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SHHHHH!! Don't Tell Anyone!

The way to get the Cubs out easily, any time, is to allow them to load the bases with nobody out.

This worked so well for the Pirates, taking the Cubs right out of last Friday's loss, that the Astros figured they'd do the Pirates twice as well, and it worked again last night. The Cubs worked their way easily out of two bases-loaded, nobody out situations (yes, I'm being sarcastic here).

This wasn't Cub pitchers doing so, which would have been a good thing; instead, Cub hitters loaded the bases in the fourth and again in the sixth with nobody out, and they failed to break a tie game open both times, paving the way for a miserable-looking 5-3 Cub loss to Houston, dropping the Cubs back into fourth place and provoking some of the loudest boos I've heard in a long time for a Cub hitter not named Todd Hundley.

But more of that later.

My friend Craig from the Cubs newsgroup made his annual pilgrimage to Wrigley Field from his home in Kansas City, and of course we welcomed him back to the bleachers because he was in attendance last year when Jon caught Rafael Furcal's homer, and the Cubs won that day. Howard showed off his brand-new throwback ball, and Jeff, Howard, Carole and I all spent the pre-game time dumpster-diving, since it was another autographed ball (Rick Sutcliffe, today) scratch-off card giveaway.

In doing so, Howard found an unscratched card that was a winner! So he went home with an autographed ball, and we figured that was a good omen. Even so, none of the other 80 cards we found discarded, was a winner. We have another idea on how to win the second-chance drawing, but I'm not going to reveal it here.

It rained hard for about 15 minutes before the gates opened, but then the skies cleared out, and the evening was pleasantly cool and breezy, with just a few clouds and a colorful sunset. That's the nicest thing I can say about tonight.

Ernie made his season debut in the bleachers tonight and may have to be re-banned, as he was last year after the Cubs lost every time he was out there, but not only for that reason. He went on a several-inning long rant about the new message boards and how the advertising was "ruining Wrigley Field" and it wouldn't be long until there was advertising like at the BOB, where I counted over 40 advertising signs (not even including the ones on the Jumbotron). All I could tell Ernie was that I wanted him to watch the game (and stop saying that his beloved hometown Indians were going to come back and make the playoffs this year) and that no, I didn't think that the additional revenue from advertising on the boards was going to keep ticket prices down.

And yes, I warned Ernie during the game that he better stay away from his computer Wednesday, because he was definitely getting written up for all of this!

Brian called me earlier in the day looking for a ticket, which I was unable to locate, but somehow he finagled three of them, and brought two friends from the Riverhawks, including the Riverhawks' GM, who showed up in one of those garish Astros jerseys from the 1970's. Then Brian left abruptly without saying goodbye -- we learned later that his fiancee had called and her car had broken down. What a guy.

And, Phil called from section 206 in the terrace, though it was hard to understand what he was saying. I guess he was with some friends from work, and he called later to say that his view was being blocked by a post. I asked him how much he paid for the tickets and he said they were free.

So, I told him, I guess you got your money's worth.

And finally, after the game, to add insult to insult, traffic was horrendous and it took me half an hour to drive the mile and a half home.

Now, to baseball.

I guess it's too late to trade Corey Patterson and a prospect to Seattle for Ichiro, isn't it.

Corey got roundly booed after striking out twice with the bases loaded, first in the fourth with nobody out, next in the sixth with one out. He was flailing at pitches in the dirt, and to me it doesn't really matter whether Dusty Baker tells him to be aggressive or not, he is hitting like he doesn't really even have a clue as to what he is doing. The scoreboard was almost taunting him by saying he had a 5-game hitting streak, and then when it didn't matter, two runs down in the bottom of the ninth, he singled off Octavio Dotel, stretching it to six games. So what. Either Patterson has to learn how to hit in situations, or he ought to be benched. It got so bad that when the Cubs had the second bases-loaded, none-out situation, I actually suggested to everyone that Derrek Lee attempt a squeeze. It would have worked -- the infield was playing way back.

Oh, and beyond that, how could anyone with major league managing experience actually think that Rey Ordonez can still hit major league pitching? At least he hit the ball -- a weak line drive back to Dotel -- but still made an out.

All the Cub scoring was on solo home runs, one each by the Todds, Walker and Hollandsworth, and a bomb onto Waveland by Moises Alou.

The pitching staff did its job -- Glendon Rusch wasn't great, throwing 98 pitches in his five innings, but he kept the club in the game and the bullpen gave up no earned runs in its four innings. Francis Beltran threw a very effective two innings, and Kyle Farnsworth should have had the Astros shut down in the 8th, because vacation-relief umpire Mike Fichter blew a call, saying Derrek Lee was pulled off the bag on Brad Ausmus' grounder to second, resulting in a tough-luck error charged to Todd Walker, and then two unearned runs when pinch-hitter Mike Lamb doubled -- a hit which sucked all the air out of a crowd that had gotten pretty raucous when Farnsworth had two strikes on Ausmus.

We know that Fichter blew the call because Krista called Jeff and told him that Ausmus was clearly out, and Jeff says that if Krista says so, it must be true.

We gave a seat on our second bench to a nice Astros fan who, as it turns out, is a "relationship counselor" who has a book coming out this fall and runs a website called ScreamFree.

That's what we could have used tonight. Existential question: if the Cubs free-fall down through the NL Central standings, will anyone hear them scream?