubs maintained a first-place tie with the Astros, even though Houston also won last night.

It shouldn't have even gotten that far. The Cubs had ten hits and three walks and squandered several really good scoring opportunities. Michael Barrett hit a ball about two feet foul, that originally was called a home run, but ruled foul after the umpires conferred. Much as I hate to say it, they got it right. If you didn't see the game on WGN or highlights, the replays were clear, and the ball passed to the left of the foul pole, definitely foul. It would have been a two-run homer, with Alex Gonzalez on base.

Barrett finished this at-bat with a double, which would have been great, except that two pitches after the foul ball, Gonzalez got himself picked off, otherwise he'd have scored and maybe they'd have had a larger rally and Woody Williams might have been taken out of the game.

OK, there's one run lost.

Another was given away by Wood, when he threw away a pickoff throw and Tony Womack ran all the way to third, later scoring on a sacrifice fly.

But the bullpen must do a better job. I can always tell when Kyle Farnsworth isn't going to have a good outing; he was standing on the mound taking deep breaths and hunching his shoulders. He threw four pitches, none of them anywhere near the strike zone.

It might have worked out OK if Hawkins had been able to throw strikes to Mike Matheny. I hate games that end this way. Hey, if you throw a strike to Matheny and he hits it, then so be it. But to give a game away on a bases-loaded walk, I think that hurts even more.

Nevertheless, I think we can view this as a successful Cub month. They finish 13-9, in a first-place tie with Houston. The Astros won last night too, 6-1 over the Reds, and I think that's the last time you'll see the Reds anywhere near first place. I note that Roger Clemens went to 5-0 with this game, and that's great for him, but that also makes the Astros 8-9 without him. A 13-9 pace for the whole season will get you 95 or 96 wins, and that will almost certainly be enough to win the Central. Barrett and Moises Alou, two of the biggest offensive question marks coming into the season, have both hit well, and despite last night's implosion, the bullpen has been solid, as has the starting rotation.

Hey, yesterday may not have been a total loss. I spent part of the day driving down to Indiana (30 minutes from my house) to get some tickets for tonight's $145 million Powerball drawing.